It could be anything. You’ve been busy. You’ve been caught up in another game. You just really hate Azerite armor so much you stopped logging on. In my case, it was a mixture of construction work and internet woes keeping me away from my beloved home in Azeroth, but my roof is fixed, I have fibre, and I’m ready to get back into my daily World of Warcraft routine again.

The only problem? World of Warcraft is a living, breathing game. You might stop playing, but the game itself goes on. Things change. Things happen. Once, I stopped playing for what felt like two seconds and came back to find the Vale of Eternal Blossoms had been wiped out. This time, it’s only been a month, but in that time, BlizzCon happened, leaving me with a ton to catch up on. It can be overwhelming. So here’s my strategy, as a long-term WoW player who often has to take breaks on account of life getting in the way, to get back into the game.

First, update your add-ons

Few things are more terrifying and off-putting than logging into WoW and getting a thousand pop-ups, errors, and notifications, all screaming at you because your add-ons are out of date. Luckily, updating add-ons has never been easier. Ever since Twitch merged with Curse, all this takes is logging into Twitch and hitting update all – an option previously only available to those who’d paid for Curse premium. Just make sure to go through your add-ons, once updated, to see which ones are still woefully out of date. There’s a chance that they’ve become obsolete, or that there’s a better option out there.

You’re going to want to catch up on your WoW news

In my day, if I wanted to feel up to date on WoW news enough to know exactly what I should be doing in-game, I’d have to walk five miles in the snow to find someone, somewhere who still played to update me, and then sit and listen as they drone on and on about PVP or some other aspect of the game that I don’t actually care that much about. These days, updating yourself couldn’t be easier, with fantastic World of Warcraft-themed YouTube channels like Taliesin & Evitel, Bellular Gaming, Nobbel, Wowhead, and Blizzard’s own official channel putting out entertaining, easy to digest content that will get you up to date in no time.

And thank goodness, because if I hadn’t updated myself, I would have bulldozed on ahead with my plan to finally get my nine alts to max level without knowing alt-levelling is about to become ridiculously fast and easy in patch 8.1. So much time and frustration saved, just by watching a YouTube video.

Don’t jump into the deep end (just, don’t)

I actually tried, and failed, to get back into the swing of things mid-October, when both Hallow’s End and Timewalking were happening. I have two mains (one Alliance, one Horde) and nine alts, my Alliance main doesn’t have any of her reputations at exalted yet, and my Horde main is still farming Dreamweaver rep for that damn unicorn. Suddenly, I felt the need to run at least two dungeons on 11 characters a day, complete all the Battle for Azeroth world quests I could on my Void Elf, and farm Dreamweaver world quests on my Nightborne. I also kept remembering that I still had a quota of Warfronts, Island Expeditions and Mythic+ to fill.

The result – I only wound up logging on about three or four times in the space of two weeks. It was too scary to have so much to do waiting for me.

Amazingly, I did get the mount.

Trying to do everything at once or spend a huge amount of time trying to catch up with people who have been playing faithfully every day is not only a bad plan, but the game is actually designed to help you not feel the need to do that. The game has catch-up mechanics, specifically for alts and returning players – so, for example, less Azerite Power is needed to level up your Heart of Azeroth today than was needed last week. The world quest system has revolutionised reputation grind, and if you want rep for a certain faction, you could farm all world quests for that faction that you can see every day, or you could just wait for that faction’s emissary day where completing only four quests will reward a huge chunk of rep.

So pick one or two priorities, preferably things you enjoy, and focus on those. If you find the game is stressful and unfun, then it’s kinda defeating the whole point.