Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Look at Leveling Guides

** Disclaimer: Please Read This - There are a few things you should know before you read this post.

  1. If you click on any of the links to commercial leveling guides in this post and purchase the guide, I will receive a commission for that sale. I am trying to sell you these products, but I am also giving you my complete and honest opinion.

  2. My comments are based purely on my past experience with leveling guides. All of the guides I have used I either purchased with my own money or were available to everyone for free.

  3. I do not have access to the Cataclysm versions for any of the guides, and I have not received anything from the guide makers for free. I cannot definitively comment on the quality of any of the Cataclysm guides. If something changes and the guides lack the quality of the guides I used, I will be just as pissed as you are, because I purchased it with my own money as well.

  4. If you are not interested in what I have to say about leveling guides please feel free to skip this post. I should have a new one up in a couple of days. That said, any comments that are not on topic and basically "unsubscribe" comments will be deleted. I appreciate you taking the time to express your disapproval, but please do it in an email. Comments that disagree with me or provide other options will not be deleted as long as long as they fit a general guideline of decency

Some gamers like the challenge of going in blind and discovering the right path. To these players looking for an objective online is cheating and spoils the fun of the game.

I'm not one of those players. I'm impatient and get frustrated when I can't find something in game and in real life. It annoys me when I do a quest and then find another quest that wants me to go back to the same exact spot I was before. In short, the more time I spend running the less happy I am, therefore it should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of leveling guides.

In this post I will take a look at what I like about leveling guides, give a critique of the guides I've used, and try and show you why I think leveling guides are still a good purchase.

My Leveling Guide History:

When I first started playing WoW almost four years ago, I literally knew nothing about the game and MMO's in general. I gave it a try because I was a fan of the Warcraft and Starcraft RTS games. Everything I knew about WoW I learned from the official website and what I learned in game. As a result I made a lot of mistakes, like doing one quest at a time and trying to complete zones before moving to a knew one. It literally took me more then a month to go from level 1 to level 30.

Then I found Jamie's 30 - 60 Alliance Leveling guide on WoWpro.com. It was an "Aha!" moment and I realized many of the things I was doing wrong. It was a website based guide so it required a lot of alt-tabbing, but leveling was still a lot faster with the guide. With easy to understand instructions and pictures, it was easily the best leveling resource I had found up until that point.

There was a problem however. It stopped at level 60. I dinged level 60 in February or March of 2007, a couple of months after TBC was released. Unfortunately, Jamie's guide was not updated with a 60 to 70 section until many months after TBCs release, so I was faced with the choice of buying a guide or go back to doing it myself. In the end I chose to purchase the now defuncted Brian Kopp Alliance leveling guide. At the time it was regarded as the best Alliance leveling guide available. As good as Jamie's guide was, Brian Kopps was better. It was better organized, it offered coordinates for almost every objective and overall had less running around. Though it cost me 50 bucks or so I thought it was well worth the purchase and I leveled Graylo to 70 with it and two other toons from 1 to 70 with it.

Then came WotLK. While I was really impressed with the content of Brian Kopp's guide, the format of his guide was out of date. At this time several competing guides were advertising in-game addons and the promise of no more alt-tabbing. As we got closer to WotLK release date I was getting more and more concerned by the lack of information coming from the Brian Kopp people. I wasn't sure if there was going to be a 70 to 80 guide at all let alone an in-game addon version of one.

So, I took it as an opportunity to try something new and I picked up the Zygor Alliance guide (I did not purchase the Horde guide at the time.). For the most part, I have been very happy with the Zygor guide. The format of the guide is excellent. I was never confused on where to go and was always able to move quickly from one step to the next. I think the content and organization of the Brian Kopp guide were a little better, but the differences were small.

I really only have two negative things to say about the Zygor guide. First, I think they listed some steps in the wrong order. A couple of times it would tell you to kill a named mob after it tells you to kill 20 of his associates. I think it works out better in the opposite order. The other issue I had was that the guide didn't provide alternate areas to complete the quest in the beginning. If you've ever tried to play right after a new expansion you know how some quest areas can be cramped with people trying to kill quest mobs. The guide would point to an area that was heavily camped already, but not provide the other locations at which the quest can be completed. That said, both of these issues got better in later versions of the guide. Zygor started grouping steps together more, and they started offering alternate areas to kill mobs. Also, as a player I found a few easy work-a-rounds. I set up the addon to show multiple steps so that I can read a little ahead to see if some steps can be done together. If the guide doesn't provide alternate locations to complete the quest, the in-game quest helper complements the guide well by giving you additional sites if they exist.

