Warcraft: Shadowlands UI and add-ons

A new expansion means it’s time to reset the UI back to zero and start again. I’m largely writing this to remind myself what I did, and for anyone else interested in the basics of rebuilding a UI.

There are several sections, so skip to the one that you’re interested in:

  • UI nuke: resetting a UI back to the very basics
  • ElvUI: the (almost) no-work total UI overhaul
  • Custom ElvUI profiles: borrowing someone else’s setup to make ElvUI better
  • WeakAuras: adding some zing to the UI, also using other players’ setups
  • Bonus add-ons: useful extras

UI nuke

Only bother with this bit if you have an existing custom UI that you want to reset it completely. Otherwise skip to the ElvUI section.

I was surprised to find that the ‘reset’ was not as easy as expected. The official instructions are to delete (or rename if you’re worried) the \wtf, \cache, and \interface folders in the Warcraft _retail_ directory.

The next time you logon, all those folders are recreated with default settings – or so I thought. While all the addons were gone, a bunch of UI stuff is still saved, most noticeably your action bar and chat settings. They must be cached by Blizzard on the server as a backup, similar to the way macros are saved. You can just leave this as if of course, but I wanted to totally nuke everything.

There is an ingame /resetchat command to reset the chat but even that seemed to maintain some things like font size. In the end I had to delete the contents of the config-cache.wtf and chat-cache.txt files for each character subfolder in the /wtf directory. I also deleted the contents of the base config-cache.wtf file in my account directory. I couldn’t work out how to reset the action bars, so they’d have to be cleared manually.

Doing all that is total overkill, but once done the UI seemed to be really back to bare metal – including things like auto-loot and tutorial tips. The default UI is perfectly serviceable now, but there are plenty of things that need improving – mainly the nameplates, unit-frames, and bags.

Here’s a brand new character with the full default UI.

Still fond of the silver dragon bookends

Time to start adding things back!

ElvUI

ElvUI is kind of cheat-mode UI building. It replaces just about everything, and does an amazing job at setting up a new default that is definitely an improvement on the base. In fact you could just install ElvUI and be done, but I do find it still needs some additional tweaks and additions.

When you first logon after adding ElvUI it will ask a bunch of questions. Most are fairly obvious, and all can be changed after the fact, so don’t worry too much and just click what you think sounds good.

The other option is to skip the config entirely and instead load a custom profile that is already configured – see below for details on how to do that. I started with modifying the default ElvUI, but ended up loading a preconfigured setup as it saves a whole lot of manual tweaking if you can find one that suits.

Here’s what the base ElvUI looks like after the initial setup.

Nice and clean

Once it’s installed there are a billion things you can change and configure, which can be overwhelming.

The first thing to do is to move the UnitFrames. That’s the frame that shows your health, and your target’s health. I find they need to be front and centre to be effective, otherwise your eyes are too busy darting all over the screen to see vital information like “I’m about to die”. To my eyes the default setup puts them a bit too low for instant access.

In ElvUI, clicking the Toggle Anchors button will bring up a screen where you can move any of the available frames on the screen. It’s a little scary, but there’s a reset mode (ctrl-rightclick on a frame) to get out of trouble.

Once you move the basic unitframes you start to have to move others too – like castbars, XP bars, etc. Move them around until you have something you like.

I also like to make the UI clean by fading the unused frames when out of combat: UnitFrames -> Individual Units -> Players -> Fader -> Enable -> Min Alpha 0.

Similarly with Action Bars, I want them to appear when I target something – otherwise you need to actually start combat before they will appear. Which is bad for those of us who haven’t memorised which skills are on which action bars. Adding this code to each action bar will do exactly that: ActionBars -> Player Bars -> Bar x -> Visibility State

[@target, noexists][petbattle] hide; show

Customising ElvUI is a deep rabbit hole, but it’s fun once you learn how it all works. There is an easier way though…

Custom ElvUI profiles

Instead of setting up your own ElvUI, another option is to download a custom profile that someone has uploaded. If ElvUI is cheat-mode, nabbing someone else’s profile is cheat-mode cheat-mode. Perfect!

On the ElvUI site there are several custom modifications that are constantly being updated and which each take different approaches. BenikUI looks particularly nice, if you like a simple/spartan UI.

