The key to understanding hunters in the beta is to look at the big picture. This is something affecting all classes currently, but I'm going to discuss it in relation to hunters in particular. Beta testing buffs and nerfs ultimately come down to a matter of perspective -- do you see your class changes happening in isolation, for now and forever as long as you and your pet shall live? Or are your particular class changes happening as part of an ever-evolving system involving you, me and everyone else over time?
As you've probably heard, hunters got some nerfs in the latest beta update, and some people are understandably upset about them. I'm not worried about it though -- and now I'll tell you why.
First, let me reassure you that yes, nerfs suck. Yes, I agree that if our class went live today, it would probably suck too. Let's not argue about that. The reason why I'm not worried is because the class will not go live today, or even tomorrow. The change we see happening in the beta test is a process that happens in degrees, with a lot of back and forth, and with the ultimate goal of experimental learning rather than true playability at this point. It's going to go through a long long period (i.e. 2 months or more) of testing and refinement, after which the pace of changes will slow down to a crawl. Until then, there's no point in panicking.
So today, instead of looking at nitty gritty details and numbers that are going to change within a week or so, let's talk about the overall state of things, especially as they relate to problems we've been struggling with ever since the Burning Crusade arrived.
Hunters have been struggling with mana-shortages for a long time, especially at low levels. Looking at the proposed changes to date, it seems Blizzard has decided for sure that they will not scrap the hunter's mana system for something else like energy -- so it is written that casters we have been and casters we remain.
One thing we need to recognize when we acknowledge our caster-ness (casterocity? casterfication?) is that mana has to be a limited resource; that's to say, there always must be some danger of running out. The whole point of having power in a game is that your power is limited -- you have to manage it to maximum effeciency, and that's part of your skill with your class.
Blizzard has recognized that hunters are having trouble in the area of mana-regeneration, though, and have created several new talents that are designed to help us with that, in addition to overhauling Aspect of the Viper several times over. Don't like how our slithery aspect is looking in its current state? By all means, say so in a polite manner, but promise to quit the game over this -- chances are 98% that it'll change again (and again, and again) before you actually get to use it.
Blizzard has come through for us 110% here, and we should never forget it. With the new pet talent trees and wide diversity of pets available (including that extra ten percent, the exotic pets for Beast Masters), each pet has become, just as I once wished for, "like its own little mini-class," which we can "attach to our hunter for a unique hunting experience." This makes us about the most customizable class in the game, and we should never take that for granted (especially having been denied it for so long).
Pet training has always been an issue for us too. Now we never again have to go out and tame new pets just for the abilities we need to learn, because all pet abilities are learned automatically, or else through talents in their new talent trees. We also just have to level them up a maximum of 5 levels -- granted I would prefer it to be 0, but 5 is definitely a huge step in the right direction!
That topic you see just up there is Camouflaged. That's to illustrate how Camouflage is that special ability we've been promised, but still don't know anything about. It's hiding behind some bushes somewhere, I'm sure.
According to one poster on the beta forums, this is what the new Camouflage will look like:
Camouflage: You camouflage, causing you and your Pet to blend into your surroundings. After 3 sec., you will enter a stealthed state. While stealthed, you and your pet's movement speed is reduced by 30%, but the damage done by your next attack is increased by 50%. You can lay traps while under the effect, but any damage done by you or your pet will cancel the effect. Cannot be cast while in combat.
As far as I know, this version of Camouflage is not actually found anywhere in the game, and of course it isn't trainable. So we shouldn't really know what the ability will actually be like in the end. But this one is as good a suggestion as any. What do you think of it?
The big question on everyone's mind is, as Daniel put it, whether or not hunters can "finally crawl out of the Arena basement," but I have a lot more optimism than he does about our chances of getting a lot of our PvP functionality back in one way or another. Blizzard has said more than once that they want to be really sure they finally balance things for hunters, and I believe them when they say they're dedicated to that. From my understanding of Koraa's statements, I think this particular beta build had more to do with "balancing" the abilities on their spreadsheets more than in practical reality. As Ghostcrawler says, they have a scientific approach to all this where they try to keep numerous factors in mind, and go over everything in progressive stages. They've been purposely adjusting things too high in the beginning, too low for now, and then high again/low again as different circumstances within the continuing beta evolve.
Line of Sight
One particular PvP issue that hasn't been addressed at all is Line of Sight. Koraa mentioned once that they were going to add "two new abilities" to help with this issue, but we still haven't seen what those are yet. Our reliance on both distance and line of sight means that chasing people around those pillars is just hell for us -- we're always either too close or just around the corner.
I'm still hoping for some sort of homing-missile ability that can shoot around pillars. It would take 4 seconds or something to charge up, and it would have a cooldown, but it would really help in situations like that. I could also see how that would be too much, however. But what other sorts of abilities would really help with our Line of Sight issues? Some hunters have suggested that we should be able to shoot at point blank range, but for me that would take away some of the uniqueness of our class. Are the new abilities we've gotten so far enough to help us out here, without any more extra abilities (assuming they're buffed up enough to be useful)?
So those are some of the issues we're looking at here -- where we've come from and where we're going. There really is some good and some bad. The nerfs of the latest patch suck, yes, but they're not all there is to our situation, they're just the latest stage in a progressive series of adjustments. If we get too upset about whether specific details go live or not, we may miss out on the larger picture of the broader issues our class still needs addressed.