I'm one of those antisocial World of Warcraft players. I don't do raids or dungeons or quest with friends. I don't even really care about my DPS or the gear I have equipped, as long as it looks cool. I just like exploring the world, doing quests, and enjoying the story on my own.
It's nice seeing other players running around, because it makes Azeroth feel more alive. I just don't want to hang out with them, beyond throwing them the occasional emote. And for a loner like me, Blizzard's long-running MMORPG is the best it's ever been. Here are some reasons why.
The level squish makes progression more satisfying
Traditionally, the road to max level in World of Warcraft is a long and arduous one. But now, with the level cap dramatically reduced from 120 to 50, leveling up is faster and, importantly, more fun. As you complete quests your XP bar fills up much more rapidly, meaning you're constantly unlocking new abilities—which, in turn, makes combat more interesting. You do a lot of fighting in World of Warcraft, and the more toys you have to play with on your chosen class's action bar, the more entertaining its battles ultimately are.
It also means the buzz you get from leveling up, when your character explodes with golden light, happens more frequently—but not to the point where you become numb to it. Gaining a level still feels exciting. In the old days you'd hit a new level and get nothing in return. All this empty space was pretty unsatisfying. But now, just about every time you gain a level you're gifted something new to play with. It's a seismic shift to the way the game is structured, and for me, one of the best things to happen to World of Warcraft in years.
The new starting island, Exile's Reach, can get you to level 10 in an hour (or less)
Most new World of Warcraft players will now begin their journey on Exile's Reach, an uncharted island that serves as a tutorial for the basics of the game—as well as whichever class you've chosen. It's a fun series of quests with an enjoyable self-contained story, giving you a taste of everything you'll run into when you start your adventure in Azeroth, including a small dungeon with two bosses. This will take you from level 1 to 10 in about an hour, and when you finish it you'll be left in your capital with a decent set of starting gear.
At this point, the game nudges you towards its Battle for Azeroth content—Zandalar for the Horde, Kul Tiras for the Alliance. However, you can go pretty much anywhere thanks to level scaling (more on that later). But don't worry: you can still play through the original starting zones for each race if you really want to. It just means that if you want to roll, say, an orc and you can't face going through the Valley of Trials again, this is a way of skipping it and diving straight into stuff that is arguably more interesting.
Level scaling means you can adventure almost anywhere
If you've ever been solo questing in World of Warcraft, you'll know all about zone fatigue. That feeling when you've been slogging through the same part of the world for hours on end, but you're trapped there against your will because you aren't a high enough level to go anywhere more interesting. Happily, that's now a thing of the past. These days you can quest almost anywhere in World of Warcraft, and the enemies you fight, gear you receive, and XP you earn will scale appropriately to your current level.
So if you're a Horde character and you've been battling through the swamps of Nazmir all day, and you fancy a change of scenery, you can grab a zeppelin from Orgrimmar to Northrend and do some adventuring in the frozen north—and receive the same amount of XP for completing quests there as you would in what was formerly a higher level zone. This makes Azeroth much more accessible, and gives you a chance to go questing in zones that would otherwise be too high or low level to comfortably spend time in.
It also means you can choose where to quest based on the stories you want to experience, or the atmosphere of a place, instead of the number attached to it. However, one downside is the vast differences in visual fidelity between some zones. Transition from modern zones to the likes of Winterspring or Azshara, and you're suddenly, painfully aware of how much better World of Warcraft looks these days. But there are still some great quests out there in the old parts of the world, if you can look past the lo-fi visuals.
The newer zones are some of the best in the game's long history
Once you've cleared Exile's Reach, it's probably worth taking the game's advice and journeying to Battle for Azeroth's Zandalar or Kul Tiras—especially if you're a new player. These are two of the best locations in the game in terms of quest design, storytelling, visual fidelity, atmosphere, and variety. Kul Tiras is a cold, mountainous chain of islands with rugged terrain and a strong seafaring culture. Zandalar is an island covered in thick primordial jungle, where colourful dinosaurs roam and gleaming temples rise out of the trees. On both you'll find some of Blizzard's finest environment design to date.
I may be showing my Horde bias here, but Zandalar is the best. In fact, it's one of my favourite locations in any RPG. There's the populated central region of Zuldazar, which is dominated by an immense golden ziggurat. It's here where you're introduced to King Rastakhan as an emissary of the Horde, and learn about the unique culture of the Zandalari trolls. Later you travel to Nazmir, an ancient swamp filled with dark secrets, and Vol'dun, a desert littered with crumbling ruins. Playing in 4K, Zandalar looks stunning. I don't think WoW gets enough credit for the quality of its visuals and art design.
Zandalar and Kul Tiras also illustrate how much better Blizzard is at designing quests. They're still fundamentally just killing X enemies, or collecting X whatever, but they're nicely packaged up with fun writing, goofy minigames, and dramatic set-pieces. Nazmir also features a great boss battle that involves more than just pummelling them with spells until their health drops. You have to pay attention to their attack patterns and navigate the battlefield to get close to attack, which is something I'd like to see more of in future boss fights. It makes it so much more interesting for a solo player.
You can easily replay all the old expansions
If you want to experience any of World of Warcraft's many excellent expansion campaigns—whether you're a new player going through them for the first time, or you're just on a nostalgia trip—talk to Chromie. This character (who looks like a friendly gnome, but is actually a dragon) can be found near the embassies in Stormwind and Orgrimmar. Talking to her will let you relive the events of Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, and Legion—all scaled to your current level.
Chromie will give you the starting quest for whichever expansion you choose, and this will also make the gateway to its region available in your capital's portal room. This is another way of keeping questing interesting, especially for anyone who plays primarily for the story, as I do. If you reach level 50, Chromie will boot you out of whichever expansion you're currently timewalking in. But you can temporarily disable experience gain if you want to finish the story before hitting 50, while maintaining the same level of challenge.
More zones are being added in the Shadowlands update
Blizzard is currently on the brink of releasing its latest World of Warcraft expansion, Shadowlands. Taking place immediately after the events of Battle for Azeroth, the expansion sees players journeying to World of Warcraft's version of the afterlife, the titular Shadowlands, after the barrier between it and Azeroth is ripped open. That means a bunch of new zones to quest through, and a new system that lets you align with one of the covenants who rule the Shadowlands and unlock faction-specific abilities and gear. There are eight new dungeons too, and a raid to come at a later date, but I don't care about that.
It's remarkable how, 15 years after it was first released, World of Warcraft is in such good shape. The level squish was a bold move on Blizzard's part, but it's given the game a whole new lease of life. World of Warcraft was once the grindiest of games, but now it blazes along with surprising pace. I can't wait to travel to the Shadowlands (on my own, of course) and embark on new quests in a new environment. And it's nice knowing that if I want to start a new character, it won't be a gruelling chore to level them up.