With the release of the Shadowlands expansion, leveling in World of Warcraft has changed dramatically. Character max levels have gone from a whopping high of 120 down to 60, with the 1 to 50 leveling experience outside of the new content being far faster than it once was. Here are all the tips and tricks you need to level a brand-new character from 1 to 50 and, further down, how to level your first, and any subsequent characters, to level 60 quickly in Shadowlands.
Play in Exile’s Reach
Class and race-specific starting zones from the “vanilla” World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade haven’t changed since their inception. They still focus more on exploration and discovery than the story they’re trying to tell in the process. But even though it’s clearly meant as a tutorial for new players, the new Exile’s Reach starting zone is by far the fastest 1-10 zone in the game.
Rather than having multiple quest hubs scattered around a relatively large (and oftentimes boring) zone, Exile’s Reach 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. There’s even a mini co-op dungeon at the end to get your feet wet with team-based combat.
It’s easy to complete this zone in under an hour, catapulting you a sixth 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 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
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!
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.
Note: while leveling through Battle for Azeroth or Legion zones, equip your mount with Monel-Hardened Stirrups/Demonsteel Stirrups respectively to enable item pick-up while mounted. This can do a long way in speeding up collection quests.
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)
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.
Once you reach level 50, you’re all set to head to the Shadowlands — World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion zone. Unlike the Wrath of the Lich King days — the story of which this is almost directly succeeding — it won’t take you 10 to 12 hours to net a single level on your way to 60. Don’t go thinking you’re weeks away from joining the rest of the game’s player base if you’re just now getting started.
In actuality, 10 to 12 hours is the rate an average player can expect to climb all the way from 50 to 60. How you do that is mostly going to boil down to questing around the new zones of Bastion, Maldraxxus, Ardenweald and Revendreth (likely in that order), but there are a few ways to speed things along.
New players should absolutely nip any wish of maxing level in the bud right away. That mentality will get you running every quest you come across, and while that would usually have been the best strategy in past expansions, it only results in wasted time in Shadowlands. These days, you need to run the Campaign questline to unlock anyway. Max-level content (like Covenants) are locked behind the linear Campaign questline. It’s designed to max out your EXP bar by the time they finish, so any distractions are, quite literally, a waste of time.
Because of this, you shouldn’t worry about any available EXP buffs. They’re not worth the effort and ultimately won’t speed anything up. But there are a few ways to speed up how quickly you complete the Campaign questline.
This nifty trick is one of the only things to work beyond level 50 right now. Before you head into the Shadowlands, get to your nearest auction house and buy Light-Step Hoofplates for your mount and you’ll forever have yourself a 20% faster ride. You can’t fly in Shadowlands, so anything that gets you from quest to quest faster will automatically mean hitting 60 sooner. It won’t stack with a similar effect, though, so for any class with a similar buff built-in, opt for Inflatable Mount Shoes so you can instead cut corners by riding over pesky moats and lakes.
Potions and more
As most quests revolve around killing enemies, anything that can help kill them sooner will pay off long-term. Most potions recommended between 1 and 50 won’t work beyond those levels, but the Drums of Fury will. Similar to the mount speed buff, Drums of Fury won’t be of much use to classes with skills like Bloodlust and Heroism, but for the rest, it’s a way to benefit from that potent effect, giving you the boost you might need to tackle a powerful quest target on your own. Stock up on these at the Auction House before you head off.
Gunshoes and Goblin Gliders are two more items you might want to stock up on. The first will catapult you forward and give a great boost to speed to help you get from one objective to another, whereas the Goblin Glider can help you safely float down to lower areas of the map without potentially dying in the process. Items like Monelite Key can help shorten quests that have you kill enemies for cage keys.
For big bonus quest and kill EXP gains, turn on War Mode at Stormwind or Orgrimmar. This enables World PvP, which can ultimately slow you down, but if you’re not being slaughtered by a member of the opposite faction every 20 minutes or so, you’ll probably level faster than without it. If the zone is notably active at the time, you’re free to toggle it back off again.
Once you’ve cleared the original Shadowlands campaign quests and unlocked your Covenant on one class, it happens automatically on any subsequent level 50 you intend to level next, making alt leveling a less linear experience.
You don’t have to settle for the same Covenant as your first character. You might choose your main based on the best overall raid damage for Castle Nathria, and alts can make use of powerful AoE and survival skills afforded by a Covenant like the Kyrian to maximize leveling throughput. What you end up choosing depends on why you want to use your Covenant skills to repair gaps in your class’s weaknesses or enhance the strengths. This about it before you make your choice.
After selecting your Covenant, you can start leveling up. The campaign missions are no longer necessary for unlocking content at level 60. Still, they award more consistent EXP than most sidequest hubs, meaning a mixture of both is the key to fast leveling.
Legendary player/streamer DesMephisto has a spreadsheet with optimal Shadowlands leveling routes, but they’re relatively difficult for the average player to make sense of in a pinch.
Instead of trying to follow it step-by-step, use the sheet as a guide as you play. It will help you select easier quests to make progress instead of getting stuck in longer missions.
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