Yes, leveling guides still have value!

The World of Warcraft has changed a lot in the past 6 years, and some of you are probably questioning the value of a leveling guide. In truth, Blizzard quest design has improved a lot, and typically provides breadcrumb quests to show you the path. The new in-game quest helper also shows you the areas in which to completely quests. What could a leveling guide possibly add to the equation?

In truth, questing is a lot easier now then it ever has been before, but these improvements don't have all the advantages that an in-game guide provides. In my opinion, a leveling guide still helps quite a bit. I have been leveling up several horde toons on live without a leveling guide and I've been leveling up Graylo on the beta without a leveling guide. In both cases, I have found myself wishing I had a leveling guide for several reasons.

  1. Looking at the in-game quest helper is like alt-tabbing. Granted it is quicker and easier then looking something up on WoWhead, but a good leveling guide addon will tell you all the information you need right on your screen. I can't tell you how much time I've wasted or how many times I've died while I was looking at the map or WoWhead to figure out a quest. In short, looking away from your screen costs time that I would prefer to spend completing more quests.

  2. In a related note to my first point, the in-game quest-helper lacks detail. It's great for finding out where to kill 10 of mob x, but if you need to go to a specific spot it has issues. It will put a marker on your big map showing you where to go, but that's it. If it's in a hard to reach spot like in a cave or up a mountain it doesn't tell you how to get to that spot. You also have to look at the map to find it and it does not provide coordinates for the location. If the quest requires several specific locations, it only shows them one at a time, and you have to look at the map after each objective. A good leveling guide will give you the specific coordinates of where you need to go and an on screen arrow to point you in the right direction. While using a leveling guide I was rarely unsure of where to go and what I need to do next after completing a step in the guide.

  3. The in-game quest helper lacks organization. Blizzard has made it a lot easier to find quests. The bread-crumb quests and the quest giver icons on your mini-map are a big help, but they don't do enough. While leveling in Mount Hyjal, I missed several quest hubs because there was not a break-crumb quest leading me to it and I didn't travel close enough to it to see the quest icon on my mini map. Also, it doesn't give any indication of what order the quests should be done it.

    For example, at one of the Mount Hyjal quest hubs I accepted 3 quests. They were all to be completed in the area around of the quest hub, but two of them were separated from the third by a little bit. What the in-game quest helper didn't tell me was that quest number 3 was the start of a longer quest chain, of which some of the later quests were completed in the same areas as quest 1 and 2. By random draw I chose to do quests 1 and 2 first, and ended up doing more running then I needed to because I had to go back to an area I had already quested in because I did the quests in the least efficient order.

    A good leveling guide takes all the guessing out of the equation. It shows you exactly where to go next so you shouldn't miss any quest hubs. Plus it will tell you which mobs will start a quest if you kill them. When you do have all the quests it will tell you the best order to complete them to minimize your running around time.

  4. Reading Quests takes time. I know some of you love to read the quests for the lore and the story. Personally, I am not that type of player and I get annoyed if I have to read a quest. The quest objectives are usually enough to point you in the right direction, but about 25% of the time they are not. Sometimes you have to collect something to summon the mob you need to kill, or use a quest item on a particular mob to weaken it when the quest objective just tells you to kill mob X. I hate that, because I spend a minute or to looking for mob X, then I take a half a minute to read the quest to figure out what I'm missing. A good leveling guide will tell you the exact steps you need to complete to finish the quest.
The critics of leveling guides are quick to say that leveling guides don't provide any information that can't be found on WoWhead or using some other free addon. It's true that leveling guides don't provide deep secrets that can't be found elsewhere on the web for free, but that's not the value of a leveling guide. A leveling guide is valuable because of the organization it provides. It prevents you from having to alt tab and look something up on WoWhead. It prevents you from having to search for the cave entrance. It prevents you from accidentally not picking up a quest. All of this allows you to level faster, and that is why leveling guides still have value.

