Look out! The Blizz pendulum is coming at you again!

Today Blizz gave us the first detailed look at their vision for hunter pets in Battle for Azeroth. Interestingly, they posted this information in a forum that requires a “beta” ticket to even comment in. I am trying to talk myself out of the opinion that this means they are too chickenshit to subject themselves to the huge outcries they know they will get from virtually every hunter in the game. Yes, you can make a case for them wanting to only hear from people who can actually try the changes, but who are those people at this stage, the only stage when significant changes will be made? No one but Blizz knows, of course, but my suspicion is that very few of the favored friends and family and streamers actually have BM hunter as their main. They may be familiar with the mechanics, but how many of them really have a passion for the spec and the kind of gut understanding that comes with that?

You can read (but probably not comment on) the Blue post for yourselves, but for a more balanced exposition of the changes, I recommend Bendak’s post on them or Delirium’s from a couple days ago. My logical side says time will tell if these changes turn out to be a boon or a bust for hunters, especially BM hunters, but for now my lack of trust in Blizz makes me very suspicious. Part of me imagines that Blizz, in typical fashion, took the hunter request for more pet talent variety (say, like we had in WoD), and went berserk with it. I can almost hear them sneering, “You little whiners want pet variety? I gotcher pet variety right here! BWAAAAAHAHA, guess you won’t be asking for that again will ya, you little snivelers?”

My initial take is that Blizz is getting ready to do to pets what they did to gear in Legion — make them so complex that we will need a bank of computers to select the most effective one for any given situation. In the process, they are once again demonstrating their complete lack of understanding of the role a pet plays in the overall BM hunter experience, and they may be setting the stage for screwing over BM hunters in BfA.

Start with the complexity issue. They are adding a bewilderingly large matrix of “pet family uniqueness”, endowing certain pets with a single raid cooldown, and assembling a multitude of varied “pet ability packages”. In the process, they are:

  • Removing the option of speccing any pet into Ferocity, Tenacity, or Cunning, because apparently it “feels outdated”. One gets the idea they do not want us to have to bother our little heads about this thing — the same way they solicitously took away reforging so that we would not have to do that icky old math.
    • According to the Blue post, “we’re going to shift all pets to a setup that will work as though they’re specced into both Ferocity and Tenacity”. So what happens with Cunning traits? They just go away? They will be limited to PvP? Or did the Blue poster just forget about them, because who the hell can keep track of all those hunter-ish things anyway?
    • Even though they claim they are rolling all Ferocity/Tenacity traits into the  merged sped, they are removing the powerful Charge spell and buff, no explanation why.
  • Adding Bloodlust to more pets and removing Battle Rez completely from hunter pets. Blizz’s reasoning for this is a textbook example of obfuscation, designed to cover their real reason which is “OMG! Hunters as actual raid utility players? Sound the alarm!” Here it is, for your reading and dining pleasure:

    In a world where we are proliferating abilities to many families, our first inclination was to add Battle Res to a separate third of those families. After seeing that landscape, it felt odd to fully embrace Resurrection as part of the Hunter kit. Further, moving into Battle for Azeroth, we are solidifying Bloodlust and Battle Res as the strong shared cooldowns that a group can bring – one offense, one defense. In that world, Hunters having access to both of the super powerful group benefits didn’t feel appropriate.

  • While Blizz is removing the pet roles of Ferocity, Tenacity, and Cunning, they are keeping the terms as a way to categorize pet families. So every pet will fall into one of the those three categories. These categories form the basis for the matrix of abilities hunters will have to choose from in selecting a pet for a given situation. I am not going to go into detail on this, but it looks like there will be some permutation of at least 18 different abilities (more with Spirit Beasts and maybe Exotics) combined into 3 (or more with the special beasts) each that the hunter will have to select. (I am wondering if Blizz has stock in one of the sim web sites…)

Second point here is that this system completely disregards one of the coolest aspects of being a hunter — the bond you actually form with one or two pets. Blizz is making them just another piece of gear or a second talent tree — pick what works best for each situation. Forget that you always level with your favorite wolf pet, forget that you love Gara and have raided with him ever since you got him early in WoD, forget that your turtle pet has saved your skin more times than you can count while questing solo.

No, just roll-a-pet depending on the situation, they are just another piece of gear, who cares? Certainly no one at Blizz, where no one understands the emotional bond hunters have for their pets, much less ever experienced that for themselves.

Further, this announced change still does absolutely nothing to bolster the whole idea of BM being “Master of Beasts”. One additional active power button does not give us much more control over pets, we remain essentially leash holders whose main function is to drop the leashes and let the pets do what they will, while we stand back and fire off one or two puny little shots. One could actually argue that both MM and SV will have greater control over pets in BfA. MM will be able to call a pet — say for a quick Bloodlust — and dismiss it in a few seconds, thus hardly even touching their 18% Lone Wolf buff. SV seems like it will work hand in hand with their pets, and increases to hunter damage through higher level gear and more secondary stats will scale very well with their pet damage. This is not true of BM hunters, at least so far as we have seen — Blizz is willing to see SV pets as an integral part of their power, but they are opposed to pets scaling equally for BM hunters.

