If you don't follow Blizzard Senior PvP Designer Brian Holinka on Twitter, you could be forgiven for not knowing anything at all about the latest batch of hunter changes. Hunters are the class of the moment for PvP changes, with players complaining variously that they are doing too little damage (hunters) and too much damage (everyone else). As a result of this, hotfixes have come in, mostly relating to hunter pets.
Blink Strikes was turned into a passive ability with 5.3, allowing the pet's Basic Attacks to deal 50% increased damage, be usable from 30 yards away, and also instantly cause the pet to teleport behind their target. This was causing some fairly high damage in PvP, especially in line with Stampede, and the latest reset includes hotfixes to both abilities.
However, thanks in part to the rather mysterious nature of these changes, there has been a lot of speculation about just exactly what is going on. To quell the QQ, Blizzard Community Manager Nakatoir has stepped in with clarifications of the changes.
Hunter changes are beginning to show up on the patch 5.3 PTR patch notes, and those changes are of the buff variety, assuring that they'll get the seal of approval from the hunter community. Certainly 5.3 is bringing the hunter love, with these buffs coming on the heels of 50 stable slots!
Hunters are getting a flat buff to their DPS, while BM and MM hunters are getting substantial AoE DPS buffs. It's still early in the PTR process, and we can expect to see more changes coming, but for the time being BM is the winner of patch 5.3, getting more benefit from the changes than the other specs.
Let's take a loot at what's changing, and how it will impact the hunter specs.
In the very early incarnation of the patch 5.3 PTR, hunter stables have been expanded to accomodate up to 50 hunter pets. This awesome feature was discovered by a score of hunters almost as soon as the PTR was available, though I believe Kalliope reported on it first.
With this change hunters will now be able to collect up to 55 different pets, with 50 in the stable and 5 in the active pet slots.
In the comments to this news at the WHU, Arth made an apt observation:
Min. range is gone, our specs are fairly well-tuned and are all viable, we aren't terrible in PvP, and now this. What the hell are we supposed to complain about?
What indeed, hunters? Let's take a moment to look at why hunters need so ridiculously many stable slots, and why we got them.
With the awesome buffs to MM in Patch 5.2, MM hunter DPS is better than ever, just a theoretical wee bit behind SV DPS. Despite this, however, MM continues to be vastly under-represented in raid parses, often having so few it's impossible to make a statistical evaluation of their performance (and that's before even considering the selection bias).
Theories abound for the lack of MM representation: MM is harder to play; MM is technically a bit behind the others so everyone leans on the ones ahead; MM has no clear role in which they are superior (unlike BM burst and SV AoE); MM is associated with elves, and no one wants to have anything to do with dirty elven things.
It's been a long time since MM has been a popular spec, and most of the hunter optimization sites focus on maximizing your performance in BM or SV. So now seems like a good time to review how to optimize your MM hunter to take full advantage of all those juicy 5.2 buffs.
With the advent of patch 5.2, World of Warcraft Lead Systems Designer Greg Street "Ghostcrawler" and Community Manager Daxxarri have been posting a series of class overviews and changes. Part one went up on Tuesday, covering death knights, druids, and hunters. Part two was posted Wednesday evening and covers mages, paladins, and priests. Part three, on rogues, shaman, and warlocks, went up yesterday evening, and part four, covering warriors and monks, was posted earlier today. For many classes, most of the changes involve PvP balancing as well as trying to improve a number of talents in some way to make them more useful and thus more attractive to players, at least situationally. If you're curious about either the philosophy of class balance design or just want to know what happened to your class this patch, make sure to check it out.
What I love about these posts is that little glimpse of insight they provide into the thought process that goes into balancing the class mechanics in a game like World of Warcraft. I'll be honest, I'm glad I'm not one of the people involved in that job. To me it seems like an endless headache to try and make sure all classes are different enough to feel unique, but similar enough such that a raid or dungeon group isn't punished for lacking one indispensable class, and I wouldn't have the patience for it. But I certainly admire and respect those who do!
With MoP patch 5.2 due to be released in just a couple weeks, Blizzard has released several hunter buffs on the PTR that are designed to bring the hunter specs closer together in DPS output -- and from the looks of it, it may well bring the hunter specs closer than at any point in WoW history.
