Playing World of Warcraft for Free: A short how-to

Post by Maxime Rousseau

If you have ever played WoW even just a couple of minutes, you have to admit that the game kicks some serious ass, that is something that you can't deny. Back in the days where I was hard-headed and ignorant, I played only FPS's, and that this habit made me more 1337 than all my WoW playing friends, but when I started a Blood Elf Paladin on Garona on my friend's World of Warcraft account, I realized just how much of a good game this was and fell in love with it. At the time, my friend played on the official WoW servers, and like all WoW players, he spent a pretty big amount just to get his WoW fix. Just a couple of weeks after the creation of my first character, he closed down his account, under pretext that he was tired of paying for WoW. We decided to revert to our previous FPS lifestyle, but after a few weeks of not playing, it became clear that we just HAD to find some way of playing for free. And this is where my experience in WoW pirate servers begins.

Turns out that playing WoW for free is possible, and you don't need to be specially good at anything to do it. Somehow, people have been getting some code out of blizzard and reverse engineering the hell out of the client to hack some World of Warcraft server emulators, and with time and probably lots and lots of work, some people have been able to create packages such as MaNGOS and YAWE available to the general public. This results in the availability of private servers being plentiful but most of the time unreliable, which makes choosing a private server pretty hard. In this guide I will not only review how to install a client for use on a private server, but I will also go through several tips and tricks on how to choose your server and my personal recommendations on the subject.

Installing and Patching the Client

The first step to playing is of course installing the client. You have two options: either install the normal WoW client and play without all the advantages that Burning Crusade has to offer, or be smart, download for another couple of hours, and play on a TBC (The Burning Crusade) server with all the fun this implies. The BC installer can be found both on bittorrent as well as on many mirrors, I recommend looking here if you want to download by HTTP. Then, it's just a matter of patching the client up to the version specified by the server you have chosen to play into. Usually, well organized servers give you the complete list of patches that you need to apply, as well as mirrors to the said patches, but on other more homebrew servers, this is not always that case. Worst case scenario, download all the patches and upgrade until you hit the correct version.

One you have the correct client version, just change the realmlist.wtf file in the root of your World of Warcraft folder so that every URL in the file points to the pirate server you have selected. If you experience trouble connection, example if you get repeated erronous logon messages, even if you know that your username and pass are correct, try editing the config.wtf file in the WTF folder so that the realmlist variable ("SET realmlist") is equal to where-ever your WoW server is at.

Choosing A Server

This is the part that will most likely affect your gaming experience. It's actually quite tough to find the correct server for yourself, as there are many things to consider. First, you have to decide on what type of game you want to play: Funservers, High XP rate, or Blizzlike servers. The major difference in those types is how much time you'll be spend per level, but on some tweaked funservers, the game becomes a whole other thing. Here are a couple of facts for each type of server.

  • Blizzlike
    • Tries to imitate as closely as possible the behavior of official, Blizzard owned servers.
    • Provides the most realistic XP rate, so levels are spaced further apart.
    • Most appropriate for:
      • Long time WoW players.
      • Those who want a real challenge.
      • Roleplayers.
      • Those with lots of time on their hands.
  • High XP Rate
    • Has a higher XP rate than normal servers, ranging from 1.5 to 5 times the Blizzlike XP rate.
    • Levels are closer, players are generally of higher level
    • Most appropriate for:
      • Occasional players who dislike spending lots of time in low level areas
      • PVPers who do not want to wait for levels
      • Slackers :)
  • Funservers
    • Has extreme XP rate, 10 times or more the Blizzlike rate.
    • All players are of high level
    • Most of the time, the game environment has been tweaked to cope with high level gain in little time, all vendors and trainers, even those of high level, are put in starting areas, for example.
    • Lots of raids and PVP events.
    • Level 70 can easily be achieved in less than an hour.
    • Most appropriate for:
      • PVP matchup practices with different classes
      • Extreme impatient people
      • Just having some fun drooling over 3rd tier epic armor.
      • Super uber-slackers :)
There are plenty of all types of servers, although consistent and stable Blizzlike servers are a bit harder to find, so you just choose what you want. Of course, there are many other factors that will influence your final decision, such as latency, language spoken, uptime, bugginess, and amount of players online at any given time. Again, you are free to choose whatever you want. Some might want a somewhat buggy server, just for that fact that they can RP with just a couple of friends from a predefined clique, while others will prefer a solid server with a rich community and extraordinary uptime for hardcore PVP.

There are many sites that monitor private servers to give you a list of playable realms, such as Gamesites200, Gtop100 and WoWStatus.

As for my personal favorite, it would have to be Crogges, a blizzlike TBC server running 2.1.2. We have a great community, with about 170 people playing online at all times, we do have some lags and bugs, but our great team of experienced GMs and admins are very dedicated to flattening out all those wrinkles. The server is somewhere in Europe, probably somewhere close to Germany, and it is home to players from all countries.

Registering an Account with the Server

Usually, this is pretty straighforward. Many site use interfaces that have been constructed for the cause, and you can just follow on-screen instructions to register. Other times, the subscription is just a matter of filling out stuff on a small form, no  email activation required, to get a working account. Since the WoW user systems looks like it's SQL driven, there are PLENTY of homebrews around.

PLAY!

Once everything is properly configured, patches, realmlist, account and all, you may begin exploring The World. That was easy wasn't it? Have fun!