Breaking news: Cobra Shot to wiggle more

It’s no secret that I am beyond disgusted with the way Blizz has treated hunters ever since they trashed and then abandoned SV hunters in WoD. After promising to make SV better in “the next expansion”, they proceeded to complete their destruction of it by making it a melee spec in Legion, and a pretty puny one at that. Then they moved on to MM, basically turning it into a turret style damage dealer, removing two of the signature features of hunters — mobility and pets — in one fell swoop. Last, after Ion Hazzikostas told us how BM hunters were “in a pretty good place” just prior to Legion, Blizz went on to ransack that spec, too, removing nearly all possibility of skill play in favor of a couple of cooldowns the player had almost zero control over except to mash the button as soon as they were up.

When the Legion Alpha test went live, skilled and well-respected hunters diligently measured, analyzed, and described to Blizz the many ways the hunter class came up short. Their focus was on play style, not on numbers, and they tried every way possible to make Blizz understand that the very soul of hunters had been ripped away.

Blizz ignored them.

Then when the beta test finally went live, a lot more hunters voiced their anguish to Blizz, again not so much about numbers, but about the fact that the class they had played and loved for years had been stripped of every trace of what made the class unique. Again, these players wrote thousands of pages of feedback in the approved forums, detailing all the factors that contributed to what they perceived was the death of the class.

Blizz ignored them.

By this point, sadly, the leading community hunters had pretty much given up, bruised and battered after months of talking to a brick wall. But then the PTR went live, and hunters who had not previously tried the Legion hunter class expressed their keen sense of loss and anger, again writing reams of comments about the mechanics that made them feel they were no longer true hunters.

Blizz ignored them.

And when I say “Blizz ignored them”, I mean not just that no changes were made or design explanations given, but that Blizz met the entire hunter outcry with a steadfast, impenetrable wall of silence. There were no blue posts that even deigned to acknowledge there might be some problems with the Legion hunter class implementation, no hunter class adjustments as builds were put out (even though there were tons for other classes), no dev mention of the problem, no recognition whatsoever of the near-universal condemnation of the changes they had made to the hunter class. Not even so such as a “F**k you, hunters, we like things the way they are.”

Then, one week before Legion went live, a CM had the chutzpah to make a blue post asking for hunter input on Legion problems. As if the thousands upon thousands of previous posts did not even exist. As if, one week before launch, it would make a difference. He even called the thread “Let’s Talk”, implying that at long last, this late in the cycle, Blizz’s wall of silence would finally be broken. Like Charlie Brown rushing to kick that football he just knew Lucy would hold still for him this time, hunters once again posted thousands of thoughtful, detailed, specific comments about every aspect of the class they felt had been ripped from them.

Blizz ignored them.

In the first Q&A after Legion launch, a few warlock trolls and scumbags bullied their way into it, spamming the pre-event thread and using flame and shame tactics to downvote every question not submitted by a warlock, and then further spamming the live event feed with spittle-flecked tantrums. After very slightly scolding them for their tactics and telling them such actions would not be successful, Ion Hazzikostas proceeded to explain how Blizz was going to fix perceived warlock class problems. Long blue posts were written on the subject, and immediate changes were made in hotfixes, along with a detailed plan for long term fixes.

Meanwhile, hunters, who had played by Blizz’s rules for feedback, who had not thrown public tantrums, continued to be ignored. Then, finally, months after the “Let’s Talk” thread appeared, weeks after the warlock meltdown, there was one relatively short blue post in the hunter forum promising significant changes to the hunter class, but hunters had to be patient, wait for 7.1 and 7.2 because of course these things take time.

Hunters waited. In 7.1, a few paltry changes appeared, nothing of course for BM, but a nerf for MM (as if that were all that was wrong with MM mechanics!), and some stiff for SV presumably to try make it at least semi-viable as a spec.

