We all know by now that talents are going to work a lot differently in the Mists of Pandaria expansion, but what we don't know yet is exactly what's going to happen with our pet talent trees. Not only that, but Blizzard itself isn't entirely sure what it's going to do about them, other than not wanting to leave them the way they are now. We do know that we will get to choose what family our pets belong to. If you tame a cat, you can choose to make it a tenacity, cunning, or ferocity pet. But pet talents are a bit up in the air.
There are currently two possibilities for pet talents. The first is to remove pet talents entirely, making your pet's special abilities and spec -- tenacity, ferocity, or cunning -- the only unique features of the pet. Thus, every ferocity cat is the same as every other ferocity cat. This option is dull and dreary with nothing interesting or engaging about it. Call it the Shaman Option, in other words, or the Blah Option.
The other possibility is to revamp the pet talent system so that it more closely resembles the new character talent system in MoP. In this system, we turn some pet talents into spec abilities, and then give an abbreviated tree of meaningful choices. I call this the Awesome Option -- or in other words, the Hunter Option. You're going to love it. Here's how the Awesome Option could work.
Just like the MoP class system, the first step of revamping the hunter pet talents should be to take those must-have talents and make them instead into abilities that pets automatically get as they level up within that spec. Thus, Call of the Wild isn't a talent; instead, it's something available to ferocity pets at level 60 (or whatever) automatically.
Of course, also like the class talent revamp, we should ditch a handful of the talents that aren't really compelling. The idea here is to take the mandatory stuff that defines a pet spec and make it a spec ability; throw out the stuff we don't care much about; and leave behind some choices that are actually decisions without always having a right answer.
Here are the pet talents that I would convert into pet spec abilities:
I ditched the go-to Culling the Herd since it was a must-have for every spec that just boosted DPS. Any time you have something like that in the mix, the right design solution is to get rid of it entirely and just adjust raw DPS to compensate. However, I did assign Wild Hunt to every pet spec; this is one of the great innovations of Cataclysm that protects pets from focus capping. In fact, it should really just be added as a baseline pet ability, rather than spec-specific.
Awesome pet talents
Here is how I would set up the pet talent choices. Rather than choosing between three talents as characters will, I'd suggest the pets just get to choose one of two talents each tier. This continues the tradition of making the pet's version of talents a bit simpler than the characters. I would, however, keep the same number of tiers as players get (six).
Here are a bunch of possible talent pairings that should result in some good decision making and hopefully won't usually have a right answer. Some of the numbers may have to be tweaked a bit, but I think this is a strong starting point.
- Dash or Charge A simple choice between a super-fast close with boosted starting damage or a longer-lasting speed burst that's better for target switching. Good tier 1 choice, I think. Also, I'd ditch Dive. We don't need two talents that do the identical thing for flavor reasons. No, we don't.
- Shark Attack or Spider Bite I know, I know. Any time you have a choice between two DPS options, we'll be able to math out which is technically best. But I think it's important that at least one tier has two meaningful damage boosting options; more on the reason why later. Obviously the numbers would have to be balanced against each other as well.
- Great Stamina or Natural Armor I'm the least excited about this one. I like having it there for the option of extreme soloing, pet tanking or farming lots of mobs, but in practice, you'll only ever use Great Stamina for raids. From that perspective, you could ditch this pair.
- Intervene or Hunter's Best Friend Our first new talent here. Hunter's Best Friend would be an ability that heals the hunter for 5% of the damage done by the pets basic attacks. The idea here is you're choosing between a very small amount of steady hunter self-heals or the ability to help out your tank/healers in pinch situations.
- Taunt or Revengeance Another new ability. Revengeance is a slightly toned-down version of the Vengeance special ability that all tanks have access to, to help their threat scale. I also think Taunt should be upgraded to a real Taunt, not the fake pet version we have now.
- Heart of the Phoenix or Cower That's right, I'd remove Cower from the baseline and make you choose between it and Heart of the Phoenix!
- Mauled or Fire Breathing We gotta have two new totally awesome talents at the end of the tree. Mauled lets your pets basic attacks hit up to two additional targets in range. Fire Breathing lets you make any pet breathe fire as a short-range, channeled conical AoE with a decent cooldown. These are dangerous weapons in the hands of the unskilled, I know. Lots more ability to break CC, and you'd have to have the ability to turn both abilities off.
As a final note on these tiers, we have to keep in mind the beast mastery ability, Beast Mastery. Currently it gives BM hunters four extra pet talent points that in practice aren't that useful, since you can get just about every DPS pet talent without it.
I'd have Beast Mastery allow BM hunters two extra talent points. They can pick two tiers and actually get both pet talents in the tier. This is why I feel it's so important to have one tier that offers two pet DPS options. This way, BM hunters can net their pets a clear DPS advantage with their namesake ability -- not to mention two AoE abilities at the bottom of the tier!
With the exception of a handful of hunters who'd like to do away with pets entirely (yeah, they're out there), I think most hunters can see how much cooler and more exciting pet talents could become under the new Awesome Option. The talent choices can be meaningful and do exactly what the class talent system aims to do. When you see a sporebat coming at you, you won't be able to know exactly what to expect -- because not every sporebat will be specced exactly the same!
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