Ok, first things first. See that big scary blue guy above this paragraph? Ok that's you, or, your avatar. Don't worry if you look a little different than the screen shot; your look will vary wildly depending on what race you've chosen. Let's talk about how to move first. There's a couple of ways to move around WoW by default: the arrow keys, or using the WASD keys, where W moves forward, S moves backwards, and A and D turn you left and right. While this is pretty much a "your mileage may vary" preference, I recommend you use the WASD keys. They give you good hand position to use the action bar hot keys (more on those in a bit). When you turn, your avatar will turn and your view will change. Go ahead, give it a try. Feel free to spin around enough that you feel you like you're going throw up.
Ok, this area is called the Player Frame. It'll have a nice little portrait of what you look like in your current headgear (wave for the camera), your level, your name, and two very important bars: health and power. Health is a meter of your overall hit points. As you take damage, that bar will decrease towards the left. When it runs out, you're dead. Don't worry, it's not permanent. Power is a generic term I've assigned for the bar that tells you how many of your spells and class abilities you can use. Different classes call this different names: casting classes call it Manna, Rogues call it Energy, Warriors call it rage, etc.. Because the different classes use it differently, I'm not going to go into too much detail here about it, other than saying, "this is where you keep track of how much power you have to use your abilities." When it gets to zero, you're not dead -- although, depending on your class, being out of power may soon mean you are dead.
The screen above is one of the most scariest areas in the game: the chat channel. All communication goes through this area. All NPC text, guild and group messages, and, communications from complete strangers in the same area as you. If you look carefully above, you'll see "Joined Channel: [1: General - ]." If you value your sanity, type in "/leave 1". This will take you out of General Chat. See, sometimes General Chat is a fantastic resource of game knowledge. Where your every inquiry is greeting with helpful responses that speed you on their way. The odds of that happening are the same odds you'll hit the lottery twice in two weeks (ok, it's not that bad, but still). Instead, I've found General Chat reminds me why I've become misanthropic in my old age. As Obi-wan once said, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy (in General Chat, and especially in Barrens Chat). Trust me on this one, you don't want to be in that channel. Even not on those lonely, cold nights where even the dog is giving you the cold shoulder.
These are the action bars. You can drag actions to these buttons. These actions are "any sort of thing you can consume, or an action you can perform, or a macro that does more than one action can be placed here." By default, the skills you know at level one, plus some food and drink, are placed on this bar. As you learn more abilities, you can drag them from your spell book to here. Eventually, you'll get items like health and manna potions, and, you guessed it, they can be placed here. You can have up to 6 action bars, and you can activate four more that display on your screen via the options menu.
As you place actions in this bar, you'll see a number appear in the upper right corner of the button. This number relates to the rows of numbers on the top of your keyboard, from 1 to the = sign. Pressing the assigned key will activate the hot-key. For example, if I pressed the "=" button above, my avatar would sit and start eating the ribs. Mmm, tasty, but needs a better dry rub.
As you start getting used to the action bars, you'll start finding ways of grouping actions that works for you. For me, I keep most of my commonly used attacks close to each other, my consumables (food, water, and potions) in their own area. You can arrange your actions any way you want, but I strongly recommend against having to flip through to other bars during combat; if you fill up the on-screen bars, put out-of-combat items like food on a "hidden" bar. Note: We'll cover addons in a later post, but there are some nice ones out there that will let you really take advantage of action bars.
The set of bars next to the action bars is the micro-menu, but no one ever calls it that. This lets you access your character screen (where you equip items), your spell book, quest journal, in-game options, and the help screen. Now, frankly, I've rarely used this set of bars. When you hover your mouse over one of these buttons, it'll tell you the name of the button, with a letter in parenthesis. This letter is the keyboard shortcut for that button. If I press "c" I'll bring up my character screen. It's worth learning them.
On the far right you'll find your bag slots. You can have five bags, but Hunters and Warlocks will lose one slot for their quiver and soul bags. You start the game with one 16-slot bag. As you quest you'll earn a few as part of your rewards. Also, once you get some money you can buy some new ones. Getting more bags should be a priority. The more bags, the more loot you can carry, saving on trips to vendor to sell junk.
In the upper right-hand corner of your screen, you'll find the mini-map. The min-map gives you a very localized, zoomed-in view of where you are. You can zoom in and out by clicking the "+" and "-" buttons. If you want to see the map of the whole area you are in, click the button above the magnifying glass. Above the mini-map you'll see the name of the sub-region you are in. If you were in an area called Boston, the name above the mini-map might read Southie. Good thing Southie's not what it used to be, or some guy named Sully would be trying to take your lunch money.
So, that's an overview of what you'll see on your first login. In later sections we'll go over getting your first quest, and in the advanced stages of the Guide we'll go into how you can customize the UI so it looks nothing like the default.