The site with the most custom user-created profiles is wago.io. I’d suggest sorting by Stars to find the most supported or up-to-date UI setups, as there are a lot of profiles uploaded just to help individuals keep track of their personal setups. Ideally you want one that is being updated and fixed based on changes to the game.

I found one that I really like by LostPet. They update it regularly, and it has a really useable and simple feel. Unfortunately they have closed off comments (no doubt due to the time it takes to keep on top of feedback), but if you follow the fairly simple documented steps it turns out nicely.

Very nice indeed

There are a bunch of extra add-ons required to make the UI look like the LostPet videos, but they’re all pretty simple to install, after which you copy and apply the LostPet profiles. The required ones are Details and Plater, plus the ElvUI mods AddonSkins, Skullflower Textures, and Shadow & Light. Everything else listed on the UI page is optional.

LostPet does have a penchant for hiding most action bars, which is ok if you’re right on top of your keybinds and abilities, but I tend to unhide them just for my own sanity and because different characters have different binds.

At first I tried just using LostPet’s UI as is, but I found I missed having flashes and animation on the abilities when they were off cool-down or proccing. To get that, WeakAuras was required!

WeakAuras

Setting up auras is kind of complicated, but there are a huge number of preconfigured auras you can use to avoid the complexity. There are some very nice WeakAuras that work across classes, which saves a lot of time if you have an army of alts (/wave).

One good example of this is the suite of auras created by Luxthos. He has a collection for each class (here’s the Paladin for example), and updates them regularly based on feedback from his large Twitch following. This is excellent as players can find bugs or suggest improvements, so everyone benefits from the hive-mind thanks to Luxthos’s receptive approach.

The Luxthos auras will create midscreen action bars that have all the critical abilities and cooldowns ready to go. It’s not intended to do things like telling you when to press what, but once you learn your rotation having everything in the middle of the screen with timers and highlight auras is a huge benefit.

Over time I’ll start hiding most of those lower and left (tiny) bars

The only difficult thing with a set of canned auras is if you want to make them mimic your keybind setup. Luxthos’s compilations set out abilities and cooldowns to match his preference, which is unlikely to be the same as your own. For example I have a row of mostly offensive skills on 1-6, and another or mostly defensive on F1-F6, where his only show a single row of mixed abilities.

The auras by default don’t match my rotation and key preferences, so I needed to customise the setup, which means slogging around in the config to move the abilities to where you expect them. This is mainly just moving the button order around by swapping X Offset values in the Position Settings for the abilities I wanted to change.

Because he only has 6 main buttons, I decided to keep my 12 button actionbar layout visible until I have memorised the rotation and keybinds better. I also added custom text to some abilities on the WA icons which display the key bind. This all makes the screen a bit messy but it’s worth it for more predictable ability use.

All of the things!

I should really learn how to make my own overlay for my 2×6 action bar of abilities. One day!

Bonus addons

Adibags is my favourite Bag manager. It does a great job of automatically sorting items into relevant categories (armour, weapons, tradeskills, etc), without needing too much thought. Just disable the ElvUI bags to make Adibags take over.

Pawn: Item comparison tool. I’m pretty sure Pawn is overkill for me, but I wanted something that updates the gear tooltip when you hover to tell you how good or bad an upgrade a newly acquired piece of gear is. Shift-hover works in the default UI, but Pawn adds a whole lot of extra info based on the Ask Mr. Robot stat weightings.

HandyNotes: Super handy (ahem) add-on that allows custom notes on the maps. Enabled by downloading overlays for the zone you’re exploring, such as Legion Treasures or Timeless Isle Chests. If I could find a good guide or forum as to how this add-on works, I’d make one to display rares in Vanilla zones.

SilverDragon: Speaking of rares, if you like tracking them SilverDragon is a nice fun option to help find them when you’re not looking. Especially in vanilla zones where they were actually rare as compared to Legion et al where rares were more like commons!

World of Shadowcraft

While WoW hasn’t been top of my gaming time for a while, I do want to get through the final BfA raid — Ny’alotha, the Waking City — now it’s available on LFR.

The other thing I wanted to do was refresh my UI, for no good reason other than it’s fun to tinker sometimes. Also I stumbled on an ElvUI mod by Lostpet that looked nice so that was a good excuse to try something new.

Neat

Once I had it installed (slightly complex but overall pretty easy), I needed to test it somehow — where better than LFR!


