One of the goals in Blizzard's revamp of the talent system was to take away "right" choices -- the kind of decisions in which we could calculate a mathematical correct choice -- and instead let us actually make a decision about what talent to choose for any given tier. For many of our hunter tiers, this more or less worked out, often resulting in one clear PvP talent and a choice between two PvE talents that are both potentially useful in the right circumstances.
But then we also have talent tiers like the level 75 choice, where every ability is providing us with some kind of DPS cooldown. No doubt we needed some DPS-boosting talents, but once those are in the mix, we are going to be able to calculate a right choice -- or at least a right choice for any given situation.
This bring us to Dire Beast vs. A Murder of Crows. I've done a lot of in-game testing both to measure the benefit of the abilities as well as to determine how they work and scale. And at this point in the beta, it's already looking like we have a winner.
Update: Since the time of writing, the beta has updated and the name has been changed from Call Beast to Dire Beast (updated in here) and the appearance of the beast is now based on the zone you're in.
But what about Lynx Rush?
At level 75, hunters get to choose one of three talents:
A Murder of Crows summons a flock of crows to peck the flesh of your enemies for 30 seconds, every minute.
Dire Beast summons a giant extra beast to chomp your enemy for 12 seconds, every 30 seconds.
Lynx Rush lets your pet attack nine times in 4 seconds, spread among any available enemies, once every 2 minutes.
Lynx Rush really doesn't make the cut for the cooldown alone, not to mention that the net gain in number of attacks (since your pet isn't making its normal attacks during the special ability) isn't great. This ability is mostly useful for spreading your pet's damage out in an AoE situation for mobs that won't live too long.
OK, let's take a look at the contenders.
In this corner: Dire Beast!
When you use Dire Beast, it summons one of three animals directly behind your target to attack for you: a giant beetle, a white tiger, or an orange tiger. All three are mechanically the same; they only look different. The beast behaves like a pet on Assist stance and is not controllable otherwise. It will attack what you attack and switch targets when you switch targets.
The beast has health equal to 20% of the hunter health. Its damage is base damage plus about 41.7% of hunter ranged attack power, and it seems to inherit hunter hit chance, expertise, and crit chance. It is not affected by hunter haste. (Note that we won't know the level 90 base damage until the beta progresses further.)
In practice, the beast can attack a total of six times during the 12-second duration. This means that it restores 12 focus each time it's used for a net 0.4 focus per second if the ability is used as often as possible.
In this other corner: A Murder of Crows crows crows
When you trigger A Murder of Crows, it summons crows directly behind your target to attack for you. A total of 15 crows appear in ones and two during the first 15 seconds of the ability. They fade away slowly at the end, suggesting the possibility that each individual crow lasts only for 15 seconds, though the full murder is spread out over 30 seconds.
Each of the crows has health equal to 5% of hunter health, and they do base damage plus 4% of hunter ranged attack power. Like Dire Beast, the crows inherit hunter hit, expertise, and crit but are unaffected by hunter haste.
Over the entire course of the ability, the crows combined get in around 100 attacks (which can crit). This adds up to pretty substantial damage -- more than three times as much damage as Call Beast does per execution (though with a cooldown twice as long).
When we pit the two against each other, we have five primary factors to consider (which ultimately add up to which does the most DPS):
In terms of raw damage per execution, or damage per second, A Murder of Crows is substantially higher.
Dire Beast does generate some additional hunter focus, which adds up to almost an extra Arcane Shot per minute. That sounds pretty crummy, but only because it is. It adds up, but not to a very high number.
Dire Beast is free, and A Murder of Crows costs 60 focus. This is a very substantial benefit for Dire Beast, since every time you activate A Murder of Crows, you are in essence losing a couple of Arcane Shots (well, technically not losing them entirely, but replacing them with an equivalent number of Steady/Cobra Shots).
The cooldown reset on A Murder of Crows when the target is under 20% health is positively awesome for multiple targets.
Dire Beast gives you an animal with substantially more health and that can survive several AoE pulses without dying. The crows have far less health and could die in a single AoE blast, limiting their use.
Currently, at the moment, in early beta, not yet at level 90, with many qualifications, and for most boss fights, A Murder of Crows is the raw DPS winner. Assuming the crows will stay alive, A Murder of Crows is just going to output a higher overall DPS from the numbers that we can see in the beta right now.
It's also worth noting that A Murder of Crows is far more satisfying to use. Getting a beast to give me six attacks and 12 focus just isn't very awesome -- it's actually pretty so-so. Add to this a current annoying functionality where sometimes I'm shooting a target, Dire Beast, and the beast appears and heads toward me instead of attacking. Then when my next shot fires, he's all, "Oh, crap, you're attacking something? Let me help!" But by then, a precious second was wasted and the beast only get five attacks instead of the full six. In contrast, the crows do tons of damage and feel more like a burst of DPS.
A couple of final mechanical notes
It's worth noting that both Dire Beast and A Murder of Crows summon animals that just do melee attacks. These companions are not controllable in any way and operate on their own AI that is similar to a pet in Assist stance.