The Case Against Heirlooms

I love Heirloom gear. I love having complete sets ready to go for pretty much any low level character I choose to roll. I spent much of Wrath obsessed with collecting them.  I have, at last count, 29 heirloom items. That’s twenty-nine pieces of Bind to Account gear, all dedicated to making me an awesome leveler.

And yet… I’m not an awesome leveler.  I’m just not.  I’m great at rolling alts, and pretty good at making them as powerful as I can at any given level, but I’m just not a great leveler.  I play with some great levelers, people who can take a toon to level 40 in two days, with full professions, and completely enjoy the experience along the way.

That’s not me.  Each level is a struggle, and there’s this constant sense of guilt that I should be doing it faster, better, are we there yet? that makes me wonder why I roll so many alts in the first place. Having all the Heirlooms in the game wouldn’t make me better at leveling.

And yet: I enjoy questing. One of my biggest personal lessons with the Level 19 Ambassador Project was how much I enjoyed discovering the stories behind the game, of seeing the reasons why places are the way they are. I enjoy collecting gear, of sifting through quest rewards for the best, the prettiest, the coolest-looking, the oddest. I love having torches and lanterns and pretty dresses. I can even enjoy leveling, when I forget that there’s a goal I’m trying to reach.

I laid out the case for Heirlooms in an earlier post, but it’s relevant to summarize it here.  Heirloom gear serves two purposes; to give experienced players a shorter path through content they’ve experienced before, and to allow for gear to be shared between characters on a server.  Heirlooms are good gear, sometimes great gear, sometimes the best gear you can get.  You can enchant them once and never have to enchant that slot again.  You can get stats that are otherwise rare or unavailable before level 60 (Hit, Haste, Resilience.)

But when Cataclysm comes, I think I’m going to level a lot of my alts without Heirlooms, or only with a few selected ones.  I’ve already started using my Heirlooms less and less, and am finding it a more enjoyable experience overall.

This is, frankly, odd for me to admit, since in terms of efficiency (and regular readers know how I feel about efficiency), Heirloom gear cannot be beaten.  (Even speed enchants on your boots can’t quite compare to Heirlooms for increasing your experience gain.) Going without the chest and shoulders means you are leveling 20% more.  That’s crazy.

And yet…


The old world is not going to be old anymore.  The experience from 1-60 has been redesigned, the stories are different.  Leveled through Darkshore, Westfall, and the Barrens dozens of times before?  Well, you’ve never leveled through these zones.  They’re different now.  You can’t be bored with these quests yet, you’ve never done them!

Doing all of the tier 1-2 zones on a single character made me realize how different each zone could feel, how some zones appeal to you and others don’t.  Taking time to experience each zone and the stories within it is a good, enjoyable part of the game! Remember your first character, stumbling around without much of a clue, discovering new places, being awed by the immensity of this game?

Don’t rob yourself of that innocence too soon.  Take your time.  Stop and smell the roses.

(Okay, Outland and Northrend are still old content.  Get every XP boost you can to level through those quickly.)


If you are really in a hurry, Heirlooms will not get your new goblin or worgen to 85 by December 8th. No, if you want to play one of the new races in the endgame as soon as possible, your best strategy is to take an existing level 80 character to 85 and change their race.  There realm first racial achievements have been removed, so there’s even less incentive to try to do this, but if you’re dead set on playing the endgame with one of the new races?

Get your level 80 character ready to switch.


I’ve been rolling a lot of alts lately, and I’ve heard people talking in battlegrounds about how overpowered someone is because they have Heirlooms.  I think this is probably filtering into the Dungeon Finder, too – “lol no heirlooms.”

This is stupid.  It’s not stupid because it’s childish (though it’s that, too).  It’s not even stupid because it ignores player skill (which is also stupid.)  It’s stupid because it ignores math, and ignores a simple fact:  for the first 30 levels or so, your enchants are better than your gear.

I rolled a Hunter recently, why, I wasn’t quite sure, but I did and I’m enjoying it.  I tossed a Lovely Purple Dress on her and a set of enchanted white gear I got from the starting area vendors, and then proceeded to destroy the starting area. I tossed Heirlooms on her at level 10, keeping the same enchants, and have proceeded to destroy every instance and battleground I’ve been in.


+7 Agility to the boots.  +9 Stamina to the bracers.  +15 Agility to the gloves.  +15 Agility to the main hand weapon.  +100 Health to the chest.  +2 damage on the bow.  +16 Armor to the legs.

