WoW Factor: The World of Warcraft leveling experiences ranked, part two

Actually call it a comeback.

And we’re back! Last time, we went through the four lower expansions in terms of ranking World of Warcraft’s leveling experiences. This time, we’re going through the top four. This is a pretty straightforward process; sometimes doing things in a sequential chunk of columns makes that happen, after all.

One thing I do want to talk about before we get into the meat, though, is why I arrange things in this way. I knew the whole list when I started, so I certainly could have started with the best one and gone down the list… but I prefer doing it this way simply because it allows us to end on high notes and talk about the stuff that WoW has done well over the years. Instead of ending by standing in the muck and mire of Cataclysm, this time I get to end high upon the spires of…

What, exactly? Well that’s what we’re going to find out.

Bored now.

4: Vanilla But More Cataclysmic What

Here’s the thing about the old-world revamp: For all that there are things I can point to that are not great about it, some of the things in there are solid to outright good. And it has something that no other expansion can possibly have in sheer enormous variety.

Most expansions level through a half-dozen zones. The zones are a bit bigger than the ones from the game’s initial launch, sure, but the sheer volume of zones on Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms means that this is going to win out in terms of how many different places there are for you to go. There are a lot of different stories and zones to explore here, top to bottom, to the point wherein two characters of the same faction could level 10-50 through totally different paths without any actual quest overlap.

Moreover, the various quests are usually good about providing rewards as you quest through them, based on a great deal of attention being paid during the revamp to ensuring that this would be the case. In fact, the biggest challenge for some of this flow is just the fact that getting to these zones initially can be a bit off-putting.

I know, it feels weird that this experience – especially when it has gone on to be reviled for years – is actually a pretty good option. And to be totally fair, it’s still a mixed bag. The Cataclysm zones do rear their head at the end, for example. The zones here that are bad are definitely bad. And a lot of the stuff that was memorable and fun in the base game gets kind of mashed down into a formless mass here. It’s not as good as it could be.

But the point is that the revamped vanilla leveling experience is still pretty solid as a leveling path. At least that revamp worked out as intended!

Holy moly.

3: Warlords of Draenor

Oh, this one is a big pile of what the heck, huh.

So Warlords of Draenor has only managed to get knocked out of the “worst expansion ever” spot by virtue of Battle for Azeroth, and that’s not something anyone would really point to as a win. This expansion was grindingly awful to be living in for two years, to the point where the developers basically just gave up on it after one major content patch. And yet it also has one of the most solid leveling experiences in the entire game, helped particularly by letting you fly the whole time while also sporting a whole lot of optional side content.

For every confused moment about how it fits into the wider metaplot, the actual moment-to-moment storytelling is fun, engaging, and often delves into corners of Draenor lore that were only briefly touched upon in Outland. There are also so many weird corners to explore that odds are nigh-universal you will wind up finding new things you hadn’t explored before in the midst of your leveling process, and bonus objectives help provide a nice kick upward. Heck, it’s even one of the fastest leveling experiences, which is another mark in its favor!

As weird as it might seem, Warlords of Draenor actually has a really solid leveling experience, and it might well be worth a trip back through if you haven’t played it in a while. Sure, you’ve gotten used to thinking of what a slog this expansion was… but that was when it was also the endgame. Things are different now.


2: Wrath of the Lich King

I don’t need to tell anyone why you should like this expansion. Instead, I want to tell you why you perhaps should not, because all of the virtues of Wrath of the Lich King as an overall experience do not perhaps extend to its leveling run. And that surprised me, too.

One of the things I forgot from my prior experiences, for example, was how slow leveling is during the early stages of this. Heck, for much of the expansion the quest objectives are much more spread out, and while that can lead to some wonderfully atmospheric moments as you explore Northrend, it also means that you spend a lot of time just waiting for things to happen. While the quest design was more or less up to modern standards, the quest pacing was not, and the presentation suffers in many places.

It still bothers the heck out of me that the Wrathgate event now ends at the gate itself, too. Yes, I understand why that change was made, but it also means that the big moment is a total plot cul-de-sac now.

Having said all of that, Chromie Time does helpfully change some needed aspects like ensuring that the higher zones are accessible a bit faster. (Northrend was kind of backloaded in deference to max-level questing.) And, you know… it’s Wrath. I don’t need to convince any of you that this expansion was good. You already know it. But that does mean it’s not quite as good as the best expansion leveling.


