Part 3 of a guide for new, beginning, or returning players in World of Warcraft Shadowlands.
Welcome to part 3 of our ultimate guide for new World of Warcraft players. In this post, we are going to look at the World of Warcraft user interface (or UI for short).
If you missed one of the previous guides, feel free to read them here: Part 1 – Cost, Account Setup and Selecting a Realm, Part 2 – Creating Your Character.
One of the most confusing parts about starting to play World of Warcraft is the user interface (UI for short). What is a user interface? Simply put, the UI is the collection of buttons, bars, and images on your screen. It is important to understand the layout of the UI because it is the way you will interact with your character, friends, and everything in World of Warcraft.
Let’s jump right in!
World of Warcraft User Interface (UI) Overview
When you first log into your new character, it may not be clear what the different buttons and bars do. To help you learn the basics, here is an image of the default UI and some general information about the default layout. While it is possible to change this layout with custom addons, we will only cover the default layout in this article. If you are interested in building a custom UI, check out my article: Improve Your World of Warcraft (WoW) UI – ElvUI & Custom Setup.
This image may be enough to get you started but we will dig into each of these components in more detail.
By default, and upon logging in the first time, your character’s health (green) and resource (orange) bars will appear in the top-left area of the World of Warcraft user interface. Additionally, a photo of your character and your level will appear here. If you play as a class with a pet, like a hunter or warlock, you will also see your pet’s health and energy in this area.
Health (also called hit points or HP) is the total amount of damage your character or pet can take before you die. You can see your percent of health remaining and the value of total health by hovering over the green bar.
The resource bar shows the amount of power you have to use your abilities. In the case of the character in the image (a hunter), this resource is orange and is called focus. The name of the resources used varies from class to class (focus, mana, rage, etc…) but are all used for the same purpose — to use spells and abilities.
Target Health Bars
Immediately to the right of your health and energy is your target’s health bar. If you don’t have a target this area will be empty. To “get” a target, you will need to left-click on a character in the world. Additionally, pressing the tab key will target the closest target if there is one in range. Pressing the tab key multiple times will rotate through all available targets nearby.
As with your character, the frame for your target shows HP and resources. In the example image, the selected target (“Stormwind Infantryman”) has a health bar in green, but the resource area is empty. This is because this target is a non-player character (NPC) and does not use a resource.
It is also important to note that the color of your target’s health bar indicates whether it is friendly, neutral, or hostile. A green health bar, like in the image, is a friendly unit and will not attack (and cannot be attacked). A yellow frame is neutral and will not attack you if you walk near it. A red health bar — or red name above the character’s head — means that the character will attack you if you get too close to it.
Buffs and Debuffs
In the top-right area of your screen are little icons that indicate current buffs or debuffs impacting your character. A buff is a spell that makes your character more powerful. A debuff is the opposite, it lowers your character’s power or does damage to you over time.
The remaining duration on a buff or debuff is shown below the icon. In the image, the debuff shows 34 seconds remaining while both buffs have no time which means they do not expire. If you ever see an icon in this area and are not sure what it does, you can hover over it to see the buff/debuff name and effect.
The Minimap, Clock and Calendar
Directly to the right of the buff/debuffs are your minimap, clock, and calendar.
The minimap is the circular map with the arrow in the middle. The arrow shows the location of your character and which direction you are facing. It will also show a lot of icons for important landmarks in the game. As an example, you may see a gold “!” on the map which indicates a new quest. A gold “?” on the other hand, indicates that you have a quest to turn in. In part 4 (Questing, Combat, and Movement), we will look at questing in more detail.
It is also helpful to note that you can adjust what icons appear on your minimap by left-clicking the magnifying glass. Upon doing so, a list with checkboxes will appear. If you see an icon you don’t recognize on your map, you can use this list to see what it represents.
Above your minimap, is a text box that tells you where your character is. To the right of that text is a small icon that can be clicked to open a larger version of the map. This same map can be opened by pressing the “M” key on your keyboard.
Under the icon to open the world map is the calendar. Clicking on the calendar shows when certain in-game activities are scheduled to take place. If you have joined a guild (an organized group of players in your realm) you can also see your guild events as well. If you are interested in finding a guild, check out my article: 9 Ways to Find a WoW Guild.
