Warcraft redesigns UI, breaks add-ons


Next Tuesday, Blizzard Entertainment will release the first of two massive updates to its most popular online game, World of Warcraft, and completely reimagine the 17-year-old game's user interface. Will every player-made add-on break?

The upcoming World of Warcraft: Dragonflight expansion features a total overhaul of many in-game systems, from talent trees to professions. But it's the brand new user interface, or UI, that is drawing much praise. Originally released at the game's launch in 2004, World of Warcraft's UI has remained simple and optimized for lower-resolution displays, one of the enduring examples of Blizzard's legendary design aesthetic to maximize accessibility for its games. However, it also became enhanced shortly after launch with a user-accessible scripting language, LUA, and a platform to allow players to install third-party add-ons and customizations to extend, and in many cases, automate and empower their UI. For some encounters (we're looking at you, mythic Archimond!), using popular add-ons was essential in displaying notifications and actions that characters could take in defeating enemies.

Yet, the interface's age is showing with graphics that don't scale, basic customizations that cannot be performed without installing a third-party helper, and in some cases, difficulty of use among newer-generation devices. The new UI has been garnering much applause from beta testers and previewers: it has brand new scalable vector art, drag-and-droppable interface elements, per-character (and even per-specialization) load-out saves, and removing clutter and improving visibility. With so much redesigned, it's raising a question among many die-hards: will the 10.0 patch break all UIs?

Warcraft player Gabrath started a popular thread on the Blizzard forums receiving over 150 responses where most players expressed a preference in using the new-stock user interface, and abandoning add-ons wherever possible. Some players expressed a continuing frustration over how each patch "breaks all [their] add-ons," while others wondered whether the new stock UI could replicate some fan favorite functionalities. 

There is reason for both celebration and caution in this massive overhaul. The new user experience that Blizzard has built incorporates features from the most popular UI add-ons, including Bartender, Grid, ElvUI, Bagnon, and others. But there is a tradeoff. "The new stock Blizzard UI is much more usable, but less customizable than my favorite add-ons," is a common point of feedback from beta testers. Nevertheless, there can be no denying that the dramatic upgrade and redesign of UI, even if it does break many add-ons, will be much anticipated as the game approaches two decades in the consumer market.

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight launches in two phases: the version 10.0 pre-patch releases this Tuesday, October 25; and the new playable race, the Dracthyr, and expansion-related content unlocks on November 15.