['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This week's column is a straight-up how-to on getting to higher levels as fast as possible.]

heads_wowexposed.jpgWorld of Warcraft's success stems from a number of different sources, as we discussed in this series' very first article. One of the strong pillars of that success, without a doubt, is the ability to treat WoW like a single-player game. You can make it to max level quite effectively without the help of a single other person. That's not to say soloing to 70 is enjoyable, merely that's it's possible.

Even with the help of other players, making it to the top is long road. That journey is one to be enjoyed, as leveling a character in WoW is (for many people) the real game. That said, once you have your first character at max level, retaking those same steps to the top can be frustrating. Going over the same content for the second, third, fourth time is just never quite the same.

Today we have on offer a few simple tools to help you make it through 'the grind' in a reasonable amount of time with minimal hair-pulling. Some of these are technical in nature, some are simple techniques, and some are simple platitudes that we've found helpful in the past. Read on, and make sure to grasp the handrail tightly up the escalator.

Tool 1 - Technology Will Set You Free

Let's face it - there are lots of 'how to grind' guides out there. The one thing I want to make clear upfront, as a differentiator, is that I see addons as essential to the leveling process. The first time I played a character up to max-level, I did it with no UI mods and minimal assistance from 'cheat' websites. Now that I'm just playing for the fun of higher level characters, I see addons as a requirement, not an option. Here are the addons I highly recommend you install in order to get the most out of your leveling experience:

  • Quest Helper: Without a doubt the most important addon for anyone making a repeat trip through WoW, it's so good it almost feels like cheating. Quest Helper analyzes your quest log and then puts waypoints on your maps indicating where you can get your goals accomplished. Not only that, but it prioritizes your quests based on your current location. It directs you to nearby quests with a helpful pointing arrow and a dotted line on your map; simply follow the line and eventually you'll have your entire journal cleared out. Then you can start all over.
  • Titan Panel: A simple, clean, effective addition to the basic interface. Titan Panel has a number of additions you can install as well, but the core package is useful enough to merit must-add status. Among other things, Titan shows your equipment's durability, your current map coordinates, how much money you have, your movement speed, and how much room is left in your bags. All great stats that you can learn with just a flick of the eyes.
  • LightHeaded: Combined with Quest Helper, Lightheaded turns quest grinding into a breeze. This addon essentially expands your quest journal into the website "WoWHead". An additional (closeable) window adds player comments from the website into your journal's interface. Besides often being pretty funny these comments will inform you of coordinates for monsters, 'what not to do' tips, and lots of hints for frustrated players on the run.
  • Auctioneer: A pure and simple moneymaking addon, Auctioneer lets you play the Auction House game more effectively. By allowing it to scan existing auctions, Auctioneer develops a sense of your server's economy. When you go to post an item for sale, Auctioneer will suggest a price that's competitive with other auctions it's seen in the past. Once a decent database of information is built up, you can freely toss things up for auction using the addons prices and not think twice about it.

Tool 2 - I Need Money, Lots and Lots of Money

That brings us neatly to the concept of cash. Many players that are going after the grind will already have a higher-level character on their chosen server. Just the same, endlessly supplying gold to your lowbie is a pain. It detracts from your higher-level character's wealth, and makes leveling up feel that much more painful. The solution is simple: choose effective tradeskills.

I suggest grinding characters train in Enchanting and Skinning. These skills have several benefits. First and foremost, they require no 'node searching', as mining and herbalism do. Second, actual crafting tradeskills are liabilities while leveling - they cost more than they earn. Finally, they're both very lucrative. Skinning is effortless to do, and a stack of 20 leathers is something always in demand on the Auction House.

Enchanting is extremely lucrative, but they key is never to actually enchant anything. Only use the skill to disenchant quest rewards, random drops, and low-priced magical items from the auction house. Enchanting supplies are incredibly valuable, even at low levels, and can provide a constant source of income for your character.

