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Cataclysm Beta: Hunter talent overhaul

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.

As promised, Blizzard has completed a massive overhaul of the talent system in the Cataclysm beta. It's a change of biblical proportions: only 31 points to the bottom of the trees, no more Mortal Shots, no more Hawk Eye, Explosive Shot for free at level 10, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!

A lot of what we're seeing right now looks a little bit crude. We have vastly different numbers of talents in different trees as well as some truly odd choices of what talents remain and which ones were removed. Suffice it to say (as we always say), this is just the beta; this is a first implementation of the new talent system, and expect many changes moving forward.

Join me after the cut for a complete look at what the talent system overhaul is currently doing for hunters in the beta.

Talent specialization benefits

At level 10 when you get your first talent point, you'll be asked to specialize in one tree. Thereafter, you can only put talent points into your specialization tree until you get to the very bottom of the tree (which you'll reach at level 70). However, once you choose your tree, you'll get a free, super-awesome ability right there at level 10. In concept, this should be something that will really give you the feel of your tree and will scale with your level appropriately.
The most interesting effect of this is that Aimed Shot will now be exclusive to the MM spec. No other tree will have access to this shot any longer. However, Aimed Shot is not really a part of the MM rotation; at best, it's used as an opener until we reach the Master Marksman talent deep in the tree and have a chance to proc free instant Aimed Shots every now and then. Only SV gets a shot that is actually the defining shot of the tree.

Implementation is somewhat hit and miss

While I was very excited about this idea -- giving spec-defining abilities to hunters at level 10 -- I'm a bit disappointed in the current implementation.

The reason I was so excited about this change is I felt that it would be a very good tool for teaching new hunters who are just leveling about their tree and class. Currently, the leveling system does not do a very good job of teaching hunters how to play their spec. Take a look at what your rotation is at level 80. The cornerstones of those rotations for MM and SV are not available until very high levels, so throughout the learning process the hunter is not given the most important tools they'll need when they reach the end game. They're not being taught how to play their spec; they're being taught something else, some half-formed rotations that they'll have to unlearn when they get to the end game.

Don't get me wrong: We're making big improvements on the hunter education already in Cataclysm. Pets are there from level 1. Steady Shot is there at level 3, which is a massive improvement. But what about the defining shots?

Blizzard has already identified the signature abilities of each spec in Cataclysm: Explosive Shot for SV, Chimera Shot for MM and Kill Command for BM. Let's try to focus on those! Let's take a look at the blueprint for each hunter spec at level 85 and then see how the leveling process trains them to do well at that.

For SV, Explosive Shot is spot on the money. We're there. Get them used to this shot for a while, then around level 30, they can buy their way into Lock & Load, then T.N.T. at 40. Now they're really getting used to the cornerstone of the SV rotation. SV is an example of fantastic implementation of the new system.

But Aimed Shot for MM? The MM Cataclysm rotation is all about refreshing Serpent Sting with Chimera Shot. With the shorter duration of Serpent Sting and the need to have focus set aside for the second Chimera Shot becomes available, this is a skill that we need teach upcoming MM hunters. As it is now this defining ability, their signature shot, will not be available to them until level 70.

BM is a tough call, I'll admit that, since the signature ability isn't specific to the BM tree. BM's Cataclysm rotation, as we discussed, is going to be all about converting Frenzy stacks into haste via Focus Fire and Kill Command. All of these abilities are (again) available fairly high up in the tree, so the leveling BM hunter will get to them on his own soon enough. Intimidation is certainly a good leveling talent for soloing, but I think every BM hunter would agree that Bestial Wrath feels more like a defining ability of the BM hunter. Let them get their big red pet on! Let them show off their pet out of the gate. However, this is really a matter of cool factor and not a matter of improving the intuitive learning experience, as it is with MM.

The talents

You can see the new hunter talent trees over at MMO-Champion.

Blizzard shared a couple of design goals with us regarding the talent system overhaul. The designers want to simplify the talent trees, to remove the boring talents that no one ever takes and also to remove many of the passive and must-have talents. They also wanted talents to be cooler and more desirable in general, so you aren't getting a new talent point and putting it in another 1% increase to crit, for example. Of course, we also have the earlier stated goal of giving some more choice in talents -- so there isn't necessarily a cookie-cutter build for each spec down to the very last talent point.

I think the perfect world implementation would provoke a mental conversation like this:
Hmm ... this talent is really cool!

Oh, but so is this one. I can see that being awesome in this situation I often find myself in.

Whoa! But look at that one -- that is awesomesauce! I must have it too!

Oh god, I can only get one of them! They're all so good ... I want them all. I can't decide between the shiny hunter goodness! Damn you, Ghostcrawler!
In a perfect implementation, you have more totally awesome talents that you want than you have talent points, and the advantage of those talents can't be boiled down into a mathematical formula to give you the right answer for every situation. This means that the talents would inherently have to be somewhat situational. A perfect example is the current Hawk Eye talent. The extra range is sweet, but no one takes it because there are mathematically superior DPS options. But what if our choice was between Hawk Eye and a talent that boosted our stamina? Now both are useful in different ways, but you can't mathematically prove which is best. In fact, the best choice probably depends on your individual play style -- a perfect situation.

Unfortunately, I think the first draft of the hunter talent trees provoked a mental conversation more like this one:
Eh, they left that one in?

Blah, I suppose that maybe, sometime, that talent could possibly useful.

Whatever, I'll just toss the points wherever so I can get down to something that I might actually care about.
I'm particularly surprised to see talents like Dazzled Prey still in there, as that certainly must qualify as one of those talents that no one ever took. Furthermore, our Hawk Eye range extension talent was removed -- if I have to take a talent that isn't a flat DPS advantage, that is a fantastic one. I'm also saddened that we don't see a stamina boost options anymore -- with mana mattering for our healers, that could be a legitimate choice for a non-DPS talent.

But again, this is just the very first implementation of the new talent system, and we can hope that these improve.

Did our DPS go down due to this change?

This question is a tough one to answer because of the mastery system. Previous to this beta patch, the mastery system was in effect. As far as I can tell despite constantly getting booted with "World Server Down" notices, the mastery system is not in effect now. So in addition to the talent changes, we're also looking at all that mastery goodness having temporarily gone away.

In target dummy tests, hunter DPS is vastly lower than it was before the change. Every shot is doing less damage, and the loss of the Mortal Shots talent makes our crit damage plummet. No longer will Aimed Shot one-shot everything in its path. I went from Aimed Shot crits averaging 24k on the dummy before the patch to averaging 16k now (level 80).

However, despite the loss of well over 1,000 DPS on the target dummy, a level 80 hunter in the same endgame Wrath gear is still doing more DPS in the Cataclysm beta than in Wrath. Our DPS is still going up, even without mastery implemented.

As a final note, I should point out that the namesake of this column you're reading, Scatter Shot, is no longer a talent. Is is now a base ability trainable by all hunters.

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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