Planning on jumping into Shadowlands and looking for a WoW leveling guide? The level squish that arrived with World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (opens in new tab) has reduced the maximum level from 120 to 60. And along with that massive change, WoW's latest expansion has completely overhauled the leveling process for characters between level 1-50. The good news is that it now takes much less time to reach current Shadowlands content than it would have done without the level squish.
It's not just the fact that there are fewer levels to grind overall—the new leveling experience gives you a choice of the content you want to play through to get to level 50. This new system was first introduced with the WoW 9.0.1 pre-patch (opens in new tab), but if you've just recently returned to the MMO to start your adventure into the Shadowlands, this WoW leveling guide shows you the most efficient way to get to level 50.
WoW leveling guide: Get from level 1-50 fast
New characters start at level one for the basic array of races, or level 10 for allied races. Creating a new allied-race character requires you to reach max level on another character and complete a quest line specific to that race.
At level one, brand-new WoW players are sent by default to Exile's Reach, the excellent new-player starting experience on a self-contained island. Players who have other leveled-up characters have a choice between Exile's Reach or the traditional leveling area for their new character's race. Hint: The correct choice is always Exile's Reach. The island is a well-paced and engaging adventure that packs ten levels into an hour or two of your time.
At level 10, both experienced players and new ones are given the starting quests for the latest Battle for Azeroth expansion. If you choose to follow them, they'll lead you to the islands of Kul Tiras and Zandalar, where you'll see the most recent chapter of WoW's history. These more modern questlines are ideal for new players, as transitioning from them to Shadowlands zones for levels 50-60 will be relatively seamless.
For veteran players who have seen BfA, your options are even more interesting. All players can swap to whatever expansion they like to level in using Chromie, the time-travelling gnome-dragon. Chromie is located in Stormwind near the Stormwind Embassy for Alliance players, while Horde players will find him in Orgrimmar near the Orgrimmar Embassy.
Talking with Chromie gives you a choice of all the previous Warcraft expansions. Each will take you from 10-50, or you can choose to jump around between them.
Choosing an expansion
Which expansion should you choose? To some degree, that depends on your priorities. You start in these zones as a tiny level 10 with the slow ground-mount riding skill. You pick up the epic riding skill at 20 and flying at 30 (with no special attunements required for any expansion's zones). This means you're going to be moving slowly for a while.
If you're determined to level quickly, Warlords of Draenor or Legion offer great quest density, meaning you don't have to run far and therefore tend to level faster. Legion's also a terrific expansion in terms of story and zone design. But Battle for Azeroth isn't terrible for quest density either (particularly the Drustvar zone for Alliance and Nazmir for Horde) while offering the most-modern combination of quest mechanics and story integration.
If you just want to get lost in the story and meander for 40 levels, consider Wrath of the Lich King, which packs some of the best lore in the game into a single expansion, but can be slow to level in. Or try the underrated Mists of Pandaria, which has a sedate leveling style and easygoing quest progression reminiscent of the Pandaren race it introduced.
The Burning Crusade and Cataclysm both involve tons of running, disjointed story lines and antiquated mechanics, so unless you're nostalgic for those zones' experience from your first time around, it's best to avoid them now.
Based on personal experience, it takes about twice the amount of time to level through The Burning Crusade compared to Warlords. Most expansions (except BC) will take you somewhere between 12 and 16 hours to complete if you're not speed-running; the fastest speedrunners currently take about 3.5-4 hours to get to level 50.
Dungeons or quests?
It's still viable to level exclusively through dungeons rather than questing. You'll get 2-3 levels per dungeon you run depending on quests. There are two two key caveats, however. First, if your character doesn't have a tank or healing specialization, you'll want to find someone who does to group with as the queues for damage players can be lengthy.
Second, you'll want to be careful of the expansion you select to level in, because unless queues are ridiculously long (prompting the game to offer you other dungeons as options), you're limited to your leveling expansion for the dungeons you choose from. This is important, because some dungeons offer quests inside for much better experience, and some do not.
If you're not party-syncing with other players (see below), you'll want to jump around the expansions that offer dungeon quests to maximize your experience. Avoid Warlords of Draenor, Legion and Battle for Azeroth, as they offer few or no quests in leveling dungeons.
Heirlooms and leveling speed items
Heirlooms were recently overhauled, no longer providing bonus experience while leveling. Instead, they offer other combat and quality of life bonuses. Because they level with you, it's a convenient way to avoid having to examine or replace gear.
Some leveling items still work in the expansion where they were originally collected, but they are typically only good for secondary (alt) characters. Draught of Ten Lands, for instance, works in Battle for Azeroth, but requires you to have a maximum-level main character to buy them.
Leveling with friends
One of the best ways to maximize your leveling speed is to group up with other people, using the game's Party Sync feature to synchronize quests and run dungeons. As long as you incorporate a new player periodically and sync with them, you'll all be able to repeat dungeons and re-do those quests for full experience. To use Party Sync, open your quest log and click the Party Sync button in the lower right corner.
Party Sync can be buggy, so be sure to un-sync before inviting a new character to the group, while also checking everyone is out of instances, vehicles, flight paths and other scenarios that make them busy before re-syncing. Nonetheless, if you're willing to put up with the quirks, Party Sync is a quick way to get the job done. It's also tons of fun since you're levelling with friends, and isn't that ultimately what an MMO like World of Warcraft is all about?