Hunter talents are out, and there's definitely a lot to say about them, both good and bad. While we have discussed some of the changes to the lower Survival tree, what we haven't touched on is all the new talents and the talent changes in other trees. If I was to sum it all up in one sentence, I'd say this: The 51 point talents look lackluster, but most of the rest is downright drool inducing.
Marksmanship's early tiers are now full of easily obtainable goodies for any Hunter, Survival's gained even more group and raid buff utility, and Beastmastery has even more amazing pet synergy.
There's a lot to cover, so we'll tackle it one tree at a time. First, we'll look at Marksmanship, which was once premiere Hunter tree, but has fallen a bit to Beastmastery in Burning Crusade. It's certainly seen some marked improvement for Wrath so far, and even if you don't plan to spec Marksmanship, you'll at least want to know about the first few tier talents, as you'll probably want to grab many of them anyway.
The Early Marksmanship Tree
I find the changes and additions to the early Marksmanship tree even more tantalizing than the later ones, although this may be in part because I am almost always specced Beastmastery. The first 2 tiers are now loaded with amazing basic utility talents new and old, and may be the most revolutionary changes to the talent trees as a whole, finally breaking PvE DPS Hunters free of the "must spec 20 points into Marks" mentality.
Not only has Careful Aim been moved all the way down to the 2nd tier, it will now give Hunters 100% of their intellect as attack power at 3 talent points spent. Unless Hunter itemization completely de-emphasizes intellect (which is unlikely, considering Aspect of the Viper), it seems like this talent will almost be a must have for any Hunter, and give an amazing return for 3 points. 300 or more attack power for 3 points is very much a no-brainer.
A new 1st-tier talent called Focused Aim will reduce interruptions to Aimed Shot and Steady Shot by 70% at 3 talent points. It's long been a complaint that a Hunter under fire loses so much DPS potential due to constant pushbacks. This talent should greatly improve a Hunter's ability to return fire even when under fire.
Improved Concussive Shot no longer stuns, but now increases the daze component of the shot by up to 2 seconds for 2 training points. Zach points out that this may be due to the fact that many pets (such as bats and ravagers) are now getting triggered stuns as a baseline ability. While it is nice to see a more dependable talent that is not based on random chance, I do believe that 2 seconds is a bit short for 2 talent points. Personally, I think they can afford to give us an extra few seconds beyond that.
Mortal Shots has swapped places with Efficiency (making it a 2nd tier talent), and is now a prerequisite for Aimed Shot instead of the other way around. This change is especially nice for PvE DPS Beastmasters, allowing them to be much more flexible with their talent points, and giving them the option to spend less than 20 points in the tree and eschew Aimed Shot if they choose.
Improved Hunter's Mark is now only 3 points -- at the least, that means whichever Hunter bites the bullet and learns it for the good of the raid will have a few leftover points.
The Later Marksmanship Tree
The later Marksman talents are mostly pretty solid, although nothing personally screams amazing to me. There's quite a few procs, and I've never liked the idea of one's DPS being based on the random number generator. Beyond that, there's a bunch of Steady Shot modifiers, and Steady Shot has never traditionally been a central part of a deep Marksmanship Hunter's DPS -- at least not to the extent it is in Beastmastery. Still, the change to Auto Shot clipping may change that, so these talents may end up measuring up in Wrath after all. In short, late Marksmanship will probably need to see some extensive testing to make sure the talents measure up.
Piercing Shots, which takes the place of Careful Aim in the 30-point tier, makes Steady and Aimed Shots ignore up to 6% of a target's armor for 3 talent points. Ignoring armor is always excellent for DPS, but my main complaint here is that it doesn't ignore Auto Shot, which makes it feel a bit lackluster. It should probably either include Auto Shot and Kill Shot or be folded into the Improved Steady Shot talent. There's also a complaint that it may not give a high enough armor penetration percentage for how deep in the tree it is, which may very well be valid.
Improved Steady Shot is a 3 point talent at the 40-point tier. It gives up to a 15% chance for a Steady Shot to increase the damage of the Hunter's next Aimed Shot, Steady Shot, or Kill Shot by 15% and the mana cost by 40%. Certainly, the bonuses are nice, adding some good damage and addressing Hunter mana usage issues, although the whole "chance" thing comes up. Is 15% worth it?
