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Scattered Shots: Hunters have too many buttons

Brian Wood

Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the hunter podcast 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.or ask him on Google+.

There will always be some hunters who disagree with anything (believe it or not I recently read a hunter who thinks removing minimum range made the game no longer playable) but most hunters these days agree that we hunters have too damn many buttons. And it's not just us: in a recent tweet Ghostcrawler said so too:
Unfortunately there isn't a whole lot that can be done in the middle of an expansion -- frankly what needs to happen is a bunch of these abilities just need to go. But remove anything (even minimum range) and you'll hear complaints, not to mention making hunters learn new rotations mid-expansion is bad design move. But I think there are some things that can be done to mitigate the situation.

But first lets get into why too many buttons is a bad thing, because there are actually two important reasons.

Too many buttons is bad because it's too many buttons

The obvious reasons too many buttons is bad is simply that it creates so many different things to think about in terms of shot priority and cooldowns that it gets hard to keep it all straight in the chaos of a raiding environment.

Certainly different players will have different break points and some would love to have twice as many. But the number of different buttons hunters have to regularly juggle makes our class "rotation" substantially more difficult than that of other classes. Insanely more so than some classes.

As a quick example, when we were talking with Roger Brown of top guild Method on the Hunting Party Podcast 151, he was explaining that his opening for BM (before the Lynx Rush change) was something similar to this:

  • Potion
  • Serpent Sting
  • Kill Command
  • Dire Beast
  • Stampede
  • Glaive Toss
  • Rapid Fire
  • Arcane Shot
  • Arcane Shot
  • Bestial Wrath
  • Kill Command
  • Arcane Shot until all trinkets proc
  • Lynx Rush
  • Kill Command
  • Readiness
  • Kill Command
  • Lynx Rush
The exact "proper" opener for BM is much debated, and often not in a very friendly way. But setting aside for the moment right and wrong sequences, that's a flippin' lot of buttons! With the many short-duration cooldowns there is no pattern, no rotation to our shot order to fall into. It's constantly juggling a ton of buttons while the fire you're standing in burns a hole in your ass. A second one, that is.

Too many buttons is bad because it makes our shots weaker

Too complicated gameplay is a real issue, but another big problem with too many buttons is that our shots get weaker and less distinct from each other as a result.

Accept for a moment that Blizzard tries their darndest to make all class's DPS as balanced as possible. Hunter DPS should be about the same as rogue DPS, which should be about the same as shaman DPS, etc. This is most certainly a design goal and it has to be: you can't design a class to be harder to play, but capable of doing higher DPS as compensation. If Blizzard tried that, people would start insulting them on the forums, and we all know the apocalypse would soon follow!

So when new damage dealing or damage enhancing abilities are added to the hunter toolbox, that doesn't mean we're going to do more damage -- our damage has to be balanced against everyone else's. So what has to happen is our other shots have to do comparatively less damage to make room for the new abilities.

Example time!

Let's say, for the sake of simplicity, that all classes are designed to do about 100 DPS at a given gear level. Hunters just have auto-shot, Arcane Shot, Cobra Shot and their signature shot. Maybe the spread is something like this:
  • Auto-shot: 5 DPS
  • Cobra Shot: 15 DPS
  • Arcane Shot: 25 DPS
  • Signature shot: 55 DPS
Obviously in reality these numbers would have to be lower to make up for the benefit of talents and cooldowns like Rapid Fire or Bestial Wrath. But for discussion this works. Auto-shot does the least damage and the signature shot does the most -- and that signature shot is very important, since it does more than twice the damage of the next best shot. Our priorities are clear!

Now let's say a new expansion comes out and the damage of everything is increase tenfold. Awesome right? Well, sure we're doing 1,000 DPS instead of 100, but everyone else is doing 1,000 DPS too. And the signature shot is still worth more than twice the next best shot, etc. So the damage boost of the expansion is mostly illusory.

So now let's take a look at the same shot spread, but add some new abilities in there. Perhaps we have Glaive Toss, and A Murder of Crows, and Dire Beast. All of these abilities enhance our DPS, either through pure damage or by boosting our focus to let us do more damage.

But, there's a but. We still have to add up to 100 DPS. So maybe it looks like this:
  • Auto-shot: 3 DPS
  • Cobra Shot: 7 DPS
  • Arcane Shot: 20 DPS
  • Dire Beast: 10 DPS
  • A Murder of Crows: 15 DPS
  • Glaive Toss: 20 DPS
  • Signature Shot: 25 DPS
There is no way to add more damage-enhancing abilities without lowering the comparative DPS of other abilities (and cooldowns do the same thing). Sure, our total DPS is the same, but now the difference between our best ability and the second best ability is much smaller. In fact, it's very small indeed.

This makes priorities far less clear and makes it far easier for hunters to do the wrong thing -- because the DPS penalty for doing it sub-optimally is much smaller. It erodes the unique flavor of different shots substantially and makes it increasingly difficult to properly balance our shots: tweak Arcane Shot just a tiny bit too high and it's better than Explosive Shot, but a tiny bit too low and it's worse than Cobra Shot. There isn't a lot of wiggle room to balance, which is a problem in an environment with wildly different gear, reforging, proc effects, set bonuses, etc.

Solution? Fewer buttons! Oh, but wait...

We need fewer buttons to press in combat, and fewer damage dealing / enhancing abilities. Full stop. That is the solution -- but it's a long term one.

Ghostcrawler said recently in another tweet that WoW loses more players to constant class changes than they do to balance concerns, and I believe this is absolutely true. What this means for us is that it will hurt the game as a whole more to abruptly remove a bunch of abilities from hunters right now than leaving us with too many buttons for the time being.

But I think there might be a middle ground that could at least help the button situation anyway. We could change some of our shiny new buttons into procs. Dire Beast, for example, could easily function as a proc, as could A Murder of Crows. The abilities would have to be rebalanced to account for the fact that there's no focus or global cooldown cost, but as long as they were competitive with the best talents on the tier they would enable hunters to reduce the button mashing madness.

Of course this wouldn't help with the fact that the damage of our abilities has to be reduced to fit them all in, but I suspect that's not going to get fixed until the next expansion. So for the next couple of years, we hunters just have to buck up and top the meters with one of the more difficult shot priorities in the game.

I suspect we're up to the challenge.

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. If you're stuck in one of the nine support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?

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