Brian Koponen

Programming and Tech Tips

The Best Control Scheme for World of Warcraft

Are you looking to improve your World of Warcraft ability? Are you confused by what keybinds are used for? Do you ever get flustered when overrun by enemies? Have you ever known what to do, but couldn't find the ability you were trying to use fast enough? Do you ever just not use abilities because it is too much bother to do so? Do you ever think there are simply too many abilities to keep track of? You have come to the right place.

I have suffered with this game for all these reasons and more, and eventually realized the cause of my frustration was the controls. And now I am going to share perhaps the best control scheme that solves all of these problems. Using this method, and with some practice, you will be able to play nimbly and deliberately.

Misleading Default Controls

The default WoW control scheme suggests a very odd way of playing the game that de-emphasizes quick movement and actions. The movement keys ("QWEASD") are on the left side of the keyboard, but the action keys run the length of the number row. This suggests that you are meant to take your fingers off the movement keys or your hand off the mouse to use most of the action keys. In other words, you have to sacrifice movement for performing actions. Most people come to realize the inherent problem with this, so they will only use the few keys they can reach without taking their hand off the movement keys or instead of using the keybinds at all, just click on the actions with the mouse. Or, like I used to do, an inconsistent combination of all these methods.

Looking at the controls, of the six movement keys, half are fast moves and half are slow moves. Moving forward and strafing ("QWE") are the same fast speed, while turning and backpedaling ("ASD") are very slow. With action keys being hard to reach and half the movement keys being very slow, the controls imply that you aren't supposed to move all that much during a fight. Unfortunately, that couldn't be further from the truth. A competent player is constantly positioning themselves all throughout a fight.

If you are using the slow movement options and can't immediately access all of your skills, you won't stand a chance in a PvP situation or even a difficult mob encounter. Is there anything we can do about this? You bet there is.

The Solution

The designers must have realized the keyboard controls alone wouldn't be enough and added other control options. By holding the right mouse button and moving the mouse, you can turn as fast as you want and by holding both the left and right mouse buttons, you move forward. They also gave the players a ton of options with the controls and the UI through the use of addons. First let's break down the control options.

We can see the multiple controls available, some faster than others, in this chart.

Action Keyboard Mouse
Forward Fast Fast
Backpedal Slow
Turn Slow Fast
Strafe Fast

There is no way to backpedal fast, but it is needed so rarely, we are just going to ignore it. In order to turn fast, your hand has to be on the mouse. That is a hard lock, there is no other option for turning. If we can put all the fast moves on the mouse, it would allow the entire keyboard to be used for action keybinds and your left hand wouldn't be locked to any position. The surprisingly simple solution is to bind the strafe keys to your mouse's side buttons. Don't have them on your mouse? You can get really cheap mice like this one that will work just fine.

I know this sounds weird and it does take time to get used to, but it is worth it. Practice just running around the cities using only your mouse until you are comfortable with it. You'll get even better over time as you build up muscle memory. Make sure you can circle-strafe, that is, turn and strafe at the same time so you stay pointed at a target.

There is a great video on YouTube demonstrating moving with your mouse.

Now while you're getting comfortable moving with the mouse, you can be planning your keybindings. Technically, you have the whole keyboard to work with, but realistically you can put everything you need on the left side of the keyboard so your hand can stay in a really comfortable position at all times. I bind four rows of six keys each (1-6, Q-Y, A-H, Z-N).

To make the UI match this configuration, you have to use an addon like Bartender or Bongos that lets you place the action bars anywhere you want on the screen. Here is what my UI looks like:

WoW Keybindings

You probably noticed I don't have "Q" and "W" bound to anything. After everything I just told you about using the mouse alone to move, ironically, I find it hard to use the mouse to move forward and strafe at the same time, so I bind "W" to move forward and "Q" to autorun. That way I can seamlessly switch between them. Some people like to bind a modifier key with "W" to autorun, but that causes a stutter in your movement to switch, which is no good if you're trying to open some distance from your opponent.

Now we've got plenty of keys to work with, but we want to make use of everything we can to get an extra edge over the competition and there is an interesting thing left unused on the mouse: the scroll wheel. It's default of zooming in and out is very useful, but we can enhance its usefulness. First I bind zooming to Control-Scroll. The scroll wheel is fantastic for abilities you need to spam since it's so easy to scroll up or down. Clicking the scroll wheel can also be bound. In my UI, I added a section of 6 actions that are bound to scroll up, scroll click, scroll down and the shift-modified variants.

I've added it to the right side of my keyboard bindings.

WoW Keybindings


Conclusion and Next Steps

Now it is just a matter of laying out your character skills in whatever manner you find best. Making this change was critical in my enjoyment of the game, and I hope it helps yours as well.

The next step is to start using macros. Good use of macros is essential for making every key count. Check out these pages to see just how powerful macros can be:

You may also be interested in these World of Warcraft related pages:

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