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Cataclysm Class Changes: Hunter analysis

Brian Wood

After days of watching other classes cheer and complain over their Cataclysm class previews, we finally got a chance for a look into what Blizzard has planned for us with the hunter class previews. Like a good first date, it leaves us excited and intrigued with the possibilities, but mostly it leaves us wanting more!

Let's roll up our sleeves and both take a deeper look at what these changes mean for the best-looking class in WoW and just how much more we hope to see on our second date.

Before we get started though, we have to be sure to keep our reactions in context. Everything is getting rebalanced in Cataclysm, every number for every class and every stat. We cannot look at these changes through our Wrath experience. Since we do not yet know how the numbers will play out with every class and spec being rebalanced, we cannot say whether our damage will go up or down compared to other classes or specs. We just have no idea, so we can only look at these changes with the assumption that our DPS will be equivalent to any other class in most situations.

We'll also be using the Frostheim rating system to evaluate each of the changes, ranging from FAIL to Awesomesauce.

New Abilities: Meh

Our new abilities seem more targeted at filling the quality of life or "neat!" roles rather than filling in gaps in the class. Cobra Shot is certainly interesting for PvP, but in PvE where boss armor is normalized, hunters will just figure out which shot does more damage (Steady or Cobra) and only ever use that shot. As an aside, Cobra Shot shares a cooldown with Steady Shot ... which doesn't have a cooldown. We can be pretty sure that they aren't adding a cooldown to steady and this is just Blizzard mis-speaking.

The trap launcher, something we've heard about before, is a big hit in the "neat" category. Flinging any trap of our choosing, and off of the global cooldown, is sweet and has a lot of situational uses. However, it doesn't have much in the way regular uses in most of our boss fights. Question on this ability: the cooldown is one minute, longer than our trap cooldown -- that's fine and makes sense. But if I "launch" a trap and 50 seconds later I drop a trap normally ... in 10 seconds, my trap-launching cooldown is free, but my trap is on cooldown. Can I still launch? (I know, I know, probably not, but I can dream).

Camouflage is another ability that we've heard about in the distant past and is another neatish ability with a lot of PvP uses. In fact, with the new Careful Aim that BM is getting, you can almost see the old "Shadowmeld / 3 sec Aimed Shot opener" from vanilla strat coming back (except, you know, you won't be invisible or stealthed). I dig Camouflage and I can totally see lots of neat little uses for it -- just like I have lots of neat little uses for my Nitro Boosts -- but again, it's not really changing our PvE play significantly. After all, if anything is attacking us in PvE, we've done something horribly wrong.

So while I have no problems with our new abilities -- there's nothing bad about them, they're all good -- I just can't get really excited about it since their PvE impact is so minimal. I would be more interested if they found a way to make Cobra Shot something that we actually made decisions about in PvE, but I'm pretty convinced that we'll always use one or the other (and BM will always just use Cobra). On the other hand, if you PvP, Cobra Shot and Camouflage are going to be excellent new tools for the toolbox and give you more depth of strategy!

Focus: Too soon to tell

I appreciate that they gave us a bit more specifics on how focus will work; however, we really aren't going to be able to tell anything until we get in there and start pressing buttons to get a feel for it. On the surface it looks painful -- 12 focus/second while casting our filler, 45 focus for our cheapest DPS shot. It sounds to some like four three Steady Shots for every one any other shot -- at a minimum.

But that's just the surface.

We have to keep in mind there's a lot of other things adjusting our focus regen. MM will be able to reduce the focus cost of shots with efficiency (and hopefully they make that talent worthwhile), SV will have big focus regen with their crits, and BM ... well, so far, no evidence that they won't just prefer to spam Steady Shot (Cobra Strike now) most of the time still. Also keep in mind that all hunters will increase their rate of focus regeneration with the newly awesome haste stat.

I predict that once we have some decent gear, focus is going to be just fine for us. The big difference is our rotations will be more interwoven. Right now, we just unload everything up front and then sit around and Steady Shot until something is free. In Cataclysm, I suspect it will be only one or two big shots, followed by a couple of Steady Shots, etc. Hopefully we'll be using the same number of Steady Shots -- just they won't be all clumped together. I suspect this is the design goal, personally.

I do hope that they don't accidentally balance things so that the new Viper Sting ends up being a must-have for the bonus focus regen. I hope it's still a niche role sting, with Serpent Sting remaining our go-to sting. I'm picturing Viper Sting something that you use when Volleying trash, for example, to keep the focus you need for rolling Volleys. Of course there's also always the strategy of putting Viper Sting on the add while you're DPSing away on the boss. I wouldn't be surprised to see in PvP that you almost always want Viper Sting up for the constant stream of focus.

