It’s been nearly 14 years since Blizzard launched the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game. You’ve had plenty of time to get your affairs in order before finally taking the plunge into Azeroth. Don’t worry, the World of Warcraft hasn’t passed you by. You just might need a little help getting started. We got you.
Before we get into the tips, let’s answer the important question: Should you play World of Warcraft in 2018? Of course you should. This article would be a huge waste of everyone’s time otherwise. Why? For one, it’s a game with over 13 years of content to explore. It’s a hero’s journey that takes players from the starting zones of Azeroth to epic battles on far-off planets. They grow from fledgling adventurers performing odd jobs for random NPCs into legendary heroes of the realm performing odd jobs for random NPCs. It’s a world rich with lore, flush with quests and filled with interesting people, both real and artificial.
World of Warcraft is an older game, yes, but frequent updates have kept the game looking and feeling fresh. Updates like 2013’s individual fingers for player characters, or the recent additional of level-scaling adventure zones, allowing players more choice in which zones they visit while leveling up their characters. In fact, recent changes to low-level experience gain and monster strength have made leveling up a new character more interesting than it has been in years.
Plus, as a brand-new player, you come into the game without any preconceived notions of what World of Warcraft should be. Lapsed players returning to the game after a long absence might lament how simplified the game’s mechanics have become. They might miss things like having to purchase spells and skills instead of learning them automatically or complex talent trees brimming with options to fine-tune their characters’ performance. Blizzard’s streamlined the game extensively over the years, trimming off extraneous features, stats and mechanics. Returning players might hate them, but all of these changes make for a very newbie-friendly game.
It’s got character. It’s got charm. Counting the Warcraft series of real-time strategy games, it’s got an ongoing narrative backed by more than two decades of lore. Though Final Fantasy XIV puts on a great show, World of Warcraft is the most story-rich MMORPG going.
And it’s easy. For some that might not be a selling point, but if you’re looking for a stress-free MMO that doesn’t require a lot of its players (at least not at lower levels), then World of Warcraft is perfect.
Before you run out to the store and pick up a copy of World of Warcraft, make sure you have either a PC or Mac capable of running the game. Rather than paste the system requirements from Blizzard’s page into this article, I’ve devised a simple method for determining if your computer can run the game. Just answer this multiple choice question:
Was your computer built or purchased in the past eight years?
If you answered “Yes,” your computer can run World of Warcraft in some shape or form. I would have said ten years, but the game requires Windows 7 or higher, and Windows 7 wasn’t widespread until late 2009.
If you answered no, damn. You should upgrade that thing. Not saying it won’t run the game at all, but seriously. Treat yourself. Pick up a Walmart HP special or something.
Don’t buy the game. At least not yet. World of Warcraft offers a free trial that allows new players to experience the game up to level 20 (of 110). There are limitations to a trial account—you can’t chat in most public channels, form adventuring parties (you can still join them) or earn more than 10 gold. But it’s still enough to get a feel for the game, the races, the professions and general atmosphere. If you don’t like playing the demo, you can stop. You tried. Maybe World of Warcraft is not for you.
But if you do, or are on the fence, upgrading to the full game with almost all of the current expansion packs is only $20. The basic edition of the game gives you access to all content up to level 100, plus it comes with a free month of subscription time. Considering the game costs $15 a month to play, it’s almost like getting the game for $5. Sort of.
Or if you’re really, really into the game and don’t want to spend an additional $50 on the Legion expansion and then another $50 in September for this year’s Battle of Azeroth, there’s the Complete Collection. It includes the main game and every expansion pack up to and including Battle of Azeroth for $90. Don’t get it unless you’re absolutely sure. There’s no going back from the Complete Collection. Not without feeling silly, at least.
You’ve got the game, installed it on your computer, and now you are ready to play some of them Worlds of Warcraft. But which World of Warcraft world will you World of Warcraft on? There are currently tons of World of Warcraft servers to choose from. Which you should pick can depend on a number of factors.
Time Zone: A server’s time zone generally determines when people will be playing on that server. If you’re on an Eastern U.S. server, things start picking up between 4 and 5 PM Eastern on weekdays, with activity slowing as the night turns to early morning. If you’re on a Pacific server, expect to dial those times back three hours or so. Say you live on the East Coast but work a job that gets you home pretty late. You might want to consider a Pacific server.
