The Twilight Cult is on the move, the elementals are invading, and it's only a matter of time until the elven lands start burning while the dwarves giggle from their mountain strongholds. Cataclysm is coming.
It's time to start looking forward and planning our leveling experience. I want to stress as strongly as possible right at the outset that hunters are very easy to level. With our trusty pets at our sides, we're an unstoppable tanking/DPS/healer combo. Every hunter spec can level through solo content very easily. That said, we're going to be focusing on the absolute most efficient way of leveling from 80 to 85.
Join me after the cut as we dig into the talent spec, glyphs, pets, and what you need to know about gear to optimize your Cataclysm leveling.
Frostheim's recommended Cataclysm leveling spec
Historically, the hunter leveling spec of choice has always been beast mastery. BM offered us vastly stronger pets that could take more punishment and were better at holding aggro. Well, Cataclysm is changing that. Most of the BM pet-enhancing talents went away with the shortened talent trees, and while BM pets are a bit stronger that other specs, the difference is no longer as great.
Furthermore, we don't really care about our pet's ability to hold aggro anymore because of our new glyph options. So with pets of all specs able to take about the same level of punishment and threat not an issue, we get to look to other specs and see what they have to offer.
Here's what I recommend for the fastest leveling experience:
Marksman has two things going for it that gives it the leveling edge over the other specs. First, it has the largest self-heal available to hunters with Chimera Shot -- and I should note that Chimera Shot will do a lot more damage in 4.0.3 than it does now, having been buffed a couple of times in the beta. Sure, BM can get some passive healing through Spirit Bond, but it's less than Chimera -- and hey, any spec can go down and pick up Spirit Bond, too.
But the big advantage of MM for leveling is the second one: focus efficiency. MM hunters have two talents that let them DPS non-stop, almost never needing to hit a Steady Shot. The combination of Rapid Killing and Rapid Recuperation means that every time you kill a mob, you'll instantly regen half your focus bar. In the few seconds it takes to find a new target to kill, you'll have more than enough focus to burn that target down as well.
MM has some smaller benefits as well, just as every tree does. Marked for Death means MM doesn't need to waste time applying Hunter's Mark (which provides a lot more attack power as you level). Silencing Shot is handy, especially in conjunction with the major glyph (more on that later).
As always with leveling builds, there's a lot of room for customization for your playstyle. Those points in Spirit Bond can also be excellently employed in Pathfinding, and if you plan on doing a lot of 5-mans, you'll probably want Improved Steady Shot.
How to kill things fast: the solo rotation
A common mistake that's made while leveling is using abilities that are unnecessary. In Wrath, this meant that you'd run out of mana sooner and have to spend more time in Viper, but in Cataclysm, this means that you'll run out of focus before your mob is dead and possibly not have enough focus to kill the next one.
Your leveling rotation is incredibly simple: Use Misdirection on your pet, then use Chimera Shot or Arcane Shot and keep shooting until your target is dead. When you start leveling from 80 to 85, things will die incredibly quickly -- often in just one or two shots. As you get to higher-level mobs, it will take more and more time.
Also, when you start leveling, you'll probably often skip the MD entirely and just blast things away -- not even bothering to wait for your pet to reach the target. But again, at levels 84 to 85, the mobs get much tougher, and you'll need the MD and the pet -- and possibly even a Steady Shot or two!
Serpent Sting is rarely worth using when soloing. It needs a lot of time before it does more damage than the cheaper Arcane Shot would have done, and the mobs don't generally live that long. Likewise, Kill Command is not used as part of the MM soloing toolkit.
Customizing your leveling hunter
If you're going to do any tweaking with your stats, just keep in mind that haste rating is going to be horrible for leveling, and you're very quickly going to need tons more hit rating. When you're only firing two or three shots to kill something, you are seeing virtually no benefit from haste -- just the miniscule amount of focus regen boost (about 0.04 focus per second for every 1 percent haste).
At level 80, you need about 31 hit rating to get a 1 percent increase to your hit chance. At level 85, you'll need 121 hit rating to get that same 1 percent. That means that to reach the hit cap at level 85, you'll need 961 hit rating.
Other stats are still useful, and agility is your best stat.
Your leveling pet
Your pet choice doesn't matter a whole lot while leveling. For your first couple of levels, your pet won't even be helping all that much as you burn things down. That said, as you approach higher-level mobs, you will likely want a tenacity pet of your choice with some defensive pet talents. Those high-level mobs hit hard.
Note for those planning to level as BM: Do not use a worm pet. Its Burrow Attack ability now causes it to be removed from the aggro table entirely -- so when it burrows, all the mobs leave the worm's area and head for you.
Your glyph choices when leveling usually doesn't matter as much as in raiding. Since you're using a very different toolbox while soloing, many of the glyphs that give you big DPS advantages on a boss fight are only of negligible use. On the other hand, we do get big benefit of some major glyph slots that normally wouldn't help us nearly as much.
- Your choice
The Silencing Shot glyph is also very useful. Silencing Shot is not on the global cooldown, so you can fire it at casters any time it's available to interrupt their spell and instantly regen 10 focus. How is this not a good deal?
Where to level
Your leveling path is pretty straightforward in Cataclysm. You'll find that you get to 81 very quickly and to 82 fairly quickly after that. Beyond that, the levels start to really take time and you can eat through an entire zone of questing without gaining a level.
You will start in either Mt. Hyjal or Vashj'ir; they're both equal-level starting zones for level 80s. Personally, I think there's no question but that Vashj'ir is a much, much better built zone with more interesting quests and a gorgeous design. You have to get used to the underwater 3-D aspect, but you do get a permanent buff by your second quest that lets you breathe and move at normal speed underwater. Later on, you get a seahorse 280 percent speed underwater mount!
That said, I've heard some people talk about how Mt. Hyjal has some kind of important lore things (which I ignore) that they were really looking forward to. But ignoring lore, Hyjal is clearly the inferior zone.
The other new zones have minimum level requirements. Here's the skinny:
- Mt. Hyjal: Available at 80
- Vashj'ir: Available at 80
- Deepholm: Requires level 82
- Uldum: Requires level 83
- Twilight Highlands: Requires level 84
Don't worry about gear
As you level, you are going to replace your gear -- especially by the last couple of levels. Don't stress out too much about what gear is better. Just remember that your current gear is likely enchanted and gemmed, and it's rarely worth it to bother enchanting or gemming the gear that you get while leveling until you're 85. So a potential upgrade needs to be better than the current gear plus better than the enchants/gems you have on it.
Once you hit 85, you'll then want to start collecting a decent set of blue gear that you'll use to take on heroics -- which are much harder for a starting 85 than Wrath heroics were, by the way. Cheap gems and enchants are probably good for that gear; then put the good stuff in your heroic gear.
We'll be going over level 85 starting gear more carefully in the future, but that's a discussion for another time.
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. Our Scattered Shots Resource Guide takes aim at everything from improving your heroic DPS, understanding the impact of skill vs. gear, and getting started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101.