CS:GO's UI update is a needed upgrade

After teasing us for months about CS:GO eventually getting updated to use the “Panorama” interface that Dota 2 has been using since its Reborn update in June 2015, Valve has finally released a public beta of CS:GO with the new UI up and running. This was one of our big wishlist items for CS:GO in 2018, and I’m happy to report that it's pretty darn good.

Admittedly, the bar has been set pretty low for Panorama, as the existing CS:GO interface is nothing to write home about. It’s looked more or less the same since the game’s release in 2012; a ton of game features and their respective menu options have been added since then, but the overall look and feel of the UI has remained pretty static. Big structural issues, like the fact that you can’t navigate any of the inventory or loadout options while you’re in a lobby with your friends, have been left unaddressed for years, and aesthetically it’s about what you’d expect from a game released in 2012.

There are also a couple stylistic choices that seem a bit questionable, and not being bugs, they seem unlikely to be changed.

Fortunately, those days appear to be behind us, as the Panorama update is a complete overhaul that replaces virtually every UI asset. Going through the menus in the public beta, it’s hard to spot much of anything that hasn’t gotten the Panorama treatment, which is a good thing, since the end result is a much more modern-feeling game.

The visual facelift isn’t the only thing Panorama has to offer either. It also introduces some clever new features, like a landing page that shows you recent news posts (a common and useful element in most recent multiplayer games), some new explanatory tooltips, and a handy table that shows you what your teammates have equipped themselves with when you’re in the buy menu. You can now navigate the various pre-match menus while sitting in a lobby with your party.

It’s worth reiterating that this is just a beta, and as such, not all the kinks have been ironed out yet. A bunch of the console commands don’t work properly, there are a couple actions that will get you stuck on an inescapable menu screen, and there’s something a bit weird going on with the way your crosshair is rendered. There’s a big thread full of bug reports on the CS:GO subreddit, so it may be a little while yet before Panorama is ready for primetime. Valve has already released its first patch for the beta version, however, and seem keen to get it ready for final release in short order.

What's not to like

There are also a couple stylistic choices that seem a bit questionable, and not being bugs, they seem unlikely to be changed before the update goes live unless the community gets extremely up in arms about them. Foremost among these annoyances is the background treatment for the new scoreboard; in the old UI, the scoreboard simply darkened the area of the screen it occupied enough for you to see the white scoreboard text, allowing you to see through it fairly easily. The Panorama version applies a blur effect instead, making it largely impossible to see your crosshair or any environmental details in the middle of your screen. For players who tend to compulsively check the scoreboard during the round, this is a big downgrade, and looks an awful lot like Valve trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.

Another head-scratcher is the inclusion on the main landing page of a big, animated player model right in the middle.This format has become pretty ubiquitous of late, perhaps due to its appearance in DayZ and PUBG, but it makes little sense in a game with, at the moment, virtually no cosmetic character customization to speak of. Surely there are more fruitful bits of information this screen real estate could be used for in CS:GO.

Minor quibbles aside, Panorama has survived the migration from Dota 2 to CS:GO remarkably intact. Given how enormous of an upgrade it is over the dated UI we’ve been using until now, one gets the impression of playing a whole new game upon first sight of the new main menu.

It’s a breath of fresh air to see Valve taking big steps like this to modernize CS:GO. One of the longtime complaints of the Counter-Strike community has been that despite boasting similar player numbers to Dota 2, it never feels like CS:GO gets nearly the same amount of love from its developers, and I suspect an update like this will help assuage that bitterness in the hearts of Counter-Strike’s crustiest detractors.

Here’s to hoping Valve can continue shipping substantive, high-quality updates like this going forward, and we can all stop reading snide HLTV comments about how Counter-Strike is a dying game.