Let's be blunt: World of Warcraft is, for a lot of people, a lot of the time, a solo RPG. Whether starting a first character, casually dipping in to play old ones, or compulsively levelling "alts" in the gaps in your main hero's raiding schedule, it's a safe bet that the majority of players out there at any one time are on their own, in the wild, churning through quests. And it's also a safe bet that they're doing it wrong.
Although it was shortened last year, the game's levelling curve is still an epic one, and littered with some inevitably basic and repetitive quest design (albeit excused by the rich world and carefully-designed areas the quests are set in). Many players battle through it with their heads down and teeth gritted in a masochistic slog, forgetting to do one simple thing: have fun.
But solo questing can be fun. It can be more than that: it can be one of the most rewarding single-player RPG experiences out there. All you need to do is sit back, relax, and follow our nine-step plan for a healthier questing lifestyle.
1. Efficiency isn't everything
This one may contradict some of the practical advice that follows, but it's more of a state of mind than a strategy.
The slightly more experienced quester will fall into the seductive, but ultimately damaging, trap of trying to maximise their questing efficiency. The entire levelling arc becomes like one of WOW's battles, a game of percentages, as you attempt to chain quests in a pattern designed for optimum experience reward and nothing else. This is a fun challenge at first. But it's not long before it becomes a tyranny.
Downtime isn't a sin. A long walk isn't a waste of time if you like the sights on the way, or are interested to run the quest at the end of it; and the quickest path isn't necessarily the most enjoyable one. Efficiency is always worth bearing in mind to keep the pace of the game up, but it should never be your prime concern.
2. Don't try to do it all
Especially with the fast levelling speed that Blizzard introduced last year, there's simply no need to visit every zone, or complete every quest in a zone. Be selective. Pick and choose what's quickest, most interesting, or what just feels right, and feel free to ignore anything you don't want to do. Anything else is just borderline OCD.
Clearing a zone can be worthwhile in some of the more recent, better-designed, more densely-packed and story-driven areas: Ghostlands, for example, or the revamped Dustwallow Marsh. Otherwise, remember that you'll probably be levelling another character up one day, and then you'll thank yourself for not having done everything there is to do already.
3. Follow the chains
Quest chains aren't always the most immediately rewarding kind of quest available, they often involve a bit of tedious travel between NPCs, and unless you obsessively read ahead in online wikis and databases, they can be something of an unknown. But avoiding them would be a mistake.
In most games, not knowing what comes next is considered a good thing. Why can't that be true of WOW? Following chains serves up better storytelling, gives you a more varied experience, and tastier rewards at the end of the day. Unless there are uncomfortable level gaps, doing a single chain in a single play session, without distraction or deviation, is one of the more satisfying experiences is WOW.
4. A little role-playing never hurt anyone
We're not asking you to speak Orcish, or indeed ever to do anything that resembles role-play with another player. But everyone should at least try thinking about what's appropriate to their character when it comes to making their questing decisions.
If you're a paladin, make it a priority to scour the earth of demons and undead with the power of Light. If you're a hunter, take time to track down and test yourself against the world's most mythical beasts. If you're a rogue, take an assassination mission and do it properly: sneak past the guards and kill only who you need to.
The rewards for this are partly material - taking class-appropriate quests often leads to class-appropriate loot - but mostly immaterial. You get a stronger sense of who you are and what your place in the world is, a stronger sense of motivation in your questing, and better stories for your time.
5. Ditch the drops
A simple one: where possible - and where it doesn't interfere with your larger goals - avoid quests which require you to pick up a number of "drop X from monster Y". Straightforward kill-counts are easier to track and nine times out of ten, quicker to complete, because they don't rely on invisible, capricious and cruel drop-rates. Drop rates will be the bane of your life when it comes to crafting and reputation-grinding, so there's no need to involve them in questing more than you have to. Which, unfortunately, will still be quite a lot.
6. Get a good quest tracker
Another simple one. WOW's quest log is fine, and the automatic quest-tracking is decent, but there's still no substitute for a good third-party add-on quest-tracker. We're partial to MonkeyQuest, ourselves. Basic quest descriptions in tooltips; colours indicating how close to completion you are; the actual levels of the quests themselves; a smart, fast interface; at-a-glance indication of which quests are relevant to your current location; and best and simplest of all, an indication of how many of your quest log slots are full - none of these features are in the game's default interface, and all of them are indispensable to painless questing.
7. Push yourself
The easiest and fastest way through the game is only to do level-appropriate quests - that is, the yellow quests in your log. But it's not always the most fun, nor the best way to learn how to play your class well.
Regularly test yourself against quests that are a little too high-level (only orange ones, mind - red is largely a waste of time, solo). It can be lengthy and cause expensive repair bills, but it's more exciting. The challenge can wake you up out of levelling autopilot, and teach you a lot about how to get out of sticky situations and make the best use of the abilities of your class. It's also entertaining to pick same or lower-level quests, and play them by deliberately taking on multiple monsters at a time.
8. Learn 2 read, noob
This could be the hardest bit of advice to follow - we still struggle with it ourselves - but honestly, it's one of the most important.
Read the quest descriptions. Yes, really. We mean it. Not necessarily every word of every one - over time, you'll develop a sixth sense for which ones are worth poring over, and which aren't - but as a general rule, make an effort to read why you're doing what you're being asked to do. The writing in WOW varies from wonderful to terrible - and the majority of it is straight-down-the-line average - so this can feel like pulling teeth. But it's worth it. Characters come to life, situations start to make sense, and quest chains in particular are a lot more fun when you actually follow what's leading you from one step to the next.
Questing blind, without rhyme or reason, effectively makes you a robot or a psychopath. What's the point of being in this world, if you're not prepared to immerse yourself in it a little? We're quite serious about this, you know. And we'll be watching over your shoulder to check. Do it.
9. Don't ever go to Desolace
The clue's in the name. It's ugly, barren, tediously huge and awful. Really, seriously, just don't go there.