Not to go all Grandpappy Frostheim on you guys, but wow, has hunter AoE evolved a lot since vanilla days! Back then we had in theory a few AoE abilities, but in practice, we had none. Explosive Trap did poor damage, couldn't be launched, and couldn't be dropped while in combat. Multi-Shot hit three targets and was on a cooldown (and was a core part of our single-target rotation). We also had Volley, which did incredibly crummy damage, couldn't crit, and was on a long cooldown.
By Wrath, volley was a monster of massive AoE DPS on no cooldown, but all we did in AoE situations was push the one button and sit back and watch the numbers tick. While this was great for DPS, it was also fairly dull and meant that there was no skill component to AoE DPS. The worst players could manage to click Volley and watch as well as the best. So Blizzard decided to make our AoE a bit more engaging in Cataclysm and turned it into what we know now.
In Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard is once again turning up the knob on our AoE, giving us more AoE abilities than ever before. In Mists there will be a very real skill component to hunter AoE.
More doesn't mean more
The first thing that you need to understand about the awesome new suite of AoE abilities is that more abilities does not necessarily mean more DPS. It could mean better burst AoE DPS, but our flat-out, sustained AoE DPS isn't going to get tons better.
This is simply a matter of game balance. Our overall AoE DPS can get a bit better and it can get a bit worse -- but too much better or too much worse compared to the other classes will trigger a buff or nerf to bring it in line.
In this sense the Wrath Volley was in many ways the ideal execution for raw AoE DPS: Click and sit there and watch it all happen for you (as long as you can stand still, of course). The increased AoE toolbox of Mists AoE means more complexity but also more opportunity for skilled DPS to shine -- and that's the kind of thing that gets me excited!
What we got now
Of the AoE toolbox that hunters have now, the vast majority of it, we'll still have and will still use the same way that we do now. This is:
- Multi-Shot will remain our AoE staple for delivering ranged death to multiple targets. The only change is that we can shoot them in the face with the removal of minimum range.
- Explosive Trap is staying on as an AoE DoT effect that we can launch or drop at our feed -- except launching will be easier with the change of trap launcher to a toggled ability. Additional Explosive Trap ticks for SV will no longer trigger Lock & Load procs.
- Serpent Spread for SV Multi-Shot will still apply Serpent Sting to all their targets, dealing extra initial damage and DoTing them all up.
- AoE pets (worm and chimera) are almost certainly losing their AoE abilities. This is the one aspect of current hunter AoE that will be going away in Mists.
The new hunter AoE abilities come mostly in the form of new talents; however, there are also a couple of spec-specific abilities to further boost AoE. These are:
- Beast Cleave BM hunters have access to Beast Cleave, which will allow their pets' melee attacks to cleave around to nearby targets for 5 seconds after the hunter fires Multi-Shot. This makes Bestial Wrath AoE an awesome thing, and it also means that BM hunters will really want to AoE with pets on Assist and not Passive, since you want to be sure that your pet is always attacking and not trying to head back to your side every time an AoE mob dies.
- Black Arrow SV's Black Arrow is changing to apply the DoT effect to all targets in the path of Black Arrow when it's fired. This is particularly awesome when you can line up groups of mobs between you and the boss and toss Black Arrow on the boss to pass through AoE targets. With the new 2-second cast time of Black Arrow, this isn't going to be a regular for all AoE situations, but skilled hunters will assuredly find opportunities to make it work, particularly for very large groups of mobs where this gives you another separate ability to count against the AoE cap.
- Glaive Toss Your hurl two glaives at a target in front of you, dealing 1,000 damage to all enemies between you and the target and reducing their movement speed by 50%. The glaives will return back to you, also dealing damage and snaring targets they hit. If the Glaive Toss hits at least two enemies in both directions, the cooldown is reset.
- Powershot You wind up a powerful shot that deals 100% weapon damage to the target and all enemies in between you and the target. Enemies hit by Powershot are also knocked back.
- Barrage: 40 focus, channeled. Rapidly fire a spray of shots forward for 3 seconds, dealing a total of 288% weapon damage to the target and an average 72% weapon damage to each other nearby target.
Glaive Toss is a perfect ability for situations where slowing is needed; however, it's unlikely that you'll manage to catch all the mobs in an AoE group with it. It's another ability that is great when you can line the mobs up between you and the boss, however. And even without the boss, a skilled hunter should be able to target a back mob and use Glaive Toss, then strafe to the side so that the ability hits a different chunk of mobs on the way back. And of course, Multi-Shotting while strafing.
Barrage is a channeled ability, and the new Aspect of the Fox will allow hunters to move while channeling Barrage. The interesting aspect of Barrage is that it does so much more damage to the primary target, making it an ability that is truly intended to take down a main target surrounded by lesser priority enemies. It will be very interesting when the damage numbers start to settle down later in beta to see how the DPS per target of Barrage compares to Multi-Shot and whether the damage to the main target counts against the AoE cap or not. I'm not completely convinced that the balance of the two will work out; it's possible that one of them will just math out to be the best.
It's also worth noting that the new level 75 talent Lynx Rush is kind of an AoE ability; it makes your pet rapidly charge from target to target, attacking nine times over 4 seconds. This isn't a higher amount of DPS in AoE than it is on single targets, but it does distribute the damage nicely over a bunch of targets. Your Stampede will likely all focus on a single target.
From what I'm seeing right now, it looks like hunter AoE in Mists is going to be more situational, allowing the fast-thinking and prepared hunter a better opportunity to shine. The basic AoE rotation isn't much changed (trap and Multi-Shot), but this is added to with other abilities that can be more or less useful than the base at specific times. Perhaps in some cases, a SV hunter will be better off channeling Barrage, for example, and just using Multi-Shot often enough to keep Serpent Stings up on all the targets. BM will certainly benefit from awesome burst AoE, with Bestial Wrath boosting pet damage and Beast Cleave damage while halving the cost of Multi-Shot (and Readiness and do it again!). MM is probably the least changed -- though it still has the level 90 AoE decision to make about which ability will do the most damage in what situations. Glaive Toss in particular will reward hunters who can make the best use of their targeting and movement skills to maximize the damage done.
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter and choosing the best patch 4.2 gear to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. If you're stuck in one of the nine support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?