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Scattered Shots: Improving the hunter BM talent tree

Brian Wood
Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Mail your hunter questions to Frostheim.

Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) recently posted a fascinating Developer Watercooler with a review of the Cataclysm talent tree changes. In it, he suggested that for the most part, the talent tree changes were successful, while acknowledging there were still some disappointments. But at the end, he said this:

Ghostcrawler - Lead Systems Designer
In the meantime, this is a great topic for further discussion. Players like to evaluate the talents in their particular class, but it's also useful to evaluate the talent tree system as a whole. It's an iconic design for World of Warcraft for sure, but that doesn't mean it can't be improved.

Now, we all know that Ghostcrawler's statements are sometimes deliberately vague or obfuscated and require some interpretation. Let me clear up what he really means in plain English:

All of us here at Blizzard would love to hear from the hunter community on exactly how we could tweak and further improve the hunter trees. Feedback from the greatest community in WoW in invaluable, especially compared to the whining of the hunter support classes, who can all just die in a fire as far as I'm concerned.

Well, hunters -- we don't want to let the big GC down. It's time to roll up our sleeves and start suggesting what we'd like to see done with the hunter talent trees. To help focus the discussion a bit, we're starting off this week with just the Beast Mastery tree. Join me after the cut to get started!

What we're talking about

I just want to point out at the outset that we are not looking at DPS balance issues here, which are a separate thing.

What we're interested in are the talent trees themselves, how they feel and function. I also think that specializations and masteries are fair game, and of course we want to pay attention to the interaction of the talent tree and the "feel" of the BM hunter and rotation.

The BM talent tree

For reference, here is the BM talent tree as it stands now (play with it in detail on Wowhead). I've tossed on here the talents that we typically take for a raiding build -- but in discussing potential talent changes, we have to take PVP into account just as much (and I am very much a random BG very casual PVPer).

BM specializations

BM gets the following special bonuses just for choosing the BM tree:

Okay, first thing that I'd like to see changed -- and I think that every hunter in the entire world will agree with me on this one -- is that Intimidation is a pretty crummy bonus ability. Don't get me wrong, it's certainly useful to new, low-level hunters, but then by the time we grow up, we seldom use it at all outside of PVP. What's worse, it's not really evocative of the BM spec.

I'd far rather see something like Bestial Wrath become the bonus ability of the BM hunter, or even Beast Mastery -- something that really defines BM. Bestial Wrath alone shouldn't be too unbalancing, and it really gives a new hunter that "sweet!" moment. Master of Beasts, while arguably the most defining BM ability, could be a bit overpowered at lower levels (getting four pet talent points when every other hunter has none for another 10 levels). On the other hand, I suppose you could have it scale, though that would make the talent more complicated.

But I'd like to see something far more defining of BM to give them as their bonus ability and then turn Intimidation back into a talent.

Kill Command

I know there are a lot of BM hunters out there who strongly feel that Kill Command should be a BM-only ability -- even the bonus ability for choosing the tree at level 10. Personally, I wouldn't disapprove of that, but I don't think it's necessary.

BM hunters (as well as all others) already get Kill Command at level 10. I do not think that an ability has to be exclusive to just one spec to be a signature ability. I mean, if you look at any raid parse and see a hunter with more than the occasional Kill Command used, you know that's a BM hunter. In other words, Kill Command is a signature shot of the BM hunter. Who cares if MM and SV can use the ability if they almost never do, and it's not nearly as powerful for them?

Again, I'm cool with it either way, but I have no problem with a shared ability that's just massively stronger for BM as a signature shot. See the comments, I've no doubt, for an opposing viewpoint.

Talent changes

Okay, let's come around again to the talent tree itself and take a look at what could be improved here. The first thing that disappoints me about the BM tree in general is that we do not have a lot of choice.

We have a total of two talent points that are spare in a PVE build, and they have to be spent in the BM tree and cannot be spent anywhere to increase our DPS (which is fine, as long as the non-DPS choices are engaging). Our options are Pathfinding, Spirit Bond, Improved Mend Pet, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Chimera. At least for raiding hunters, Spirit Bond is the no-brainer -- the only talent of the group that has a chance of improving our ability to take down bosses. I love the idea of hard choices in the talent trees, the Oh, but I want them all! impulse, but we just don't have that in the BM tree right now.

On to some specifics:

GftT and Sic 'Em One of the first things that jumps out at me when I look at the BM tree is the MM tree. Both Go for the Throat and Sic 'Em feel like they belong to us in the BM tree. Why the heck do MM hunters have those talents? Half the time, they don't even remember that they have a pet! This is an emotionally powerful territorial issue for BM hunters -- and I think it makes sense that high-tier talents that are clearly pet-oriented should be in the BM tree. That helps to define for new hunters what each tree is about.

One with Nature First of all, let's give One with Nature to the MM hunters as a partial exchange for Go for the Throat and Sic 'Em. Second (and I know this is a bit of a nitpick), but I believe you can't get Aspect of the Hawk (let alone Fox) until level 12, but you get your first talent point at level 10. I can see that being confusing for new hunters ("What the heck is this talking about? Will I get a new ability if I spend a talent here?"). It probably belongs in the second tier of talents. Or AotH should be available by level 10.

Pathfinding There's no question but that increased mount speed is very useful when you're leveling, but outside of that... I will bet you Pathfinding is the least-used talent in the BM tree, and for good reason. I want to like it, but when I compare spending my non-DPS talent points on this or Spirit Bond, there's just no decision. I think this talent should get beefed up a bit to at least make it a consideration. Options include making the mount speed boost a buff to our party/raid, or my personal favorite, also giving it the minor run speed increase. With a standard run speed increase in the talent, that makes choosing it vs. Spirit Bond suddenly a tough choice.

Improved Mend Pet Similar to Pathfinding, Improved Mend Pet is just not good enough except in special circumstances (mostly, extreme soloing). Also, this talent could read "Causes your gun to fire twice as fast," and I'll bet you a lot of hunters would still expect it to make their Mend Pet heal for more -- that's the first thing that new hunters (and many not-new hunters) think when they read the title. Personally, I think it might be neat if this talent made your Mend Pet tick for twice as long (although I still wouldn't take it in any raiding build). Perhaps this is one that should just be replaced with something more useful outside of corner cases.

Kindred Spirits Okay, all of us PVE types take Kindred Spirits, but only because we don't have any other choice. I'd love to see this replaced entirely, perhaps with Stampede.

What do you think?

So these are my thoughts on tweaking the BM talent tree. The main things I'd want to focus on would be replacing Intimidation with a more BMish bonus ability and setting up the talent tree so that we actually have interesting or tough choices to make, even if it's only for those two talents.

Without question, the BM spec has improved more than any other hunter spec in Cataclysm. It is finally starting to see some of its BC glory days returning, only with an actual involved and interesting rotation. Just a few talent tweaks and a wee Stampede ability, and we're pretty much there, I think.

But how about you guys? If Ghostcrawler were reading this article, what would you want to tell him about the BM talent tree?

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter through optimizing for heroics, pre-heroic loot and pre-raid loot, then on to choosing the right spec for the right job and how to "aspect dance" to maximize your DPS, we've got you covered.

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