UPDATE: See our updated guide for Wrath of the Lich King-era classes at WoW Rookie: Choose the right class.
The first question many players have when they first tear open their World of Warcraft game box is, "What class should I play?" And I'm afraid that my standard answer to the question is terribly unhelpful, "Why don't you try them and see which one you like best?"
I still think that's the best answer (I simply can't know all of your likes or dislikes to simply tell you "Mage" or "Shaman"), but today I'm going to try to give you a more helpful answer by defining the playstyles of each of the nine classes, and making some suggestions on which ones are the most newbie-friendly. So if you're trying to figure out which class might be best for you, read on!
First off, an overview of class roles in the game. In World of Warcraft, there are three basic roles:
- Tank: With abilities to absorb damage and hold aggro, a good tank is a necessity for any instance run .
- DPS: A DPS ("Damage Per Second") class is any class that's good at dishing out damage. DPS damage-dealers can be divided into two basic types: physical DPS and magical DPS.
- Healer: A healer is a class with the ability to heal others.
- Hybrid: While most classes have the ability to do at least some DPS along with whatever their primary purpose may be, a hybrid class is capable of filling any role efficiently, depending on gear and talents.
Class type: Hybrid, tank, DPS (physical and magical), healer
Reading the above, you might come away with the impression that Druids can do just about everything, and you'd be right. A Feral Druid in bear form is a great tank. A Feral Druid in cat form can do some great DPS. A Balance druid in moonkin form can do some great magical DPS. And a Restoration Druid (in or out of their tree of life form) is an excellent healer.
So what's the downside to Druids?
Well, it's that a Druid has to make choices. Their spec and the gear they collect heavily define what they're able to do. For example, a Balance Druid would make a poor choice of tank. And even a Feral Druid, if wearing gear to improve their DPS instead of wearing gear to improve their tanking, could make a poor choice of tank. So when you choose to become a Druid, you need to spend some time considering which of a Druid's many roles you'd like to play. And from then on out, while you can certainly change your mind on the type of druid you'd like to play, your gear has a heavy impact in how well you do at it. Unlike, for example, a Fire Mage and a Frost Mage, both of which you could play successfully with identical gear, there are huge differences in the type of gear needed to play a successful Feral Druid and a successful Balance Druid.
Gear: Druids can wear cloth and leather armor (it's recommended to stick to leather, since that gives them the best armor but Balance and Restoration Druids may find it easier to acquire the stats they're interested in on cloth armor), and use staves, one and two-handed maces, daggers, and fist weapons.
What sort of gear should your Druid be looking for to play at their best?
- Balance (magical DPS): Intellect, stamina, spell damage, spell crit, spirit
- Feral (bear, tanking): Stamina, strength, defense, dodge
- Feral (cat, physical DPS): Agility, strength, stamina, attack power, crit
- Restoration (healing): Intellect, spirit, stamina, spell healing, spell crit
- Druids can be difficult to play in lower levels, before they get all of their animal forms. (Trust me, it's a whole different world playing a Druid after getting cat form at level 20 -- but you have to make it to level 20 first.)
- In general, a hybrid class requires a more complicated playstyle than a single-purpose class (I think this is more true of Druids than any of the other hybrid classes because of the need to shapeshift into different forms to perform different functions), which may mean that a different starter class would be best.
Class type: Physical DPS (ranged)
Before you roll a Hunter, it's important to know that they're a pet class. Hunters tame and train pets from the animals available throughout Azeroth and Outland. So beyond just controlling your character, you're also going to be controlling your pet. However, there's an upside to this as well: your pet can tank and dish out some excellent DPS on its own, making a single Hunter something like a two-player team.
Gear: Hunters can wear cloth, leather, and mail armor (the last starting at level 40). It's recommended to stick to mail, as this gives you the highest armor rating (which also improves the armor of your pets!). For weapons, Hunters can use axes, daggers, guns, bows, crossbows, fist weapons, polearms, staves, swords, thrown, two-handed axes, two-handed swords.
For the most effective play-style, your hunter will want to focus on gearing up with agility, stamina, attack power, and crit.
Is a Hunter a good choice for a newbie? Absolutely! Because of the strength of their pet, a Hunter has the power of two players for the cost of one. Having a pet to tank for you while you stay back unscathed and DPS also makes for very easy soloing. So if you're just starting out -- consider a Hunter.
Class type: Magical DPS
Mages are the class to pick if you're interested in playing a DPS caster. Mages are masters of the elements and capable of dishing out copious amounts of Fire, Frost, and Arcane damage. The downside? Mages can only wear cloth armor, tend to have low health, and are quite fragile. So to being a successful Mage means you'll have to learn a few things about crowd control (Mages have Polymorph and Frost Nova, and can slow with their Frost spells) and kiting. But if being a glass cannon whose survival depends on killing it before it can touch you sounds like fun -- maybe a Mage would be a good choice!
Gear: Mages can use cloth armor and can wield staves, wands, daggers, and swords. For stats, they should be focusing on intellect, stamina, spell damage, spell crit, and spirit. (Spirit isn't terribly important, but it does help them regenerate mana -- and mana is how they keep dealing damage.)
Is a Mage a good choice for a newbie? Maybe. Mages are a very high damage class and some types of player are drawn to their style of play. However, they're fragile -- and you may find yourself dying often, which is never fun.
Class type: Hybrid, tank, physical dps, healing
Like Druids, Paladins can do a bit of everything -- they're very capable tanks and healers, though their DPS at present is a bit weak (even with a full DPS talent spec). But also like Druids, a Paladin has to decide what he or she wants to do and specialize (with both talents and gear) to be effective in any of their possible roles. A Paladin will likely have trouble late in the game, when they'll often be wanted more for their healing abilities than anything else.