For a Hunter, that translates to 74 Ranged Attack Power and an additional 190 health, just from enchants.

A full kit of Heirlooms provides (at level 19): +5 Agility from the shoulders, +7 Agility from the chest, +3 Agility from the MH, +18 Stamina, +6 Haste, +6 Resilience, and a PvP trinket.  That’s 30 Ranged Attack Power and about 4% Haste, 180 health.  All good stats, and worth having for maximum pwnage, but it takes a while for gear to catch up to the wonderful enchantments you can place on level 1 items.

Think about that again.  A properly enchanted set of white gear gives you better bonuses than Heirlooms for the first 20 levels.

Heirlooms are a good way to ensure that several of your slots are filled with good, enchanted, blue-quality gear.  They mean you can enchant a slot once and never worry about it again, which I greatly appreciate given how much I love the Crusader enchant. But it’s not just the weapon damage that is important there: it’s always having an enchanted weapon. You save money, you don’t skimp on your Heirloom enchants like you might on something you’re going to replace in a few levels.


A related pet peeve is that it also surprises me how often I hear players refer to Heirlooms as best-in slot items.  They’re not, or not always.  At any given level, for a specific class, they might be the best you can get – but more often than not, there’s something else you can get.  If you have Heirlooms and are leveling quickly, you’d probably never notice this.

What I’ve noticed while using Heirlooms is that I start ignoring whole swaths of gear, and stop making choices around them.  That’s okay – it’s one of the advantages of Heirlooms – but it’s also a disadvantage.  There are some really great items in the game that you’ll never acquire, never even notice, if you level in full heirlooms.

I obsess a bit on my twink blog about the best weapon for a given spec or situation.  And yet, I often use the Venerable Mass of McGowan for my MH weapon.  It’s a great tanking weapon because of the Agility, though there are some swords that outclass it for sheer DPS.  So I switch, depending on what situation I’m in.  (The 2H Heirlooms are all outdone by several different quest rewards and I don’t even have them on ‘block anymore.)

But Cyn, you’ll rightly say, why should I spend the time researching that when the Heirlooms are good enough, and when I’m going to outlevel that reward in a dungeon run or two anyways?

Because it’s a part of the game that you’re missing.  If you wear your Tattered Dreadmist set all the way from 1-80, not only do you miss out on any sense of progression in your appearance, you lose out on how bad and awkward the outfits were in Outland (and how drab everyone is in Northrend.)  Your gloves, helm, and boots change, but you basically look the same from 1-80.

If your goal is getting to 80, then maybe that doesn’t matter.  There’s no right or wrong here, just a matter of preference.  Looking like a clown in Outland isn’t something to seek out, exactly – but it’s part of the game, and a fun part of the game.  Replacing my purple tunic was a big step – though it was nice seeing my legs again!


It’s one thing to say that Heirlooms let you skip over seeing a part of the game (gear).  The more I’ve leveled with them, the more I think that they can hinder becoming a real expert in your class.

Hear me out.

It’s fairly straightforward to pick out a good set of Heirlooms for a given class.  You might not get the best ones for your chosen spec, but you should be able to do pretty good overall.

But what if you want to tank instead of DPS?  There’s no gear that’s specific to tanking, and even though the instances 1-80 aren’t that demanding anymore, you’re not getting exposed to the idea that you should gear differently for tanking than for DPS – until you hit the endgame.  I ditched my DK’s Heirloom chest when he hit 70 and went with the crafted tank blues instead.

The difference was noticeable.  Having dedicated tank gear in all slots made a big improvement back in the days of Defense, but even at lower gear levels I believe it’s important to start learning the ins and outs of why gear works the way it does while leveling, not at the endgame.

It’s not just the roles of the holy trinity that need to be learned through the leveling process – the distinctions between gearing different specs are lost in the heirloom shuffle.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve got a Rogue I’m leveling Combat.  I’ve probably mentioned that I’m also not very good with her; I don’t really understand what I’m doing aside from Sinister Strike > Slice and Dice > SS x5 > Eviscerate, with occasional Blade Flurries to spread the damage around.  I’m basically doing what smarter Rogue players than I have told me what to do, and running LFD so that I can level her up.

The reason I’m leveling a Rogue is that I want to level her Enchanting and Inscription.  Heirlooms work great for this purpose; they let me grasp the basics of the class, keep the same gear throughout the process, and every once in a while drop into LFD for some dungeon runs.