At least that’s how server time zones are supposed to work. Thing is, the in-game server picker doesn’t list servers by time zones, only by geographic region. If you want to see servers by time zone, you’ll have to hit up a site like Wowpedia, which maintains a handy list.
Physical Server Location: While I’ve never had any issues with lag playing World of Warcraft on servers far from my physical location, some people like a server close to home. That’s fine, as long as your home is near Chicago or Los Angeles. All of the America’s World of Warcraft servers are located in one of those two cities. Want a list? Wowpedia for the win once more.
Server Type: There are four types of World of Warcraft servers. Pick one.
- PVE servers are player versus environment, also known as easy mode. Players go about the business of completing quests and earning experience without worrying about being attacked by the opposing faction, though you can toggle the ability to kill and be killed by others.
- PVP servers highlight the ongoing conflict between Alliance and Horde by letting players of opposite factions attack each other out in the open world. PVP servers can be a great deal of fun if you enjoy healthy competition or cursing.
- RP servers are PVE servers dedicated to players and guilds who enjoy speaking in character, crafting their own storylines and maybe having sex with elves. Many players choose RP servers not for role-playing, but because they figure the player base on these servers will be less caustic. Role-players HATE those people.
- RP-PVP servers are the same as PVP servers, only when you are brutally murdered you have to substitute “fucking asshole” with the more fantasy-appropriate “fucking arsehole.” Oh, and the people killing you have less obnoxious names. Sometimes.
Note that PVP servers will be going away in the next expansion as part of a massive revamp to the way PVP works in the game, so enjoy those while you can. Soon everyone will be able to PVP or not PVP at their discretion.
Where Your Friends Are: If you’re starting World of Warcraft to play with friends, they really should have convinced you sooner. Pick the server they are on anyway. That way you are always with your pals, and you can ask them for gold and leveling help.
Server Community: If you don’t have friends (aww) and want to make new ones (yay), take some time to poke around the official forums for the server you’re considering. At the very bottom of the World of Warcraft forums page there’s a set of forums specific to every game realm. Hop in, read some posts. Get a feel for what you’re getting into. And should you choose a server, go introduce yourself. Everybody loves new players. Even the people who shout “GOOGLE” when you ask questions in chat. Especially them.
The “war” part of World of Warcraft refers to the ongoing struggle between the human-led forces of the Alliance and the orc-centric armies of the Horde. Before making a character, you must make a choice. Back in the early days of WoW, it was a simple choice. The Horde had ugly races and Shamans, the Alliance had pretty races and Paladins. But now both sides have all the classes, everybody’s got elves and pandas—the lines have blurred.
Take a look at the races for both sides. See one you like? Pick that side. Have friends playing on the Alliance side? Pick Alliance. Have friends on the Horde side? Pick Alliance, because those friends are bad and wrong.
Look, people have their personal preferences. I tend to lean Alliance, in case you haven’t noticed, but I’ve met great people on either side of the conflict. If all else fails, make a character for both sides, and see which one you like the best.
Then go with Alliance.
It all comes down to this. Seven races. Ten character classes. Which will you choose? WHICH WILL YOU CHOOSE!?
There are thirteen playable races in World of Warcraft. Six are Alliance and six are Horde, with the roly-poly panda race available to both factions. Assuming you’ve already picked a faction, that means you’ve now got to choose which type of gnome you want to be. Or the other races, sure.
Each race in World of Warcraft has its own resistances, enhanced stats and some sort of special ability. Ignore these completely. They don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. There are two main concerns involved in choosing a race as a new player.
- Do I like the way this race looks?
- Can this race be the class I want to play?
Take gnomes. Gnomes are adorable and cuddly and they make fun noises. But for some reason Blizzard has denied them the ability to be Druids, Paladins or Shamans. Until Blizzard realizes that gnomes are a force of nature that cannot be stopped, you’ll have to choose one of the lesser races if you want to be a Druid.
Otherwise, pick what you like. Something pretty. Something cool. If you’re a role-player, pick a race that suits the sort of RP character you want to be. If you want to dance on mailboxes in your underwear, go for night elf. If you want to smell really bad, undead is a choice you can make. This is your chance to be anything you want to be. Take it .