Hunters continued to wait. In 7.1.5, all hunters had traps restored, and a very slight adjustment was made to correct the awful Aspect of the Cheetah, but it cost a talent to do so. There were multiple other changes, but of note every change to BM dealt with numbers designed to buff the spec’s damage. Nothing Blizz did even began to address the fundamental problems with the spec. Pet pathing — other than slightly speeding up Hati’s slow amble to a target — remained horrible. BM hunters still had no surge ability beyond the worthless Stampede talent. Pet control remained problematic, hit-and-miss in terms of setting your pet on passive for example and having confidence it would remain so. BM hunters themselves had almost zero damage ability without a pet, effectively making them a melee damage dealer who operated out of melee range. The play style — unless you had “the” appropriate legendaries and a 4-pic tier set — remained clunky and slow, with no player control over focus generation, no skill abilities beyond mashing a cooldown button or key as soon as it became available.

Similarly, most of MM changes were to adjust numbers, little was done to address the turret play style, and nothing was done to address the underlying fact that all MM damage was RNG-dependent at its origin.

In short, in spite of months of hunter comments that the class problems were about play style, not about numbers, most of Blizz’s fixes have been to tweak numbers.

Now we are into the 7.2 PTR, and there seems to be no plan to make any further changes to hunters. Except one — shown here.

Yes, at long last, hallelujah! Hunters are finally getting the spell animation changes NO ONE has asked for! And what changes they are! Brace yourself now — Arcane Shot  will soon cause much bigger weapon kick and be more purple! Barrage will have more muzzle flash! Bestial Wrath will cause that symbol to only appear over the hunter’s head, no longer the pet’s!! (Of course, there is no change to that pleasant “I am having a really hard poop” sound that accompanies it…)  A few other similarly HUGE and MOMENTOUS changes, such as Black Arrow will have a bigger bullet!!  (I guess it is a bullet, the demo showed a hunter with a gun…) But the big one, and the one I know all BM hunters have been waiting for: Cobra Shot will wiggle more!!! OMG, I have to sit down, this is too much.

Really, Blizz? Really? Everything that is wrong with hunters, and this is what you decide has priority?

Words fail me at this point.

Help build a hunter community response

Late edit: The first hunter forum thread hit max less than 24 hours after it appeared, so the current active thread is here. Also be aware there appears to be a posting bug that results in your first attempt at a reply just sending it into the ether, although a second attempt will succeed. I recommend you copy your entire forum reply before trying to post it, so if it disappears you can just paste and try again.

A couple of days ago I published a piece about Blizzard’s months-long practice of completely ignoring valid hunter concerns about class changes in Legion. Lo and behold, last night Ornyx, a Blizzard Community Manager, started a thread asking for input on hunter concerns. (No, I am sure my post had nothing to do with it, but if it did I solemnly vow to use this power only for good …. 😉)

First things first. Any of you who play a hunter, whether main or alt, please take a moment and go to the new thread and make your feelings known, in a calm and professional tone. (Emotion about the subject is fine, spittle-flecked invective and hateful language is not.) If you do not have the time to post, at least peruse some of the comments and give some feedback in the form of a Like or even a Dislike. It seems that sudden and massive response is the best way to get Blizz’s attention these days.

I have to admit, I was excited by the fact that there was finally a Blue post acknowledging the existence of hunters, and even soliciting feedback on the massive changes to the class. This of course is a sad commentary, because there have been literally thousands of pleas over the last 8-9 months begging Blizz to respond to serious and legitimate concerns about the current state of the hunter class, all stubbornly ignored. So it feels a little bit shameful that when we finally get one small acknowledgement that there might be some problems, my response is to wiggle like a happy puppy.

I commend Ornyx for starting the forum thread — nothing bad on him over this — but we simply cannot ignore the big turd in the punch bowl here:

Why now? And why a brand new thread, when there is a massive amount of forum input from hunter class forums as well as from Legion test forums?

With 5 days to go until Legion launch, the timing certainly seems strange. I have more questions than answers at this point.