Finally, below the circular minimap is a clock that, when clicked, gives you access to a stopwatch and alarm.
On the bottom left-hand side of the World of Warcraft user interface is the chat box and social tools. If you click on the icon that looks like a person (or press the letter ‘o’ on the keyboard), it will pull up a list of your friends specific to World of Warcraft or via Blizzard’s BattleTag or RealID friend systems. Additionally, this tab will allow you to ignore other players, send invites to friends to play via e-mail, join friends in content and manage raid groups.
The icon below that, which looks like a speaker with a sound wave coming out of it, will select the chat channels you would like to join. You can play with these settings if you would like but there is generally no reason to because the game will manage your channels for you as you travel to different areas.
The last icon down that left side, which looks like a speech bubble, selects the method of chat you would like to use. You can activate these methods by clicking on this icon or by including a forward slash ( / ) in front of the name of the chat type. As a few examples, if you type /say -> spacebar, you will now be in a mode that will only talk to players near you. If you type /party or /p -> spacebar, you will talk to the group you are in no matter where your party members are.
This icon also includes emotes and voice emotes. These are commands that your character can perform to do things like thank other players, be shy, or even make train noises and gestures (/train). Chugga chugga chugga chugga choo choo choo choo!
The actual chat box is displayed with a faint grey outline to the right of the icons. Pressing ‘enter’ will activate the ability to chat and show you which method you are using (say, yell, guild, etc…). By default, your chat box is set to the General tab. This is where chat communication is shown. However, there is another tab called ‘Combat’. If you switch to this mode, it will show you how much damage your character is doing or taking from monsters or players. It can be a helpful place to look if you die and are not sure what killed you.
Action and experience bars
The action and experience bars are found in the bottom center of the World of Warcraft user interface. The action bar is the set of square boxes, while the experience (XP) bar is the purple or blue rectangles below it.
The experience bar shows how much XP you have at your current level and how much is needed to reach the next level. If you hover over this bar, it will show you the detailed numbers and percent related to XP. If the bar is purple, that means your character is “unrested” and you will gain experience at a normal rate. Conversely, a blue bar means that your character is “rested” and will gain experience at a faster rate. You can become more rested by logging out in large cities or inns. You will know you are in a rested area if your health frame shows ‘ZZZ’ next to your character image rather than your level.
The Action Bar
The action bar shows you which spell(s) your character can use and how long you need to wait to use them again. The time you wait between using a spell is called cooldown. If your spell is on cooldown, the colorful icon will be covered in a grey overlay which moves clockwise until the spell is ready to use again. By default, your action bar has 12 spaces. That should be enough to get started, but you will want to add more eventually. You can do that by accessing the settings in the game menu (which we will talk about next).
You can use the spells in your action bar either by left-clicking on them or pressing the corresponding key. By default, the action buttons are set to the number, “-“ and “=” keys on the top of your keyboard. If you are just beginning, you can use either of these options; however, in the long-run, the best option is to learn more about keybinding. If you are interested in learning more now you can check out this Wowhead keybinding guide.
Quick Menu and Bags
The bottom-right-hand corner of the World of Warcraft user interface is where you will find your bags and the quick menu.
When you first log in, you will only have one bag called your “backpack”. In the example image, it is the brown bag with the number 15 in parenthesis over it. You can open your backpack by clicking on it or pressing the ‘B’ key for short. You also have 4 other slots to place bags as you find or purchase them throughout your adventure.
Directly below your bags is the quick menu. The quick menu contains 11 icons which offer a fast way to navigate the various features in WoW. We will go over what each of these icons does and provide a cheatsheet at the end of the article for reference.
Quick Menu: Character Menus (Icons 1 – 3)
Going left to right, the first icon is character information. This offers a quick way to look at the gear your character is wearing and the stats (power) that your character has. You can also change your character’s title that is displayed to other players here (once you begin to unlock them).
The second icon is the spellbook. From here you can see all spells and abilities your character can use. To add them to your action bar, you simply left-click, hold and drag them to whatever box you would like. If the spell is surrounded in glowing-yellow, that means that it is not currently on your action bar.
