World of Warcraft Shadowlands leveling guide: How to hit level 50 fast

For most of this year, as a response to the global pandemic, World of Warcraft players benefitted from a rare 2x experience point boost. It was a great time to level any missing class and faction combos in time for the release of Shadowlands. But like every good thing, it came to an end with the great level squish brought on by the delayed expansion’s pre-patch event. Character max levels have gone from a whopping 120 down to 50. It’ll nudge up to 60 when the expansion lands, but EXP rates for those final 10 levels will be considerably slower than the 50 before it.

Even without the pandemic boost, the leveling experience hasn’t slowed. In fact, it’s faster. With less than a month to go until World of Warcraft: Shadowlands kicks off, here’s how to level to 50 fast, so you have one of every class going into the new content.

Play in Exile’s Reach

World of Warcraft Exile's Reach

Though it’s clearly meant as a tutorial for new players, the Exile’s Reach starting zone, added for the pre-patch, is by far the best way through the early levels of the game. Class and race-specific starting zones from the “vanilla” World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade haven’t changed since their exception. They still focus more on exploration and discovery than the story they’re trying to tell in the process.

This creates a better paced approach to questing, with multiple hubs scattered around a relatively large (and oftentimes boring) zone. Exile’s Reach, on the other hand, is built with more modern MMO trends in mind. You zip from quest to quest with speed, all while learning your class and messing around with some of the game’s newer mechanics. It’s a blast, and with one quest giving you a walking speed boost for a few minutes, you get things done that much faster. There’s even a mini co-op dungeon at the end.

It’s easy to complete this zone in under an hour, catapulting you a fifth of the way to the current max level in under 60 minutes. That’s a feat that took the better part of an evening in the past. Allied Races and classes like the Demon Hunter and Death Knight more or less skip this part entirely, but for any other class, Exile’s Reach is the fastest way out of the gate.

The fastest WoW expansions for leveling

Wow Shadowlands leveling times

The best part about World of Warcraft’s new leveling experience is that you’re no longer expected to consume unequal chunks of its 15-year history to reach its current story. You don’t have to peer at the absurdly big world map to figure out where to carry on your adventure every hour or two when you out-level wherever it is that you currently are.

Instead, the whole 10-50 experience is covered across a single expansion. Which you choose is completely up to you — unless you’ve never had a max-level character before. In that case, you’re sent straight from Exile’s Reach into the Battle for Azeroth expansion.

World of Warcraft site Wowhead has done the heavy lifting here, working out the average time it takes to reach level 50 through each expansion zone. Not all expansions are created equal. Just like how the vanilla opening zones take longer to complete than their more modern equivalents, newer expansions tend to expedite the leveling experience through sheer quest density and linearity. You’re carefully sent from one quest to the next rather than left to find another quest hub after exhausting the last.

The Burning Crusade expansion continent of Outland can take around 24 hours to complete by their calculation. It took 7 hours to gain 15 levels in our own average player tests without taking most of our own tips into account. Warlords of Draenor and Legion, on the other hand, tend to take the average player half the time to ding all the way to 50.

If you have a day off work and no prior commitments, it’s entirely possible to marathon a character to the current max level in a single day without wrecking your sleep schedule. With the right expansion, of course. That’s a gargantuan change from the way things used to be.

How to get Shadowlands pre-patch EXP buffs

The overhauled leveling of the Shadowlands pre-patch rendered a lot of older EXP buffs obsolete. Even Heirloom equipment, a common sight anywhere but the current expansion zone, has had its lucrative EXP bonuses turned off. But there’s still a way to get a handy EXP buff if you have a pre-existing character to use as a delivery mule.

Draught of Ten Lands is a potion/consumable introduced in the most recent expansion. It’s the rare instance of an item that still grants an EXP buff after the patch — 10%, in fact. You can’t buy it with Gold, nor can you craft it. Instead, you have to trade five 7th Legion Service Medals to Provisioner Stoutforge in Battle for Azeroth’s Boralus zone. The potion only lasts an hour, so if you’re planning to maximize your gains, you’ll want at least 10 of these things to see you through to the end. That’s 50 medals.

At this point, you’ll need to weigh up the time it takes to amass 50 medals against the time you’ll save by using them on whichever character it is you’re leveling. If you already have a stack of medals, the decision is that much simpler. You also get +5 to all stats, so that could account for quicker kills, making for quicker quest completion, too.

Learn to ride and fly!

World of Warcraft mount speeds

One often forgotten part of the recent level squish is its effect on when you learn to ride mounts in World of Warcraft. Mounts offer far faster traveling speeds than walking alone, speeding up the leveling process exponentially but cutting down on travel time.

For years now, you’ve had to level to 20 to mount up, then reach milestones further and further up the leveling experience to gain faster mounted travel speeds and, most importantly, flying mounts. All that changes with the pre-patch. You’ll unlock the ability to mount up at level 10 – just an hour or so into the game – with faster speeds at 20, flying mounts at 30, and even faster flying mounts at 40. Here’s how it looks:

  • Apprentice Riding (60% ground mount) = 10 Silver at Level 10
  • Journeyman Riding (60% ground mount) = 50 Gold at Level 20
  • Expert Riding (150% flying mount) = 250 Gold at Level 30
  • Master Riding (310% flying mount) = 5,000 Gold at Level 40

The Gold required for each shouldn’t be a problem until the Level 40 unlock, but if you have 5,000 Gold on a pre-existing character to spare, you can more than double your regular flying mount speed, making the last 10 levels go by in an instant.

Flying alone will make a dramatic difference in leveling times (you don’t have to worry about finding ways up and down terrain). You level so fast that it’s entirely possible to forget to upgrade your riding skill along the way, but it’s almost certainly worth the couple of minutes away from your quest hub to pick up. Especially when you can learn to fly.

Grab some grub (and equipment)

You won’t notice it for the first 20 levels or so, but things will start to get more difficult as you progress. Plate-wearing classes like Warriors can take on a bunch of enemies at once without taking much damage, but as things progress, the struggle for level-appropriate armor will start to become apparent. That’s why health/mana replenishing food becomes a near-necessity at around level 25 or so.

Unless you’re using at least three Heirloom pieces, passive health regeneration is very slow. If you don’t have any healing spells of your own to get you healthy between fights, chowing down can keep downtime to a minimum, speeding up the leveling process.

Another way to mitigate this is to ensure you’re getting new equipment as often as you can. Earlier expansions can be slow on this front, so if you find yourself struggling to keep up with mobs, think about grabbing new gear from the auction house if you have the coin.

Run a dungeon (or twelve)

WoW dungeons

Assuming you don’t have your heart set on experiencing the story of whichever expansion you choose, Dungeons could offer a faster route to 50 still. EXP rates have been “normalized” since the patch hit, but they can still offer a dramatic bump in player experience upon completion, often netting you a ding in as little as 10 minutes.

The dungeons available to you this way depend on which expansion you choose, though. Decide on the Battle for Azeroth questline and you’ll be stuck to its fairly limited selection of early dungeons, for example. It’s safe to assume the shorter the expansion you choose, the more players you’ll have waiting in the dungeon queues, getting you into them that much faster.

As ever, tanks and healers will have near-instant queue times. If you’re playing a class that can pull off those roles, expect dungeons to be an easy way to hit the level cap.

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