Last, what do these pet changes mean for the future of BM hunters in the next expansion? Given the dearth of BM hunter changes so far — especially when compared to the very significant changes announced for SV and MM — is this Rube Goldberg-esque pet matrix what passes for major BM changes in BfA? Does Blizz think they can switch a few talents around and give us this pet complexity and call it done for BM? I am getting the uncomfortable feeling the answer is yes. So far, I am seeing nothing close to compensating for the damage we will lose when we lose Hati and our artifact weapon, and bear in mind even with those things in Legion we are close to the very bottom of damage charts in nearly every fight.

And as an aside, what is going on with Tranq Shot and A Murder of Crows? The Blue post seemed to hint that the vaunted restoration of Tranq Shot for hunters may actually turn out to be a pet ability, though it was a bit unclear. If that is the case, it certainly waters down the already-puny raid utilities left to hunters in BfA (which were already watered down in Legion). As for Crows, all the changes I have seen now clearly label that talent “Marksman Hunter”. It seems ludicrous that MM would be gaining this and BM would be losing it. As I indicated above, who the hell is supposed to be the Master of Beasts, anyway? A spec whose fantasy is flailing away with super-high potency guns or bows suddenly can call in a flock of crows and the Master of Beasts suddenly cannot? I hope I am wrong about both of these things.

As a further aside, when are we going to get a bigger stable for hunter pets? You can have hundreds of mounts and foo-foo vanity pets in the game, but no no no, absolutely must limit the number of hunter pets? Blizz, could you at least try to appear a bit more even-handed? 🙄

Anyway, get your sims and spreadsheets and matrices ready for pet selection in BfA. And maybe say goodbye to your favorite pets — just explain to them they are not “optimal” any more, and it is time for them to go to a nice farm where they will always be happy and run in the sunshine…

Oh, and watch out for that nasty pendulum.

The patch is upon us

Well. At last we are truly into it. As you know unless you have been spending the last few weeks in a cave somewhere, the Legion pre-patch goes live with the reset this week, which means Tuesday in the wee hours of the morning in the U.S. I have to admit, I am more than ready for a change. Even if I am not happy about all the details of the change, sometimes you just need to do something different. It has been 13 months since we last had a major patch. Too long.

I spent the weekend squeezing out the last few bits of gold from my garrison and shipyard missions, leveling up my rogue’s new gathering profession of herbalism to 700, and just having some fun with my main hunter doing some instances and fun runs with my guild.

While gathering herbs in Pandaria, I stumbled upon Gumi, one of the spirit beasts from that patch. I quickly logged off my rogue and on to my hunter, got myself to the area and tamed this quirky porcupine pet. It is one of three spirit porcupines from Mists, the other two being Hutia and Dengu. In truth, they are not that hard to camp, as they spawn quite frequently,  and usually (maybe always?) at the same time, so I traveled around and got all three of them in the space of about 15 minutes. With my taming of Skoll and Arcturis a couple of months ago, along with a few other spirit and rare beasts I have tamed over the years, I am collecting a fair stable of spirit beasts. Nothing like some of the really dedicated hunters have, but possibly approaching respectable. I am thinking I will level with Arcturis in Legion, although it is very tempting to go with Terrorpene. I think the visuals make for nice symmetry questing with a turtle when hunters have the new Aspect of the Turtle that replaces Deterrence. And honestly, the pet nerfs for 7.0 are so severe that the only real factor in selecting a hunter pet now is the cosmetic effect, I am very sad to say.

This evening I will do my last few garrison missions, give my followers their pink slips, and start to make a couple of changes to my hunter gear to account for changing from Marksman to Beastmastery. Mainly this will mean unloading as much Crit and Multistrike as I can and loading up on Haste and Mastery. I am not going to do a huge gear change, because it is just not worth it when we will all get new gear as we level in Legion. But I will change out my trinkets, as some of the major ones from HFC will not be all that useful any more. (I will not be sad to get rid of my Mirror of the Blademaster — while it has been very effective, I really am not a fan of the visual for it.) And I will reroll the secondary stats on my three pieces of crafted gear.

Some of our community’s best hunters have published a couple of terrific getting started guides for your hunter in Patch 7. Check out Azortharion’s guide here on Icy Veins class columns (for the hunter spec you are interested in), and Bendak’s guides on his blog and on the column he writes for Blizzard Watch. There is a wealth of information in them that should help you if you are unsure of how to start getting familiar with all the hunter changes. These two hunters have really done the community a great service by getting these guides out in time for the pre-expansion patch.

I expect tomorrow most of my game time will be spent clearing out all the gear clogging up my bank and void storage slots, and if there is more time available to me I will get my new hunter action bars set up. Not sure if the addons I use — like Weakauras and Shadowed Unit Frames — will be ready to go or not, but if so, then there will be some reconfig necessary there also. I definitely want my hunter ready to go when the first Demon invasion hits.

I’ll reconfigure my alts over the course of the next week or so as time permits. And I feel like I will have significantly more time available, because I will stop doing all my garrison duties effective tomorrow. I’ll probably just not collect my mine and herb garden work orders and leave them where they are, just in case at some point in the future I need to quickly grab a couple of WoD mats. For now, I have plenty stockpiled, and I have already sold off the excess, so I think I am in good shape there.

Here’s hoping the pre-patch rollout goes smoothly. I probably will not write tomorrow, so see you on the other side!