  • Is Ornyx’s thread something he is doing on his own initiative, or is it part of a larger Blizz plan to lay the foundation for significant class changes in 7.1?
  • Why is it necessary to restate points already stated multiple times in other forums — in fact, in the very forums Blizz told us to provide feedback in? Do they not read those forums? Are they trying to see if hunters still really really feel the same way?
  • What is the point of this exercise? Are there actual plans to address the deep flaws in every hunter spec, or is this just a mechanism to allow hunters to release a little steam? Worse, is the move designed to give false hope, just to shut hunters up for a while? (The disconnected office thermostat ploy.)
  • Will we ever get the results of Ornyx’s initiative — that is, will we get an official response to the concerns, beyond “We hear you and we are thinking about it. There, there.” He stated in his original post that he intends to take the compiled responses “to the devs”, but what that means is a little unclear.
  • If in fact the initiative is the basis for 7.1 changes, is there any hope that they will be anything but superficial? The small responses to date indicate Blizz fails to understand — or is unwilling to deal with — fundamental flaws in spec design.
  • Slightly off topic, but not really: Ornyx admitted he does not play a hunter, which makes me wonder if any of the devs making drastic changes play a hunter seriously, beyond as a fun leveling and soloing alt (which btw is not really so fun any more). No one who has played a hunter for a long time, who has loved the hunter class, could possibly have made the class-altering changes we have seen. Come on, Blizz, come clean — Do any of you actually main a hunter?

Short post today, but I wanted to get this out there to help build the response. I choose to take Ornyx’s initiative as a positive sign of Blizz’s commitment to not abandon the hunter class. I hope I am not proven wrong.

Of classes and sea changes

I have lately been doing some survey reading on principles of MMO game development, and I ran across an item that really struck a chord with me. It was from a blog called Tough Love Critic, in a piece on principles for MMO balance:

STEADY CHANGE IS OKAY, SEA CHANGES AREN’T
Metas get stale, especially if they’re bad metas that take excitement, flexibility, agency, or all of the above from players. But that doesn’t mean that when a meta needs to change the patch notes should rival a doctoral dissertation each and every time.

Huge changes might drastically change the meta, but just as easily it can invalidate a player’s favorite build, expensive gear, or in worse cases their entire class. If the only balance patches that happen change everything, then players dread changes rather than look forward to them.

Steady, consistent changes, tweaking here and there, work much better over time. The meta steadily shifts away from its previous moorings, allowing for a hybrid lake where new builds and old builds vie for dominance.

Caveat: Sometimes large changes are necessary because a lot of other aspects of a game are changing as well, but they should never be a constant.

Now, before I talk a little bit more about this quote, let me point out that in almost anything you read about MMO design, World of Warcraft jumps out as a textbook example for proper application of gaming principles. In fact, in some instances, the principles were actually deduced from analysis of WoW. The game, even today, remains the gold standard for nearly every aspect of MMOs.

But the reason I was so taken with the quote above is that I think this is where Blizz has made a big mistake. Over the past couple of expansions they have been pushing the pendulum of change into ever-widening arcs, particularly in areas most sensitive to players, and they are either unwilling or unable to slow it back to a nice steady tick. Many of the most controversial changes over the two years have in fact been controversial simply because they were so drastic and so sudden, whereas had they been implemented more slowly they would have been more easily accepted.

Sometimes, as in the example of Survival hunters, there has been a series of these sea changes coming one on the heels of the other. At the start of WoD, the spec was terrible, then in patch 6.1 it became pretty much overpowered, then in patch 6.2 it became unplayable, then in patch 7.0.3 it became a completely different spec as melee. That, my friends, is change that is too drastic too often. And indeed the resulting perception for many SV players was exactly as described in the quote.

As a side note, I think Blizz may actually have learned their lesson on drastic change in one area: flying. They saw what happened when they wanted to suddenly remove it from the game for all new areas, so they backed off. Backed off, but I still think that is their end goal. In Legion, it will be delayed for months, almost certainly for a year or more. My bet is that in the next expansion it will be delayed even longer, possibly until the last patch. After that, if there is an “after that”, I think it is a better than even chance that it will be effectively removed from the game for all new areas. Incremental change, not drastic change. It is the frog in the pot of water being gradually brought to a boil.

New expansions and new patches bring changes, that is a given. It is how MMOs evolve and grow. Changes in a game should be fun and exciting and challenging. There are parts of the game where people welcome change, and there are parts of the game where players are much more resistant to change. People enjoy content changes, quality of life changes, environmental/art changes. But people are much more conservative when it comes to areas of the game they have an emotional investment in, for example the essence of their game persona — class and spec.

