August 1, 2009

WoW Hunter Question and Answer

The Hunter Q&A was like the other Class Q&As, a mixed bag of frustration, tease, and interesting concepts. It shouldn't be a surprise that we didn't get the details we wanted. Nor should it be a complete shock to you that some Hunters would feel disconnected between what players want versus what the Developers are concentrating on. Given all that, I still felt that this Q&A was overall pretty decent.

There is so much to review and discuss I've decided to break the Q&A out into 2 parts. Here's a quick highlight of the main things discussed in Part 1:

Developers feel Survival Hunter spec is currently performing within normal operating parameters.
Crowd Control still needs work. PvP has a big influence on PvE Class Balance Ammo remains a consumable because of technical difficulties.
Ammo is a focus point on Hunter damage progression. Blizzard is hoping to cut the cost of Ammo to address the cost burden for Hunters. The Hunter "No Fire" zone will remain in effect. Development considers enhancing Hunter melee attacks. All that is just in Part 1! So let's see what Ghostcrawler had to say.

The Community Team hit the ground running, getting right to the point. Over on the official Hunter forums, the question, "What does Blizzard think the Hunter role should be?" has been asked repeatedly over the years. Not to disappoint, this was the first question chosen by the Community Team. Because I feel this is so important I included the entire quote below.

"Community Team: We'd like start this Q&A off by asking a question that players of all classes often ask in regard to the very purpose of their class. In this case, we're looking specifically at the hunter.

Q: Where do hunters fit into the larger scope of things currently and where do we see them going from this point forward?

A: We solved a lot of perennial hunter problems in Wrath of the Lich King, from the shot clipping problems of Steady Shot, to bringing Survival back to life, and making pet choice and training a lot more meaningful and hopefully enjoyable. Going forward we have several objectives we still want to accomplish. We want to make sure hunters in PvP are as good in Arenas as they are in Battlegrounds. We think their damage is sufficient, so we want to focus on their survival and crowd control. We want to make sure their PvE utility is as good as their dps (especially making traps live up to their potential for crowd control). We want to resolve what a hunter is supposed to do in melee (Raptor Strike? Disengage?). We want to clean up some of the clunkiness that still exists around pet control (both the UI itself and what the pet does on the battlefield). We think hunters have a good niche as the only real ranged damage-dealer that focuses on (mostly) physical damage based on a weapon rather than cast-time based spells. We just want to make sure they live up to that niche."
In other words, Ghostcrawler feels the development team has done a good job in making Survival an interesting and popular spec to play again.

Another interesting point was when Ghostcrawler talked about how he feels about Hunters needing a boost to traps and crowd control. Of course this isn't the first time we've heard this. On a positive note, we can see with the current Patch 3.2 trap changes the developers seem to be heading in that direction.

Also, I got a sense that the changes are based first on their impact to the PvP game and then PvE. This was not specifically said, but it just seems that way. Ghostcrawler did mention they want to improve PvE Hunter utility and crowd control, but did you notice the emphasis on PvP?

When Ghostcrawler says, "We want to make sure hunters in PvP are as good in Arenas as they are in Battlegrounds. We think their damage is sufficient, so we want to focus on their survival and crowd control.", then follows up with, "We want to resolve what a hunter is supposed to do in melee (Raptor Strike? Disengage?)," I felt PvP is where the development team is keeping their primary focus is at the moment. Of course, maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Now that we know what our role is we can get into some of the other issues affecting Hunters. For example, what ever happened to our promised ammo change? Remember back when Patch 3.1 was announced? Ammo was suppose to change from being a consumable to a durable.

It appears to me that in this Q&A Ghostcrawler is setting our expectation to not expect a change to ammo any time soon. (Blizzard time or otherwise.) I understand the whole "Ammo is stored everywhere issue". If you think about it, we have ammo in our bags, our banks, and maybe specialized Mammoth Cuttters in our guild bank. Based on this alone, I can see how it would be a very tricky change.

Something I found exciting was the possibility of introducing new capabilities with our ammo. I really hope that Ghostcrawler isn't just teasing us when he says, "We're not sure if this would be as simple as getting the 125 dps arrows to upgrade your 120 dps arrows, or if you would do things like swap between your fire and poison arrows... but that kind of thing is definitely on the table." I know many Hunters including myself that would love this ability.

With durable ammo on hold, Ghostcrawler addressed the issue of Hunters having an extra cost burden by having to purchase ammo for everything we do. Not only are we required to purchase ammo, but our damage progression is tied directly to it also. So, it was nice hearing that the development team understands we're going to do whatever it takes to get the best ammo we can.

It was also impressive to hear they're going to lower the market cost for the ammo as well as continue looking into other ways to provide proper balance with scaling and progression. If not for GC stating that they are still working on durable ammo, I would think that durable ammo was going to be one of those permanent wish list items.

Ghostcrawler tackled the ever popular "dead zone" or "no fire zone" topic stating that there needs to be some changes. The biggest issue related to the "no fire zone" hinges on Hunters being ranged fighters and having to get back into range to unleash their more powerful attacks.