The third icon, which will be grayed-out upon first logging in, is used to change your specialization (spec) and talents. It will become available once your character reaches level 10. Don’t worry too much about talents right now, as we will cover them in more detail later.
Quick Menu: Achievement and Quest Menus (Icons 4 – 5)
The next icon, which looks like a white shield gilded in gold, is the achievements menu. These are objectives that you can complete in-game to receive achievement points.
The 5th icon, which looks like a gold exclamation point, is the quest log and is very helpful when you first start your adventure. If you click on this, or press ‘L’ as a shortcut, it will open up a list of all quests you have accepted and show numbers on a map for where you should visit next to progress in that quest.
Quick Menu: Social and Group Menus (Icons 6 – 7)
The sixth icon, which looks like a tan scroll/banner, is the guild menu. If you are not in a guild, you can click this to search for recruiting guilds on your server. If you are in a guild, this is where you will click to view information related to your guild.
Next is the icon which looks like a green eye of a cat. Once this becomes available at level 10, you will have access to two options in this menu — “Dungeon Finder” and “Premade Groups”. Dungeon Finder is used to pair you with other players to battle groups of enemies and bosses. If you queue as a healer or tank, you generally do not have to wait long to find the group. In contrast, queuing as DPS will likely take longer to find a group. The Premade Group feature is used to find players to help you with a specific quest or challenge in WoW.
Quick Menu: Collections Menu (Icon 8)
The last 4 icons include menus for collections, the adventure guide, the shop and game menu.
Collections included the mounts, toys, pets, heirlooms, and transmog you have collected.
Mounts are vehicles — typically a form of animal — that you can collect and use to travel faster. You can get mounts which travel faster on land, in water or can even fly.
Toys are, as you might expect, little knickknacks that you can obtain which have fun interactions in the game.
Pets are critters or creatures you can have as companions or can battle with. You can find a good overview of the battle system in this warcraftpets.com article.
Heirlooms are gear and weapons which you can obtain and use across all your characters.
Transmog (“mog” for short), is the term given to the appearance of weapons and armor in the game. After you collect an appearance you can use it repeatedly as you obtain new gear. We will talk more about gear in part 5: Introduction to Gear in World of Warcraft (WoW).
Quick Menu: Adventure Guide, Shop and Game Menu (Icons 9 – 11)
Menu icon 9, the adventure guide, serves two main purposes. First, it looks at your level and gear and provides suggestions of what activities you may be interested in. If you are ever unsure about what you might want to do in the game, this is a good starting point.
The second purpose the adventure guide fulfills is providing the dungeon and raid journals. In short, the journals give you an overview of every dungeon and raid in the game including the different abilities used by the bosses in that content. If you are planning on doing dungeons or raids (often referred to as player vs environment, or PvE) this is a valuable resource. We will cover dungeons and raids in part 8: Dungeons and Raids in World of Warcraft.
Icon 10, the shop, is an interface for purchasing in-game items with real money. The main offerings include mounts, pets, toys, buying a WoW token to exchange for in-game gold, and purchasing new expansions or other upgrades.
The game menu is the fastest way to log out when you are done playing. Additionally, the game menu is where you go to change your user interface, keybinds, addons, and macros. Want to learn more about addons? I have you covered with my guide on add-ons World of Warcraft (WoW) AddOns (for Beginners).
Quick menu cheatsheet
As a quick reference to what each icon does, here is a cheatsheet for the quick menu in World of Warcraft:
If you made it to the end, congratulations! There was a lot to cover on the World of Warcraft user interface. With a character created and understanding of the user interface, we can now jump in and start playing the game. Check out part 4: Questing, Combat, and Movement.
If you are already familiar with the topics in part 4, feel free to bounce around to any part in the guide:
- Introduction Guide for New WoW Players
- Creating Your Character
- The WoW User Interface
- Questing, Combat, and Movement
- Introduction to Gear in WoW
- Items in World of Warcraft
- Professions in World of Warcraft
- Dungeons and Raids in World of Warcraft
- Player vs. Player (PvP) in World of Warcraft
- World of Warcraft (WoW) AddOns (for Beginners)