As you read this, I will be stalking the home territory of my mortal enemy: Fox Van Allen. I cannot give you my exact location, as I don't wish to divulge information which the vile shadow priests might use to ferret me out and prevent my mission, but know that I plan on striking a decisive blow against them at some point. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe later on; you never know, but do know that it's to come.
In preparation for my little excursion, I've been going about the business of revamping my UI. It happens from time to time; everyone needs a change here and there. Plus, new mods are released, while some die by the wayside or are upgraded in ways that just don't suit to taste, so there's always something that can be done to tweak it up. Since I was digging through the vaults of Curse and Ace, I realized I hadn't done a new addon update for Cataclysm, and things have certainly changed since then.
A UI that fits you best
Everyone has different thing that they want from their UI and the addons they install. There are lots of things that make the game world a lot easier to manage, and there are things that are pretty to have but not really required. To an extent, I would say that certain mods are "mandatory," but these are rather few and far between. Even those that are must-haves can still be done without, but that would certainly make your life a bit more difficult.
Some may note that my newest UI resembles Calculated's, which it kind of does. We use several different mods in quite a few places, but I did think I'd give the whole unit frames on the bottom a go because of him, among others. Generally, I rather like my frames toward the top, but this could end up working out better in the end.
That dilemma, however, is the key aspect of changing your UI or any mods that you add: You have to be comfortable with them. Just because you see someone laud certain addons or the way that panes are placed doesn't mean that it will work for you. People function differently from each other in game and require different setups to best suit their needs. Always remember to set up your UI in the way that makes you feel best.
Building the basics with unit frames
The "building block," as it were, of any UI is usually the unit frames. How you display yourself, your enemies, and your party is a key factor in how you are best able to react to incoming information. Things that you usually need to see are raid frames (or party/self), target frames, focus frames, and target-of-target frames. For this reason, unit frames usually take up the bulk of your "space" within a UI. There are lots of different ones that you can use and some that function for different purposes.
Generalized unit frames
- Pitbull The newest version is less customizable than the previous, but far easier to use and set up.
- X-perl Highly customizable, though I've found that it can be slightly glitchy/picky about certain settings.
- Shadowed Light, simplistic, and highly popular. I've found it a bit less customizable than others, but easy to use and easy for computers to handle.
All of them are great things to help provide a clean-looking UI, and they function really well in solo/party settings, although there's a bit lacking in the raid department. They can be used for raid panels but usually aren't the "best" option. If you need something light, functional, and easy, then stick with one of these. For a little bit more, go on to...
Raid unit frames
- Grid Classic since, well, classic. Amazing customization, but still not as simple to use as others out there.
- VuhDo My personal favorite. It has less customization than others but is ridiculously easy to set up and get working right out of the box.
- HealBot Personal opinion? It's Grid with slightly larger frames. Fairly easy to use, very customizable. Best for healing, but it takes a lot of setup.
I've tried Grid; it's not my thing, but many people swear by it. Same with HealBot. Both of them are great addons and do their job amazingly well, but they require a significant amount more setup time in order to get them exactly the way you want them. It's their blessing and curse; highly customizable, but doing so takes effort. If you don't want to invest that much time into the setup, the I would highly suggest going with VuhDo. It takes little involvement to get it up and running.
Other unit frames
- IceHUD A visual display of information right there, easy to use, easy to view -- just easy.
- Tidy Plates A vast upgrade over Blizzard's standard name plates, the Threat Plates addition is one of the best things since sliced bread.
Perhaps these two aren't unit frames per se, but I really recommend both. I ran without IceHUD for the longest time because I didn't see the need for it. I have my personal frame displayed; I can watch it -- but this is so much better. Having all of the vital information such as health, mana, and enemy health right in the middle of my screen without creating too much clutter to see burning fire on the ground is a godsend.
Tidy Plates is pretty much something I would call a must-have for any balance druid, if only for its DoT tracking. Setting up Tidy Plates for this takes all of 2 minutes, tops, and being able to visually see which mobs have your DoTs running -- and how long they'll last -- is the largest asset to balance AoE out there.
Threat Plates will also help monitor your threat levels on everything with easy-to-follow color coding. Personally, I like easy things; I like things that remind me of real life. For that reason, I use a pretty basic color scheme: green for low threat, yellow for high threat, red for it's now eating my face. Green is go, yellow is slow, red is stop. Love it.
Keep track of the big boss
Boss mods give you need-to-know information quickly, in plain sight, and as you need to know it. The big two out there are BigWigs and Deadly Boss Mods, but others exist as well. I prefer to go with DBM, but the choice is yours in the end. Many in my guild favor BigWigs instead, so there's support on both ends.
One thing to remember is to always check the options available for each boss before you engage. There are usually a few things that aren't checked off initially that you may need/want to activate.
Track Eclipse with BalancePowerTracker
When Eclipse was changed to a bar, tracking it became highly important. Unfortunately, Blizzard's default UI is not very good with that. Eclipse is all about the numbers, and BalancePowerTracker has one of the best visuals around. Not only does it display an easy-to-read numerical display that's pretty customizable as well, but it will also predict Eclipse gains for you. This neat feature makes planning for new Eclipse procs far easier than you could ever imagine. Heck, it even gives you a notification when you are about to proc Eclipse, so you don't even have to watch the bar all too much.