Updates vs Upgrades:

I want to explain the difference between guide updates versus guide upgrades. Most of the guide sellers will advertise "free updates" for the life of the guide when trying to sell you a guide. Unfortunately, many purchasers are confused by what that means, and feel cheated when a new expansion comes out and have to buy a guide for the new levels. In a effort to prevent that confusion let me try and explain the difference.

An update is done when Blizzard does something that would change the way an existing guide would function. For example, during TBC Blizzard dramatically reduced the amount of experience needed to level from 1 to 60 and added a new quest hub in Dustwollow Marsh. I was using the Brian Kopp 1-70 guide at the time and he rewrote the guide to take the reduced xp requirements into account and include the new quest hub. I got this update for free as a part of my original purchase.

Another example, would the questing changes coming in Cataclysm. Since Blizzard is redoing a lot of the old world, the guide makers are having to redo their leveling guides from 1-60. As a purchaser of the Zygor 1-80 guide I would getting these updates for free without having to buy the 80-85 guide. This has been confirmed by the Zygor people.

An upgrade is when the guide provides new levels when an expansion is released. Therefore you will have to purchase a new guide for the new levels added in an expansion. I have not seen a single commercial guide that provides free upgrades. If you buy a leveling guide, make sure it includes all of the levels you expect it to, but don't expect it to include any levels beyond those currently available or soon to be available.

Available Guides:

Zygor Level Guides
I used the Alliance guide during the WotLK expansion and got several characters to level 80 with it. I have also preordered the Cataclysm version of this guide.
Pros: Has a very helpful in game addon and is well organized for the most part. It provides the exact coordinates of quest objectives and an arrow point the player in the right direction. I've also experienced excellent customer service. If you purchase the guide after Oct 7th 2010, the Cataclysm update will be included in your purchase.
Cons: It costs money. It also had some organizational issues when first released in WotLK, but I found those problems to be relatively minor and most were eventually corrected.

Jamie's WoWPro.com Guides
I leveled my original Graylo from 30 - 60 with this guide several years ago. I have also used a couple of the starting zone guides, but I have not used their addon or any of their more recent guides.
Pros: It's Free. I have also heard good things about the addon and more recent guides from readers and guildies.
Cons: My biggest issue with the WoWPro.com guides is their availability. I hit level 60 more the 2 months after TBC was released and the 70-80 guide was not released until several months after that. They did provide 70-76 on release of WotLK, but there were only a few updates after that and the guide was never completed to go to level 80. They say they will have the 80-85 guide available on release, but I think you can understand why I am a little skeptical. On a side note, I also found the commercial guides to be a little more organized. Though to be fair it has been several years since I used a WoWPro guide.

Other Guides:
These are other leveling guides that I have no personal experience with. I cannot comment on the quality of any of them. Also, I do not follow their development, so please review their websites closely before purchasing to make sure you know what you are getting.

As best as I can tell the Brian Kopp guide is no longer being updated, but his website has been picked up by another guide creator. That said I have no idea what the connection between the two are.

Team iDemise
Joana's Horde Leveling Guide
Penn's Alliance Leveling Guide
Dugi's Ultimate Leveling Guide


Anonymous said...

Do yourself a favour and download TourGuide. I've tried many of these too, and found this to be just as efficient, while being completely in-game with interactions with addons such as TomTom to make sure you're never lost.


Nigel said...

I too started off with web based levelling guides and they worked ok. But then I purchased Gavin's Horde guide (dominate your server) and found it to be well worth the money at the time but before you go there, I believe it is basically abandoned at this time. But Gavin was kind enough to lead folks to Dugi's guide. I was more impressed with this one which has been updated/upgraded often. I now have both alliance and horde (leveling and dungeon). Waypoints, trails, a very nice interface in which you can mark quests as skip if you want. The dungeon part is well worth it as well. It can walk you through where to pick up all the quests before entering an instance thus making the instance worth more exp.

Anonymous said...

Just use Carbonite. Way easier with exact locations detailed on the map a ton better than the in game one.

