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Scattered Shots: Hunter pets in Cataclysm

Brian Wood

Welcome to Scattered Shots, written by Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the Hunting Party Podcast. Each week Frostheim uses logic and science mixed with a few mugs of Dwarven Stout to look deep into the hunter class. Got hunter questions? Feel free to email Frostheim.

Throughout the years of WoW, hunter pets have grown better and better with each expansion. In the beginning they were a pain to train and level, and we were rewarded for that pain with a pet that died in every boss fight. But over time, our pets have grown steadily stronger, easier and more customizable. While we still have some pet issues, those issues are no longer that our pets are too weak.

Of course while we know how awesome and vital our pets have become, healers are still a few expansions behind on the learning curve. They continue to prioritize the tanks or themselves over our pets. But what are you gonna do? The healer's mind is an unfathomable thing -- after all, they rolled healers in the first place, which already establishes them as somewhat unstable. What I don't understand is why that nurturing impulse doesn't translate to adorably fluffy and cuddly minions of death.

So our pets are certified mini-killing machines now, but with that improvement new problems have cropped up. While we still don't know exactly what Cataclysm has in store for our pets, the recent hunter class preview gave us a peek at the direction that Blizzard may have in mind. So join me after the cut as we take a look at the current problem with hunter pets and the possible solution that Cataclysm may present.

The current hunter pet problem

Hunter pets are now more awesome than they have ever been in the history of WoW. Our pets have gone through various phases of normalization (it used to be that individual pets had different damage and attack speeds) and various phases of individualization, including the excellent pet talent trees we have now.

For a pleasant historical change, hunters are no longer complaining that their pets are useless, or die too easily, or contribute too little. But ... we're still complaining.

The problem now is this: everyone in PvE has the same pet. From heroics to raids, from SV to BM, all you see is the wolf. With 32 different pet families available to hunters in the game, most of us all use the same one. The reason is simply that the wolf's special gives us more DPS than other pets, and we all want to do as much DPS as we can.

Sure, if we want to solo or do pet tanking we'll grab something from the tenacity tree. If we want to PvP, odds are good that we'll pick up a cunning pet. But if we want to hit dungeons and raids, that means the ferocity tree, and while we might occasionally want a different pet, the obvious choice 90% of the time is going to be the wolf.

How we got here

First of all, we have to realize that this problem has always existed. Even back in vanilla, with our wee pets that were adorable and not much else, everyone still chose the pet that boosted their damage the most. But as the game has advanced, the player base and the resources available to us have advanced as well. The urge to min/max our DPS has always, always been there for raiders, but once upon a time most raiders didn't actually know which pet was the best and why.

I definitely think that players now have a better overall understanding of the game mechanics and their primary class than they used to. So it's not that more people are min/maxing than ever, it's that more people have access to the knowledge to do it successfully than ever.

Now take our three pet trees. Tenacity for soloing or tanking -- good variety of pets used there. Cunning for PvP -- again we see a good variety of pets used based on team strategies. Then we have ferocity, our DPS tree, from which raiders and dungeon runners will pull their pets.

Ghostcrawler has brought up the design team's frustrations here before. He pointed out, very accurately, that when players are min/maxing, they're all going to take the same pet, even if the pet is only a fraction of a percent better than the next best choice. After all, more damage is more damage, and we want to do more damage -- the most damage we possibly can, in fact. So as long as the pets' special attacks are different, theorycrafters will figure out which is best -- by no matter how small of a margin -- and that is the pet that everyone will use. It's virtually impossible to make very different abilities that will do exactly the same damage.

So the problem is either a.) pets all have unique special abilities, and 90% of the PvE population only uses the absolute best, or b.) you make all pets exactly the same, and the only difference between a cat and a wolf and a raptor is that they look different.

Frankly, neither of these sound great, do they?

The Cataclysm solution

First of all, let me stress again, we don't know exactly what Cataclysm will bring. However, the hunter class preview did give us a strong indication of a potential solution that Blizzard found -- neither option A or option B, but instead, a third direction. Here's the relevant tidbit:

Blizzard Class Previews
We are also changing many pet family abilities to provide important buffs and debuffs. The intention is to allow the hunter to be able to swap pets and fill a position if a certain role is missing from the group. The goal is to have all pets provide a damage increase that is very similar and no greater than any other pet. Some examples of the changes we are making to the pet families are listed below:
  • Wind Serpents: Will provide a debuff that increases the amount of spell damage taken by an enemy (similar to a weaker version of the warlock ability Curse of Elements).
  • Ravagers: Will provide a debuff that will increase an enemy's Physical damage vulnerability (similar to a weaker version of the warrior ability Blood Frenzy).
  • Hyenas: Will provide bleed damage (similar to a weaker version of the druid ability Mangle).

Personally, I think this is absolutely fantastic and a solution that lets us see a variety of pets in use and yet still have our pets with unique specials. Let's pay special attention to this quote: "The goal is to have all pets provide a damage increase that is very similar and no greater than any other pet."

Let's speculate for a bit on how this could be implemented:
  • Tenacity pets stay somewhat the same as what it is now. Some pet talents get tweaked here and there. Certainly our worm's Acid Spit will be reduced to match the new Sunder Armor (capping out at 12% damage reduction). Possibly if they continue the theme that pets duplicate buffs, only worse, the worm's sunder will be not quite as good.
  • Cunning pets also stays somewhat the same, with pet specials tweaked as needed. Again, of those using cunning pets, we see a pretty nice variety.
  • Ferocity pets get the big overhaul. As it is now, ferocity pets have their claw/bite/smack instant attack, but what if instead of another special attack that did more damage or increased hunter damage, every ferocity pet had a weaker version of a raid buff or debuff? We'd still want to use ferocity pets because their talent tree makes them the best DPS pets, but there would be no single "best" ferocity pet. We'd want to see what buffs/debuffs our raid was missing and then bring the pet to fill the biggest gap. This gives hunters phenomenal utility in 10-man raids and some 25-mans. In 25-man raids where every raid buff is present in its real form, we can then choose whichever pet we like the best.
In a system like this you can still have special damaging attacks for tenacity and cunning pets, because ferocity will still do more damage overall with their better DPS talents. We also don't worry about being too big of a buff class (and taking a DPS hit for our versatility), because all the buffs our pets provide are blatantly worse than the real version provided by player classes. Still, no 10-man raid has every raid buff or debuff, and hunter pets can make a nice difference with their toned-down version to fill in a gap. Raid leaders will be calling for hunters to bring their vital pets to the raid!

Who knows, maybe it'll even be enough that healers will finally notice Fluffy and toss a HoT his way.

Well okay, probably not.

You want to be a hunter, eh? You start with science, then you add some Dwarven Stout and round it off some elf bashing. The end result is massive DPS. Scattered Shots is the column dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. See the Scattered Shots Resource Guide for a full listing of vital and entertaining hunter guides, including how to improve your heroic DPS, understand the impact of skill vs. gear, get started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101, and even solo bosses with some extreme soloing.

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