Monday, November 16, 2015

WoW Analysis: The Hunter Class Preview

Since my last article, Blizzcon has come and gone and, as expected, a huge amount of information related to the Legion expansion has been revealed. While I'm personally trying to keep myself from being flooded with information, not to mention personal events last week kept me from doing much of anything, one thing that caught my attention was the class previews. It wasn't that surprising considering major class changes take place with new expansions and previews are made to build hype, but said previews provide some insight into the design direction being taken. Aside from the fact that quite a few mechanics from other Blizzard games such as Diablo 3 and Heroes of the Storm are making their way into World of Warcraft overall, the Hunter preview was the one that I was most interested in since I wrote a number of suggestions in an attempt to improve the class's gameplay and other aspects. While I wasn't pleased with everything, which is to be expected considering my opinion on Survival going melee, I'm definitely not that disappointed either.

In this article, I will analyze every ability listed in the preview at face value. It's likely what was shown in the preview isn't the final iteration that will ship with Legion, but some criticism may help to create a more favorable final iteration from the design standpoint.

Beast Mastery

I can't exactly agree with Beast Mastery being in a good place, except maybe in terms of performance, due to its heavy reliance on RNG, among other issues, but I can definitely get behind an attempt to refine abilities to differentiate. Let's see what's on the table so far:
Cobra Shot - 30 Focus, 40 yd range, Instant
A quick shot that causes moderate Physical damage.
Not much to say here. Cobra Shot is going from the Focus generator role to Focus dump, replacing Arcane Shot.
Dire Beast - 40 yd range, Instant, 10 sec cooldown
Summons a powerful wild beast to attack your target for 8 sec. Each time the beast deals damage, you will gain 4 Focus. Summoning a beast reduces the remaining cooldown of Bestial Wrath by 15 sec.
Replacing Cobra Shot as a source of Focus generation for Beast Mastery is Dire Beast, which is currently a Focus-centric talent. While it's not quite like my suggestion, I think a Beast Master Hunter being able to summon beasts in such a manner as an offensive ability works well with the theme. It's also nice that the ability synergizes with Beast Mastery further by reducing the cooldown of Bestial Wrath, which would benefit greatly from a steady external source of Focus generation.

However, since Dire Beast has a cooldown and Focus generators traditionally didn't since they were intended to be used as filler, the change is also indicative of a move away from that style of gameplay for at least Beast Mastery Hunters, which may be jarring since idling as a Hunter isn't exactly a thing at the moment.
Kill Command - 20 Focus, 25 yd range (from pet), Instant, 6 sec cooldown
Give the command to kill, causing your pet to instantly inflict strong damage to its target.
Similar to its previous iteration, except the Focus cost has decreased. This may be to compensate for a potentially decreased amount of Focus generation but the damage of the ability may have also been reduced to maintain a reasonable Focus to damage ratio.
Wild Call - Passive
Your critical strikes have a 30% chance to reset the cooldown of Dire Beast.
While I'd complain about how this mechanic is RNG, it's a controllable RNG that I generally favor when it comes to proc-based mechanics. I think this passive will be extremely useful to the point Critical Strike will be a high priority for Beast Mastery. This is because in addition to the increased Focus generation, Dire Beast, when activated, reduces the cooldown of Bestial Wrath, meaning that theoretically it may be possible to have Bestial Wrath constantly active or at least active for long periods of time. It even creates a synergy assuming Bestial Wrath remains the same since the Focus reduction effect of Bestial Wrath allows the Hunter to use abilities more frequently, meaning they will critically strike more frequently.

With that said, I am a little concerned about the amount of particles that could be spammed due to the amount of active Dire Beasts, which could cause performance issues (it's possible to cause a slideshow if enough Hunters use Stampede as it is, for example). I will give the developers the benefit of the doubt in terms of whether the effect is balanced otherwise.
Mastery: Master of Beasts
Increases the damage done by your pets by 45% (with Mastery from typical gear).
Not much of a change here, though since Dire Beast is now a core ability for Beast Mastery and Wild Call will ensure that the Hunter has a few active beasts at a time, there will be a little more synergy and the Mastery will remain exceptionally useful.
Talent - Way of the Cobra - Passive
For every pet or guardian you have active, Cobra Shot deals an additional 5% damage.
This is an interesting mechanic that reminds me of Yorick from League of Legends. It ultimately creates a synergy between Cobra Shot and Beast Mastery's thematic, which is something this preview was otherwise sorely missing. I expect there will be more talents like this.


Overall I'm satisfied with the direction that Beast Mastery is going in terms of thematic. I am especially glad that Frenzy and Focus Fire make no appearance in the preview and I hope it stays that way, since the mechanic was a horrible example of RNG reliance. However, while the dynamic of the specialization gameplay is improved due largely to Wild Call, the specialization has otherwise retained a lot of its simplicity. I hope talents flesh out the gameplay a little further, but I think the specialization will play surprisingly similar to what was envisioned in my suggestions. Also, I'm hoping for a little more emphasis on the depth of the base Hunter pet interactions (as in the ones not summoned by Dire Beast, etc).


