World of Warcraft: The Hunter in a Post-WotLK Raid
MMORPG.com World of Warcraft Correspondent Robert Duckworth writes this article on the usefulness of the Hunter class in a raid after the launch of Wrath of the Lich King.
Hunters in a raid setting are considered to be pure DPS with very minor utility. The only real utility a hunter brings to a raid is the Misdirection ability for pulling, as everything else can be made up from another class. Misdirection is more of a tool for assistance then a necessity, it's not like before it was introduced in TBC nobody could raid anything in WoW. Nothing is really changing in WotLK, hunters will still be brought to a raid in order to do one thing: DPS.
Blizzard has gained a new philosophy where they don't want players brought to a raid because their role is necessary for the completion of the fight. Instead, Blizzard now wants many classes to fulfill the same overlapping functions so that raids are more fluid and there is no longer a requirement to stack a raid with certain classes in order to down a boss. For example, instead of bringing a terrible mage to a raid because he's the only class that can AoE this particular set of trash mobs, a good Druid or Warlock or Hunter could be brought instead. At least that's the kind of example Blizzard has given, where raids are made up of friends or good players as opposed to specific classes. In reality though, it sounds more like Blizzard is trying to get rid of the rabid raid stacking that plagued TBC raiding, more than they are trying to make raids more accessible… Which is still a move in the right direction.
This new philosophy has been explained in further detail when it comes to raid DPS. There are four "pure" DPS classes: Hunter, Mage, Rogue, Warlock. What these four classes bring to the raid is damage, and not much else. So the plan is that these four "pure" DPS classes deal a noticeable amount of more damage in a raid than the non "pure" DPS classes. There are valid concerns cropping up of course. Why would a raid take warlocks if as a class they have a lower DPS cap then mages. There would be no reason, especially now that any possible buff a Warlock could give to a raid is easily granted by a different class. Whether or not this new philosophy works out in the end, only WotLK can tell.
I brought this up because the same thing is true within the talent trees of each class, and of course that means the Hunter class as well. There are three talent trees to choose from and no matter what kind of balancing Blizzard comes up with, one of them will always have the highest damage output. It does look like they are going in the right direction though. If Blizzard can make all three hunter talent trees so close in DPS that it doesn't matter which one is taken except by perhaps a few dozen DPS, then they will have succeeded and all Hunters can rejoice because they will be allowed to spec. whatever they want for a raid. Now for an overview of the three different trees and how they are looking for WotLK raiding so far, as well as the intended shot rotation and probable talent point distribution.
Beast Mastery (BM)
The staple spec. of TBC, there are reports from Beta that this will once again become the number one viable raid tree. Haste has always been BM's major damage gainer over the other two trees, and the nerf to Windfury Totem (hunters no longer benefit from it) puts BM back at the top in this regard. The issue before was that a BM specced Hunter along with all of the other raid haste buffs was already haste capped, essentially giving diminishing returns to BM, but a boost to the other two trees. Now that Windfury Totem is out of the picture the 20% haste from BM is more valuable.
The BM rotation looks like it's going to consist of Steady Shot and Arcane Shot. Whether or not using a Global Cooldown on Serpent Sting is more valuable then just hitting Steady Shot one more time hasn't really been finalized, but it's looking like Serpent Sting will be part of the rotation. This is especially true on bosses with large amounts of armor, as Steady Shot damage will be lower, but Serpent Stings nature damage will remain consistent. This is a possible major flaw in Blizzard’s design because Serpent Sting is also meant to be used by both of the other talent trees, but with an increased amount of damage.
Chimera Shot using Serpent Sting for more damage, the SV talent Lock 'n Load proc'ing off of Serpent Sting allowing more Explosive Shots, without question the other two talent trees gain more from Serpent Sting. So it might be impossible for Blizzard to buff Serpent Sting’s damage to the point where it outweighs the cost of a GCD for BM hunters.
As far as talent point allocation goes, there's a large question as to whether or not the 51 point talent in the BM tree, aptly named Beast Mastery, is worth it. If Beast Mastery is not taken, then players can gain more +damage bonuses to their personal DPS by adding more points into the first tier of SV or deeper into MM. The argument is that exotic pets aren't worth the extra expenditure of talent points. Exotic pets gain 4 more pet talent points, but that doesn't increase their DPS because of the way the pet talent trees are set up. To try and remedy this, Blizzard has recently said they are going to increase all exotic pet DPS by 10% over any non-exotic. There is also the very real possibility that a BM raid hunter will spend more then 51 points in their talent tree, as the bottom of the tree is considered bloated for good talents. Any BM hunter, any raider really, will spend at least 15 points in the MM tree just for the basic necessary talents.