I do have to say that I'm incredibly disappointed to see that they put a 30 focus cost on Disengage. This is a completely reactionary ability that we use to get out of oh pants situations. And keep in mind, the majority of the time you need to disengage, you're in (or about to be in) melee, so you won't have Steady Shot to boost your focus regen. It's very easy to see situations like, "OMG the warrior/rogue/other godless melee class just closed one me and snared me ... I guess I'll hang around for five seconds until I can jump away. Oh, never mind. I'm dead." We also use Disengage a lot in PvE, and similarly unless we're leaving a 30-focus cushion at all times, we just usually won't have the focus when we need it. Unlike most shots, waiting a couple seconds for the focus we need is not an option when we need to press the Disengage button. When you need it, you need it this instant. I very much hope they remove the focus cost from this.

Ammo: FAIL

Don't get me wrong here: Just flat removing ammo is a quality of life improvement. We no longer have to suffer as the only class in the game that has to pay gold for every attack we make (in addition to our durability hit). But ... there were so many possibilities here. So many incredibly cool things that they could have done with ammo.

I do wish Blizz had taken the opportunity to make ammo a defining hunter slot rather than just, well, nothing at all. I know I'm not alone on this one.

Pets: Awesomesauce

Hunters will effectively get more pet stable slots, while getting fewer that they actually "carry around" with them. We don't know the exact number yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see our total number of pet storage slots going up to around 10. This is good news for hunters who like to collect pets, especially the rare spirit beasts, and falls into the quality of life category.

The real awesome change comes in their goal of making more pet abilities provide redundancy in various raid buffs and debuffs. This is a brilliant way of encouraging pet variety and something that we've talked about on the Hunting Party Podcast a couple of times before. The idea here is that pets will all have about the same DPS gain; however, if you're missing the bleed debuff, the minor armor debuff, or what have you, you can be the hero of the raid by filling in whatever is needed with your pet slot. And best of all, you (hopefully) won't be gimping your own personal DPS to do so. Though just to be clear here, even if it was a personal gimp, we'd be happy to do it anyway for the good of the raid.

Most awesome new pet that we won't be seeing in Cataclysm: "Mechanical Destroyer" providing the Heroism buff.

Stings affected by crit and haste: Awesomesauce

Really, what's not to love here? Other than perhaps wanting it now so I can retire my tier 9 set.

Hunter mastery bonuses: Too soon to tell

I have no complaints at all about our mastery bonuses, and I think some of them look pretty cool. However, we just don't have enough data to really be able to evaluate them. I will say that I think the mastery system in general is fantastic and I love the idea of taking a lot of the boring must-have passive boosts out of our talent trees.

BM gets haste and pet damage. The pet damage is exactly what everyone predicted, and the haste fits one of the themes of the tree, and will also increase their focus regen ... though they may be the tree that needs the focus regen the least.

MM gets armor pen and double shot. Keep in mind that while armor penetration is being removed as a stat in Cataclysm, the mechanic will still be in the game. Just like in vanilla, we didn't have an ArP stat, but warriors still had Sunder Armor to put on their target, so too in Cataclysm. This armor pen bonus is almost certainly going to make MM hunters prefer Steady Shot over Cobra Shot as their filler shot. Right now the information on double shot is really vague. It sounds pretty similar to the current MM talent, Wild Quiver.

SV gets ranged crit damage and elemental damage. The ranged crit damage just means that when you crit, your crits are bigger, and this fits in nicely with SV's current role as having the highest short-term burst DPS. The elemental damage is a little more vague and we can expect to see a clarification on this soon. Does that mean that those abilities will do damage of all schools? Will they do more damage than normal, or just be harder to resist? It's not very clear right now what this mastery bonus means.

The Cataclysm hunter: Awesomesauce

Hunters are a ranged physical DPS class with the largest variety and strongest pets in the game. We are also the greatest and best-looking class in the game. Neither of those will be changing in Cataclysm. Looking at the mastery bonuses and other changes, it's looking right now like the hunter trees might be defined something like this:

  • Beast Mastery Big on pet damage with the pet likely making up about 30% of combined DPS. BM will be the machine gun tree with the fastest rate of fire. It still looks like they'll be content to hang out and spam their Cobra Shot button most of the time. A lot of Cataclysm changes also push BM into a stronger and stronger PvP role, especially in arenas where the new tools in the hunter toolbox come in particularly handy.
  • Marksman The physical damage tree, getting far more damage from physical damage than any other hunter spec. MM are likely to also be the focus-starved tree unless the Efficiency talent is really, really buffed up. MM has less to be excited about in the announced changes than any other tree, which is perhaps fitting since they're currently the unquestioned top DPS spec.
  • Survival The magical damage tree, getting more damage than ever from magical attacks. Survival is more and more the hunter-mage and looks to also enjoy the most passive focus regen. Survival will likely continue to have the biggest short-term burst damage potential and will love critting more than ever. Since we are unlikely to ever have crit rates as high as we do in Wrath again, crit is going to be an increasingly attractive stat for SV.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it. Nothing will be the same. In's Guide to Cataclysm you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion. From Goblins and Worgens to Mastery and Guild changes, it's all there for your cataclysmic enjoyment.

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