Scattered Shots: Lone wolves

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Lone Wolf Hunter
Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. This week, your host Adam Koebel, aka Bendak will be discussing the fourth hunter specialization masquerading as a talent.

If you missed Scattered Shots last week, you can go check it out for a summary of what we learned about hunters at BlizzCon 2013. Today, I want to focus on the most controversial of the new talents: Lone Wolf. By taking this talent (only as survival or marksmanship) you gain 30% increased damage when your pet is not active. I've read a lot of posts, tweets, and comments over the past week and it seems that hunters are split right down the middle with this talent, along with a few in the middle who like having it as an option for pet unfriendly encounters.

My initial reaction to Lone Wolf was very enthusiastic, but then I started to wonder how it was going to work with a class built around pets. It's going to have a cascading effect on many existing hunter talents and abilities, namely anything that works in conjunction with your pet. It's possible Blizzard will add secondary effects to these talents so they work without a pet, but if they spend the time adapting older abilities then why not just go all in with the idea? If someone is leveling up a hunter, shouldn't they be able to make a play style choice as drastic as this early on instead of at level 100? Then again, hunters are a pet class ... so why do we need this talent, anyway?

The good

Let's be honest. Hunter pets can be a little derpy at times. Lone Wolf simplifies things considerably. Currently, I run a custom WeakAura to let me know when my pet isn't attacking (usually because he despawned due to distance or got stuck somewhere). Not having to worry about any of that sounds nice, doesn't it? Even though Blizzard aims to balance passive talents to be very slightly worse than their active counterparts, the benefits of not losing any pet DPS uptime will probably make up for that difference. I've heard some people ask if 30% damage makes up for not having a pet, and the answer is yes. Currently, a pet for survival and marksmanship represents only about 10-12% of a hunter's total damage (+3% with Blink Strikes, which isn't usable with Lone Wolf) so you will be coming out way ahead. These talent numbers are obviously not final, but as it stands now this is a significant compensation for getting rid of your pet.

Hunters who have always wanted to play as a pure archer spec will now have the opportunity, and I've already seen a few people mention they will roll hunters now just because of this talent. A lot of people like the idea of playing a character with a bow but don't like the idea of maintaining a roster of pets.
Solo hunter
The bad

I think it's safe to say this would be a mediocre talent for any kind of solo content. Imagine doing Timeless Isle at a lower item level without a pet? Yeah, Growl doesn't work on half the stuff but at least you can spam Misdirection. Once you outgear the content and kill things in a few hits it's not much of an issue. Other soloing staples like Spirit Bond won't even work unless Blizzard adapts all of the existing talents to this play style. Most hunters will probably feel compelled to go back to their pet outside of a dungeon or raid.

Losing your pet's extra raid buff will be a problem for some hunters in smaller raid groups. You want to play Lone Wolf, but your raid leader wants you to bring out your sporebat so the raid has all of the buffs. It's going to take a while for non-hunters to get used to the idea that not all hunters will be buff bots anymore.

I'm not a serious PvP player, but anyone can see how not having a pet in PvP would be quite a loss for hunters. You immediately lose your pet's unique CC ability, along with Roar of Sacrifice and Master's Call. Pets help keep pressure on your targets and even let you do some damage when not in line of sight. Lone Wolf could be fun in random battlegrounds or world PvP when everything is just a zerg and CC doesn't matter. I've found it very difficult to find much feedback on this talent from PvP focused players, so feel free to chime in if you feel this has any merit in PvP.

The uglyAbandoning pet

My main concern is this being a possible excuse for encounters to be pet unfriendly. The last thing I ever want to hear is "just go Lone Wolf, pets are terrible on on this fight" and for everyone to be OK with that. I'm not asking for pets to be maintenance free, I'm just asking for this talent to not be so amazing that I lose DPS by not taking it. I think it has a very high probability of becoming the default choice if you want to maximize your DPS. Just think -- no pet AI problems, no pet DPS downtime with target switching, no pets dying to elemental walls -- it's all on you with no worry if Fluffy is behaving properly. Aside from the AI problems, the other stuff is all part of being a hunter. But this lets you avoid it all. There has to be some consequences for that.

Warlocks have a level 75 talent called Grimoire of Sacrifice which serves the same purpose as Lone Wolf, the only difference being you gain extra abilities for having sacrificed the pet. Ghostcrawler had the following to say about the talent (replace warlocks with hunters and it applies just the same):
If you hate pets, take Sac (though I also have to challenge a little bit why you picked a pet class to play in the first place). What we don't want is for warlocks to take Sac just because it's a dps increase. The average warlock should have a demon out. If a subset of them do not because they take Sac, we're okay with that. If very few of them have demons out because a spreadsheet said Sac is a 1% dps increase, then we're not okay with it.

Exactly. We rolled a pet class! Maybe what WoW really needed was another class capable of using ranged weapons to fill this niche. At least their philosophy on this type of talent is in the right place. I can only hope it works in practice.

This is the list of abilities that are going to be affected by not having a pet: It's probably OK to have one talent in each tier that doesn't work with Lone Wolf, but the level 75 tier will need some attention so A Murder of Crows isn't the only option for Lone Wolf hunters.
Dwarf hunter
Is making marksmanship petless a better solution?

I'd say it's a possible solution, but there are several things working against it. For one, Blizzard doesn't intend to do any class revamps for this expansion. However, they did talk about wanting to make each of the three hunter specs play differently. Turning marksmanship into a pure archer archetype would certainly accomplish that.

What about all of the current marksmanship hunters who like having a pet? I know they aren't a large portion of the raiding population, but they do exist (hi, Bob!). Some have brought up the idea of a fourth specialization -- even if it was as simple as marksmanship without a pet -- but don't expect that any time soon. Druids are special snowflakes in that regard, and hunters probably don't need four DPS specs. It's a nice thought, but I think we're stuck with having this functionality tied to a talent.

Unanswered questions

Despite my criticism of the talent, I'm not against having the option. Some people want to play that way, and if Blizzard is willing to do it, more power to them. It's not really my cup of tea. If I hated my pet that much, I would just be playing one of the other ten classes instead.

There's still a lot of unanswered questions, one of which is will this talent even see the light of day in its current form? Remember, the level 100 talents were never officially released -- they were only smuggled out of BlizzCon, for lack of a better term. It's possible some will change or be removed entirely. We're not even in beta yet, but I figured a little bit of early feedback for a talent with such ramifications would have some value. I'm skeptical, but optimistic that the other two level 100 talents will be powerful enough to compete against Lone Wolf from a raiding perspective. Bring on the beta!
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From raiding tips and taming rare pets to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. 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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