Ok, my mage is now 79. Since I have three characters at 80 and very soon a fourth, you can probably conclude that a) I have no life or b) I should be pretty good at levelling by now. Since I’m Alliance and can’t be Undead (hur hur hur) I shall go with b). So, the following is my guide to getting to 80 smoothly in Northrend since there are actually some choices as to which zones you want to do. There are supposedly two zone paths to 80, one from Borean Tundra and one from Howling Fjord. But based on my experience, there is actually an optimal way to go through.
First off, it is really easy to level in Outlands now since the last patch reduced the experience needed. I would recommend getting to at least 70 in Outlands because you can easily reach that by the time you hit Nagrand, and you will be coming back to Outlands anyway to buy your flying mount (the ones in Northrend are very expensive). So you might as well hit 70 and buy your mount first so that you’re all ready to use it when you hit 77.
70-72 Borean Tundra
First off, I highly recommend that you start in Borean Tundra (BT) rather than Howling Fjord (HF), for many reasons.
1) The boat goes from Stormwind, and arrives at Valiance Keep much faster compared to taking a flight to Menethil from Ironforge, and then taking a sightseeing tour of the Fjord.
2) If you care about achievements, BT has the D.H.E.T.A. quests and associated achievement. HF does not have any similar mini-achievement.
3) The geography at HF includes many many hills and ravines, which are a pain since you don’t have a flying mount yet. Travel time going from quest hub to quest hub is much longer.
4) The Kaluak questline opens up faster in BT, and easily enables you to start the daily Preparing for the Worst. The Kaluak area in HF is half a map away and requires you to do a lengthy pre-quest running a fair distance away. Just getting down to their area also requires waiting for a lift.
5) There is a lengthy series of pre-quests to open up multiple quests in the Nexus. These should be done as soon as possible so that you have them ready in case you manage to find a instance group. In contrast, the 2 quests for Utgarde Keep have no pre-requisites and can be picked up just outside the summoning stone.
6) Coldarra has a Wyrmrest daily called Drake Hunt.
Doing all the quests in BT should easily bring you to level 72.
From Borean Tundra, head east to Star’s Rest in Dragonblight (DB) as there should be a quest leading you there. Dragonblight is preferable to Grizzly Hills (GH) which is the similar level equivalent for the following reasons:
1) DB has the quest chain to unlock the Wyrmrest daily Defending the Temple, as well as many quests giving Wyrmrest reputation. GH has no useful reputations.
2) DB also has more Kaluak quests including the 2nd daily, Planning for the Future which involves kidnapping those lovable Wolvar puppies. Again, GH has no useful reputations. The Kaluak quartermaster is also in Moaki Harbor (they sell a nice chestpiece at 76 and a nice weapon at 78 for most classes).
3) The questline for Veteran of the Wrathgate is also in Dragonblight. This is pretty much a must-see in terms of the storyline and “omg cinematic”.
4) If you’re a mage, Star’s Rest has the quest which teaches you how to port to Dalaran.
However, you will probably find that there are some quests that can only be picked up at 75, and you’re stuck at mid-74. Never fear, as you can easily hop on over to GH once you run out of easy quests in DB. If you can find a group for Azjol-Nerub or Ahn’Kahet, they are easily doable at this level range.
75 Grizzly Hills
Yes, yes, GH has no useful reputations. But there are a series of easy quests on the left side of the map, including some that lead in to Drak’Tharon Keep. There are also some dailies that give 10 Venture Coins each, 30 of which can buy a pretty good relic item (libram, totem, idol, wand, sigil). The ret pally libram and resto shaman totem are both very very usable at 80. You can also gank (or be ganked by) some Horde/Alliance who are trying to do the dailies if you’re bored of bashing NPCs.
After reaching 75, head on back to DB and finish off the remaining quests.
Story-wise, you will miss out a bit on not having completed Grizzly Hills, especially if you missed out going to Drak’Tharon Keep. But why Zul’Drak (ZD) instead of Sholazar Basin (SB)?