1: Mists of Pandaria

This one was actually kind of a surprise to me, but when you think about it, it really does track. You’ve got a diverse lineup of zones, each of which has a strong narrative throughline and plenty for individual characters to do. On top of that, every given zone offers you a whole lot of stuff off the beaten path if you want to stop following the “main” storyline. And the presentation is all top-notch.

About the worst things you can say about Pandaria as a leveling destination are all pretty weaksauce. Like… it does have some plot cul-de-sacs along the way because the game has moved on, but most of them are still mostly about setting a mood so it’s not a big deal. There’s some bits that are a little uncomfortable and stereotypical, but no more than any other expansion. And so on.

If you’re trying to pick a place just based on speed, WoD is almost certainly your fastest 10-50 rush. But MoP isn’t even that much longer, and it is an excellent expansion to level through from top to bottom. Slap on your heirlooms if you have them and get ready for a whole lot of panda time.

Or, to allude to a time-honored commercial… never say no to panda.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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Andrew Links

Saw comment about unlimited lvl 50 advancement below. Tons of these give me everything so I can be top raider people all over wow. In fact whole reason I stopped raiding are these people. They alone are ruining the playability of wow. Have 34 level 50 tools now after losing 80 levels on each not counting all my tools with levels between. And then the whiners who want the levels given to them so it becomes an arcade game. Please if blizzard is reading never ever give them that. As for zones easy MOP then the others but sad had to lose all those levels I worked had to get.

Oleg Chebeneev

Btw you can now do all quests in all zones in any expansion up to BFA on F2P character locked at level 20. They also removed gold cap and archaeology limitations from F2P. So free acounts have access of shitton of content. Maybe its worth discussing in Daily Grind or some column

Lucky Jinx

Well, the only rank I agree here is the first one. Mists of Pandaria is a favorite of many, including me. After that the list goes south quite rapidly. Wrath of the Lich King is not that great as a leveling experience, even Battle for Azeroth/Warlords of Draenor beats the old dinosaurs (TBC/WotLK/Cata). They are just insanely uncomfortable as far as plain leveling goes. I believe a lot of people voted based on nostalgia and good memories without even playing the game anymore.

My final top 3 would be MoP, Legion and BfA (Shadowlands might break into this group, but we shall see).


I actually level in draenor because at the same time i can set up my garrison. Yes i still use my garrison!


I was hoping they would have made every expansion equal on levelling from 1-50. Gear wise especially. I probably would stop for alot of my characters at 49.

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Going through Warlords of Draenor leveling content has been pretty smooth. The bonus objectives and treasures still feel worth doing even with the nerfs, though not something you go too far out of the way for.

I’ve yet to go through too much of Mists of Pandaria at the appropriate level, though I felt what I did experience previously was good. There’s some frustratingly unskippable RP moments which can be a slog on repeated playthroughs, but that’s not exclusive to that expansion alone.

Bruno Brito

“Let’s be real here,WoW leveling just isn’t relevant anymore. And Blizzard just won’t make it relevant. If they try, people will complain because of it.” – Asmongold.

Oleg Chebeneev

Dunno when he said that but tons of people are leveling alts now through all across expansions. Chromie is a huge hit feature

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Paragon Lost

Yep, I didn’t want to like MoP when it came out but man did it quickly make me change my mind. It is my favorite expansion. Second is WotLK and then third would be BC.

I still find myself amused at how much my wife and I enjoyed MoP. It was soo much fun, even on a pvp/rp server that we were on. Soo much fun.


Just a thought on Heirlooms in the Chromie Time zones.

They are, in my opinion, complete garbage. They simply do not help in any significant way.

The game makes enough gear of all types available to make even the minor stat differences going from 10 to 50 be irrelevant.

I used them at first, but then just dumped them in favor of drops and rewards.

Just my experience from leveling in WoD.


Yeah they only seem to make sense if you are leveling several alts at the same time. That way the restex xp bonus has some value.


Just a quick note: starting an alt in these later zones, you can NOT fly until level 30!

Not to big a deal as you will most likely be level 30 by the end of the first zone, and kicked out before the end of the 3rd zone anyway.

Note that you cannot go to the Cataclysm zones (in the new alt leveling scheme) until you reach level 30 (need flying). The game will put you in the ‘old world’ until then.