And this is where I think Blizz has erred. They have insisted on making changes that are not only drastic but continual to classes and specs, to the very core of players’ self-identification. Rather than have a class evolve over the course of a couple of expansions, they have opted to swing them from one extreme to the other. They have failed to realize that these changes really, really matter to players, they are not just another game mechanic. (It makes me wonder if the real reason for such changes is that it helps to flesh out dev resumes — “Conceived of and implemented major changes to three character classes in World of Warcraft, resulting in …. bla bla bla … increased corporate revenue…bla bla bla…certificate of achievement…bla bla bla”)

For all the protestations that the devs are passionate about the game, I see no indication whatsoever that they are passionate about any class or spec. Yes, one dev may appreciate one set of mechanics over another, but do any of them truly love being, say, a hunter or a priest or a warlock? I don’t know, but I do know that if they had the same kind of persona investment in a class/spec that many players have, they would not treat them as they have for last couple of years. They would be more respectful of player-evolved fantasies for their spec and less eager to impose a Blizz-approved fantasy du jour.

The weekend beckons.

Running in place

If you have a busy day today, you might want to skip reading this post. I guarantee you there is nothing of substance in it, I am writing it as a placeholder, a way to keep my writing rhythm going when there really seems to be absolutely nothing to write about.  Oh, I will natter on about a couple of unrelated subjects, but the truth is, there really is very little to discuss these last few days before the pre-expansion patch goes live.

Which I hope will be next Tuesday, and it probably will be next Tuesday, but that is not a sure thing. All we know is that Tuesday marks the end of the current PvP season, and Blizz has told us that “the Legion pre-expansion patch is nearly here.” Now, I know that in the past the end of the PvP season has coincided with patches going live, and I have no reason to think that will not be the case this time. But Blizz has not told us officially that the patch will go live on Tuesday the 19th.

You would think if they were certain of the status, that they would actually tell us, but either they are continuing their tradition of being saccharinely coy about it, or perhaps they are not absolutely sure it will in fact go live then. Legion itself will launch August 30, so that would be about 6 weeks after a July 19th pre-patch. I don’t have the numbers handy, but 6 weeks seems like a bit longer lead time than we have had in the past (it may not be, may be just my perception), and I can’t help but wonder if Blizz is hedging their bets, frantically finishing up all the worst bugs in 7.0.3 with an ideal target date of Tuesday but a worst case launch of the 26th. Nevertheless, I am planning on next Tuesday.

A couple of nights ago I played around with a Demon Hunter in the beta. I didn’t get too involved with it, just did a few of the intro quests to get it to level 99, then the server crashed. I had fun with it, and I will probably roll one as soon as we are able on live, but I doubt if I will ever do much with one as an alt. I’m sure those of you really interested in them have already devoured some of the more detailed reporting available, so I won’t go into much on specific mechanics. (Plus, I was just kind of passing time so I did not keep much n the way of notes on my experience.)

The class seems lively and engaging, and the visuals are great, like the sprouting of wings when you double jump. Even with only a couple of spells at 98, it seemed a tad OP in the starting area — knowing zero about the class, I had no trouble taking on 4-5 mobs at a time, never getting below about 80% health in the process. Still, it is a melee class, and I am just not all that excited about playing melee in a raid or group setting. Too chaotic in terms of visuals, small movements of the boss require you to reposition yourself constantly, large movements of the boss cause you to lose a ton of damage while you are running after him, etc. It is just not my thing. I expect it will be like the DK I rolled when it became available — it was new and intriguing but ultimately not something I enjoyed playing over the long haul.

The OP factor I noticed made me wonder if Blizz is purposely doing that in order to make the new class more attractive to players. Not that I think it will be necessary — there will be about a jillion Demon Hunters running around all over Azeroth as soon as they become available. Some players will love them and make them their mains, becoming very skilled, and others like me will pick them up and quickly lose interest in them.

The other thought I had as I played it was that Demon Hunters make the whole idea of melee Survival Hunters even more puzzling. I admit I have not rolled a SV hunter (and Hell will freeze over before I do so), so I cannot compare the two specs from personal experience, but everything I read about the two tells me they are similar in play style. SV has a pet, DH does not. SV has traps, DH as far as I took it does not. But other than that, both are quite rogue-like in their play style, at least from a rank amateur’s point of view.