I ran the first wing with some friends and died a lot, but slowly started to understand the fights with each death. One of the appeals of raiding is that slow learning curve until triumph, and even in LFR it feels good to contribute.

One strange thing happened to one of my co-raiders on the Wrathion fight (the first fight of the first wing). After we zoned in, he said he couldn’t see anything — just the floor and the shadows of the other players. He couldn’t even see his own character. This was quite amusing as we tried to talk him through it, which worked ok until the first flame explosion where he not unexpectedly died. After Wrathion went down, everything returned to normal.

After the reset, I ran the first wing again, solo this time. And entertainingly the same thing happened to me: nothing but the floor and a bunch of shadows.

A Shadowlands preview

I decided I’d try and stay alive by following the shadow pack around the floor, and luckily there was another Tauren Hunter in the group. The big model and easy-to-see bow action meant I could just stand next to them and move when they did. It was very funny and silly, but somehow worked! I managed to survive the entire fight by following my Tauren shadow friend around.

BFF

Even more ridiculously I also managed to finish up about 8th on the DPS charts — which is kind of a humblebrag, but it was LFR and is more an indication of just how nerfed LFR really is. If you can not die and come 8th on the first boss of the final raid of an expansion when you can’t see anything other than shadows, then you know LFR really is a mere…shadow…of actual raiding.

Makes perfect sense

I still love it though, as it gives those not able to raid in a regular group the opportunity to see the end game content, and the wrap up of the storylines. And it was nice to get a peek at the Shadowlands alpha, even if unintentionally.

Warcraft Classic: UI and add-ons

After testing a few things I think I’ve settled on a UI for Classic. Or at least settled on the fundamentals.

I decided against a full UI replacement with ElvUI. Despite the convenience of one-add-on-to-rule-them-all, it’s less fun than creating your own, certainly during the early days when there aren’t as many add-on choices. Plus , when levelling, things like Boss Mods and rotation optimisation aren’t nearly so important, meaning you can concentrate on just adding bits and pieces that make it more enjoyable to play.

I played for a few days and started noting down the things I was missing. The most immediate one was having unit and action frames closer to the centre of the screen where my character is. Having to constantly shuffle your eyes down to the action bars at the bottom of the screen, and way up to the unit frames at the top left, means often missing out what’s happening to your character in the middle. That can be bad when adds start coming, but also it means not seeing nice attack animation and even just admiring mob design mid battle.

The default UI – functional but eyeball inefficient

After testing a few things to solve that issue, I chose Bartender4 (BT4) for the action bars, and Shadowed Unit Frames (SUF) for the, uh, unit frames. Both were tools i used in BC so it was a nice throwback as well as being useful.

UI hidden – the best view of all

Bartender is easy to configure and immediately simplifies the screen by removing a lot of the Blizzard chrome. It also allows easy hiding of bars that you don’t want, and you can move those you do whereever you like. So now I have my main actions just below my character on two bars.

Similarly SUF simplifies the look of your character frame, and the target and target of target, etc. There’s a lot of options, but the defaults work well and match BT4 well too. One favourite feature is hiding unit frames when out of combat, which cleans up the world view considerably.

Modified UI when idle. Hides a lot of the cruft to make the world a lot more visible and pleasant. It’s not too much busier than a totally hidden UI

The next obvious thing was a bag replacement. It didn’t matter too much at first given only one bag, but the sudden proliferation of tailors making linen bags to level their skill meant a bag add-on was a big help. I tried Bagnon and Inventorian, but didn’t love them. Then I found that TBag had been recreated for Classic and rejoiced. TBag is my favourite bag add-on – super simple, fast, colour coding, and category sorting all add up to a winning combination. It’s unfortunately been abandonded for Live – another reason Classic is Better!

For nameplates I added Threat Plates, which has the advantage of helping with threat management as a tank. It colour codes the threat levels (green when you have threat, red when you’ve lost it, and yellow when you’re losing it) and can work for either tank or DPS classes. I may change this for DPS use depending on what I end up levelling the most, but at the moment it’s working fine.

Modified UI in attack mode. All the important stuff is happening where your eyes should be.

Those were the main things I replaced that made the game nicer to play without changing the experience too much. I’m also using OmniCC and Classic Aura Durations, just to have nice countdowns and sweeps on abilities.

