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Scattered Shots: Button bloat and its effect on hunter DPS

Hunter in Tsunami Armor
Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. This week, your host Adam Koebel, aka Bendak will be discussing the strange cost of button bloat.

When most hunters think button bloat, they think of abilities like Eagle Eye or Distracting Shot -- completely situational abilities that many won't even bother to key bind. They may be superfluous, but these abilities are not the real bloat problem if you ask me. The true problem is having our damage distributed amongst a dozen or more DPS abilities. Having this many buttons for DPS ends up devaluing each one individually until single abilities cease to matter. Each expansion has added more, and it's beginning to get a little tedious.

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest less buttons can result in more compelling gameplay, but I believe it's the truth in the case of hunter DPS. Properly using fewer abilities with perfect focus management is more difficult than executing a long list of abilities in sequence. When you have so many buttons, using each one has less perceived impact -- as in how much the monster's health drops in response -- compared to a handful of strong, satisfying abilities. A large number of DPS buttons is only meaningful if there is a choice in what you're pressing. Currently, I feel there is very little choice here. You either hit all the buttons or you don't.

The problem with having too many DPS buttons

To be clear, I am not against having a dozen DPS buttons. I am only against having a dozen DPS buttons which offer very little choice in what you should be pressing next. Remember Readiness? That was an example of a button which wasn't optional nor had very much thought put into using it. Getting rid of it and adding charges to Deterrence was a much more elegant solution. I do not miss that ability one bit. Not even a little.

For the sake of simplicity, let's say that Blizzard wants each class to do 100k DPS. They obviously want a player to use all of these abilities, so that 100k needs to be divided amongst these dozen abilities in some manner -- 10k from Kill Command, 10k from Arcane Shot, 5k from Dire Beast, 4k from Focus Fire, 25k from pet, 10k from Auto Shot, and so on. When two abilities have a similar value, they are often interchangeable when you're deciding which to use on a particular global cooldown. Then when Blizzard decides to add another DPS ability to the game, the value of all of the previous abilities is reduced even further to stay at that hypothetical 100k DPS number. As Bilbo would say, it's like butter scraped over too much bread.
DPS changes
The examples on the right show just how close in value some of these abilities can be. You'll notice that when Glaive Toss is removed from a survival rotation entirely, the DPS change is basically within the margin of error. I am not implying you should stop using Glaive Toss, I am only trying to demonstrate just how close in value these abilities are. By removing Glaive Toss, you are just replacing it with Arcane Shot or something else which is nearly identical in value. Glaive Toss obviously has other uses with its AoE and snare components, but in an extended single target encounter such as Iron Juggernaut there's very little benefit to be had from using that extra button. This was simmed with Zeherah's DPS analyzer tool. Results will differ slightly based on individual gear.

Rapid Fire is an example of one of our many buttons which gives you a small amount of DPS for remembering to push it every once in a while. There is very little benefit to saving it for a special occasion. In fact, when you consider the current T16 2-piece bonus, holding off on using it is going to be a DPS loss. Focus Fire and Stampede are similar examples. My question is, are they satisfying? Does pressing one of them every 30 seconds or adding them to a macro add anything to the gameplay experience? One could argue that Stampede is a good flavor ability, but are you making any actual choices here or just playing cooldown whack-a-mole? I don't think we are, which is why I think this type of ability qualifies as button bloat.

Thankfully, signature abilities are in a better place as of patch 5.4, with the possible exception of Kill Command. By neglecting Explosive Shot for survival, or Chimera Shot for marksmanship, you will seriously harm your DPS. Kill Command's value is pretty close to Arcane Shot over an extended period of time, but its burst qualities make it worth more than the numbers would suggest.

Button bloat is only part of the problem with our current rotations. The other issue is all the passive damage -- pet attacks, some procs, Aspect of the Hawk, and Auto Shot -- which collectively can be responsible for as much as 40% of hunter damage depending on spec and talents. All of this "free" damage makes the correct usage of the buttons we were talking about earlier even less meaningful. There are ways to address this without fundamentally changing how a hunter plays. For example, Aspect of the Hawk and its 35% attack power buff is responsible for an enormous amount of passive damage. If that DPS benefit was removed from Hawk and transferred directly into our signature ability (just as an example), I believe the hunter rotations would be a lot more fun. Maybe Auto Shot should have its damage reduced, or dare I say it, removed entirely. When you add up the effects of button bloat, passive damage, and lack of a movement penalty it has become somewhat easy to master hunter DPS. If I do something wrong, I want to pay for it and not have it become my record parse because of RNG (which happened just last week with Iron Juggernaut). Conversely, if I do something right I want to destroy the meters. It makes being a damage dealer more engaging.

I am hopeful some of my concerns will be addressed in Warlords just from looking at the proposed (though not confirmed) level 100 talents. Those talents change the behavior of existing buttons rather than add new ones. I think more of our talents could benefit from that kind of system.



Get ready to lose at least one button you love

With all the talk about crowd control reductions in Warlords of Draenor, I think we are definitely going to be losing some stuff in that category. We have traps, our choice of a CC ability with a pet, plus abilities like Concussive Shot, Scatter Shot, Tranquilizing Shot, Binding Shot, and Counter Shot. I feel like Widow Venom would be one of the first abilities in this category on the chopping block, but it may not be the only one.

Then we have extremely situational abilities such as Distracting Shot and Scare Beast. I don't see a need to remove these. How many hunters even bother to key bind abilities such as this? Besides, they can be very useful on occasion. One example for Distracting Shot would be to pull a Warshaman away from General Nazgrim in a pinch. I don't see a flavor ability like Eagle Eye going anywhere. I think Blizzard learned their lesson after so many hunters were upset by the removal of Eyes of the Beast. Rarely used abilities sitting quietly in your spellbook isn't button bloat.

Regardless of whether we agree on what should or shouldn't be cut from the hunter class, I think we will inevitably be losing at least a couple of our current abilities. It might be an ability you love, but hopefully it's one you don't really care about. I find it strange that I feel more attached to the seemingly useless abilities than I do some of our core DPS abilities which I use thousands of times more frequently. When it comes to DPS buttons, I am not truly attached to anything with the exception iconic abilities like Bestial Wrath and Kill Command for beast mastery, Explosive Shot and Black Arrow for survival, and Aimed Shot for marksmanship. Every other ability is fair game for removal or change in my eyes if it will make the class better as a result. What abilities could you live without?
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From raiding tips and hunter addons to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. If you're stuck in one of the ten support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?

Filed under: Hunter, Analysis / Opinion, (Hunter) Scattered Shots

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