Gear: A Paladin can wear cloth, leather, mail, and plate armor, as well as equip shields -- but will often want to stick to plate for the best armor bonus. (However, a healing Paladin may find it easier to find cloth with the best healing stats.) For weapons, paladins can use one and two-handed maces, one and two-handed swords, one and two-handed axes, and polearms.
To fill different roles, a Paladin will need different types of gear:
- Tank: Stamina, intellect, defense, dodge, strength, spell damage.
- Healer: Intellect, stamina, spell healing, spell crit.
- DPS: Intellect, strength, spell damage, attack power, crit/spell crit.
Class type: Healer, magical DPS
I won't say a priest is the best healer in the game, but they're healers with the widest variety of spell types to throw at any healing-required problem. They have a small, fast heal, a longer, bigger heal, a heal over time, a damage shield, and a group heal. While Paladins are excellent with their mana-efficiency and survivability and Druids are the masters of heals over time, Priests make excellent healers precisely because they always have the right tool for the job.
However, though Priests are widely known as healers, they can do more than just heal! A Shadow Priest can deal out some heavy damage -- while providing some healing and Mana regeneration for their party.
Gear: A priest can use cloth armor and wield one-Handed Maces, daggers, staves, and wands. For stats, a Priest should be looking for intellect, spirit, stamina, spell healing, spell damage, and spell crit. (Pick healing or damage depending on which role you most often find yourself playing.)
Is a Priest a good choice for a newbie? Not really. While a priest specializing in Shadow talents can do heavy damage, they're slow to reach that point (they really arrive at level 40, when they get Shadowform), and otherwise relatively slow to level. Their ability to heal gives them some survivability, but the fact that they can only wear cloth armor makes them fairly fragile. But if you're interested in healing, give Priest a try -- they're very good at it, and if you group up to heal instances frequently, you'll see the levels fly by.
Class type: Physical DPS (melee)
Rogues excel at close-range damage-dealing -- and with their ability to stealth in and get close to their targets, they tend to have plenty of opportunity to get their hands dirty. However, similar to the Mage, rogues tend to be light in the defensive department (though they do wear heavier armor than Mages), and they rely on a bag full of tricks (usually with 5-minute cooldowns) to escape when they manage to get into a situation when their "kill it before it kills me" combat strategy isn't working.
Gear: Rogues can wear cloth or leather armor and can wield daggers, swords, maces, fist weapons, thrown, guns, bows, and crossbows. A successful rogue will focus on finding gear with agility, stamina, strength, attack power, and crit on it.
Note: key Rogue abilities, Backstab and Ambush, require you to keep a dagger equipped. However some types of playstyle eschew these key abilities in favor of other (often higher-damage) weapon types.
Is a Rogue a good choice for a newbie? Yes. Rogues do excellent damage, and if you can master the use of their cooldowns, have high survivability as well. Their ability to stealth also allows you to conveniently bypass time-consuming pulls and get places you wouldn't ordinarily be able to access -- both useful and fun!
Class type: Hybrid, DPS (physical and magical), healer
Like Druids and Paladins, Shamans can fill many different roles -- though unlike both of those classes, Shamans are weakest in their healing capacity. However, to be good at any role, Shamans must specialize with both talents and gear, so don't expect your melee Shaman to a stand-out healer. Most frequently you will find Shamans playing as a hybrid melee/caster role, dishing out damage and providing buffs to their party with totems.
Gear: Shamans can wear cloth, leather, and mail (at level 40) armor, as well as shields. Shamans have the option of wielding one-handed maces, two-handed maces (with talents), staves, fist weapons, one-handed axes, two-handed axes (with talents), and daggers.
Different types of Shaman should focus on different stats:
- Magical DPS: Intellect, stamina, spell damage, spell crit.
- Physical DPS: Strength, stamina, agility, attack power, crit.
- Healer: Intellect, stamina, spell healing, spell crit.
Class type: Magical DPS
Like a Mage, a Warlock does magical DPS. However, unlike a Mage, a Warlock has access to pets which supplement their damage and improve their survivability. If you like the idea of playing a Mage, but find that you die to often, a Warlock may be just your thing -- they tend to have more stamina and certainly have more ways to regenerate health than the other DPS classes. (Healthstones, Drain Life, Death Coil do wonders for improved survivability.)
Gear: A Warlock can wear cloth armor and wield daggers, wands, staves, and swords. When looking for equipment, a Warlock should focus on stamina first (because Life Tap allows them to convert their health into mana), followed by intellect, spell damage, and spell crit.
Is a Warlock a good choice for a newbie? That all depends on what sort of newbie you are. Warlock can be a complicated class to learn, as it focuses on damage over time spells, curses, and pets (in addition to the simple direct damage done by most classes). However, for those willing to dedicate time to figuring the class out, it's a high damage class with great survivability.
Class type: Tank, physical DPS (melee)
Warriors are the default tanks in the World of Warcraft universe, though with proper spec and gear they can deal out some serious DPS, as well. If you're interested in always being in the thick of things swinging heavy weaponry -- and usually getting out alive, since you're wearing the heaviest armor, Warrior may be the class for you.
Gear: Warriors can wear cloth, leather, mail and plate (at level 40) armor, as well as being able to use shields. They can wield all types of weapon in the game, with the exception of wands.
Is a Warrior a good choice for a newbie? Maybe. They can do a lot of damage and their heavy armor means they have reasonable survivability. However, new players may find their unique "rage" mechanic (all warrior abilities are cast with a "rage" cost, with rage being generated by taking or doing damage) confusing. However, for those willing to figure out how the class works, there's great reward in their future -- Warriors are currently one of the most sought-after classes for groups, meaning that if you learn how to tank well, you'll never be lacking for company.