I'm talking insanity of biblical proportions here, BM and MM living together, mass hysteria!
While it's almost all good news, there were some nerfs to hunter PvP in specific -- though keep in mind that some of these are sometimes tied directly to abilities that are also being buffed. So lets take a look at the entire list of hunter changes for 5.2, both those from this past week and the others still around from earlier in the 5.2 PTR, and see what it means to the hunter class.
Last week we went over the patch 5.2 hunter gear -- everything, that is, except for the most complicated slot. And as always, the roughest gear and most debated gear decisions revolve around trinkets.
The question of which of the hunter trinkets are best is further complicated by the fact that current trinkets can be upgraded (a feature that will not be available to us once patch 5.2 hits). So will the upgraded Relic of Xuen be a contender with the new trinkets? Or should you spend those valor points elsewhere in your remaining weeks?
So let's roll up our sleeves and do some trinket math! We're going to take a look at all the new hunter trinkets datamined in patch 5.2, and compare that against the upgraded forms of some of the top other trinkets.
It looks like we're going to be seeing patch 5.2 land within the next couple of weeks, and now thanks to some datamining we have an idea of all the hawt new gear we're going to be seeing in patch 5.2.
Included in this gear is our new tier 15 set: Saurok Stalker's, which is a spiky looking set with a helm that bears a suspicious resemblence to a lizard is eating our heads. Fun Saurok Stalker's set activity: get to just the right depth in water and can make it look like a crocodile head floating on the surface. Then jump out and kill something.
The hunter level 90 ability Powershot has been plagued with bugs since its launch. The hunter ability, which has a very long cast time so philosophically a high risk-reward, was first described as a skill-shot, i.e. an ability that's aimed by the player, similar to priests' Divine Star. This was used to explain away its constantly missing, with Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street asserting that the problem was players not quite using it correctly, and that the problem was hard to reproduce.
Players then began testing this on stationary targets, cc-ed targets and the like, and found that Powershot didn't even hit the primary target. Back in November, Taepsilum posted on the EU forums, saying that a bug had been identified, but that unfortunately it couldn't be implemented until a client-side patch could be carried out, so likely patch 5.2 at the very earliest -- no promises.
Fast forward to today, and Taepsilum has posted the following:
Both Powershot and Glaive Toss have been rebuilt and should now always hit their primary targets, plus, they should also be much more responsive to secondary targets.
This new implementation of the two abilities isn't on PTR yet but will be as soon as both abilities have been through QA. Once we have a new PTR build go live, feel free to test them and provide us with some feedback, this is when it is most important and when it can dramatically change what ends up going live.
As long as there have been hunters, there have been hunter taming challenges. These are the pets that combine the irresistible draw of being difficult to get your mitts on, combined with a unique look that other hunters don't have. Nowadays hunters really pursue these taming challenges for the look of the pet, but once upon a time there were mechanical benefits of some of the rare pets as well. Back in vanilla I spent weeks wandering the reported path of Broken Tooth in search of this 1.0 attack speed lion (this was before Zul Gu'rub and the 1.0 bats, and of course before normalization of pet attack speeds and before the 2 pushback limit to casting).
When I'm talking about taming challenges today I'm talking about pets that have a mechanical challenge or trick to the taming process, or pets that are rare spawns with unique models. There are of course scores of rare spawn pets that look identical to common pets, and even a lot of rare spawns that have a slightly different coloration but otherwise are identical to common pets (and you can see a list of these at Petopia).
While it might be hard to wait for a King Krush spawn, for example, it's not something that fills vast numbers of hunters with the need to get that pet. Spirit beasts on the other hand ... spirit beasts are like a plague of uncontrollable desire that spreads burning through the pet collecting loins of the hunter population, so I have to include them.
If you aren't the kind of hunter that is really into pet collecting, today's column is not for you. If, however, you are the other kind, then here is a list of all of the hunter pet taming challenges currently in the game.
Patch 5.2 has been marinating on the PTR for long enough now that we have a fair idea of what all the hunter changes will be, as well as last week's revelation of new spirit beasts! So it's time (or past time) that we dig into it and see how the changes are going to affect the greatest class in WoW.
