I've been playing WoW on and off for quite a few years now, I've had retail experience but I just didn't want to pay £10 a month when I wasn't playing continuously due to studying pressures. Astral allows me to play without that feeling: "I'm paying so I SHOULD BE PLAYING". I now play whenever I want and I actually enjoy myself as the sword isn't hanging over my head.
Money aside, this is actually a great server even if you compare it to retail. The staff are constantly providing new updates and fixing things 24/7; all classes work nearly perfectly and around 95-98% of the quests work perfectly (Vanilla WoW is virtually perfect in terms of questing). The server currently supports any client of WoW from 4.0.6-4.3.0, however the server has plans to update its Emberflame realm to 4.3.4 by mid-February 2013. So you'll be playing WoW at the pinnacle of Cataclysm!
Worgen and Goblin starting areas work perfectly. I've played both races extensively and their racials, their race-specific quests all work as expected. The large majority of dungeons and raids are working, and the staff are constantly scripting bosses for end-game raids. PvE has been scripted to near perfection, in no other server have I seen such seamless questing for Cataclysm. Phasing is magnificent, as are mechanics for certain quests and events. For the extremely rare occasion (it's only happened to me 2 times out of 7 days playtime) there's an on-site bug tracker that autocompletes bugged quests. There's an even an on-site mall that provides mounts for aesthetics, and heirlooms for a faster levelling experience for Astral Emblems: the currency for voting. However, this is optional and I repeat NO items are custom. No profession items are offered through the mall, nor is much gear offered either so gameplay is fair. It's essentially there to provide characters with heirlooms so levelling is improved, however even this can take 2-3 weeks to obtain a full set of heirlooms. It's the fairest system I've seen, yet there's always an incentive to vote as well!
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More on the PvP, there's BGs at peak times every 10-20 minutes, and sometimes there's 2-3 Warsong Gulch's ocurring simultaneously for the more populated brackets so there's no need to worry about waiting copious amounts of time to kick some ass. They've also started arena seasons very recently and 2v2, 3v3 arena teams are intensely popular with unique prizes at the end of each season (rare mounts generally, but again, the mounts are part of Blizzard's database so nothing custom). There's also a popular twinking scene for the 10-14 brackets if you're into that sort of PvP.
Another exciting prospect for Astral is that they're currently developing a 4.3.4 PvP realm set for release February 2013 that is focused on PvP. This realm (Shadefall is the project name) will have a slightly more unique system as in that you'll receive more exp than usual when you PvP - players are therefore going to be encouraged to level through PvP. Other than that, all the experience and drop rates will be standard 1x. It's going to be a PvP-central realm with cross-realm BGs and RDF with Emberflame. Yes, that's right, a functioning cross-realm system. So whether you like PvP or PvE, your needs will be catered.
Just going to give a small mention to Azurelyte the WotLK realm as well, it has a minuscule population in comparison to Emberflame which reaches 1-1.2k at peak times, however if you're looking for the perfect WotLK experience with a personal element as you're one of the few people online then it's the realm for you.
So if you want to have that authentic World of Warcraft experience for gratis then hurry and join AstralWoW today! If you want any help on connecting or have any other questions feel free to ask via the comments here though the community in-game and on the forums is extremely friendly. Hope to see you guys in-game very soon!