The first WoW panel has come and gone at the Worldwide Invitational. It was focused on class abilities in WoTLK, and there was some absolutely juicy stuff, especially for Hunters. As the proud player of a 70 Hunter, I'm feeling amazingly awesome about my class right now. Two of the biggest, most universal Hunter complaints have not only been answered, but answered in a way that I think a lot of Hunter players are going to be incredibly excited about.
Steady Shot Clipping
First up, it looks like Shot Rotations as we know them will soon become a thing of the past, or at least be incredibly simplified, as Steady Shots will no longer clip Auto Shots. This is actually an issue that has gained some blue post love in the past, but it's nice to see it so directly confronted and dealt with.
There may still be a shot rotation of a type for fitting in Arcane Shot and various stings, but it looks like Hunter DPS will no longer be a complicated dance of weapon speed, haste rating, macros, and server latency. That in itself is amazing news.
Pet Talent Trees and Uniqueness
One of the other major complaints of Hunters is the lack of pet diversity. It is generally expected that if you are min-maxing, you will go for a Cat, Ravager, or Scorpid and nothing else, because they are the only pet families that have the right combination of ability and DPS to get their jobs done. Some pet classes, like Sporebats, languished due to a complete lack of useful family skills.
That will be changing in WoTLK, as the pet skill system is being done away with for a pet talent system. Every pet family will have a set of talent trees, similar to player characters: A Utility tree, a Tank tree, and a DPS tree, which will contain unique abilities for each family.
It's definitely an ambitious undertaking, especially since they will apparently add new pet families in WoTLK, but if they can pull it off, hopefully we'll see a lot more unique and offbeat pets again. A lot will depend, of course, if the system of certain pet families having base bonuses to DPS, armor, or health remains. If it does, some pets will probably still have an edge even with talents and be widely used. Still, the talent system at least means you can customize your pets very extensively, which should allow for differing play styles and preferences when using pets for Hunters.
There's also the question of just how effective the tanking trees is. I can't imagine Hunter pets tanking in raids, if only because raid encounters will likely require reaction and real time tactics that a pet couldn't handle well. However, if the Tank tree means a pet can tank in normal 5-mans, it could make Hunters more desirable for groups and help the tank shortage that Blizzard acknowledged in the panel when talking about Death Knights. In addition, if the tanking tree allows for meaningful HP and damage avoidance boosts, it could help pets survive longer in groups and raids even when not tanking.
If Blizzard pulls off these changes, I can say with certainty that it will be an awesome time to be a Hunter. Hunter DPS will no longer be at the mercy of server latency, and our pets will feel more like a solid part of the class by being more versatile and survivable. It's really comforting to know that Blizzard has been listening to our concerns on these issues. Hopefully, as WoTLK draws closer, or maybe even before WWI ends, we'll hear if they heard us on PvP and pet stable slots as well.