This guide is intended to help players who are new to World of Warcraft make sense of everything they have available to them while leveling in WoW. If you are a returning player, or an existing player, looking for information regarding character customization and system changes; we have you covered in our Returning Player Guide.
One of the first things you'll notice on the character creation screen is the races are split into two groups: Alliance and Horde. These are the two main factions in WoW. They each have their unique approaches to dealing with the rest of the world and each other. Within each faction, there is a lot of variation as well. For example, Tauren, Trolls, and Night Elves tend to be the most connected to nature and Azeroth's natural spirits. On the other hand, Gnomes and Goblins tend to be more interested in what they can use and create, not worried about any natural balance. The Pandaren are the only ones who can be either faction. Additionally, though you will see players of the opposite factions in the world, you can't group or communicate with them directly.
If you hover over each race, there's a concise description of that race's general outlook on things. If you right-click on the race description, you'll get a more extensive description, which mentions each race's racial bonuses. These racial bonuses can vary in importance depending on what you end up doing at max level. However, none of these racial abilities are required for anything except the most top tier content. So, unless you plan to play in tournaments or be in a world-first guild, my advice is to pick what seems interesting to you. If you want something different, leveling a new character is a relatively quick process.
After choosing your faction and race, the next order of business is deciding which class you want to play. Unfortunately, this choice isn't entirely separate from race choice because not every race can access every class. As you mouse over each class, there is a popup explaining the basics, and if you mouse over any greyed-out class, the popup will tell you which races can choose that class, and also, the icons for each race will also pulsate. It's a very cool feature that helps with figuring out the whole race/class question.
Every class falls into either a pure damage class or a hybrid class, which can choose between dealing damage, healing, and/or tanking. Some damage dealers are ranged (which means they tend to keep distance between their target and themselves) while others are melee and like to be right up in the thick of things. The pure damage classes are: Rogue (melee), Hunter (ranged/melee), Mage (ranged), and Warlock (ranged). The hybrids are: Warrior (melee tank/damage), Paladin (melee tank/damage/healer), Priest (ranged damage/healer), Shaman (melee/ranged damage/healer), Monk (melee tank/damage/healer), Druid (melee/ranged tank/damage/healer), Demon Hunter (melee tank/damage), Death Knight (melee tank/damage).
Thankfully you don't have to pick a specialization until you leave the tutorial zone. For the first ten levels, you'll just be learning the basics of whatever class you choose, so you have some time. Also, switching specs within a class is easy; you can do it anytime you aren't in combat. The best way to choose a class is to pick what archetype appeals to you the most. The animated preview for each class does a reasonably good job of showing each class's basics. One word of caution, though, WoW is a dimorphic MMO, which means the way a class works while leveling and how it works at max level is different. How much this difference manifests depends on what class you choose and what types of activities you end up enjoying. Blizzard has made some great strides to lessen this effect, but it is still something to be aware of.
After all of that hubbub, it's time to customize your character. There are many options, but it doesn't go into the detail that some other MMOs do. For example, you won't be able to tweak the exact proportions of your character's face to your liking. The character customizations try to walk a line between offering various options and being overwhelming with too many options. One thing to note on this front is everything about how your character looks (gender, hair, eyes, face, body paint/tattoos, etc.) can be altered at the Barber Shop in any city for a nominal gold cost. Additionally, Worgen and Druids can customize the look of their animal forms separate from their humanoid forms, and these can also be altered in the Barber Shop.
Exile's Reach will be your home for levels 1 – 10. This zone functions both as a basic tutorial for the game and a basic tutorial for the class you chose. For the most part, everything which happens here is reasonably self-explanatory and has plenty of indicators. Occasionally though, some aspect of the tutorial will bug out here and there. I once logged into my level 10 character, and I had a popup to check out my new ability for every ability I had obtained levels 1 – 10, despite the fact I had done that throughout the leveling process. Most of the time, typing "/reload" without the parenthesis, which just quickly reloads the game, will clear up those issues. Other times, I just had to ignore it for a while until it went away on its own.
