So, to get started, you first need the game. I'd recommend starting with the free trial. It gives you 10 days of free play time. You can decide whether you like it or not before investing in purchasing the full game and signing up for a subscription. A typical subscription will cost you $14.95/month, which is really a bargain compared to cable, for example. But it is an investment.
If you can, start playing with someone you know, who can walk you through the game as you go. Your friend can answer questions via chat without having to be in the same area as you are, which is a really nice feature. I've done this with the kids; it works pretty well. If you can't start with a friend and/or when you're on by yourself, much of the game will be self-explanatory at first.
First, you'll need to select a character and you'll have to choose which side to play: Alliance or Horde. I started out as Alliance simply because the character looks appealed to me (who doesn't like elves!), but am now playing Horde since that's where all my friends are. I've even moved my old Alliance character over. So, if you're going to play with friends, you'll need to a) be the same faction (Alliance or Horde) and b) be on the same server (which you'll pick before making a character). A note about servers--there are PvP servers (where players can always fight each other), PvE servers (where players are usually questing and killing non-players) and RP servers (role-playing, where players are into the story of the game).
Next, you'll decide what race/class to play. That is, will you be a night elf hunter or a tauren warrior or an orc shaman. The race isn't a huge decision as there aren't a lot of benefits to playing one race over another, usually. There are a few race-specific abilities that are nice to have for certain classes, but I wouldn't worry about it too much. The class is more important. Generally, think about what kind of player you're interested in. Do you want to heal? do a lot of damage? tank? be primarily melee or attack from afar? I've chosen, in most of my characters, to be a melee damage kind of person. That is, I get right in a monsters face and beat on him until he dies. I will say that it's fun to play and easy to level as a melee damage character, but you might be interested in healing or want to be able to heal and do damage effectively (shamans or druids are good at this) or heal and tank (paladins and druids). Classes are much more flexible than they used to be, in that you can be two different things thanks to dual specs, so if you choose a class for healing but decide you like doing damage more, it's easy to switch. Here's the WoW Rookie class guide, which is a little dated, but still has good info on choosing a class.
So, now you've got your character set up and you've logged in. The starting areas in WoW are basically tutorials, but you're playing the game and playing counts toward your overall leveling. It's not separate from the rest of the game, which I think is nice. The first thing to do is to look for a NPC (non-player character) with an exclamation point over his/her head. This indicates that he has a quest that you can go on. Right click on him/her and you'll get the text of the quest, which you should read to figure out what you need to do. Click on accept and then you're off. Your first adventure! Woo hoo!
Generally the first quest involves killing 10 or 15 creatures of a particular kind. To kill the creatures, you need to use your abilities. To start off with, you'll see some in your action bar at the bottom of the screen. You'll see probably 4 or so items, usually place 1 to 4 along the bottom. 1 is usually your basic attack, hitting the creature with whatever weapon you're wielding. 2-4 are usually special abilities that deal more damage. If you mouse over each item, it should tell you what each thing does. So, you go off to kill your creatures by clicking on them and the firing off an attack by pressing one of the buttons. Generally, you will auto-attack if you have the creature targeted (by clicking or pressing the tab button). This will become second nature pretty quickly. You'll be surprised.
Once you've killed a creature, you can loot them, which you do by right-clicking on their dead body. Loot will come in the form of money and items. There might be weapons or armor or items that can be used in different professions, or at this level, junk, things like claws and eyeballs. You can sell off this stuff to a vendor and make more money.
But you might die. If you do, you'll be a ghost and will be hanging out at a graveyard. You'll need to walk back to your body in order to resurrect yourself. Your body will appear as a gravestone on the map and there will be arrows in the minimap showing you the way to your body. More on dying next week.
You gain experience for killing these creatures as well as for turning in the quest, which you do by returning to the quest-giver who now has a question mark over their head. There will be many quests in the area to do and as you do them and gain experience, you will eventually level up, moving from level 1 to 2 to 3, etc.
Some tips that will help you in the first levels:
- Explore the area, including the NPCs, checking out what they sell and finding the trainer for your class.
- Put on items that are better than what you are wearing. You start out with gear that makes you look bedraggled--some raggy pants and shirt and shoddy shoes. As you loot, you will probably see items that you can wear that are better than what you have on. Wear them! Press c to bring up your character, then drag the item to the right slot or right-click it and then you'll be wearing it. Don't worry too much about specifics at this point in terms of what's best for your class. Just increase your armor and any other stats that might be useful. Keep in mind that some classes can't wear certain items. Priests, for example, can't wear anything but cloth items. Generally, if you can't wear an item, it will be red. It may be something you can wear in the future if the restriction is because of level or because you have to learn a weapon skill, so you can decide whether to keep it for future use.
- Sell off stuff you don't want to increase your funds. You can sell stuff to any vendor. Things that are green or blue (the text is this color as well as the outline in your bag) can usually be sold for a larger profit in the auction house. Hold onto these until you get to the auction house in a major city. I'll discuss this more later.
- Buy another bag. Or two. Usually there's a vendor who sells them in the starting cities. You're going to end up with lots of stuff, most of it not useful, but you don't want to have to keep coming back and reselling your stuff every 5 minutes.
- Train as soon as you can. As you level, you can usually go to your class trainer and learn new skills. Keep up with these as they will help you kill off mobs faster, which means you can level faster.