I wonder if down the road Blizz has plans to make SV hunter the third DH spec, maybe giving real hunters a new tanking spec. Even better, what if the reason they included “hunter” in the name for DH is that they plan to remove MM as a spec in the next expansion and merge BM in with the DH class, thereby completing what seems to be the goal of destroying the hunter class as we have known it since the beginning of WoW? All it would take is a shift in the races available for DH, make up some ridiculous lore to explain it, and voila! Yeah, I know that is a really stupid and far out theory, but hey I got nothing better to do these days…

Some day I would love to hear the real reason Blizz reconfigured hunters as they did. Because their insipid “class fantasy” explanations just don’t cut it. It will be interesting to see how the two melee specs fall out for numbers of players, inclusion in top level raid teams, etc. It seems to me that if you want to play a new melee spec, DH has it all over SV in terms of fun and cool effects

As I said at the beginning, I really have nothing much else to write about. I have been spending most of my game time the last few days with housekeeping chores, and I expect come Tuesday (if indeed we have the pre-patch then), the admin grind will start in earnest. I will have to go through a ton of salvage crates and then spend a few hours either vendoring or DE-ing the literally hundreds of pieces of transmog gear I have stashed in void storage and banks. I fully expect that chore to last two days at least. Then I will have to take a full day for each of my characters and set up new action bars, keybinds, talents, glyphs (whatever ones we have remaining), and auras for Weakauras, then run through a few sessions on the target dummies and venture into a random dungeon or two. Yeah, minimum one day per character, maybe longer.

OK, see, I told you. Nothing to see here today. Move along.

PS. Happy Bastille Day.

Artifact weapon — the crap ideas just keep on coming

A day or two ago there was an interesting– and disturbing — post in MMO-C, laying out some data mined details of the costs for switching artifact weapon specs in Legion. Standard disclaimers that it is still alpha (why is that, btw?), the tool tips could still juse be placeholders, etc., but the bottom line: Looks like it will be prohibitively expensive to change your artifact talent selections.

Now, I do not have alpha access and honestly only have a vague understanding of artifact mechanics, but let me see if I can summarize what I understand so far:

As you go about your normal tasks in Legion you will accrue special artifact currency (“Artifact Power”) that enables you to open up various artifact talents. The talents in fact constitute a new talent tree for your character, bound closely not only to your spec but to the weapon you will be required to carry for that spec and only that spec. For all practical purposes these talents function the same as regular talents, in that they enhance your survivability, tankyness, deepsyness, or healyness.

Blizz has said that they expect it will take players months™ to complete their artifact talent trees. This tells me that either the currency cost for unlocking talents will be extremely high, or that the earn rate will be extremely low.

And now we learn that — should you choose unwisely in selecting your talents, or should there be some “balancing” tweak to your spec, or to a raid or instance, that negates the value of something you have already selected — you will essentially have to grind for more months just to change your selection.

Wow. Really? It’s not bad enough that you will have to grind out artifact talents for every spec on every character you play? And no, I put zero stock in Blizz’s big hand-wave about there will be “some mechanism” to maybe help you a little in your off spec. Because if it takes months™  to grind it out on your main, then even if you have only one off spec on your main, and say 4 alts who are single-specced — and really, who limits themselves to this very modest account makeup? — it could be 5 times “months™” to get a fully functional weapon for each. If you consider “months™” to be a conservative 4-5, we are basically saying that you will not be able to accomplish this before the next expansion goes live.

(Or that it is an attempt to make us love it if Legion lasts for several years….)

That’s assuming that you have your crystal ball in perfect working order and select the right spec at the start of Legion, and that you never make a mistake in selecting your artifact talents.

Now let us add in a complicating factor: nearly every class and spec — along with the entire secondary stat system — is being completely reworked for Legion. Do you trust Blizz to have this adequately (note I did not say “well”) balanced at the start of the expansion? Well, if you do, then please contact me about a great stock market deal I can offer you.

No, there is absolutely no way that class balancing — much less raid and instance tuning — will be even close to adequate when Legion goes live! I doubt if it will settle down until at least the second major patch. What does this mean in terms of your artifact weapon?