I'd also encourage you to read the quest text and listen to the dialogue spoken throughout your time in Exile's Reach. Both of these will not only inform you about what is happening around you and why, but they also have essential information about how to complete each quest. At the end of the questline, you'll enter an instance with two NPCs to introduce the basic concept of dungeons. The NPCs will fill the Healer and Tank roles, so you can focus on dealing a bunch of damage. If there are other players in the area on that quest step, they will be grouped up with you automatically. If not, you can complete it all on your own.
When you enter into Exile's Reach, you'll also be added to the newcomer chat channel. This channel has only new players and veteran players who have volunteered to help out. It's an excellent resource for asking questions about WoW in general, a fundamental class question, or if you're just confused about what you're supposed to be doing. When you first log in, take a look at the chat window in the lower left of your screen. It should give let you know which channel is the newcomer chat. I believe the default is four, so you would have to type "/4" and then type what you want to say in there and then hit the enter key. However, if you need help killing something or finding a spawn point, using general chat "/1" would be better for that stuff. Newcomer chat is across servers, and the people in it are spread throughout the game world (you don't get kicked out when you leave Exile's Reach). So, using general chat for help where you specifically are is usually the better option.
Additionally, once you have taken one character through Exile's Reach once, any characters you make after that will have the choice of going to either Exile's Reach or a starting zone more tailored to your chosen race for that character. There's less of an obvious tutorial in the alternate starting zones (since you can't go to these as a brand-new player), but they are fun and interesting as well. It is worth noting, though, that the alternate starting zones all were implemented in WoW at various points throughout the years, so they might refer to events and people in ways they don't currently exist in-game. Just remember you are peering into WoW's past, and it should be pretty easy to follow.
Once you complete the Exile's Reach questline, you'll be flown to either Orgrimmar (Horde) or Stormwind (Alliance). Shortly after arriving, an NPC will greet you and offer to give you a tour of the city, although most of the time, he's following you and just marking places for you to go on the map. You can't skip this on the first playthrough, and you really shouldn't try to, as you would miss out on going to get your first mount and going to your trainer to choose your spec.
As I previously mentioned, most of the time, you can freely change which spec you are outside of combat. However, to pick your first spec, you need to see your trainer. This is incredibly helpful because the trainer will have more information about how each spec works to help you choose. It's also worth mentioning that you might need specific gear to make the most of it for some specs. This is particularly true when specing Protection on Paladin or Warrior, as both require a one-handed weapon and a shield. If you've been running around with a two-handed weapon, you'll want to make sure you have a one-handed weapon and shield handy to try tanking with those classes.
After the tour, the questline taking you to the Battle for Azeroth storyline will startup. However, there are a few other things you may want to check out before leaving town. One quick note, anytime you are in a city and are looking for a vendor, trainer, bank, transmog, etc. talk to any guard to ask them how to get to what you are looking for. They'll mark it on the map for you. You can tell who the guards are when you mouse over them, and the cursor turns into a little scroll/map.
One thing oddly missing on the city tour, and located in every city, is the bank. It is merely a place where you can stash the extra stuff you don't want to carry around with you. It works similarly to how your inventory does, where there are bags slots, and the size of the bags you put in those slots determines how much room you have in your bank. Unlike your inventory, you only get the first slot open with a bag in it. To open the others, you have to pay with the in-game currency. The first slot costs ten silver, the second is one gold, the third is ten gold, and the price continues in this manner.
There is also a tab in the bank for reagents. This tab is different because you don't need to put a bag in it, and you can't increase its size. You do, however, need to pay 100 gold to unlock it. That might sound like a lot, but gold will be easier and easier to come by as you level. Although you are unlikely to unlock the reagents section quickly, I mention it because it's handy. The reagent tab only holds crafting materials, which can go a long way to clearing bag space when working on leveling professions. Also, you don't have to remove crafting materials from the bank to use them either! So, you will probably want to spend that 100g sooner or later.
Guilds are the backbone of the social aspect of WoW. Many people might think of guilds for the max level game of raiding and PVP, but they can serve a lot of purposes while leveling. Not only can they provide people to help you, but they're often also great to chat with or do random things in-game. Some of my best memories in WoW have happened because my guildies and I were hanging out and randomly wondered "what would happen if…" and then went and tried to do that random thing.