Ghostcrawler admits that they don't want Hunters to have the capability of unleashing both melee and range attacks all at once. Ghostcrawler says, "The way we want the hunter to work is that when you get into min range with the hunter, then the hunter needs to switch to melee, or more likely escape back to ranged distance again."

With traps being on a separate cool down in the 3.2 Patch, we'll have the capability to lay down Frost and Snake traps to help slow down our target, with an Explosive Trap helping to proc Lock and Load as we Disengage. This is good, but not great. I guess we can't say Ghostcrawler isn't keeping it interesting.

At least this isn't a done deal and Ghostcrawler asked for more feedback from the community. If you PvP and have some ideas on how this might work, maybe you can let Ghostcrawler know over on the Damage Dealing Forums.

That brings us to the end of Part 1 of the Hunter Q&A. Looking back, there are several interesting points. Blizzard admitting how big of a role PvP plays in PvE Class Balancing. Not to mention the possible idea of durable ammo with special abilities. Add to that a focus of bringing crowd control and traps back into the game and this part of the Q&A was pretty packed with information after all. I can't wait to tackle Part 2 next.

We continue to review Ghostcrawler's response to the Hunter Q&A. In the Hunter Q&A Part 1 we reviewed what role the developers think Hunters should play. We also discussed how PvP influences class balancing. There was also some interesting discussion on Hunter Ammo changes.

In the Hunter Q&A Part 2 we review the following discussions:

Ghostcrawler says no to removing the movement penalty from Auto Shot. Developers open to new Hunter resource system to replace mana. Min/max and best in slot play frustrates developers. Hunters are too cooldown dependent. Developers considering how to keep AoE Damage from affecting Hunter pets. No changes on the horizon to Cunning pets Petbar UI changes on the drawing board Pets and stable slots

Hunters have often complained about Auto Shot requiring Hunters to remain still before firing. Ghostcrawler's response was pretty succinct, "Moving should feel like a penalty. We don't want ranged attackers constantly circle strafing FPS-style because it confers a defensive advantage without giving up an offensive one." I have to agree with Ghostcrawler on this one. I've played my share of Halo and other FPS style games. Though I can see how the Arena lends itself to this style of play, I personally think it would only further remove players from being able to immerse themselves in the richness that is a MMORPG.

Ghostcrawler went on to discuss the Hunter PvP in Arena by saying, "What I mean by that is we think we've possibly already gone too far towards balancing the Arena around instant attacks that can't be countered before they go off." This sounds ominous. I read this as an impending nerf heading our way soon. I hope not, but this sure sounds like it is a possibility.

The next question is one that Hunters have debated back and forth on the official Hunter forums for years. Every so often, someone will bring up how Hunters shouldn't use mana, and suggests an alternative resource. Usually focus is the most popular suggestion. Unfortunately, in stead of addressing it in the Q&A Ghostcrawler decided to push this one off until BlizzCon. Personally? I'd love to see us switch to something like an ammo based system. (A Hunter can dream right?) However, I'm afraid we might have to stick with being a mana class for a while yet.

While leaving us hanging on the new resource question, we went into the talk about using haste. An interesting topic since Hunters don't typically stack haste as a primary stat unless it is to get 1.5 second Steady Shot cooldown. What made it was interesting to me was learning that Ghostcrawler and the team would like us to use more of the secondary stats like haste but haven't really found a solid way to make it happen. Ghostcrawler even let a bit of his frustration show by saying, "Remember, if it improves your dps, it is an upgrade, even if another item would improve it more. That sounds so obvious, but I think there is a tendency for some players to stop thinking that way."

One of the more important issues Ghostcrawler addressed was about how limited Hunters are by cooldowns. The community asked Ghostcrawler about stings and the possibility of removing them from the global cooldown. Ghostcrawler's response really wasn't too surprising. "We aren't likely to remove any damage-dealing ability from the GCD and we've even taken a second look at whether we have removed too many defensive abilities from the GCD. It is there for a reason, particularly in a client-server based game with inherent Internet lag." Though this might not be the answer we are all hoping for, what was nice, was hearing that this is going to be discussed in more detail at BlizzCon.

Ghostcrawler went on to address the current current changes in Patch 3.2 to Catlike Reflexes and Wild Hunt. In an effort to explain why the the buffs were to the pet but not Hunter abilities, Ghostcrawler said, "We don't necessarily like buffing Beast Mastery through the pet all the time. However, Beast Mastery also doesn't have a signature attack like Chimera or Explosive Shot." It seems that now they realize they might have over corrected a bit in Patch 3.0.8 and now the only question is how to fix it.

For Beast Mastery Hunters, the Developers seem to view the Hunter's pet as the most viable option. If I'm not mistaken, this seems to be a reversal from the reasoning behind nerfing the BM pets in 3.0.8. Ghostcrawler defends this decision by stating, "Ultimately the tree is supposed to be about pets, so we would rather make the pet easier to control and give the hunter ways to get the pet out of trouble so that they don't face the profound dps loss of pet death." If they implement this correctly, this could be very good news for BM Hunters.