But at the end of all of this, after I hit level 80, will I be a good Rogue player?  No. Absolutely not.  I grab random gear with Agility, Hit and Stamina off the AH or from dungeons, but basically I’m powering through on Heirlooms.

Conversely, I plan on leveling my warlocks in Cataclysm with minimal Heirlooms, precisely so I can see what it’s like.  I want to experience the new gear.  I want to see what it’s like in the field, how it looks, how it works.  I want to sit there actually thinking about a quest reward before turning in the quest.

There’s a counter-argument to be made to this – namely, that you don’t need to be an expert in how a class levels to be an expert in it at the endgame, or to be a really good endgame player.  I absolutely agree with this.  If leveling is not your goal, but the endgame is, then you probably don’t need to know the intricacies of how a class levels up.

But there are skills you learn while leveling that are important (kiting, trapping, jump shots, CC, pulling, healing on the move) that you need at level 80/85.  Don’t dismiss them out of hand if your goal is the endgame.


I know me.  I’m going to waffle back and forth between using Heirlooms, not using Heirlooms.  I love them too much to abandon them entirely.  Some toons are going to be totally tricked out, and that means they get the purple dress and skull shoulders and staff.  Others are going to be left to fend for themselves.

That’s okay.

Leveling, it seems to me, is as much about the journey as it is the destination.  Sometimes we just want to take the highway and get there as fast as we can.  Sometimes we want to take back roads.  One might be faster, but that doesn’t make it better.

And that is the crux of my case against Heirlooms.


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

22 responses to “The Case Against Heirlooms

  1. This is similar to a post I wanted to make, but could never articulate properly. You’ve done a great job with this post, and thought of a few angles I hadn’t.

    I’d like to add one last little thing to this: heirlooms means that you deny yourself dozens of little presents. Every time I find a new bit of gear for an alt, it’s like Christmas. It adds incentive to keep going, to see what may drop over /there/, for example.

  2. Ali

    I have done it both ways. I use to love my heirlooms. Now, meh, I can take them or leave them. I tell you what, after leveling 3 healing classes (I used the same cloth heirloom set/trinkets/weapons for all) I am sick to dead of seeing that same outfit for 80 levels.

    The XP bonus is nice, but as you have pointed out, it is no longer the same quests/world we are going to be leveling through. I’m really not in any sort of rush to plow through them.

    Except for levels 1-19, which I kind of hate, not having a mount and not being able to use LFD until 15. I do try to get through those levels at a quick clip. 🙂

    • When the Dreadmist set came out, I was like: ooooh, pretty. Me want. It was, is, the best looking Heirloom set.

      But after seeing it on a dozen toons, of seeing it everywhere, I’m a bit tired of it. More tired of it than I am the drab Northrend colors, even.

      I think strategic application of Heirlooms is the way to go. Keep them in your pack, and when you start getting impatient, bust them out for the XP bonus!

  3. As for me, I think I will get my fill of new content leveling a new toon, do you miss desolace…I sure the hell don’t. Plus heirloom gear some of it looks pretty cool.

    • I kinda miss Desolace.

      But then again, I play a Warlock, and Desolace is full of many, many Demons you get to enslave and make fight each other. It’s a fun game to keep going.

  4. Wrenz

    Interesting post Cyn. I have to say though, I’m not convinced the slight power advantage gets in the way of learning your class. For one thing, the wow leveling experience is pretty easy to begin with. You can solo it all without much trouble regardless of gear, and if something gives you pause there’s no drawback from skipping.

    Also, the skills you learn soloing are rarely the same as the ones you will be using in groups. That’s actually one of my major gripes with the leveling experience as a whole, because unless you really like doing random dungeons while leveling, there is almost no focus on group play. Learn the optimal rotation before you can reach level X? Yea right. Learn how to not pull aggro? Maybe if you play a pet class. The only time I’ve seen soloing skill put to the test was way back in Vanilla for the Hunter and Priest MC quests, and even then that was max level.

    But hey, if you want a longer leveling experience and feel like that extra DPS from the Venerable Whatever trivializes it for you, by all means, smell them roses. I fall into that “get me to 80 already” category myself though, so I’ll take what I can get. I know, I’m a total grinch.

    • There are some classes where not choosing between different weapons doesn’t matter in the slightest – casters, for instance – while it’s vital for Rogues, Warriors, and Enh Shammies. Fast or slow in the MH? Crit or Hit or Haste? And, most importantly, why should you pick those stats at these levels?