Tool 3 - Tune Your Expectations

heads_wowexposed.jpgDon't expect to hit 70 in three days. Despite what you may have seen claimed in boasts on Forums or pitches for products, it does take some time to level a World of Warcraft character. Remember that this is supposed to be about having fun, at the end of the day. Set realistic goals for yourself and then try to stick to them. "I'm going to make two or three levels this weekend" is a rational goal, especially if you're 40 or below. "I'm going to jump ten levels" is probably out of the question once you're past 20. It's all relative - move at the pace that's best for you.

Tool 4 - Class Acts

It's simple math: some classes are easier to grind solo that others. The catch, of course, is that some of the hardest classes to grind are also the ones most in demand. Priest and Warriors are the two most commonly sought-after classes, and they're also two of the most challenging. Just keep in mind that if you're stepping up to either of those character types you're going to have a longer road ahead of you. On the other end of the spectrum Rogues, Hunters, and Druids are leveling machines. Hunters, in my experience, are almost auto-levelers. At lower levels especially, the DPS from a pet and your ranged weapon is so great that you can easily cut through a whole swath of xp-rich critters in no time.

As an additional note, be aware that your talents will determine how easily you level as well. Keep in mind that you can respec your class later in its lifetime. While you may anticipate healing on raids when your priest reaches 60 or 70, don't try to grind levels with a Holy spec'd priest. Instead, go for the highest damage output via the Shadow tree.

Tool 5 - Dress For Success

Going hand in hand with the need for cash, equipment is important as well. You may be tempted to slack off on getting your grind character better gear, and that's understandable. The one thing I would stress, is that slacking in this area can actually make your job harder. The higher your DPS, the faster you'll level. Making sure your weapons, wands, bows, or guns are up to snuff is a constant battle, but it's one worth fighting. Spells and class abilities are obviously in this mix as well. If you want to hold off on training up certain abilities to save money that's fine, but don't skimp on the fireball, shadow word: pain, wrath, or whatever your primary damage-dealing ability is.

Tool 6 - Variety is the Spice

heads_wowexposed.jpgWhile the grind can be an awful chore, this really is still supposed to be about having fun. If you can, make your new leveling experience as different as possible from your last one. This is another area where addons come in incredibly handy - they ensure that you're not wandering around lost even in unfamiliar territory. While the factional shift is obviously the biggest jump you can make, at least make sure you hit some different zones this time around. Try to avoid the most common areas (Stranglethorn, for example), and walk a few roads untraveled.

Tool 7 - We've Got Your Back

As much as a loathe the idea of saying "go get in a group" in a guide ostensibly aimed at the solo grinder, occasionally dealing with other humans is a useful expenditure of time. When you're in the field, observe your fellow players. If they're obviously working on a similar or the same quest, it might be worthwhile to team up to get the job done faster. This is especially true with kill quests, which just require a certain number of critters to die before you've completed your work. "I need 5 bear skin" quests are much better done solo ... or not at all. There are so many quests in WoW that these tedious drop rate-dependent tasks can be avoided.

Tool 8 - On Your Left, A Dragon

If you're trying everything else on this list - you're using addons while playing a hunter and occasionally grouping - and still can't stand the grind, there is a final solution. No, not a powerleveling service. That's a great way to get your account stolen. The final solution is a grinding guide, usually called something like "JoeBob's Guide on how to get to 70 in 3 days 2 minutes." There are a couple of varieties around, each with their own quirks. There are several free options around. I've used one called Jame's guide on the WoW Pro site, and it does the job pretty well. It's essentially a bullet point list of how to hit max level as efficiently as possible. "Go here, get quest x, y, z, go here, do them, go here, etc." Combined with Lightheaded and Quest Helper this type of guide is guaranteed grind success.

heads_wowexposed.jpgThere are also a few for-pay varieties out there that you can easily find with a bit of googling. I can't vouch for the veracity of any of them, so I won't link to any in specific. They're of varying levels of sophistication. Some are simple text files mailed to you by their creators, others are full-color PDFs with charts and bookmarks and graphs. Still others incorporate additional addons in the vein of Quest Helper, guiding you through the game with on-screen prompts. There are a number of sites that will vouch for one or the other, helping you to make an informed choice if this is something you want to try.

Following these signposts, my hope is that you'll work your way through World of Warcraft with less pain, and more fun. If you have additional suggestions for up-and-coming grinders, please feel free to leave them in the comments.