This patch is hitting at a time when the hunter class is doing pretty well. Nothing's ever perfect of course, but our raid DPS is pretty good, we can PvP better than we have in years and we can even launch our full-strength hail of death on the move for as long as we damn well please. And best of all we're not overpowered so we don't have to fear imminent nerfs. It's a pretty good time to be a hunter.
Nevertheless, we have some mechanical tweaks to our abilities in addition to the new taming challenges of the porcupine spirit beasts, so let's take a look at it.
Another year of hunting is beginning, and that means it's time to dig into the vaults of December 2011, when Cataclysm was about to wind down, a time of aspect dancing and the horrible anachronism of minimum range. That's right, it's time to dust off my 2012 hunter predictions and see how I did. It's also time to make new predictions for the state of hunters going forward in 2013 and take some guesses at what's going to happen with the class as Mists of Pandaria progresses and Blizzcon returns.
Of course last year was a pretty challenging year to make predictions, since we knew a new expansion was coming and while we had a couple of tantalizing hints, we had virtually no idea what hunter changes we would have. The expansion news flew fast and furious all spring and summer, bringing with it change after change; hunter joy and discussion as we got almost everything we asked for, followed by the inevitable buffs and nerfs of the expansion process.
After getting off to a bit of a slow start, hunter DPS is now rocking away as we start 2013 looking forward to patch 5.2. But before we look forward, let's take a look back and grade Frostheim's presentience to determine if what I predict has any bearing on reality...
Scattered Shots is brought to you by Grandpappy Frostheim, who spends his evenings in an Ironforge tavern telling young hunters how much harder things were in his day, when they had to kite mobs uphill, both ways ... back when men were men, and women were men too, and pets were next to useless -- but they were also men. You can ask him questions on Google+.
There is a small vocal group of WoW players who feel that Burning Crusade was the pinnacle of the WoW experience, an unparallelled beauty of game design, and that life has gotten progressively worse ever since. Those players are starting to piss me off.
The reason they like BC so much is the same reason most players like an expansion more than all the rest: because that's when they started playing. Vanilla players like to talk about how hard yet awesome life was in our day and Wrath newbies (who, appallingly, are old timers themselves now) like to talk about how the game has only gone downhill since their time.
All of us old timers have one thing in common: we look at our glory days of exploring WoW for the very first time through rose-tinted glasses, remembering all the great stuff and glossing over just how bad the bad stuff was. But these BC lovers have crossed the line into being just plain daft, and trying to claim the exact opposite of how things really were.
There will always be some hunters who disagree with anything (believe it or not I recently read a hunter who thinks removing minimum range made the game no longer playable) but most hunters these days agree that we hunters have too damn many buttons. And it's not just us: in a recent tweet Ghostcrawler said so too:
We don't think hunters need a massive revamp (beyond range and ammo changes they already have). They do have too many buttons.
Unfortunately there isn't a whole lot that can be done in the middle of an expansion -- frankly what needs to happen is a bunch of these abilities just need to go. But remove anything (even minimum range) and you'll hear complaints, not to mention making hunters learn new rotations mid-expansion is bad design move. But I think there are some things that can be done to mitigate the situation.
But first lets get into why too many buttons is a bad thing, because there are actually two important reasons.
Patch 5.1 landed on Tuesday and while there were no ground shaking changes that force every hunter to change everything about their playstyle, we definitely felt some nice quality of life improvements and some important DPS buffs and burst nerfs. It was a quiet kind of awesome, but still pretty awesome.
Blizzard is definitely handling these changes with very delicate taps of the turning fork. Very gentle buffs, very gentle nerfs, moving different areas of hunter play just a little bit in one direction or another. Certainly part of this lines up with Blizzard's assertion that "More players quit because of constant class changes than quit because of balance concerns." But a good chunk of it is probably also that hunters weren't in a very bad place, and small changes might be enough to get us where we want to be (as well as changes to certain other classes whose crazy DPS is fueled by their burning underpants).
So lets take a closer look at the changes we got and what the impact of those change is looking like.