August 31, 2016 4 Comments
As planned, I got up around 2AM yesterday for our Eastern Time 3AM Legion launch. By 2:20 I had brewed coffee, toasted an English muffin, and logged in to find a whole lot of guildies already chatting away and having a great time. I was glad I had allowed myself a little leeway, because about ten minutes to 3, just as my caffeine was kicking in, people began to report they were suddenly showing an XP bar for their maxed characters, and — a few at a time — were getting the final Dalaran quest popping up on their screens. In what seemed like very short order people were woo-hooing over their new artifact weapons.
I give Blizz gigantic kudos for what seemed, from my perspective, to be a flawless launch. I did not experience a single hiccup. There were no login queues, no video problems, no crashes or disconnects. If there were any attempts at malicious hacking in the form of denial of service attacks, Blizz thwarted them in a way that was completely transparent to players. A few guildies reported a slight hitch in one of the intro scenarios with Genn Greymane, but I did not experience it.
Since I was predicting a doom and gloom experience for Legion launch, I now hereby eat my words, and I am officially impressed with the technical expertise and hard work Blizz clearly put into the launch mechanics.
Well done, Blizz.
After collecting my Hati gun, I opted to start questing in Stormheim, mainly because I thought that might give me more opportunities to skin creatures as I quested, my main being a skinner/leatherworker. I found I was easily able — with no extra effort at all, to collect close to 700 skins by the time I completed the zone.
I liked Stormheim, I did all the quest lines there and was close to level 104 before I decided — again on the basis of facilitating my professions — to move to Val’sharah. I had taken my usual 1-2 hour breaks throughout the day, so by the time I got to the new zone, it was evening and I was tired, so I stopped about three-quarters of the way to 105.
I have been delighted so far with the questing and leveling experience, in every aspect. The zones are beautifully rendered, movement/pathing is smooth, and the quests are both interesting and relevant to the Legion story line. Of course, many quests take the form of “kill X number of Y things”, but I did not feel like any of these crossed over into the “grindy” category. One of the most pleasing new mechanics, in my opinion, is the grappling hook, which seems to be one of the main methods for getting to treasure chests; it just beats the hell out of the frustrating jumping puzzles of WoD.
I had expected to feel very underpowered as a BM hunter, given the state of that spec, but I did not die once. I opted to level with a Tenacity-specc’ed turtle pet, and I found I had to weave Mend Pet into my rotation. The combo of turtle on Growl and Hati had very little problem holding aggro, once it was established (more about this below). I was also able to pull quite a few mobs at once and still easily down them. So that part was a pleasant surprise.
But the BM mechanics still are terrible. Setting aside the obvious observation that it is just mind-numbingly boring to play, fundamental flaws remain. The removal of the mechanic formerly provided by the pet Misdirection glyph, the stripping away of traps, the lack of camouflage, and the now-useless Aspect of the Cheetah, all contribute to a spec that no longer feels like a hunter and in fact forces every hunter to relearn baseline skills they have honed for years. Things like kiting, like bouncing aggro back and forth between pet and hunter, even escape if you have overextended yourself — all these skills have to be relearned now, and honestly there are not a lot of tools you can use to relearn them. Some of them will just be lost abilities.
I think lack of pet control, along with the huge imbalance between hunter-generated damage and pet-generated damage, is at the heart of the problems with Legion BM mechanics. I noticed some of this while questing, but it really became obvious when I ran a couple of random dungeons with guildies.
What do I mean? I am not a theory person, and I will leave it to the numbers people to explain it better, but this is what I experienced. Start with a lack of true synergy between hunter and pets. Prior to 7.0, there was what seemed to be a partnership between hunter and pet — pet did its damage, and hunter did his damage, with the hunter doing more than the pet. But in Legion, the hunter alone can do almost no significant damage — only Cobra Shot and Multishot are baseline, and they are designed mainly to be focus dumps and thus cannot be sustained as damage dealers. Whereas before, the hunter was a strong damage dealer with some assistance from a pet, now we are ineffective damage dealers who serve mainly to drop the leashes on a pack of pets. Among other bad effects, this means there is very little a hunter can now do to take aggro away from a pet-Hati combo that has established it, certainly not in a solo questing mode.