In the next question, Ghostcrawler went on to discuss more about pets and the need for a better system that can distinguish when certain PvE attacks shouldn't affect pets. If the developers can find a way to keep pets alive, this would mean less healing and rezzing time for BM Hunters. This could in turn raise the viability of the spec. It is nice to see Ghostcrawler and the team looking at something as core as the AI instead of just delivering a patch to improve pet healing.

Ghostcrawler did add a caveat saying, "To be clear, this is a hypothetical different model than I've been talking about in the rest of this Q&A. I don't want to confuse anyone by saying pets should both be hard to kill and hard to rez, and easy to kill and easy to rez."

So if our pets can stay alive longer and we don't need to heal our pets as much, does that mean we'll be stuck with a pet rez that seems to take forever? No, not forever, but we will have to live with it in the short term. The good news is Ghostcrawler seems to have a plan, first address the highest priority pet issue, pet survivability, then look at how to improve resurrecting pets should they end up dying to a focused attack.

The next topic tackled by Ghostcrawler happened to be one that we talked about in the last Scattered Shots column about Cunning pets. It seems that even Blizzard is not entirely sure how the Cunning tree fits into the overall scheme for Hunters. Mainly this is because they're noticing how Hunters tend to remain in a vertical during their playstyle. Due to the many theorycrafting and other Hunter related sites and tools, it seems Hunters tend to min/max for either PvE or PvP. As of now this isn't a real priority for Blizzard. Although I agree there are more pressing issues than what to do with the Cunning tree, it would be nice to see some tangible benefits and buffs to this tree. I look forward to more discussion on this topic at BlizzCon

The next question focused on the UI. I'm not really sure how big an issue UI is for Hunters. Now, don't go and start saying how disconnected I am from my class because I don't see it as a big deal. It is just that once you get to a certain point, most of the Hunters I know start using different add-ons to create a personal UI.

What I do see as a huge issue for Hunters are the number of keybinds we have to use. Because we rely so heavily on the Global Cooldown we tend to bind almost every attack to a key. Add to that macro combinations for pet management, special attacks, misdirects, etc... and we have more keybinds than visible slots. Personally, I think this would be a bigger issue to address. If we can reduce our number of keybinds then we might actually see less need for custom UIs with multiple small action bars shown.

After talking about the Hunter castbars, it was nice to see Ghostcrawler talk about the Pet action bars. I'm sure many of you are like me and have become increasingly frustrated with the autocast bug automatically setting your pet on Cower or Prowl. It seems that Blizzard knows it is there, but not really on the short list of items to be fixed. However, I think when they do address the Autocast bug or when the address the Hunter's toolbars, we'll see changes in the Pet cast bar as well.

If you could name one shot that has made Hunters everywhere scratch their head, I think it would have to be Tranquilizing Shot. Yes, it is nice that we can use it, but only in very limiting situations. It almost seems like a wasted shot. Well, until you are fighting a boss like Magmadar anyways. If it was up to me, I would like to see Tranquilizing Shot turn into it is namesake. If the target is enraged it removes the buff, if not then put the target to sleep. Now I know what you are gonna say, what about Wyvern Sting? Well, why not just leave Wyvern Sting alone or combine the two? That's just my personal opinion, but I see Tranquilizing Shot as a great idea that's not used near enough.

For the last question, Ghostcrawler addresses the question about stable slots and pet variety. Though this doesn't address the recent Worgen controversy, it does give us some insights on where the development team stands with pets and where they may be taking them.

I did have an issue with a couple of points that Ghostcrawler made. First, Ghostcrawler states that Blizzard wants Hunters to be required to make a decision regarding their pet choices and that they don't want us to fall into the "Pokemon" syndrome of catching them all.

This just kinda rubs me the wrong way. Most Hunters actually love the idea of finding unique, rare pets to keep in their stables. It is one of the benefits and fun things we get for being a Hunter. Yes, sometimes it is frustrating when lines form for the next Spirit Beast or rare find. But ask any Hunter about their story of trying to find a Horde to help tame Echeyakee? And I'm not evening mentioning those other two pets that people figured out how to tame and were removed from the game. It seems to me, if people go to such lengths to find and tame a really cool and unique pet, why not let us do that? Personally, I think the days of of needing stable slots should be behind us. That's just me I guess.

That wraps up our 2 part analysis of the Hunter Q&A. It was a long one and ultimately touched many different issues. We covered everything from stable slots to obscure attacks and even the possibility of a new Hunter resource system.

Now that we have had a week to think about Ghostcrawler's responses. Has your initial impressions changed? Are there any burning questions you are hoping will get addressed at BlizzCon? What resource system would you like to see them implement? So many seem to be left unanswered. I'd like to hear what you have to say about the Hunter Q&A.

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