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WoWApr 22, 2020 10:00 am CT

What is the best expansion to level from 10 to 50 in Shadowlands?

One of the choices you’re going to have leveling through World of Warcraft‘s next expansion, Shadowlands, is deciding which of the game’s expansions to go 10 to 50 in. There are a lot of options — The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, the post Cataclysm world of Azeroth, Cataclysm’s at the time endgame, Mists of PandariaWarlords of Draenor, Legion, and finally Battle for Azeroth‘s current content will become a leveling zone as well.

Now, if you’re a brand new player or starting a new character on a new account, the decision is made for you. You’ll be going from 1 to 10 in Exile’s Reach, and once you finish that, you’ll be sent to Kul Tiras or Zandalar to take part in Battle for Azeroth’s story which is the most direct setup for Shadowlands. But for most of us, we’ll have options, because we’ll be working on an alt and our mains will be level 50, ready to go to Shadowlands directly. So how to decide which expansion is the one we want?

How to choose where to go

One way is to consider racial bonuses. Lightforged Draenei, for example, get extra experience points for killing demons, so The Burning Crusade and Legion are excellent options for them. Darkspear Trolls, on the other hand, get extra experience for killing beasts, and so Azeroth with its varied zones full of wild animals might be a better choice for your Troll character. Similarly, Pandaren get double the rested XP, and so being able to log out in a place where they can gain rest might be a concern, making expansions like Wrath of the Lich King and others with a fair amount of settlements a good option for them. Most races don’t have an XP bonus like this to consider, however.

Now, of course, this is still up in the air because we don’t know how the XP balancing for content is going to work out. There are a lot of zones in post-Cataclysm Azeroth to level through, for example, vs. three zones per faction in Battle for Azeroth. While we know that Blizzard is referring to the system for leveling as ‘outdoor Timewalking‘ and that canonically any new character you start starts in the world of Azeroth as it exists just before Battle for Azeroth starts — in essence, any expansion you choose to level in that isn’t Battle for Azeroth is you travelling back in time — we don’t actually know how they’re going to make that work when not every expansion has the exact same amount of content.

Remember, leveling will be faster in Shadowlands

But knowing that the goal is to make leveling faster, and to make it so you don’t need to leave whatever expansion you choose to get to max level, some things seem fair enough to say. I think more recent expansions with a lot of content per zone are going to be attractive to players because there will be less travel time between them. Pretty much every expansion since The Burning Crusade does this to some extent, but it makes me wonder if players choosing to level in Azeroth itself will end up working harder that players running in Legion.

Also, what about expansion specific mechanics? Will players leveling in Legion find the Artifact Weapon mechanics slowing them down? Will class orders and class order halls and class order campaigns work as smoothly as other expansions, or feel like they drag you down, or actually provide enough experience to feel even faster than other expansions? Legion has some very dense zones full of content, so if the Artifact and class order quests don’t act like brakes Legion could end up one of the absolute favorites.

Speaking of things that are expansion-specific, if you haven’t earned flight via the Pathfinding achievements in Warlords or Legion, that may not be as influential a decision as it was in previous expansions. Though we are getting new flying ranks, it looks like flying for Warlords and Legion zones be granted at the level 30 expert flying rank, no Pathfinder required. However, Battle for Azeroth currently appears to be keeping its Pathfinder requirement, which could make it a frustrating expansion to level through.

My top four expansions to level through

For myself, looking at the expansions and remembering how much I enjoyed certain ones as leveling experiences, I think the strongest contenders are LegionWarlords of DraenorWrath of the Lich King, and Mists of Pandaria. I think if I had to rate them, it would depend on if I were playing a Lightforged Draenei or not, but for pure ease of getting XP from quests, for having the most varied dungeons to run, and for the least amount of travel time problems between quest hubs, I’d make the following call.

  1. Warlords of Draenor
  2. Wrath of the Lich King
  3. Legion
  4. Mists of Pandaria

I’d put Legion up to #2 for a Lightforged. Warlords has reasonable amounts of demons, so I’d probably keep it at #1 even for Lightforged. I pick Warlords because it’s got a seriously excellent story, it’s got varied zones full of quests and a lot of diversity between the kinds of quests, good integration between dungeons and zones, and it’s really easy to get a lot of XP before having to move particularly far to get to the next quest hubs. Also, Warlords has those objective areas where you can earn a big chunk of XP just for completing the objective, which you can often do while also doing quests. Legion is similar, but I think for a lot of players Wrath of the Lich King combines decent quest flow with nostalgia that will keep them playing, and that’s worth considering.

Each expansion has its partisans

Honestly I prefer Legion to either Warlords or Wrath, but then again, I also prefer Mists of Pandaria to either of them — if this was a list of my personal favorites it would be Mists, followed by Legion, followed by Warlords and then The Burning Crusade. While I think Wrath has solid quest design, good quest hub flow, and is a fine expansion, it’s not one of my favorites. I even prefer Cataclysm to Wrath, and the post-Cataclysm world of Azeroth is in my opinion one of the better options for players who just want to do a lot of different content as they level up.

But for pure speed, I’d be willing to bet that Warlords and Wrath will be the best options for the most players. Wrath of the Lich King is a lot of players’ favorite expansion and it managed that through some excellent storytelling, potent nostalgia, zones that packed a solid amount of questing in relatively close quarters, and some excellent dungeons (even if they’ve become very familiar to us over the years). And if somehow you’ve managed to miss Wrath, my recommendation is that you should absolutely level through it at least once. My biggest problem is that I was very active when I played it, and so I have seen a lot of this expansion — it really holds almost no way to surprise me nowadays. For players who’ve seen it less, or who don’t feel like they’ve been there or done that already? Wrath earned its reputation. It’s not #2 on that list just because I feel obligated, it’s #2 because, no matter how sick of it I might personally be, it’s simply a very good expansion.

The best combinations of story and XP

Still, for me, leveling in WoW has never been better than Warlords and Legion. Even Battle for Azeroth is extremely well done — zones like Nazmir and Drustvar manage to present some outright horror moments, there’s a lot of variety, if only they hadn’t locked the stories to faction the way they did. That, and the fact that Battle for Azeroth is the default choice, is why I don’t recommend it — as good as it can be as a leveling experience, I think it’s overshadowed by its predecessors.

Ultimately, story is a subjective choice — you might hate Mists of Pandaria for whatever reason, even though I personally think it’s got a great story to experience. But for the combination of leveling story, compact quest areas with minimal travel distance, good dungeons to experience and an overall feeling of quest flow, that list of four zones is my recommendation. If you want to get to 50, give them a try once Shadowlands rolls around.

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