However, finding the right guild for you is vital, and it's never been easier. In the micro menu (that thing you can click to get to your character screen and has the "?" to get help menu) is a "Guild & Communities" button. Clicking that opens the Guild Finder, which is extremely useful in finding a guild that suits you. You should consider what you'd like to get out of a guild and what sort of people you'd like to be around. Additionally, thinking about what size of a guild you want to be in is an important consideration. Smaller guilds might have a more difficult time getting people to do some things, but they also can be easier to get to know the people in the guild. It just depends on what you are looking for.
All you have to do is select what criteria you are looking for in a guild and click search. Then when you find one that sounds good, click "request to join." You'll be asked to fill out some basic information, and then you can submit. Most of the time, an officer of that guild will either whisper you or send you a mail so they can talk to you a bit more directly, and both of you can get a feel for if it'll be a good fit or not. You can apply to multiple guilds at one time; however, you can only be in one guild at a time.
Also, remember that joining a guild isn't a one-time choice, and then you are stuck forever. As you continue to play WoW, the sorts of activities you want to do might change. Or you might want a guild with a different mindset. Either way, it's always your prerogative to move on when you feel you need to. In general, it's good etiquette to be upfront with the guild officers about this sort of thing though there are circumstances where you may not feel comfortable with that. Likewise, guilds aren't required to keep you around either and may kick you out. Most of the time, it's for things like breaking guild rules or causing drama in the guild. There can be some trial and error in finding the right guild, but it is worth the search because having a good guild can enhance the experience of playing WoW substantially.
Heading to Battle for Azeroth
So, you're done with the city tour, and you are off to start the most recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth. If you are Horde, you'll join Princess Talanji as she runs from the Alliance back to Zuldazar. As Alliance, you enter the action as Anduin receives a report of what happened, and then you are off to Kul'tiras. I'm not going to go into everything that happens during this expansion because it's worth experiencing as it plays out. However, I will say, if you are Horde – yes, getting around Dazar'alor is frustrating.
I briefly mentioned Professions earlier, but now I'm going to address them more directly. You might have been tempted to learn your professions while you were in Orgrimmar or Stormwind, but there's an excellent reason I waited to the BfA section to talk about them. You see, every expansion that has been released for WoW has added a new set of recipes and increased the number of skill points needed to max a profession out. If you learned a new profession, you had to go back through all the old content and old materials to level it up, which was just frustrating. So, Blizzard broke each expansion's version of the profession up into unique skill lines and recipe lists. As a result, you only need to learn the version for the content you are doing. By waiting until you get to Zandalar or Kul'tiras, you ensure you learn the version you'll need for the mats you'll be gathering in those areas.
There are two different tiers of professions, primary and secondary. Each character can only learn two primary professions at any time, and if you want to learn a different one, you have unlearn one of the two you already know. For secondary professions, you can learn all of them simultaneously. The secondary professions are First Aid, Fishing, Cooking, and Archeology. They each have their frustrations and perks, and you can decide if you want to spend time on them or not. The primary professions are skinning, mining, herbalism, tailoring, leatherworking, blacksmithing, jewelcrafting, alchemy, and enchanting. The primary professions are all ones in which you craft wearable gear or gather materials for the professions which craft gear. This is the reason a character can only learn two of these professions.
Once you have leveled a character to the max level, you can bypass the city tour and find Chromie. She might look like a Gnome, but she's actually a bronze dragon, and they are masters of time. If you speak with her, you'll be able to pick any of the previous expansions to level through instead of BfA. By doing this, all the content for that expansion will be scaled to your level and gives as close as you can get to the experience of playing those expansions when they first came out. Not only is this a great way to experience some of the history of World of Warcraft, but it also adds a lot of variety to the experience of leveling.
I hope this guide was helpful for anyone just starting on their adventure in WoW. Please, let me know if anything is confusing or if I forgot something important. I know I left out many finer details, but I kept it on the shorter side not to be too overwhelming. Besides, I don't want to destroy the joy of discovery ??