Also shows all quest givers. Excellent for finding those out of the way quest givers.

I usually drop all quests that send you cross continent, unless its to start another zone, or you know you will be going there soon.

Blamlin said...

I have personally used Kopp's and TeamiDemise's guides. Like stated by Graylo, Kopp's is obsolete.

In my opinion i would not purchase TeamiDemise's again. It worked fairly well for me when i first purchased it, but it was in the middle of BC and at that time there was no new content. I have noticed that TiD's guide is not updated on a very frequent basis and they tend to be behind progression.

That being said, i may very well give Zygor a try this exp....thanks for the info Gray!

Liafail said...


While I've only started following your blog a few months ago, I have come to enjoy it. Your articles are very insightful and offer a unique perspective. I have a few comments related to this post.

1) I have used a few guides before, such as Zygor and Carbonite. I did find them very useful, but at the time I was working on 5th or 6th alts and already knew where all the quests were, what to do, and where to go. As such, I didn't end up using the guides that much. However, for a brand new zone, ie Cataclysm, I believe they would prove very helpful.

2) You keep mentioning having to alt-tab. I have a simple solution that both myself and my wife have found alleviates the time loss when looking up quests on wowhead/thottbott. Dual monitors. Most video cards these days can handle multiple monitors, and the cost of a second monitor is not that much when on sale ($150 ish for a decent one).

3) I also agree that while a lot more useful and informative, the in-game quest tracker is still quite limited and I often find myself wandering around the same area looking for that one named mob who doesn't seem to be anywhere.

Keep up the great work, looking forward to reading your next post.

Anonymous said...

why should anyone buy something like this?! carbonite does the job... and its free. lvling guides and goldguides are a waste of money. you can have all the infos for free. and all it takes are a few minutes to set your addons up. i dont get it why anyone would ever buy a lvling guide...

Bolink said...

IT all comes down to time. I've bought and used guides to help me get to where I want to be in a few cases...mostly with alts to bang though the "slow" parts of leveling up to the level of raiding/PvP buddies.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honesty.

Dragon said...

I've personally used Joana's guide but never installed the in-game addon, as well as Carbonite, QuestHelper, and LightHeaded. I'm very happy with Joana's guide when I want to be efficient.
I can't compare Joana's to others, as I haven't used others, I'm just saying that it does the job rather well for me :)

Thanks for the reviews!

lissanna said...

I have played with the quests in Cataclysm, and the way that they are laid out in the new Cata zones, I don't think you even need quest guides & mods for them. They seem really straightforward, and the default quest tracking stuff (so long as the quest isn't broken) seemed to work well enough. The new quests have a lot less running around back & forth from place to place in general.

Anonymous said...

I bought Joana's when it first came out in vanilla and have used Jame's in BC/WotLK. Both have worked very well, although an update to Joana's would have been nice (this was back when it was print only). Basically, when it comes to guides A) make sure they are digital and B) make sure they are regularly updated. I wouldn't use a pay one, nowadays, because the quests are so logically laid out; guides really are only good for those little hints that make things easier, now.

I'm planning to stick w/ Jame's since it is free and they are planning to be good to go day one of Cataclysm.

Seleria said...

I have not seen a post for Jame's levelling guide, but wow-pro DOES have levelling guides for Cataclysm posted right now. They are in varying states of completion. For example, there are only 3 zones worth done for Horde. But if you want to check them out:

I like free.

Jormundgard said...

I agree with several of the commenters here: The free alternatives like TourGuide and QuestHelper are virtually indistinguishable in performance and I hope readers will consider using them.

Hayley said...

I use Zygor, without it I would not still be playing WoW. I tried QuestHelper because of comments like the ones that have been made here but OMG, it was so much harder! I really hate feeling lost in a game, I will simply stop playing it, and whilst QuestHelper was right most of the time I got tired of running round the same freaking area looking for a mob to spawn (an incident in Thousand Needles springs to mind) only to find I'd missed a pre-req.

Zygor is awesome. My husband who has been playing since Vanilla has also recently started using it and it's been a game changer for him because it's so much quicker.

And hey, I'm not getting paid for this.