  • If balancing pendulum swings “tweaks” completely screw over your selected spec, you may decide to change specs. Lucky you, that will mean starting over again with your artifact weapon. And lest you pooh-pooh the notion that Blizz would ever completely screw over a spec, I have two words for you — survival hunter.
  • If the balancing tweaks don’t actually screw over your spec, what if Blizz drastically changes the weights and mechanisms of secondary stats (think “multistrike” in WoD)? Think that might affect your artifact talent tree selection? You bet your booty it might, and if you decide to go back and try to optimize it in light of the changes, guess what — yep, you get to start grinding again on the currency to do so, and it will take a loooonnnnng time to do so.
  • What might be the fallout to your artifact talent selection if Blizz starts tinkering with tuning in raids and instances? Honestly, I have no idea, but here’s the thing: neither does anyone else! But one thing you can be sure of — if it does affect your artifact talent spec, you are screwed until you can go back and grind for months to be able to change it, hoping that by the time you get there Blizz has not tweaked something else to affect it.

I have written before about my concerns with Legion artifact weapons. I am not necessarily against the concept, but I think Blizz, as is their wont, has gone way too far overboard with them. No one piece of gear should have that much influence over every facet of game play. In their current incarnation, they will become the hated symbol of Legion, in exactly the same way garrisons became the symbol of WoD’s failure.

Since Blizz has apparently already sunk too deeply into artifact pervasiveness in the game to go back, the one thing they can yet do to salvage the concept is to make it significantly less onerous for players to change weapon talents and even weapons/specs themselves in response to the inevitable swings in the game. I get that the execs make their bonuses by increasing active player monthly game time, but at some point inexorable grinds do nothing but demoralize players, many of whom will find the game rewards them negatively and only disproportionately for more and more hours spent.

I am not saying that the initial artifact quest line and talent table completion should be easy or even fast. I am saying that once you have put in the effort to maximize your weapon, you should not have to do it over and over again, as a virtual Sisyphus. Just as Blizz has come around to thinking that a long grind to achieve flying should award that benefit to the entire account, so should a long grind to maximize an artifact weapon. I would not even care if artifact completion took a couple of patches, as long as I only had to do it once. When completing something is a very long and arduous process, part of the reward must be that you don’t have to do it again. It most certainly cannot be that now you get to start over again, for every spec and alt you have.

In a more basic sense, Blizz, you should be encouraging players to experiment with different specs, with different artifact builds, not penalizing them for it! Sheesh, why do you not see that? Why must you adopt the tyrant style of central governance, of making all that is not compulsory, forbidden? By making artifact weapons required, critical to a character’s abilities, and difficult to progress in, you are once again pandering to the elite 1% at the expense of your bread and butter subscription base.

Thus I make yet another futile plea to Blizz: Please rethink your basic design of artifact weapons and their role in this game. Do not make them the garrisons of Legion.

An open letter to Blizzard

February 17, 2016
Somewhere in Azeroth

Dear Blizz,

I am writing this with the certain knowledge that you will never read it, much less respond to it, and even less take any remedial action as a result. Still, I feel compelled to write it, if only to be able to say I tried.

Please reconsider your entire treatment of the hunter class in Legion.

What you have proposed for hunter changes are so drastic as to completely destroy the class many of us have played and loved for years. You have said that it is very early in the alpha test, and that many things can and will change before Legion goes live, so I feel that now may be the last chance to save hunters as a class.

This is not about numbers and balancing tweaks, this is about the very soul of the class. The Legion changes will rip away nearly every aspect of what has made hunters such an awesome class to play since the beginning of the game. You may think of it as “de-homogenization” or fixing “button bloat”, but you are stripping away the essence of hunterness.

I get that you may not want to believe me, or may dismiss me as just another loud-mouthed rabble rouser. I don’t take it personally, it is probably a tag I richly deserve. So don’t listen just to me, check out these links from some of the most respected hunter writers in the blogosphere — Bendak, The Grumpy Elf, Pherian, Delirium, Sar. (OK, honestly I don’t know Sar, but he/she makes some excellent points about the hunter class “feel” in Legion.) These are people who care deeply about the whole hunter immersive experience in your game, and they are saying that you are diminishing their opportunities for such an experience, in a major way, in Legion.