      Maybe it’s just my own noobishness showing through there. I’m a bad rogue, and just don’t find the time to become a better one. Why should I? I log in, do some AH with her, then swap some bags around and queue for LFD. But I can’t be bothered to go find out the optimal MH/OH combination at level 48, mostly because what I have is good enough. Mass + Kris, both with Crusader, works for me. At some point I know that I’m better off switching to some fast blues with Mongoose, but which blues, and how fast, and what poison to use, I have no clue.

      So I think the point I was trying to make (and might not have been clear about) was that Heirlooms don’t teach you how to make good gear choices, and that can make you sloppy. An extension of that is that leveling too quickly means you skip over learning the details of your class. Maybe I’m the grinch here, but if I can play someone at level 19 for almost a year and still be learning things about different specs, I figure that I missed a huge swath of things while leveling up to 80 on my various classes.

      I actually am not arguing that it’s the DPS of heirloom weapons that trivializes content. I think if there’s anything I’d object to, it’s that I really don’t feel that way. If anything, I am more against using heirlooms because their DPS is not high enough. There are better weapons out there, even if the impression is that Heirlooms are the best you can get. That’s what irks me.

      I’m all in favor of completely trivializing content by overpowering it. You only have to look at one of my lowbies to see that I subscribe to the idea that if some OP gear is good, massive amounts of OP gear is even better. If I’m not 1-shotting things I look for more buffs to pile on. 🙂

  5. You’re right.

    I’ve levelled a dew times in Beta and it’s been huge amounts of fun. I’d strongly recommend anyone rolling a new character to take their time and savour the experience. There is no rush. Heirlooms can come into play for your 2nd or 3rd reroll

  6. I actually feel like heirloom leveling bonuses might help me smell the roses. Hear me out on this one.

    I’m not the most efficient leveler. Far from it. It takes me a long time if I’m not using a guide to efficiently stack quests. I also don’t have a lot of time to play. So for me the heirlooms “make up” for my wandering idiocy and my lack of play time. I’m sure the extra 20% won’t catapult me into the next bracket before I’m ready – but it will allow me some breathing room to screw up. It allows me to abandon any sort of thought of strat guides or questhelper, knowing that I’ll get the xp anyway. That’s pretty freeing.

    Now, Refer-A-Friend… that’s an amount of flying through levels that is beyond ridiculous. I completely agree that you won’t learn a whit if you’re new to the game and getting 3x the xp. But 20% I think is OK by comparison.

    • I’m inefficient, too. That’s a cogent argument in favor of the XP bonus. And if it makes you relax a bit while leveling? It’s totally worth it!

  7. Garwicket


    I think it’s a nice luxury to be able to wonder whether heirlooms are, on balance, good. A lot of things have been changed to be less grindy now than they used to be, and it’s supposed to be even less grindy, soon. No more class-specific quests that send us all over the world. Dungeons and even raids have been nerfed. And we have been freed from having to beg guildies or trade chat for an hour to get a group together for an at-level dungeon run by the LFD tool.

    But all of these can mean a less comprehensively experienced game: we no longer have even the option to get some of the previous class lore that makes us feel special, unless we go read about it elsewhere, now. The nerfs mean we no longer feel (as) scared when we see bosses at any level, no longer have to pay attention to strategies in heroics, and may not even remember doing those heroic encounters later, or where we got our blues. And certainly the LFD tool means we can level without having to learn much at all about behaving socially in a group, or how to make friends with people on our servers. (We can even keep questing while queueing, so even less hanging around in capitals, being sociable and social!)

    There have always been people who have wanted a shortcut to the endgame, and have done things like grind dungeons, while missing almost all the content. And plenty of people have gotten themselves carried to the endgame by friends or guildies, without a clue as to how to play their classes when they got there. Sure, heirlooms make it easier for people to do these things, but of all the changes that have been made, heirlooms may be the most reliably optional. (In my experience, LFD has become a practical necessity, because nobody else wants to sit around putting an at-level group together any more.) Most importantly, they’re limited to people who at least have had experience before, and should be better informed when making choices as to how they want to experience the game.

    As an aside: You know all the usual arguments for what’s good about heirlooms, but here’s a couple more: no matter how people use or abuse their alts, being in heirlooms means less competition for most of the gear newbies really need. Heirlooms also mean that, both in runs without newbies and in casual questing, a lot more gear will end up disenchanted or put up for auction. This means cheaper skillups for enchanters, cheaper prices for everyone to get those highly-praised enchants, and of course, cheaper newbie gear auctions. And all that should ultimately make it easier and cheaper for newbies to get broader experience.