The other thing I tried briefly was ClassicCodex, mainly because I saw some screenshots that showed interesting things like the percentage drop chance of an item and this was the add-on that did that. But I soon disabled it because it added much more than drop stats. It introduces a lot of the quest conveniences we’re used to on Live and more – map icons for quest givers and hand ins, dots on the map to show quest locations, spawn locations for quest mobs, etc. It was also default configured to auto accept and auto hand in quests, which totally confused me for a minute. So it basically felt a lot like a fast levelling tool, which is fine but not something I was looking for or interested in.

Once I get into Dungeons I might try AtlasLootClassic, as it was another original add-on and it’s fun seeing what the bosses might drop and planning accordingly – but I wonder if it too might be a bit too revealing, like the Codex add-on.

I’m enjoying the slower pace so something that interrupts that to make you more productive actually seems counterproductive in a weird way. SynCaine nails this contradiction when analysing a MassivelyOP post revelling in the slowed down nature of Classic which at the same time talks about how to speed it up: I love the difficulty so much I installed a mod to remove it!.

Using the default UI is completely workable, and is theoretically more ‘Classic’, but in the end I agree with Belghast’s tweet where he said that using add-ons has been as much a core part of Warcraft as the game itself. It’s fun to use them, and it’s incredible seeing what people have created to enhance the game.

Warcraft Classic: Preparation

It’s almost time. I tried to do some dailies in Nazjatar today but my heart wasn’t in it – Classic is too close.

I’m still unsure of which character to try first. As with many other bloggers, one inclination is to go with the first character I played – my Undead Rogue namesake. She was with me all the way through Kara, only eventually swapping out so I could level a tank for WotLK.

Rogues are both easy and hard. For levelling, stealth allows Rogues to make their way to bosses and quest objectives without having to bother with the trash gauntlets, which is a major time saver. But in dungeons – and raids! – they are super squishy. I remember dying a lot, too much, and as the saying goes you can’t do any DPS when you’re dead.

Another option is a Hunter – echoing my current main, and also an early character of mine. Hunters too are an easy levelling class (once you get to level 10 and can tame a pet) and a it’s always fun to have a companion as you roam around. I clearly remember taking a Hunter into some BC dungeons and running out of ammo mid run, much to my horror, but on the whole they survive dungeons a lot better than Rogues, and bring good utility with their traps and snares. It’s was funny to read that Hunter’s were hands down the hardest class to recreate in Classic – pet management and ammo being the unique features I’m guessing.

My other main interest would be a Warrior. A Tauren Protection Warrior was my main throughout WotLK, and I loved the playstyle whether levelling or grouping. Charge is one of the all-time great abilities, and having plate on obviously great for staying alive. They do suffer a bit from not having any self heals though. And I do wonder if I’m up for tanking with strangers – the tankxiety is real.

In the end I think I’ll rotate around and see what feels best – unlike Method I’m not after a world first in a week. But I would like to find a guild and potentially join in with the raiding crowd so levelling can’t be too slow. Thinking about that possibility also means not tanking as I won’t have the time to dedicate to the gearing that raid tanking requires.

Plenty to ponder, and not much time to do it!


Another thing to decide is how much UI to replace with add-ons. There are plenty of opinions on this, ranging from complete replacement to just the modifying the essentials to not touching anything:

something about the spirit of WoW Classic, a sort of back to nature, seeing the game in a raw or primitive form, makes me feel like Addons might be a bit of a betrayal, a cheat, an option that would deprive myself of the full experience.

BlizzardWatch have been tracking a list their best add-ons, and Curse have hundreds ready to go. If you did want to go with a whole hog, ‘Live’ game favourite ElvUI has been recreated for Classic too.

During BC and WotLK I used to build my own UI from scratch, grabbing bits and pieces from all over the place. I remember using TomTom, threat and damage meters, bags, and floating combat text – though why the latter became so popular is beyond me. My UI back then was a predictable messy nightmare, but I loved it – and loved constantly tinkering with it.

Then I stumbled on the concept of total UI replacement packages put together by players. My favourite for a long time was the very minimalist but very functional GarUI from Garwulf, who still blogs very occasionally but no longer maintains his UI. It was a beautiful UI, fading into nothingness when you weren’t active so you could appreciate the world around you.