(And now that I am bringing this up, it occurs to me that there is a lot I don’t know about Hati’s mechanics — does he retain any aggro if my pet dies, or is he treated as part of my gun? He does not in fact show up at your side unless you have a pet summoned, but does that mean he will still make an appearance when you start to shoot, or that even if he does not appear will you still get his damage effects? I need to do some more looking into this for sure.)
Shifting nearly all damage to pets might be an acceptable change to BM hunters if the pets could actually be controlled, but this is far from the case. For example, the functions of putting a pet on passive, defensive, or assist seem no longer to reliably work as they used to. As an example, there are far too many times still when a pet supposedly on assist just sits at your side doing nothing. This is especially noticeable with Multishot — once the original target of your Multishot is dead, your pet often returns to you and sits on his ass unless you actually target another mob, and he continues to do this. Even if you retarget rapidly, he starts to return to you for that split second you are retargeting, wasting a lot of damage in the process. I think I even saw Hati come back during those times, but I will have to look at this again — if some of you have noticed what happens with Hati in Multishot situations, please comment.
Prior to Legion, I was able to circumvent the loss of BM damage in boss fights where there were a lot of spread out adds (for example, Kilrogg) by having my pet attack the boss, then setting him on defensive so he would stay on the boss while I switched targets and downed the adds myself. This is no longer possible, mainly because of course hunters without a pet have almost no damage ability on their own, along with the fact that where your gun goes, Hati goes, thus there is still the long down time while Hati leisurely strolls to the next target. I did not actually do any study of this technique last night, it was just something I noticed that it seemed whenever Hati moved, so did my pet no matter what his setting, but I cannot confirm it.
There is also a huge problem with over-targeting. I got into a lot of trouble yesterday while questing simply by virtue of the fact that auto shot often kicks in even if you just switch targets but do not actively initiate any abilities. For some reason, both Hati and my pet are intimately tied to auto shot (even though my pet seems to care nothing about sticking with Multishot targets). Thus, I was often in a situation with multiple targets where I was madly tab-targeting in an attempt to keep my pet from quitting, and I would get the immediate group dead but my next tab target was the first one in a group quite a bit further away — causing my dynamic duo of a pet team to go charging over there and pulling them before I could manually apply my stop-attack macro. This was bad enough while I was questing solo, but it was catastrophic in dungeons. I did not notice this problem with auto-shot controlling my pet prior to Legion, so I can only surmise there is some synergy with Hati that is causing it. Whatever, it is a horrible effect that could really make BM hunters unwelcome in groups.
I am sure I will be writing more about this, but suffice it to say that yesterday showed me beyond a doubt that the problems with BM hunters are deep and fundamental, going far beyond the usual complaint of over-pruning. There are serious flaws with the entire spec design, and a few superficial tweaks will not begin to address them. My fellow blogger The Grumpy Elf a few days ago explained that for the first time in the game he would not be maining a hunter in Legion because he considers the class to be unplayable. When I first read it, I thought this was a bit of hyperbole, but now that I have experienced at least one of the specs with its artifact complement, I see that he was absolutely correct.
I belong to a very tolerant guild in terms of raid composition — we are encouraged to play the spec we love, even if that means the team will have an abundance of one spec over the others — but right now I am not optimistic that bringing a BM hunter to raid will help in any way. Not only have we lost much of the raid utility we used to bring in the form of traps, Tranq and Distracting shot, the ability to pet tank on the fly, and our own speed and mobility, but we now also bring the negative mechanics of accidental pulling in a way potentially surpassing even the worst Barrage offenders from WoD. Worse, to insure against such accidental pulling requires a targeting approach so conservative as to significantly reduce what is already mediocre damage.
I have said it before, and I will continue to say it: A spec with the supposed “fantasy” of Master of Beasts that has no control over any of them is a failed spec.
tl;dr — Legion so far is great fun, but don’t play a BM hunter.