Since Survival was featured second, it's only appropriate to analyze it second. It is no secret that I have a problem with the overhaul that changes the specialization to a melee damage dealer, thus causing numerous issues detailed in the article I linked above. However, it wouldn't be fair to analyze the preview with an open mind, so let's see what the new Survival looks like so far:
Harpoon - 5-40 yd range, Instant, 15 sec cooldown
Hurl a harpoon at your target and pull yourself toward them, rooting them in place for 3 sec.
The Survival Hunter gap closer is very comparable to Charge with some major differences. First of all, the range is 40 yards instead of 25 (which could be increased with glyphs but not to 40). Second of all, the cooldown is shorter without accounting for talents. Third of all, the root is longer without accounting for talents. I also suspect there may be a talent for Survival Hunters that modifies the ability. To put it another way, this is essentially a very souped up version of Charge.
Raptor Strike - 20 Focus, Melee Range, Instant.
A vicious slash, dealing moderate Physical damage.
Pretty standard Focus dump ability. It costing 20 Focus instead of 30 fits the idea of Survival having no direct method of generating Focus.
Laceration - 35 Focus, Melee Range, Instant, 10 sec cooldown
Tear a wound in the target, dealing heavy damage over 12 sec.
This looks like Survival's new signature move, serving as a throwback the Vanilla WoW's 31-point Hunter talent. I especially liked the dev note for this ability, which somewhat allays any fear of it being terrible somehow. With that said, why does the damage over time last for 12 seconds when the cooldown is 10? Does that mean the remaining damage will get rolled into the next debuff if it's reapplied, because otherwise there's no reason to use this ability on cooldown, which is the general intention of signature abilities for Hunters. However, that may not be an issue because of...
Mongoose Bite - Melee Range, Instant, 10 sec recharge, 3 charges
A brutal attack, attempting to sever the enemy's limbs, dealing strong Physical damage. Each consecutive Mongoose Bite dealt within 3.5 sec of the last will deal 50% increased damage, stacking up to 6 times.
Mongoose Bite looks to be Survival's filler ability, which has a debuff management aspect that ensures that every few global cooldowns is used on the ability when possible. I hope that number is a placeholder though, or that there's a good reason to have the debuff ramp to 300% increased damage which is possible to reach with ease based on other abilities listed in the preview. Otherwise, I have a feeling Mongoose Bite will be the high priority ability to use.
Flanking Strike
20 Focus, Melee Range, Instant, 6 sec cooldown
You and your pet attack the target simultaneously, each dealing strong damage. If the target is attacking you, your pet's attack will deal 50% increased damage and threat. If not, your attack will deal 50% increased damage.
Much like the Survival of the present day, the new Survival also features a second signature move in the form of Flanking Strike. This one also provides some additional utility for solo play, though it's highly likely the Hunter will instead benefit from the increased damage as long as the pet can Growl. This is probably better since I can't really see the pet's damage bonus benefit being better than the Hunter's.
Wing Clip - 30 Focus, Instant
Maims the target, reducing their movement speed by 50% for 15 sec.
A signature control ability returns to the Hunter repertoire, but this time, with a significant cost. Considering how long of a duration the slow is (translates to 8 seconds in PvP, which is still quite long), the ability's only a little overpriced at the worst, which is good for Blizzard's standards.
Mastery: Hunting Companion
Your pet’s attacks have a 20% (with Mastery from typical gear) chance to grant you an additional charge of Mongoose Bite.
While this Mastery probably won't help to ensure Mongoose Bite consistently reaches 6 stacks, it helps to emphasize the importance of the ability. In addition, the effect seems cleverly designed in terms of making the RNG more controllable. In addition to Mastery increasing the chance of granting a Mongoose Bite charge, Haste will increase the frequency of the pet's attacks. thus increasing the amount of chances a charge is generated. Furthermore, Flanking Strike will also count as a pet attack, meaning that it can also generate a charge of Mongoose Bite, providing additional incentive to use the ability and giving the Hunter more of a feeling of control over the RNG.
Talent - Snake Hunter - Instant, 1 min cooldown
Instantly grants you 3 charges of Mongoose Bite.
This talent alone makes Mongoose Bite a lot more consistent in terms of reaching 6 stacks, though it won't ensure that the debuff is maintained for more than a few seconds without some Mastery procs. It's clearly a burst option talent oriented towards situations that require that sort of damage output. Thus, I suspect there will be an equivalent talent that makes maintaining Mongoose Bite a lot more consistent.