Know Your Role
For a new player, picking a class isn’t that big of a deal. In fact, part of the fun of starting fresh is going through the various character classes and seeing what sticks. There was a time, year ago, when some classes were more friendly for new players than other, but Blizzard has simplified the leveling process so much that any available class is viable. The main concern to keep in mind when selecting a class is the role you’d like to play in an adventuring party—healer, tank or damage-per-second (DPS).
What’s really nice about World of Warcraft’s classes is that many of them aren’t locked into a single role. At level 10, players choose one of three specializations (specs), ability paths that help define how their chosen class plays. For some classes (Mage, Rogue, Warlock, Hunter) the different specs are simply different ways to perform the same role. For others, spec choice determines the role they’ll play.
Take my level 10 Paladin, whom I will never play because of my irrational hatred of blood elves. He has a choice between being a Holy healer, a Protection tank or a Retribution damage dealer. He can switch between these three specs on the fly, so he’s never locked in to any one role. Or he can sit there and rot, because blood elves are the worst.
Here’s a breakdown of which of the starting classes can be what:
- Healer: Priest, Druid, Shaman, Paladin, Monk
- Tank: Warrior, Druid, Paladin, Monk
- DPS: Every class, because doing damage is so much fun.
My advice? Experiment. Try each class. Fiddle with their specs. See what you like. Don’t make the mistake of going to the World of Warcraft forums or Reddit page and searching for “best tank class” or “highest damage per second.” Take your time and find the character you want to play. Or just play them all.
That Name Is Unavailable
The final step in creating a character is choosing a name. You’ll see this message a whole lot.
Fourteen years of people selecting names does not leave a lot of options open, but keep trying. People delete characters all the time, so there’s no telling when you might find a gem of a name. Crunchy was taken, but my plan to do a rotating animated GIF of rejected names was thwarted when my second choice turned out to be available.
Once you’ve got a name, hit that “Enter World” button and you’re good to go.
Time To Play
Now we’ve come to the easy part. Over the years, the leveling experience in World of Warcraft has evolved to the point where all you really have to do is follow the quests. No matter which character class or race you choose, when you log into the starting area you get a brief cinematic, followed by your first quest.
That quest leads to more quests—fighting creatures, collecting things, talking to NPCs.
There’s no real need to grind for experience points. There are always quests. Thanks to the recently introduced zone scaling feature, these quests are always tailored to your characters level. And when you complete the story/quest line in one area, there’s another one waiting to be tackled in the next.
Should you find yourself unsure as to where to go next, hitting SHIFT+J brings up a handy Adventure Guide, showing all the zones, dungeons and player-versus-player activities available to a player of your level.
Don’t worry if you find yourself passing on quest areas as you level up. My level 25 Warrior in the image above has four different zones she can quest through. There’s no way she’ll be able to do all of them. Pick one and make a note of the others for the next character you level up.
You’re going to miss out on some cool story content the first time through. 2010’s Cataclysm expansion drastically retooled most of the game’s early zones, adding rich, dynamic storylines to areas previously deemed skippable. There are less “collect 10 pelts” sort of quests and more “find the ingredients to make a thing”, “steal the plans” or “investigate the mysterious place” quests. And when the game does ask you to kill X number of creatures to collect Y items, there’s generally a good story reason.
The only old world zones untouched by Cataclysm were the starting areas for the blood elves and draenei. If you roll either of those races, get out of the starting zone as fast as you can.
Otherwise, ask any World of Warcraft player which leveling zone storylines can’t be missed and you’ll get different answers. On the Alliance side I’ve always been fond of the Deadmines storyline in Westfall, with its whispers of insurgency and underground pirate ship. And while I’m not big on the Horde, I have to admit the entire Undead (Forsaken) storyline, which takes players from Tirisfal Glades through Silverpine Forest to the Hillsbrad Foothills and beyond is one of the better realized pieces of fiction in any massively multiplayer game.
The leveling process in World of Warcraft can be pretty lonely these days. The days when every low-level zone was filled with players chatting about disgusting things and making Chuck Norris jokes are long gone (no matter how hard I try to bring them back). You’ll mostly see other characters in dungeon finder parties, randomly grouped together by the game from a cross-server pool, disappearing once the dungeon is done.
But you don’t have to play alone. This is a massively multiplayer role-playing game, after all. There are people. You just need to find them.
When general chat channels are available, use them, preferably maturely and respectfully. I like to say “Hi!” when I enter a new area. Most of the time the response is dead silence, but every now and then people will start talking.