  8. Tam

    I think heirlooms have their place – if you just want to *level* a character fast, and not have to think about it too much, or worry about trouble in LFG. But I’ve recently made a non-heirloom character, just to remind myself what the game is like, and I’m really enjoying myself. I don’t mind the slower pace, I love the excitement of getting a pretty new frock for my hawt priest (okay … that’s kind of shallow but, for obvious reasons, I was never allowed to play with Barbies when I was young :P) and not wearing heirlooms doesn’t necessarily make the game *harder* if you don’t behave like an idiot. I guess it’s nice to have the option but, as you say, people need to remember it’s not the *only* option. Nice post though – very thought provoking 🙂

  9. The day that I am able (next Tuesday if the rumor mill is correct) I will be able to roll my new main. An Undead Hunter (because three max level Hunters is not enough, I want to see the new content through new eyesockets)

    I have a full set of heirlooms he could wear, though I am only planning to use some of it. The armor will come into play in Outlands and Northrend to buzz through it quickly, but not for all the new stuff.

    For that he gets a bow and a pair of daggers.

    Thats plenty.

  10. I’ve been planning on eschewing Heirlooms in Cataclysm, as well, at least the first time around. All of the quests and zones are (largely) new, why skip past them faster than you have to? You might miss something!

  11. Pingback: Hand-Me-Downs: A Poor Man’s Heirlooms « Psynister's Notebook

  12. I only bought one set of heirlooms, but after a while, I decided I ddin’t like them. When I level, it’s all about doing the quests, and leveling faster means I get to see less quests, so no heirlooms means I get to do more quests before I leave the area. 🙂

    • Leveling faster only means you see less quests if you decide to skip them. Nothing says you have to leave a zone just because you’ve out-leveled it. If you’re there for the quests then it really doesn’t matter if you’re doing them at level or a little bit higher.

      Anyone who’s gotten the Loremaster achievement can tell you that the story/lore is tied to the text and the actions taken, not the difference between your character’s level and the quest levels.

  13. Its worth mentioning though that heirlooms can’t be ninja’ed.

  14. I’ve never really gone to the trouble of actually putting together a full heirloom set on any alt that I’ve considered leveling, generally only bothering to pick up the shoulders and chest, if I’m going to use any at all. Maybe it’s just me, because I don’t spend much time leveling (largely becuase I just don’t enjoy that part of the game… though that may change with Cataclysm), but every time I get a quest reward in the shoulder or chest slot (especially when it’s a blue one) that’s just PERFECT for me, I get really excited…. then a little sad. Because my heirloom piece is still better. You’re absolutely right, if it weren’t for the big exp. bonus, I wouldn’t ever use them at all. Players that twink out a new alt in a full set of heirloom are absolutely missing out on a huge part of the game. Which I think is kinda sad.

  15. I’ve got quite a selection of heirlooms on my Alliance server and I use them liberally and with much enjoyment.

    On my Horde server I don’t have a single heirloom to my name and only recently started playing there after almost two years of being Alliance.

    And the one thing that’s really sunk in? Heirlooms don’t mean a thing.

    Now, they do mean up to 25% faster leveling, but how much does that really equate to? Instead of having to do 20 quests to level up, you only have to do 15. Instead of killing 500 mobs you only have to kill 385. It’s really not all that much of a difference.

    In my heirlooms I typically leave a starting area at level 7. Without them, I leave at level 6 or just barely under. On a Death Knight I leave at 58 without them, or level 60-61 with them (depending on how many /hours/ I have to beat those nubs with hot pokers to make them talk).

    The more experience you receive from quests and mobs, the more useful the heirlooms are, so they pay off more at higher levels. Dechion has the right idea, saving them for Outlands/Northrend leveling where not only are there no changes to the content, but you also get the most benefit from the extra experience.

    I’m not arguing for or against the use of heirlooms though, just throwing out some numbers here. Am I going to use them on my Alliance toons? I sure am, I earned them and I’m going to use them. Am I going to regret not having them, or miss them on my Alliance toons? Not at all, because I find leveling there to be just as much fun even without them.

    The only real problem I have with heirlooms is that the characters look the same, which gets really old after a while. There’s nothing we can do to fix that, really and it’s only going to get worse once Cataclysm brings the new guild-based heirlooms. But I’m still going to use the ones that I have access to while not particularly caring about the ones I don’t have access to.