I am willing to compromise here. Even though your destruction of the Survival spec was a hard pill for me to swallow, go ahead with your plans to make it a melee spec. I won’t play it, but I can live with playing another hunter spec. And go ahead and keep your hunter class hall in an area with absolutely zero historical significance for hunters, living among a faction invented just for the purpose of giving some scenery to the area. I will only drop in there as necessary to collect quests. And I won’t even ask you to restore the old version of Hunter’s Mark, even though I still miss it every day and think it was a big mistake to take away such an iconic spell from hunters, as an easy way to remove a PvP complaint and write it off to pruning button bloat.

But here are my suggestions — well, okay, my earnest pleas — for fundamental changes to restore the feel and fun of playing a hunter in Legion:

Restore the hunter pet experience to all specs. All hunters have a special bond with their pets, as Bendak so well described, and Legion reduces hunter pets to just another graphic depiction of AoE or DoT effects. One of the most iconic features of hunters since the game began has been our pets — we name them, we care for them, we spend hours or days or even weeks finding and taming them. We level with them, we heal them, we pause in the middle of fights to rez them if they die, and they have saved our bacon more often than we can count. Our pets are not warlock minions or mage elementals or hobby “fighting” pets. They are our constant game companions.

Give Marksman back a true hunter pet option. (NOT that talent that is a poor knockoff imitation of a warlock or DK “pet”.)

Give us back control over selecting our own pets for Dire Beast and Stampede, and give us the same option for the Hati spirit.

Restore our pet’s survivability in fights, there is no reason to make them as squishy as the alpha indicates they will be.

Restore traps and camouflage to all specs. I don’t even know how it is possible to conceive of a hunter without trapping abilities and expertise in camouflage. I don’t care how you define the hunter “fantasy”, there is no interpretation that can ignore the need for trapping and camouflage abilities.

Beyond the fantasy betrayal that lack of traps represents, there is the practical problem that every hunter since the beginning of the game has developed a play style for which traps are an integral part. In addition to the fact we will have to learn an entirely new class and play style if as a hunter we wish to play SV, now both MM and BM will also have to completely relearn critical skills such as kiting and crowd control.

Restore focus control to BM. The current plan to regenerate focus only passively through the frequent use of Dire Beast is not an engaging or challenging play style. It removes a huge amount of player choice and control and largely reduces the BM experience to one of pressing a few buttons, wait, press a few buttons, wait, etc. Let us decide when we want to spend or pool focus, and whether or not such a choice is a good one. We like being wrong sometimes and learning from it. We don’t like twiddling our thumbs while we wait for the game to generate a trickle of focus for us.

Give us back our self-defense abilities and our raid contributions. Deterrence has been nerfed to a single-use effect with a 3-minute cooldown. Many of our hard-won self-healing abilities, even puny as they were, are gone. Our ability to “pour it on” when most needed when a boss hits 20-30% health disappears because Kill Shot is gone for all specs. Unless we are SV, we have minimal if any ability to contribute to cc duties in our raid. And no matter what spec we play, we have zero raid buffs to bring to the table.

Blizz, as I said in the beginning of this post, I do not expect any reaction from you. I know you are busy, and I know I am nobody important. But I have to try, because this is about more than a few numbers. This is about trying to save the hunter class.

Sincerely,

Fiannor

 

Class dismissed

As some of my regular readers may know, I have recently begun raiding again with a new guild — fun/alt HFC(N) runs, but that is a huge step forward from where I have been for the last 9-10 months. I am enjoying it a lot, and some of my raiding skills are starting to come back. However, I am disappointed in my damage numbers, not because of the numbers themselves, but because I know I am not maximizing my current gear/spec to what it could be.

I should by all rights be actively seeking to improve my MM hunter skills, but I am having a hard time convincing myself to put much work into doing so. I am angry, depressed, and –to be brutally honest — still pouting over the current as well as future changes to hunters. This state of mind is not conducive to  motivating me to improve my hunter skills.

To start with, I am angry that Blizz has made MM hunter the only really viable raiding spec in WoD. I was a SV hunter, loved the feel to it, had played it since Cata, and was good at it. Then Blizz completely destroyed it in 6.2, without so much as a by-your-leave or even a screw-you to those of us who loved the spec and had invested a lot of time in perfecting it.