Wild Quiver is the other new 40 point talent. For 3 points, you can get up to a 10% chance on every Auto Shot to shoot an extra arrow for 60% damage. Again, the basic idea seems pretty cool, but the random nature of the skill holds it back. A 10% chance and 60% damage both seem awfully low, especially if the shot consumes an arrow. Early reports are that this skill only ups white damage by about 6% at most, which seems remarkably low for its position in the tree. I'd make the second shot shoot for 100% damage or up the percent chance by at least another 10%, if not both.
The 45 point talent for Marksmanship is called Marked for Death, and costs up to 5 talent points. It gives up to 5% extra damage to marked targets, and adds 10% to the critical strike damage bonus of Aimed Shot, Steady Shot, and Kill Shot. The requirement of using Hunter's Mark seems a bit restrictive, especially on fast dying mobs. In the end, this skill seems mostly like a very slightly buffed version of a first tier Survival talent. This is probably another skill that needs some parsing to see if it's worth it. It's a good solid non-RNG-dependent damage raiser, which is probably what Marksmanship needs most, but I'd say it's still debatable as to whether it is worthy of being a 45 point talent.
Chimera Shot, the 51 point talent
Chimera Shot is the 51 point talent in the Marksmanship tree. It consumes your sting from the target and triggers a certain attack, making it somewhat like a Warlock's Conflagrate in concept. Serpent Sting will immediately do 40% of the damage the total Serpent Sting would have done. Viper Sting will burn an additional 30% of the mana a full Viper Sting would burn and return it to the Hunter. Scorpid Sting will apply a debuff which causes the next 3 attacks by the target to be reduced by up to 60% damage (each successive attack drops the damage reduction by 20%). It has a 10 second cooldown, and costs 540 mana.
This shot, while interesting in concept, looks to suffer from quite a few flaws in practice. While the 10 second cooldown means it can be used on every application of Serpent Sting and Viper Sting, the 540 mana cost could make it very restrictive to use due to Hunters' traditionally low mana pools and mana regeneration problems, which have reportedly only gotten worse in Wrath.
In addition, there's some debates over whether the procs themselves are worth 51 points, especially for Viper Sting. In the current Beta build, rank 5 Viper Sting drains 3092 mana over 8 seconds at the cost of 610 mana. With Improved Stings at maximum, that should be about 4019.2 mana. That means Chimera Shot will steal between and 927 and 1206 mana.
In the meantime, you will spend 1150 combined mana to cast both the sting and shot, which means you lose mana overall on a non-improved sting, and barely gain any at all on an improved sting. Of course, it may be the intent of the sting is more to allow for larger mana drain, wit the mana return meant to be only a slight offsetting of the cost.
In the end, its usefulness for Viper Sting will likely be determined by a few factors:
Will it be easy enough for Hunters to time their shots just right to drain the maximum amount of mana? This is not a given, especially given the chaos of PvP where Viper Sting is most useful, the possibility of certain classes removing the Viper Sting early, and any need to take into account the flight time on the Chimera Shot itself.
Will the approximately 3900-5200 mana drain by the attack (assuming a full application and a last second triggering of the Chimera Shot effect) be a significant amount of a level 80 PvPer's mana pool?
Both of those questions are still very much up in the air, and probably can't be answered without extensive PvP arena testing at level 80.
At the moment, I see Chimera shot as being in grave danger of being used primarily by one Hunter per a 25-man raid for Scorpid Shot on certain bosses, with the rest finding better uses for that talent point. It probably needs a mana cost drop, and maybe some overhauling to the triggered abilities.
Another possibility might be to make the ability a passive buff that adds the effects to each sting as a "bloom" triggered by the end of spell or by a dispel. That could singlehandedly make it worth being a 51 point talent and possibly let Hunters use something besides a poison-stacking scorpid in Arenas.
Some Hunters have also been suggesting that Marksmanship should just get Explosive Shot from the Survival Tree, while Chimera Shot and Improved Stings go over to Survival. This may actually make a bit of sense -- after all, Survival seems to be more of the utility tree as it is, while Marksmanship could use some more damage to put it on par with Beastmastery.
Right now, Marksmanship's clear strength is the early tree. In Wrath, it is now an amazing treasure trove of solid damage increasing and utility talents that are arranged much more fluidly than in Burning Crusade and should allow Beastermasters and Survivalists much more leeway in constructing their specs.
As for the later tree, it has some solid concepts, but the extensive reliance on the RNG and the possibly too-low damage numbers on many talents make me think it's going to need a bit more tweaking. Hopefully the Beta testers can provide the testing and theorycrafting needed for Blizzard to make the right decisions.
Next, I'll tackle the Beastmastery tree, so please do stay tune to WoW Insider, as that and the Survival tree will be coming up soon in parts II and III.