The best way to make friends in World of Warcraft is to join a guild. Oftentimes new characters will start getting random guild invites the moment they log into the game from officers desperate to pad their ranks. If their pitch is good, give them a chance. You can always leave if it’s not a good fit.
Better yet, remember those server forums I talked about earlier? Go there and search for guilds looking for new members. Or post your own “Looking for Guild” message. Describe the sort of folks you’re looking to play with, say something about yourself, and there’s a good chance you’ll find your own World of Warcraft family.
Learning The Lore Of Warcraft
It’s possible to play and enjoy World of Warcraft without knowing any of the game’s lore. Basic concepts and characters are explained as the game’s story unfolds, and while individual zone stories can be skipped, the main story beats remain the same. But if you want to get the most out of the game, some reading, or at least extended watching, is highly recommended.
For a general overview of game’s lore, Blizzard’s own World of Warcraft Chronicles series comes highly recommended. It’s an exhaustively detailed look at the history of not only Azeroth, but the entire universe. No really, the first volume deals with the birth of the cosmos and the powerful forces that shaped the game world. The second covers the history of Draenor, the homeworld of the orcish race, along with the first two wars between what eventually becomes the Alliance and the Horde.
The only problem with the Chronicles series is that it’s a bit behind what’s happening in the game right now, and it’s doubtful that volume three, due out later this month, will catch up.
For a less clinical look at the history of World of Warcraft, there’s a growing library of novels based on the figures and events that have shaped the game. I’ve particularly enjoyed Christie Golden’s contributions to WoW fiction, mostly character-focused novels exploring the stories of characters like former Horde Warchief Thrall, Arthas the Lich King, and renowned sorceress Jaina Proudmoore.
And if reading is not your thing, there’s always YouTube, where Warcraft historian Nobbel87 has been keeping players appraised of the backstory of important events and characters for years. There’s a good reason his 40 minute video covering lore from the creation of the universe on up to 2014’s Warlords of Draenor expansion has nearly 3.5 million views.
World of Warcraft has a dedicated community filled with experienced players eager to help new players get their footing. I took to the forums and asked some of those players for their advice for starting players. Here are some of my favorite responses.
- “Be chill, go to your own rhythm and try stuff out till you find what you like.” — Aeliren <The Blades of Greymane>
- “Never assume anything about any aspect of the game, good or bad. There have been various parts of the game over the years that I never tried because I assumed based on the in-game description (or just plain ignorance), that I wouldn’t enjoy them. Lo & Behold, I ended up not liking some of them. Others? I ended up getting really involved in.” — Brænnuð <Winter Solstice>
- “Don’t be surprised if you end up mostly playing by yourself into max level. It doesn’t mean people aren’t social in this game, it’s just that most people speed through leveling and don’t bother grouping up like other MMOs. WoW has infinitely more to do at end game than other MMOs, though, especially in a group.” — Arcelia <NØ Mercy>
- “Don’t be in a rush to get to the end game. Yes, I know it’s all exciting and new and what friends you may have are in the top levels or whatever. But all that stuff you want to rush through is content, it is lore, and it is meaningful. Read the quests. Explore the world, there are books scattered here and there in otherwise empty cabins or whatever and they each have something to say.” — Cihys <Vagabonds Rest>
- “Save your boosts (items that come with expansion packs that automatically level up a character). Level at least one character fresh from level 1 all the way up. Learn the game slowly before you get thrown into the deep end with a fresh 100 or 110.” — Liaeatha <Wolves of Valhalla>
- “Remember, there will never be a second chance at a first time experience. Enjoy the newness while it lasts.” Aarschott <Dead Parrot Society>
- “Read Chronicles and play Warcraft 2, 3, and the Frozen Throne!
- The game is pretty old and a lot of the leveling content is very dated, so having a knowledge of the lore and understanding the world you’re moving through is really helpful.” — Wormsworth
- In other words, you want us to write your article for you? How much will you be paying us? — Wartorch
You can check out the entire thread on the World of Warcraft forums for more mostly-friendly advice.
The most important advice I can give a new World of Warcraft player is to just have fun. That might seem obvious, but MMORPGs can sometimes become more of a chore, especially in later levels where there’s not much to do but daily quests and regular challenging raids.
If the game stops being fun for you, stop playing. Take a break. Play other things. I hear that Final Fantasy XIV is nice.