Then Blizz proceeded to ignore BM as a spec, doing no further balancing for it, while at the same time buffing MM with talents as well as with the 4-piece tier set. In fact, they made the tier set a defacto requirement for a smooth MM rotation. Without the 4-piece, MM is a clumsy, clunky, annoying spec to play. In my opinion, that is piss-poor and lazy design. (And no, so far I only have 2 pieces, and honestly given my horrible RNG luck I am not expecting to get the full set.)

So I am already annoyed that I am more or less forced into playing MM if I wish to raid effectively. Now add the fact that anything I learn with MM now will be useless when Legion goes live. For one thing, every hunter spec will change so drastically as to be virtually three different classes instead of variations on a single class. For another, I have absolutely zero intention of continuing to play MM in Legion. And since I stubbornly refuse to play the new melee class Blizz calls “Survival hunter”, that leaves me with Beastmastery as my only possibility.

No, spending time and effort getting good at MM right now is not appealing to me at all. Oh, I will work at it a little, because my stubborn pride is still there, but my heart is not in it. In the past, whenever I worked on improving my hunter skills, I had fun doing it — I actually enjoyed the learning process, loved seeing my skills improve. (I spent days learning how to do a forward disengage, and I loved every minute of the process.) But not now. Now it will be tedious and largely futile.

I have been devouring every tiny bit of info I can find on Legion hunter specs — especially the comments from the alpha testers — and I remain very pessimistic about the future of the class I have loved since my first day in WoW. Of course, everyone hastens to point out that it is very early in the development process, and much will change before the class changes go live. To that I say horse hockey! Yes, there will be changes to fix obvious bugs, and likely a few balance tweaks, but my reading is that there are fundamental, foundational flaws in each spec that can only be fixed by a complete rewrite of the spec. Which Blizz almost certainly will not do.

I encourage you to read the alpha tester comments yourselves to see the specifics, but in comment after comment what I see are variations on the theme of “This just feels wrong.” For example, a recurring criticism of the new BM (for me, the only hunter spec I will consider playing) is that there is no player-controlled focus generator. This removes a huge amount of player choice in shot selection — it basically puts the “rote” back into rotation. It also implies there might be a significant amount of down time, like the current combat rogue complaint.

Another baseline change is that only SV hunters will be able to trap, a change that will require a complete rethink about hunters not only by hunters themselves, but also by raid leaders. Most BM and MM hunters have spent a significant amount of time honing their trapping skills, have woven them into kiting and soloing play styles, and now they must start all over again with those. This is a another change I do not see being reversed during the development process.

And not for nothin’, but why in the hell would anyone think traps would be a good idea for melee fighters? No tank I know would stand for some melee damage dealer willy-nilly dropping slow or freezing traps in a boss scrum area. Not to mention the visual clutter it will contribute to an already over-cluttered area. The spec that really needs traps is MM, because their pets have been taken away, and a robust trapping ability would have helped them while soloing. But Blizz’s response to concerns about MM soloing? “Suck it up, other classes manage without pets.” Yes, that is true, and if I wanted to do that I would have rolled one of those classes….

There are other fundamental flaws I do not see Blizz changing, such as a perceived over-reliance on RNG for MM damage interactions. One tester pointed out a huge design flaw where in several situations Arcane Shot (which applies the new Hunters Mark debuff) takes longer to arrive at the target than the GCD, so you will not know whether HM has been applied or not by the time you have to get your next shot off. There are similarly serious design flaws in the new SV spec, but I pay little attention to them because there is no way in hell I will ever play that spec again.

The point is, even though there will be minor adjustments to hunter specs, I think we are in a WYSIWYG situation with the basic feel and play styles. BM hunters were just added to the new alpha build, so there are no real test results on that spec just yet. I expect to see some in the next couple of days, and I am holding my breath that it will seem even remotely playable.

But I am not optimistic about it. If Blizz had started out in 6.2 to deliberately obliterate the hunter class, they could not have done a better job. I fully expect to be playing another class entirely in Legion, and that makes me sad beyond belief.