Survival shares some similarities with Beast Mastery in terms of having its gameplay heavily dictated by dynamic effects that can be controlled through a mix of secondary stat priorities and interaction. However, in the case of Survival I see some unhealthy design facets such as the possible burstiness of Mongoose Bite and what might shape out to be painfully slow gameplay assuming the Hunter's base regeneration of 4 Focus per second is retained for Survival with no chance to generate more without talents, which translates to a little over one Laceration on cooldown. With more base Focus regeneration the specialization will play more like an energy-based character with a gimmicky filler, though I guess it could be argued Hunter is effectively that to begin with.

My biggest problem is that the preview mentioned Survival will (continue to) make use of traps, yet none were mentioned in it. That doesn't bode too well, especially if the traps are unchanged from their moderate-length cooldown iterations that ensure their infrequent usage. I hope this was a fluke or that traps will be revealed to be a part of Survival in a major way in the future (perhaps in the form of talents?). On the other hand, Survival's gameplay is it is seems more or less complete in the same way Beast Mastery's is, so I have to wonder how traps would fit without seeming shoehorned in.


When I looked over the preview and saw Marksmanship at the end, I didn't realize I was in for a pleasant surprise. I guess Blizzard does listen... sort of.
Arcane Shot - 40 yd range, Instant
A quick shot that causes moderate Arcane damage, and generates 5 Focus.
Arcane Shot makes a return in a big way. While I was expecting this to be an instant Focus dump option, it is instead an instant shot that generates Focus, which in a way is a simplified version of my Shaft Shot suggestion. The intention of that suggestion was to make the gameplay of Marksmanship more enjoyable by creating a rhythm of alternating between instant cast and cast time abilities. Thus, I like this new iteration of Arcane Shot for Marksmanship.
Seek Vulnerabilities - Passive
Targets hit by your Arcane Shot and Multi-Shot have a chance to be marked with Hunter's Mark for 6 sec.
Hunter's Mark also makes a return, though it doesn't seem to have any effect but to allow the use of...
Marked Shot - 30 Focus, 40 yd range, Channeled
Rapidly fires a shot at up to 3 targets affected by Hunter's Mark, dealing strong Physical damage. Usable while moving. Also exposes vulnerability in the target, snaring them by 15%, and increasing Aimed Shot damage done to the target by 25%. Lasts 10 sec, and stacks up to 3 times.
Marked Shot looks to be the higher priority Focus dump for Marksmanship since the debuff increases the damage of Aimed Shot. I expect that Hunters will have to get 3 stacks of the effect up as soon as possible then maintain it as often as possible. It's also worth noting that this ability gives Marksmanship Hunters some AoE synergy since Multi-Shot also applies Hunter's Mark, though to further improve the synergy, the debuff could increase Multi-Shot damage as well.

However, the ability enables Marksmanship Hunters to become incredibly good at kiting since using Marked Shot frequently isn't going to be that much of a problem, allowing the slow to be maintained or reapplied often.
Aimed Shot - 50 Focus, 40 yd range, 1.5 sec cast
A powerful aimed shot that deals strong Physical damage.
It may seem like very little has changed, but the cast time reduction on Aimed Shot is a pretty big deal. It continues to fulfill the role of a Focus dump with a cast time.
Mastery: Sniper Training
Critical strike damage and range of all shots is increased by 12.5% (with Mastery from typical gear).
I'm really glad to see the little minigame of stutter stepping going away. It felt like a lousy attempt to compensate for what was otherwise simplistic Marksmanship gameplay. I feel it's a lot healthier to have decent gameplay based on the abilities available. Also, it's nice to see that the exponential scaling of increased damage done and increased crit damage done is going away as well.
Talent - Lock and Load - Passive
Attach an explosive charge to Aimed Shot, dealing strong additional Fire damage to the target and all enemies within 4 yds.
Your ranged auto attacks have a 5% chance to trigger Lock and Load, causing your next 2 Aimed Shots to cost no Focus and be instant.
It's nice to see that Lock and Load is staying in some form. The first passive is interesting since it adds further AoE utility to the Marksmanship specialization in the form of a very old iteration of Explosive Shot. The second passive is much like the old Lock and Load, though it shows how outdated the Lock and Load mechanic is given it's largely RNG reliant. While Haste and possibly Rapid Fire may help to improve the proc rate, I think it might make more sense to have Lock and Load also activate off of Marked Shot for synergy purposes.

On another note, I'm interested in what other talent options there will be.


I rather like the direction that Marksmanship is going. While a signature move seems to be missing since the available abilities are effectively one Focus generator and two Focus dumps, there may be more information in time. As it is, the gameplay boils down to a rather simplistic three-step priority, though one with interesting concepts behind it. The example talent also does a lot in the way of showing there will likely be some dynamic Marksmanship play. As long as it doesn't involve a mechanic like Master Marksman, I'm all for it.

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