Each week Matthew Porter contributes The Creamy GUI Center, a column aimed at helping you enhance your WoW experience by offering an in depth guide to addons, macros and other tools we use to play WoW, along with commentary on issues that affect how we all play.
Welcome readers to this week's The Creamy GUI Center. With the expansion's release imminent and the new Recruit a Friend system creating buzz and attracting new and returning players, I thought this week we'd get back to basics with a look at addon essentials. Don't worry UI enthusiasts, in the coming weeks I'll be taking a look at more advanced addons, and what to expect from interface enhancements in Wrath. This week we'll look at addons that help new players and are considered "must haves." So if you're a new player or just want to take the first plunge into the addictive world of addons and UI enhancements, this one's for you.
Addons, Where art thou?
So you've been reading about WoW and you've always been curious about what it's like. Your friend won't shut up about how cool dungeon crawling is or how awesome Death Knights are going to be, and he finally got you hooked with the promise of rideable "zebra" mounts, 300% XP, and easy grouping with the partner summon ability. You're getting into the swing of things and hear about addons and how customizable the interface is. What pray tell are addons? Well they're extra interface elements that add functionality to the game. They can replace and enhance the default interface. You can find them at Curse Gaming, WoW Interface, and WoWUI. For more information be sure to check out my past articles, in particular my addon basics feature. I also linked to any Addon Spotlights that featured today's addons in their sections below. Check them out for more information. Also, it's best to start out slow before getting too fancy, so here are few addons to get you started. Be sure to ask your friends if they have any addon suggestions too!
For first time users I would start with addons that help you level and explore faster, and addons that get you used to game mechanics like threat and assisting. Let's get the ball rolling with a look at Cartographer, Lightheaded, Quest Helper, Main Assist, and Omen.
Azeroth is a big place, so it's best to have a good map handy. While quests in WoW are fairly good about telling you where to go, it's frustrating as a new player to not see your destination on your map because it hasn't been revealed yet. That's a prime reason to load up Cartographer. With it you can set the fog effect on your map to be transparent. The unexplored areas are highlighted with a color of your choosing, but the color is transparent allowing you to see the area. This way you can see destinations on the map, but still have an idea of what areas you haven't visited. That's just one of Cartographer's features. Others include a coordinate system, being able to make and mark notes on your map, marking and tracking of gathering professions like mining nodes and herbs, and it even shows you maps of dungeons, something the default map doesn't do. You can even make any of your notes or profession resources a waypoint, to help you find it easier. (More on waypoints later.) Cartographer also shows the level range of the zones and dungeons so you know where to go that's around your level's difficulty. Cartographer has a lot of customization options, which may seem overwhelming to a new user, but many of them can be left alone and you'll still get a lot of use out of Cartographer. It's also a good addon for new users to get acquainted to Ace addons, a favorite addon flavor of many enthusiasts.
Lightheaded & QuestHelper
Quests are a hallmark feature to WoW. They allow you to level your character by exploring your surroundings and you get a nice chunk of XP and usually a reward for doing so. It can be frustrating though for a new player to not know where to go, and while your friend can show you the way, he won't always be around when you want to play. That's where Lightheaded and QuestHelper come into play. Lightheaded adds a new window to your quest log showing you comments on the quest. The comments are pulled from Wowhead. While you could pull them up on your web browser, Lightheaded saves a lot of time and keeps you from alt-tabbing as much, keeping you in the action. You can even click on the coordinates provided by Lightheaded to show a Cartographer waypoint arrow. (Alternatively you could use TomTom, a waypoint addon created by Lightheaded's author.) The waypoint arrow rotates around as you move through the game's world, always showing the direction and distance of whatever it's tracking. Of course the catch is the information provided by Lightheaded is only as good as the comments contributed, and could potentially be wrong. However, most quests have multiple comments so you can compare information in order to find the most helpful.
Lightheaded might be all you need, but if you want to take quest helping addons one step further QuestHelper is just the ticket. QuestHelper shows you where to go, and is a nice compliment to Lightheaded. QuestHelper goes beyond Lightheaded by mapping all your quests you currently have in your log to make an efficient route. Hypothetically this cuts down on travel time as QuestHelper tries to minimize back tracking, and shows you the route to take to meet your next objective. I say hypothetically because QuestHelper isn't smart enough to take into account impassable terrain, what flight paths you know, and if you have a flying mount or not. Despite these drawbacks QuestHelper is still really handy. When used as an outline of the route you should take it can save you some back and forth travel time. QuestHelper is customizable allowing you to prioritize quests depending on difficulty or if it's elite and takes place in a dungeon. It uses waypoints akin to Lightheaded, and even shows a neat animated trail on your map showing your suggested route. Finally, QuestHelper has a quest tracker that can compliment or replace the default one. Like Cartographer, QuestHelper has a lot of customization options, but it runs well freshly installed. About the only thing I needed to configure was rather or not to use the quest tracker, and how to prioritize my quests. All in all QuestHelper is a nice compliment to Lightheaded, but might be overkill for some people. Give it a whirl and see for yourself. As a final thought on these quest assistance addons, you do loose the sense of exploration and accomplishment when you have an addon mapping everything out for you. If you're not in a hurry to get to the "end game", using them might spoil the experience.
(Update: Thanks to reader comments, I've been informed QuestHelper may be discontinued. At the moment it still works for current content but that could change in a future patch. I'll explore alternatives in a future column, but for now Carbonite Quest looks to be a good alternative.)
Proper Party Etiquette
So by now you're really getting into WoW, you found a class that you're digging, you're questing with your friends, and now you're wanting to try a dungeon; but you're a little nervous. Not to fear! There are all kinds of addons that help you in dungeons, but for today we're gonna cover the basics: assisting and threat management. MainAssist helps you set and assist off group members. Sure you can set a key to assist in the default key bindings window, but MainAssist adds a visual flare. For a new player, MainAssist's window is a good visual reminder to assist. It also makes it easy to see who the main tank and what their target is. Plus, since it's clickable, it provides an alternative way to assist for players who rather use their mouse. The other concept new players should be aware of is threat management. Knowing when to hold DPS, or when to use a de-taunt ability early on in your WoW career prepares you for what's to come later. Omen is a great threat tracker that shows your threat in relation to your group mates, and how much threat you're generating. Again, this provides a visual cue that easily demonstrates threat management for a new player. Some guilds require people to use a threat meter, and because of their usefulness Blizzard is implementing one into the default interface. For more information on Omen check out this interview with its author.
That covers it for this week. I'm sure there's many more addons to help a new player, but I feel these cover the basics well. I'd love to hear your recommendations of addons for new players, so be sure to leave a comment. If people found this guide helpful I may continue it highlighting intermediate and advanced addons in the future. And stay tuned for an analysis of interface changes coming in Wrath. See you next week!