It's quite bad really. It's a downgrade for every point, except one, and i'll go into details for that one.
#1. The NEW badge for new messages.
I understand the need of a way to show that the bar is there to show there's been new messages. Really, that's good, but don't have the indicator be distracting. The NEW badge has higher contrast than the messages themselves and it's also away from all of them, thus the first thing when you go to a channel with new messages (mind you on a social platform) is not the messages, but the badge. Yes, you can get used to this, sure, but UI is meant to be intuitive, not bearable.
#2. The reaction bar.
Here we get into the one good thing about the update, having frequently used emojis available quickly as reactions. The execution, however, is extremely poor. Separating the reaction popup bar by having it have it's own container is bad enough (the previous container-less look of the button was so much better), but then you offset it? What's the reason for that? So it doesn't cut off the message? It's not worth it. The offset messes with the proximity rules and it has the reaction bar closer to messages that aren't related to it.
Edit: Forgot to mention, the reactions are distracting in full colour, use the same look as the black and white emoji until hovered from the message bar on the emojis here so they're not distracting until you over over them.
Also, most users split their messages into sentences or phrases, ending up with multiple messages. If you hover over the reactions of a message but then you want to check the reactions for the message immediately above it, you have to move your mouse further than the message itself for the reactions to change. It feels like there's a different scroll Y height just for the reactions and that's just really bad.
#3. The messages.
As some other users and feedback posts have mentioned, the highlight of each message when hovered (which also brings up the reaction bar) is distracting, i think it's more of the issue with the reaction bar being so obtrusive. Either way, I don't see the point of it. You, as the user, already know where your pointer is, you moved it there. The highlight doesn't create any kind of action other than show the reaction bar, so it's not a reactive animation to a user action, so what's the purpose of it? So the offset of the reaction bar isn't as off-putting? It feels to me like it's just a patch so the reaction bar plays nicer with the message, but instead of doing that you could just not offset the reaction bar?
Edit2: I changed my mind, the messages are too tight, there needs to be more separation.
Overall I'm not liking this update at all, it introduces too many distractions and it feels like the team has forgot what the core of the app is, direct communication. Every feature should work towards that, not against it, the focus should be on the messages, the reactions secondary, and everything else tertiary or in the background. Bringing tertiary or secondary elements into focus so much breaks that core flow and it makes for a lesser experience. A friend of mine even complained that too many things show when you move your mouse around, and I very much agree. Too many shiny things fighting for attention, either clean it back up, or have an option for a "minimal discord" that brings back the focus on the message, but not too much as to just be IRC.
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