World of Warcraft, though down from its peak of 12 million subscribers, still enthralls over 7 million players every month. A new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, is on the way, so you may be thinking about joining in on the fun. The period just before and after an expansion is a great time to start playing, since there’s lots of a new content as well as patches to old zones.
With that said, the game can be intimidating for newcomers in spite of its reputation as a relatively easy title for players to enjoy. There are 90 levels (which will expand to 100 with the next expansion), numerous ways to play, and many square miles of virtual terrain to explore. Here’s what you need to know if you’ve never tried World of Warcraft before.
Buying The Game
While you’ll need to pay a subscription fee to enjoy most of the game’s content, you can try it out for free with World of Warcraft Starter Edition. This trial lets you start enjoying the game without spending any money up front, but you can’t level beyond 20, can’t hold on to more than 10 gold, and can’t go beyond 100 in any trade skill. You also can’t participate in pet battles and can’t fully use in-game chat.
Once you’ve reached level 20, or you’ve decided the game might be for you, you’ll need to buy the full version. Though there are multiple expansions, Blizzard has consolidated the game down to two packages; World of Warcraft, which includes all content from the first three expansions, and the fourth expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Both are $19.99 at Battle.net, but you can find them for even less elsewhere.
This means you do not need to buy the World of Warcraft Battle Chest or any expansions except Mists of Pandaria (and the fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor, when it becomes available). You’ll still find the older retail versions on Amazon and in some game stores; avoid them.
You also don’t need Mists of Pandaria to enjoy any content besides the continent of Pandaria, level 85-90 dungeons, and level 90 raids. If you buy the base game you can level from 1-85, participate in pet battles, level up your trade skills, or enjoy a wide variety of items and areas revised or introduced in Panderia and its subsequent patches.
The subscription is still $14.99 a month (or a little less if you subscribe for multiple months). You can pay directly, or through time cards purchased at a local retailer. The base game comes with a free month of play, but the expansions don’t include any additional free time.
Questing To Level
As a brand new player you have a daunting leveling process ahead of you. You can expect to spend somewhere between 60 and 80 hours leveling from 1 to 85, and another 15 to 20 hours leveling from 85 to 90.
There are two effective ways to level up. One is to quest normally. You’ll start off near a major city on one of the two major continents, the Eastern Kingdoms or Kalimdor (where you begin depends on your race.) Many of the zones on each continent were re-designed in the Cataclysm expansion, so they’re actually a lot of fun. From there you can expect the following progressions.
- Level 1-60: Kalimor/Eastern Kingdoms. You’ll start on one of these continents, and quests will gradually direct you through many zones.
- Level 58-70: Outland. You can travel there through a portal in the Blasted Lands, a zone on the Eastern Kingdoms continent.
- Level 68-80: Northrend. The Alliance gets there by boat from Stormwind City or The Wetlands, while the Hoard arrives by Zeppelin from Orgrimmar or the Undercity.
- Level 80-85: A variety of zones throughout the world make up the leveling content for this range. The quest line that leads you to them can be found in Stormwind (for Alliance) or Orgrimmar (for Hoard).
- Level 85-90: Pandaria. Once again, you’re transported there via quest givers and portals in Stormwind (for Alliance) or Orgrimmar (for Hoard).
If you ever become confused about where to go next, visit a major city and look for the Hero’s Call Board. This will give you a breadcrumb quest that points you in the direction of a level-appropriate zone.
Questing to gain your levels will help you understand World of Warcraft’s lore, and give you a wide variety of locations to visit. You can also pick up a pair of gathering trade skills (like mining and herbalism) from a major city, and use them to gather items while questing. Supplies from gathering are in constant demand, too, so you can make money by selling what you gather at the auction house.
Leveling With Dungeons
Another way to level is to visit the game’s many dungeons. You gain access to the Dungeon Finder at level 15 and, from then on, can use it to be paired with others in a variety of instances. Dungeons provide constant combat, access to level-appropriate gear, and help you develop skills you’ll need to enjoy end-game Raid and Heroic dungeon content.
Perhaps the greatest appeal, though, is the speed at which you level. Since you’ll experience little downtime (particularly if you choose to be a healer or a “tank” – a fighter who keeps the attention of bad guys to protect other party members), you’ll constantly gain experience.
On the downside, you may find yourself in the poorhouse, because completing a dungeon doesn’t pay well, and you won’t be developing your trade skills. You’ll also miss out on the world itself, which you may find a shame; there are some excellent zones to enjoy. Finally, you may have trouble finding groups if you play at odd hours.
World of Warcraft is a very big game, so you’ll want a mount to get around. You can’t just buy any mount and take it for a ride, however; you need the appropriate training.
Training is broken down by skill and by area. Some training increases your skill, and thus the maximum speed of your mount, while other training lets you fly in restricted areas. Here’s a breakdown of the skills. The increase in speed is relative to your character’s base movement stat.
- Apprentice/Level 20/4 gold: 60% bonus to speed with ground mounts
- Journeyman/Level 40/50 gold: 100% bonus to speed with ground mounts
- Expert/Level 60/250 gold: 100% bonus to speed with ground mounts, 150% bonus with flying mounts
- Artisan/Level 70/5,000 gold: 100% bonus to speed with ground mounts, 280% bonus with flying mounts
- Master/Level 80/5,000 gold: 100% bonus to speed with ground mounts, 310% bonus with flying mounts
And here’s the training that lets you fly in restricted areas.
- Flight Master’s License/Level 60/250 gold: Allows flight on the continents of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor.
- Cold Weather Flying/Level 68/500 gold: Allows flight in Northrend.
- Wisdom of the Four Winds/Level 90/2,500 gold: Allows flight in Pandaria.
All the gold costs can be decreased if you’re in high standing with relevant factions, but you usually won’t be higher than Honored standing unless you’ve specifically tried to increase it, so plan on paying close to the price listed here.
Note that you cannot fly between continents in World of Warcraft. Stray too far from land, and you’ll see a “fatigue” bar appear. Once it reaches zero, you’ll take damage and eventually die. To travel between continents you’ll need to use boats, portals and other methods; Wowhead’s travel guide lists them all.
What’s This About Boosting A Character To Level 90?
You may have heard that Blizzard is going to debut a feature that lets you effectively buy a level 90 character. While this has not been entirely confirmed, it has been said that anyone who pre-orders the Warlords of Draenor expansion will be able to boost once character to level 90 and receive some level-appropriate gear. There’s speculation that this feature will turn into a paid extra after the expansion’s release.
That doesn’t mean you should boost immediately, however. Leveling is a long journey, but it’s also a chance to experience the game’s backstory and learn how to play your character. Boosting a character to 90 without prior experience in the game is like learning to swim by jumping off a 100-foot cliff into the Pacific.
And consider your wallet. If you do this you’ll be buying Warlords of Draenor which, though not available for pre-order at the time of this writing, will probably sell for $50-$60 at release. That’s on top of the $20 bucks you’re dropping for the base game, which may or may not include Mists of Panderia (another $20) by the time Warlords is released. So you’re looking at $80 to $100 just to start.
That’s a lot! What if you don’t like the game? I suggest taking a more casual approach. Download the trial, then grab the base game and finally, if you find you really enjoy World of Warcraft, go for broke on the expansions.
This is, of course, just a rudimentary guide to the basics you need to know when you start. I haven’t even touched entire chunks of content like end-game raiding, pet battles and player-versus-player combat, all of which are enjoyed by millions of players. And, before you start playing, you should check out our guide to essential World of Warcraft add-ons.
Have you tried World of Warcraft recently – and if so, what did you think? Let us know in the comments.