1) ZD has a TON of Argent Crusade and Ebon Blade quests. It also has the Argent Crusade daily Pa’Troll, although it isn’t really worth doing at this point since you don’t have a flying mount.
2) ZD contains another instance, Gun’Drak. SB has no instances.
3) ZD has the Amphitheater of Anguish, which is Ring of Blood Mk 2. Similarly, there are several nice weapon rewards that are still usable at 80 if you can get a group for this. It’s easily doable by 2-3 level 80s and can be tanked + healed by a BM hunter pet.
4) The quest Ragemane’s Flipper rewards one of the best tanking weapons for pallies/warriors until a heroic drop.
5) SB is a farming/herbing/skinning heaven. If you are on a PvP server, there will be many many many level 80s flying around mindlessly farming. They may be bored. Or after a few hours, everything looks like a Titanium Node. Including your head.
6) SB is literally, the furthest possible point you can get from Dalaran. This is because there is no flight path that goes through Wintergrasp, which is right smack in between Dalaran and the Basin. Any flight to/from Dalaran involves you touring Northrend.
7) Oracles and Frenzyheart reputation are not very important. Their gear is largely replaceable, and also require the associated reputation to wear. Besides the achievement of getting exalted with both, there is no real point to getting exalted as both trinkets are pretty useless at 80. There is a low chance to get a nice mount from the Oracles (my pally got it on the first egg *kek*) but given that the egg takes 7 days to hatch… you can easily do this at 80.
After hitting 77, you should go buy cold-weather flying at Dalaran for 1,000 gold. This speeds things up immensely, especially if you have epic flying, which I highly recommend. 6,000 gold is chump change in WotLK, my pally recently got the achievement for getting 10,000 gold from quests.
77 Howling Fjord
This is when you should fly over to HF and romp through the Kaluak quests on the western side of the map, picking up the flight path at Westgard Keep in the meantime. Being able to fly makes doing these quests a breeze. There are also 2 quests which have decent blue trinket rewards.
For players who intend to do Northrend Loremaster or want to reap bucketloads of gold from questing, I recommend finishing off the rest of HF now as well. At this point, all quests in HF are still green, hence they give full experience. However, by about 78-79 some quests start to turn grey or the mobs involved in the quest turn grey. Finishing off the zone at this point will enable you to reap the full benefits in terms of gold and experience compared to coming back at 80.
77-79 Storm Peaks
Now there is a choice between Icecrown (IC) or Storm Peaks (SP). If you are, or plan to be, an Incriptionist (Scribe) then you can skip SP if you wish and go straight to IC. If not, then go to K3 in SP to open up the Sons of Hodir dailies through a ridiculously long questline. The dailies themselves are a pain until honored reputation, after which they become bearable and a decent source of gold. You can stop at honored for the shoulder enchants since the exalted versions aren’t really all that much better. Once you unlock the Sons of Hodir dailies, you can also pick up 2 quests that lead into Halls of Lightning.
The Argent Crusade encampment starts you off on a questline that gives what is likely going to be one of your trinkets going into heroics. From here on, a lot of quest rewards are very usable at 80 until you replace them with heroic or reputation gear. There is a lot of Argent Crusade reputation, including another daily. Once you unlock the Shadow Vault, there are also Ebon Blade dailies and many many many Ebon Blade quests along the western edge. The Admiral questline has decent gear, ending with some nice neck choices.
You should easily hit 80 midway through Icecrown (or near the end, if you didn’t do SP).
Grats on 80, time for heroics
All these zones are fairly close to Dalaran, where you should have set your hearth once you are able to. This lets you easily get to a bank, and portals back to capitals for training. GH,SB and HF are further away from Dalaran than their counterparts as well. Every day, you can go in a line from Dalaran to Wyrmrest temple, to Moaki Harbor, to Unupe Stand, to Coldarra, doing Kaluak + Wyrmrest dailies. At 80, Aces High! also opens up at Coldarra for more Wyrmrest reputation and practice for Malygos.