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Scattered Shots: Hunter pet changes -- QQ or HTFU?

Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Mail your hunter questions to Frostheim.

Today's header video is a sneak peek at the hunter class in patch 7.3, after the implementation of dual wielding and after minimum range is finally removed from the game. It also looks like we get a melee disarm, which I agree would be nice. Pillar humping is clearly still a vital arena strategy, however. This look at the awesomeness to come should help soften the pain of the unpleasant subject of today's column.

The hunter pet stance changes blow.

There's just no sugarcoating it; the changes to pet stances simply make our lives worse than they were before. If you want to hand me a petition to repeal the changes, I will happily sign it. However, it seems likely the changes are something that we're just going to have to put up with, like ads to buy gold online, fake sparkle pony phishing emails, and the continued existence of elves. So, too, must we apparently suck it up and deal with increasingly unruly pets that need a stronger guiding hand.

Join me after the cut as we discuss the changes in more depth and ask the question of what is to be done about it. Do we hunters try to wail up a paladin-like storm of QQ in hopes of effecting a change, or is it something deliberate and we just have to HTFU?

I have to say, I spent a lot of time messing around with the stance changes and trying to figure out what the intent of them was. Normally, even if I strongly disagree with a Blizzard decision -- like minimum range -- I at least understand it. But the pet stance changes have me a bit baffled still. For a while, I was holding off writing about this certain that some kind of hotfix or at least explanation would be forthcoming, but that isn't looking like the case.

So let's start with a quick recap of what has changed and why that change is bad for hunters.

Hunter pet stance changes
  • Aggressive stance Gone entirely. For PVE, this is mostly a good thing, since aggressive stance was mostly a way for hunters who didn't know any better to wipe their 5-mans. For PVP, many hunters used aggressive stance to try to break rogues and druids out of stealth (though based on my conversations with PVPers who know far more than me, that's not something the top hunters ever used in PVP, anyway). They had macros to break stealth and wanted to control where their pets went. I think aggressive stance was probably fair game.
  • Assist stance This is our replacement for aggressive stance. While in assist, your pet will attack things that attack you just like defensive stance, and they will attack things that you attack. The new thing with assist is that your pet will change targets if you do. The downside is that your pet waits a few seconds before changing, which means it waits before engaging, too. In AOE situations, your pet gets confused and spends most of its time running around helplessly. People are still reporting various assist bugs, but so far I'm not seeing anything replicable outside of AOE.
  • Defensive stance This is the brutal change. I mean, if assist sucks, then we can ignore it like we did aggressive -- except that when in defensive stance, your pet will now only attack when you get attacked. It will not run out to attack what you're attacking the way it did before.
  • Passive stance Unchanged.
Why this makes life worse

Ultimately, the effect of this change is we lose the ability to just ignore our pets most of the time and let them do their thing. On the average boss fight, we used to be able to just DPS, and our pet would run in and DPS with us. It would attack the first thing we attacked and stay at it until it was dead or we told it otherwise. This reduced manual pet control to occasionally forcing the pet to change targets and to managing its health.

Assist stance sounds good, but it really doesn't do the same thing that the old defensive stance did. To begin with, we have to manually send our pet in to attack, or it will just hang out for a few shots before joining. Then I often find that I'm changing targets when I don't want the pet to change targets, but with assist, the pets runs after. And of course, AOEing in assist is just silly.

The solution, of course, is just to do what we did back in vanilla: Keep our pets in passive stance and manually control everything they do. Back in vanilla, the pet AI was horrible (you new guys have no appreciation for how much better it is now), and we had to manually send our pets out and call them back for every attack or risk chaos.

I know assist stance sounds like a minor change, but in practice, playing with it just doesn't work and forces manual pet control as the best option.

It's worth noting that yes, you can macro your pet attack into your shots -- but then your pet always attacks what you're targeting, and that is part of the problem with assist stance. I want my pet to attack what I tell it to, and if I don't say anything, then to attack whatever I'm attacking and not stop until I tell it to switch.

I want the old defensive stance.

Is making it harder the point?

After finally realizing that yes, Blizzard intends pets to work the way they're working now, I thought that perhaps the plan was to make pet management harder. After all, you can make an argument that pet management should be harder.

To some extent, having the pet AI handle itself, especially for SV and MM specs, was tantamount to just adding a couple of thousand DPS to our class without our having to do anything at all. Sure, the melee folks get the same thing with their auto-attack, but we also have an auto-attack in addition to the pet.

The only danger with the pet is that it could die and thus drop our DPS.

Perhaps the point of the change is that we have to pay for those extra thousands of DPS with some additional portion of our attention. I could understand that point of view, though it certainly punishes BM a bit more than the other specs.

But is that the point of the change?

It seems like assist stance was, in concept, a way to make pet management even easier. With assist, if you switch targets, your pet automatically switches too. To me, assist stance sounded like a great thing for new hunters -- the crutch stance while you're still leaning all there is to learn about our complex set of tools. When you aren't worried about optimizing your DPS, assist stance is a great beginner's stance.

Assist basically allows you to ignore pet control entirely, though in practice it happens at the cost of some DPS. But if assist's design goal is to make pet control easier or more intuitive for newbie hunters, that clashes with the idea that the stance chance is supposed to be a deliberate move to make pet management more difficult.

What I'd do

Honestly, my best guess is that the design decision around the pet stance changes was to make things easier and more intuitive for new hunters. I don't think the point was to make us pay more to get the toughest and coolest-looking DOT in the game. Particularly with the push to acquire new players via free-to-play until level 20, this seems targeted at making life easier rather than harder. I suspect the actual implementation just had unintended consequences ... but then, why haven't we seen a fix yet?

If it were up to me, I would actually keep assist stance. I'd keep it working just like it does now (and keep pursuing those bug reports to see if we can track down what's really happening there).

I would change defensive stance back to what it was before. Sure, you could argue that it's more thematic that the pet just defends you when in defensive stance, but mechanically, that's doing the exact same thing that assist stance does, only without the attack. Right now, I don't see any practical situations in which you'd want your pet in defensive stance but not in assist.

If thematic concerns are important, you could change the name of defensive stance to attack stance. When in that stance, your pet attacks the first thing you attack and keeps attacking until it's dead or you call it off. Heck, if you really wanted, you could even remove the defending aspect from the stance -- though I wouldn't.

QQ or HTFU?

So we're left with the two possible theories on why the pet stances changed the way they did. Either forcing manual pet control was an accidental casualty, or it was a deliberate way of making us have to pay more attention to get our pet auto DPS.

This makes the solution to either QQ or HTFU. Either we can complain and scream and reason with Blizzard and beg for a return to the old defensive stance functionality, or we can suck it up and start manually controlling our pet's every move the way we did back in my day.

Despite the negative connotations, I don't mean to imply that QQing is a bad thing. I just wrote an entire column complaining about this, and you'd better believe that part of it is in hopes of attracting attention to the issue. But I know a lot of people have been complaining very loudly for a while now with no change in sight.

Personally, what I'd really like is a blue post telling us what the design goal was behind the change, so we know one way or another.

Okay, what I'd really like is a hotfix changing it back; but like minimum range, I can be content with manning up if I was told that the whole point was to make me man up.

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter through optimizing for heroics, pre-heroic loot and pre-raid loot, then on to choosing the right spec for the right job and how to "aspect dance" to maximize your DPS, we've got you covered.

Filed under: Hunter, (Hunter) Scattered Shots

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