Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hunters in the Mists

I'm going to start with a brief discussion of the new talent system. Just to be totally upfront: I think this is a great change. I was really excited about the way they talked about the talent revamp for Cataclysm, but I was disappointed in how it actually came out. The proposed system for Mists is exactly the radical change that needed to happen. I also think that the change is being widely misunderstood, because I'm seeing tons of people calling it "simplified," "dumbed-down," or "pandering to casuals".

In fact, it's the exact opposite of these.

Since the game launched, talents have largely been a system whereby you spent points to modify abilities. So you gave something haste, or caused the use of a certain shot to proc a buff, or added 10% damage to something, so on and so forth. Any talent that just gave you a new ability was almost always automatically taken, such as Readiness. Not taking Readiness as a Marksmanship hunter is just a mistake. It's not actually a choice, there's nothing complex about it: if you don't do it, you're just wrong, end of story. Similarly, if you don't take Careful Aim you're wrong. No Improved Steady Shot? Wrong. You're not making choices, you're just picking the right things and not-picking the wrong things. The underlying theorycrafting may have been complex, but you probably didn't do that: you went to EJ or a blog or both and took the right talents. That's the antithesis of complexity.

The new talent system is largely about choosing between abilities. To get any given thing, you must give up something else. The talents they talked about at Blizzcon obviously aren't yet in beta, but looking at them gives us something useful to think about the changes coming up. Here's a helpful chart from MMO Champion:

Potential Hunter talents
If you'd prefer just a plain-old text version, Hugh from MMO Melting Pot has helpfully transcribed them here.

Take a look at the first tier talent, which becomes available at level 15. You can choose between your autoshots:
  1. Applying a free snare.
  2. Giving you a TON of focus.
  3. Stacking a DoT on your target.
Those are hard choices! And the fact that they're hard makes them compelling. PvP hunters will be torn between the free snare and the free focus. If I had to guess, I would actually guess that (if these talents go live), the focus-on-autoshot talent will become the PvP standard. Less time wasted in AotF casting steady or cobra shots will be huge for PvP hunters, who already have pretty decent kiting tools. But then maybe that free, stacking dot will do enough damage to be chosen for PvP. And it's easy to imagine either the DoT or the focus becoming dominant for PvE, and I think their goal is to have either of those be a valid choice.

I do think that the hunter talents as we see them right now will require some tweaking. It seems to me that some of the tiers still have wrong answers as far as PvE goes, but I also acknowledge that it's difficult to make compelling choices for PvE. The question we're usually asking is "what does more damage?" and it's hard to get around that in interesting ways. I think possibly they could do something like toy with making survival a spec that's constantly starved for focus by removing Explosive Shot's cooldown: then you'd have things like survival hunters taking Thrill of the Hunt while marks hunters took Readiness.

Even if they don't get it totally perfect this time 'round, though, it's absolutely an improvement.

I was also thrilled by the announcement that hunter melee weapons are going away. Especially because they've said that they're looking at bringing back quiver/ammo pouch graphics that could be customizable in some way! This is completely righteous. Ever since they removed ammo I've missed the sight of a quiver on my back. So not only do we get rid of the annoyance of letting the feral have the staves/polearms first, we won't have to worry about enchanting a melee weapon any more and we'll get quivers back. Perfect.

Finally, while the new tiger model is absolutely gorgeous, I'm a little sad that it's not something else. Really, anything else. I have a low-poly wolf, a low-poly raptor, a low-poly hyena, and a medium-poly windserpent from BC. I would kill to have high-poly versions of the my other pets, but it seems like half of all the pretty pets are cats. Loque/Gondria, Sambas, Skarr, the shiny glow-eyed tigers from Neferset City, etc. Hell, even Skoll is a low-poly wolf with some zappies. Come on dudes! Why no pretty raptors? Why no lovely wolves?

With the sole exception of that gripe though, I am surprised at how pleased I am with everything out of Blizzcon. Mists of Pandaria is looking like an unexpectedly delightful expansion.

I'm also considering race-changing from Draenei to Worgen (still female, natch). OPINIONS?

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