More recently I’ve taken it easy and just plonked ElvUI into place, my bag manager of choice, and a few other utilities. Building your own is fun but maintaining it through patches and incompatibilities less so – ElvUI is a happy medium, if sometimes a bit over engineered.

For Classic I think I’ll fall somewhere in the middle, replacing bags and toolbars, maybe nameplates (useful for Threat management on a tank), and some vendor helpers – I noticed during the stress test that the vendor price for items isn’t shown by default, something that’s super helpful when managing bag-rage during the early days when bag space is at a premium. But I’ll try to keep it simple and lightweight – unless the default UI cruft starts to become annoying.

I wish Blizzard had allowed us to logon in the past week or so, even if it was limited to the starter zones, just so we could configure our UIs before launch. There’s no rush of course, but it would have been a fun thing to do while waiting. Not long now!

#Blaugust26

Add on, add off

As part of my rare seeking project (hm, I think it needs a better name), I started looking around for addons that would help find the vanilla zone rares. I was hunting for something that would put a marker on the map showing you where each rare spawns or patrols, so I can plan my movements efficiently.

The venerable NPCScan is the obvious candidate, and it works well for alerting you when you enter the radius of a rare mob. But it doesn’t seem to have a static map option for just showing the expected location. There is a map overlay plugin, but it’s being reworked for the new 8.0 version of the mapping API, and from memory it is kind of overkill for what I want.

Next I turned to HandyNotes, which I discovered during Draenor when hunting treasures. The base version simply allows you to create pins and notes on the map, but the great thing about it is it allows plugins. The main use for me has been the rares & treasures plugins (for Draenor, Legion, and now BfA), which is kind of cheating but didn’t reduce the fun for me at all (in fact it may have reduced the self induced pressure to find all the hidden treasures).

However I found there’s no equivalent plugin for the vanilla rares – perhaps because there’s no associated achievements? This immediately got me thinking – surely there’s a demand for this, and surely it can’t be too hard to modify one of those plugins to create a Vanilla version. I have a vague understanding of coding, and usually find taking an example and modifying it the best way to learn and create something new.

How wrong I was. Despite the HandyNotes page referencing a ‘plugin API’, I can’t find any documentation or examples anywhere, despite using all the google-fu I could muster. Downloading the code for the other plugins didn’t help much either, as they are mostly undocumented and use some zone specific tricks that I’m not sure translate.

I tried looking at a simpler plugin – one that shows Dungeon and Raid entrances – but even that left me befuddled. At least modifying that one I managed to get an icon for Bjarn to appear on the map, which felt like a minor triumph.

I feel like there must be a hidden community of HandyNotes addon developers out there that I’m not finding, or maybe I’ve just picked the wrong addon to modify. The reference to an API though, and their encouragement of plugins, make me think the truth must be out there somewhere.

In the meantime I guess it will just be more alt-tabbing to Wowhead – and maybe it’s time for a second monitor!

Slightly more prepared

One day and eleven hours to go for BfA, as I write this. I’m not really that prepared, having looked at finishing Legion Engineering and Mining and failed, and also failing to participate in enough fishing raids to level the Underlight Angler much. Once BfA launches it will be nigh impossible for a while, until people start backfilling content.

I did finally empty out most of my bags. Where by ‘most’ I mean half – I can’t quite let go of all the special bait and fish!

After the new PC build, my addons are also mostly under control. I decided against ElvUI for the time being – it’s a nice set and forget system, but it is very hard to customise and tends to take over everything. So I’ve slowly built a passable UI using some core components: Bartender4, Shadowed Unit Frames, ThreatPlates, Adibags, and of course FishingBuddy. I’ve thrown on TitanPanel too, which is fun though I’m not sure ‘required’, though many swear they become dependent on it. Just need to find a minimap and chat fixer and we should be good to go.

The other thing I wanted to get a better handle on before launch was the lore backstories. Luckily Blizzard Watch have our backs here. Super lore-watcher Anne Stickney (why hasn’t Blizzard hired her?) fills us in on the undeath of Sylvanas, while equally knowledgable Matthew Rossi goes deep on Saurfang.

There is also a super useful BfA timeline article, that outlines the plot points and has links to all the novellas, comics, and animations that bring us to the launch. I’d missed the comics, and all three are excellent and flesh out a lot of the storyline – especially Jaina. Recommended reading!