ForteXorcist covers DoTs, cooldowns
Originally designed for warlocks (and still, in fact, designed for warlocks), ForteXorcist offers one thing that many other mods don't: one of the most amazing DoT trackers around. While Tidy Plates will track DoTs on top of nameplates for you, this will track everything in a neat little display with the name of the mob that it's on. There's a slight break between each new mob to help distinguish between the them. The mod tracks personal buffs, as well.
Where this addon really shines in on encounters such as Cho'gall where you may not be able to physically see the nameplate of every mob -- such as the big bad himself -- throughout the encounter. With this, you can still track all of your DoTs on every target even when nameplates aren't visible.
This mod brings along another nice little addition, a handy cooldown tracker. The cooldown tracker is another bar displaying a numerical timer with sliding icons for all of your cooldowns. This makes it easy to spot the time remaining on things such as trinkets, Force of Nature, Starfall, and even Starsurge.
I am in love with this addon on my warlock; I love it even more on my balance druid.
Power Auras: Consolidated tracking
Power Auras is a fantastic mod, one of the best around when it comes to tracking useful things like DoTs, procs, and cooldowns. Although balance doesn't have too many reactive procs in its rotation, we have to watch out for Shooting Stars. Power Auras does this and then some.
The one downside to Power Auras is that it is a complete blank slate when you get it. Just installing the mod isn't really going to do anything for you; instead, you have to customize pretty much every inch of it for it to be useful.
Prior to Cataclysm, I never really used Power Auras for my balance UI. It was in many other classes that I played, but balance just had so few things that needed to be tracked by it that I never much cared to spend the time setting it up. Calculated did, and he's posted his string at The Moonkin Repository. Simply import the string into Power Auras, and you're good to go (though you'll probably have to adjust positioning on things).
Dominos action bars
Let's face it, the standard Blizzard action bars are ugly. Not only are they ugly, but they aren't very customizable, which is a huge flaw if you want to rearrange the layout of your UI. There are lots of ways to handle doing this; I personally favor Dominos. All it allows is for the custom creation of bars that can have a wide number of slots and be changed individually in size and position. Dominos makes keybinding each of these slots excessively easy.
There are others mods out there that can do the same thing, but I've used Dominos for the longest of time and, frankly, I've never seen a reason to change yet.
Quartz casting bar
Blizzard is constantly making improvements to the abilities of casters to actually do their jobs properly. It's added spell queuing and created the latency throttle, but this still cannot compare to actually going out there and finding the tool to do it all yourself. Quartz is that tool, and it's an essential addon to any and all casters.
Quartz allows for a more customizable caster bar that is far easier to read, view, and understand. It shows latency predictions in a fairly accurate manner, then constantly adjusts to the game data. Further, it allows not only your cast bar but the enemy and focus target cast bars to be resizable and movable. All that, and it looks a lot sleeker.
Omen threat meter
I don't think any addon list is complete if it doesn't have Omen in it. Omen is one of the best threat trackers out there and is all but essential for any serious raider. There are other choices out there in terms of threat mods, but Omen has stood the test of time and has proven to be accurate and effective. Get Omen; use Omen. It saves lives, people, and that's no joking matter.
There are a few other mods out there that are pretty useful but are a lot less essential in terms of helping you to function at the top of your game. They are exclusive to balance druids, as very few mods really are -- typically, mods designed with a single spec in mind just don't pan out well -- but they're can be nice to have around.
Gatherer if you farm anything, whether it be on your druid or off, then I highly suggest you pick up this handy addon. Many players have druids they use for herbalist alts, and this is the mod to have if you do. One of the key reasons to always have Gatherer up and running is that it communicates with others who run the mod and are in your guild, so even if you're on your druid who doesn't mine or herb, you're still getting information sent to you.
kgPanels I'm often not a fan of purely art-based addons. They don't actually change anything; they're just for show. That's just not the kind of person I am. kgPanels, however, is the exception to that rule.
All the mod allows you to do is to create frames that are filled in either with pure color or a design of some form -- handy if you want to get more creative in the look of your UI. What I love about this is putting them in places where it could otherwise be annoying to view things. I only use two such panels, one behind my chat box and one behind my map. This is so that the background when trying to view these things is always the same and they are always easy to read. I hate nothing more than running across a purple dungeon floor trying to read purple whisper text. Now, all my text is against a blackish background, and I can always read it.
Seriously, despite not having an actual impact on gameplay, I don't think I could ever go without having kgPanels again. It makes reading things that much simpler.
Recount/Skada I may be in the business of DPS and numbers, but one thing I hate more than anything (other than shadow priests) is meter junkies. DPS positions are rather meaningless in all but a few occasions, and it appalls me to see the number of people cling to them as if they were life itself. That all aside, having a tool such as Recount or Skada is amazing, not for tracking DPS in particular, but for everything else that they can keep an eye out for.
You can track dispels to see who is doing what; you can track interrupts to see who might be missing a rotation. Perhaps the most important thing you can track is exactly how every single player died. The vast amounts of information this type of addon puts at your fingertips is incredible, and I highly suggest running with one of them for that reason alone.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives: Balance treks across Azeroth in pursuit of druidic truth, beauty and insight ... from a moonkin's perspective. We'll help you level your brand new balance druid, analyze balance racials and abilities, and walk you through PvP as a balance druid.