This talent tree was never used for raiding by any end game guild throughout TBC. At level 80, this spec is actually looking very powerful and fun. A nice break from the monotony of a year of nothing but raiding as BM or SV. The only major issue of MM is mana, Chimera Shot is a mana hog and there are no mana return talents to spec into. Mana issues are a in a bit of a tumult at the moment in beta though because of the notorious Judgment of Wisdom bugs, where no one ever runs out of mana. So depending on mana issues MM could easily match BM DPS. MM is also now the talent tree with the most plus crit talents, which was a surprising change as that was traditionally SV's mainstay. Though SV will continue to have a higher critical hit percentage anyway just because of the talent Lightning Reflexes.
The MM rotation is going to consist of Steady Shot, Serpent Sting, and Chimera Shot. Arcane Shot might also be thrown in there, but it depends on how worthwhile its damage return per mana point is going to hold up to just using another steady shot. Also, because Chimera Shot refreshes the duration of Serpent Sting, the actual MM rotation is looking more like Steady Shot spam and hitting the Chimera Shot button whenever it isn't on cool down. One major possibility to look out for is the inclusion of Aimed Shot into the rotation. Aimed Shot is gaining damage buffs and critical strike buffs through updated Barrage and Improved Barrage talents, while maintaining the same mana cost. Again, it depends on the damage returned per mana point, but hunters should know about this possibility.
There will not be an MM raid build that does not include Chimera Shot. It is too powerful to pass up after investing so many points into the tree. Chimera Shots damage is unmitigated by armor, increasing its effectiveness. Now, traditionally the last 20 points of an MM players build would be invested into the SV tree. This is no longer going to be the case for most builds. Investing 18 points allows the hunter to grab Lock 'n Load, but considering that arcane shot isn't in their rotation anyway and the high RNG factor of the ability in a raid setting, it's not looking like a worthwhile talent. Instead, the most common MM raid build will most likely look like a 7/57/7 build. There are enough good talents in the MM tree, both high and low, to justify sinking 6 more points then is absolutely necessary. Also, by looking at the other talents in the top SV and BM trees, none of them past seven points increase the Hunters damage in any way. Not until a player has sunk at least three more points, possibly eight, will they see a decent return for a talent point, meaning between three and eight wasted talent points that do nothing.
Traditionally the critical hit heavy and raid buff spec for hunters, Survival has really fallen far from that and into a more mediocre role. No longer does Survival provide a major Attack Power boost to the raid, instead it fulfills the same role as Paladins and Shadow Priests with a minor mana back ability. An ability which doesn't stack, and costs an 8 point investment where the other two classes gain it with 3 or less. It's also obvious that Blizzard tried to make the SV tree more PvP friendly, especially deep in the tree with talents such as Point of No Escape. The new talent Lock 'n Load will be amazing for PvP burst, as well as SV PvE damage. SV mainly for PvE because the hunter is able to use the harder hitting Explosive Shot over Arcane Shot. Currently SV is considered to deal the lowest DPS of the three trees. At first there was a lot of optimism because of the damage output of Explosive Shot, but then that damage was nerfed incredibly and now is only a little better then an Arcane Shot. As a 51 point talent that's really lackluster. An even bigger issue with the SV tree is how it's not completed. The 41 point talent is just a placeholder. Blizzard said they couldn't spend any more time on it and so decided to ship the entire tree as pretty much broken. Or another way to look at it, they decided to ship Hunters only 2/3 completed.
The SV rotation will be Steady Shot, Serpent Sting, and Explosive Shot. Whenever Lock 'n Load procs then Explosive Shot and Steady Shot will alternate 1 for 1, since to gain the full benefit of Explosive Shot a player has to wait for the extra DoT to finish. This rotation, like the others, is really simple. Blizzard said they wanted to spice up all three trees raiding rotations, so they gave each one two more buttons to press.
As with the BM tree, the leftover points after grabbing the 51 pointer in SV are going to be spent in the MM tree. Most likely in the exact same talents even. Unlike the BM tree, there is no bottom tier bloat where a player has to pick and choose their talents. A player could potentially spend an extra point or two, but nothing serious. Hunting Party is just as effective with only four talent points spent instead of five, for example of a place to save. A fully hit capped SV hunter has the potential to spend only 13 points in the top of the MM tree, spending the last seven to gain the damage bonuses from the BM tree. Most likely there will be a few 7/13/51 builds such as that cropping up. Though not until later into WotLK once hunters are hit capped and won't benefit from putting excess points into Efficiency after grabbing the necessary 13.
One extra thing that all Hunters are going to find themselves partaking in is the AoE portions of raids. No longer will hunters fire off some Multi-Shots and hope to keep up with the AoE classes. The spell Volley has been changed from a mediocre AoE to an ability powerful enough to allow hunters to even AoE level grind as well as, if not better than, mages. Assuming they use the Gorilla pet to hold aggro, as the Gorilla is an effective AoE tank.
Overall, Hunters are shaping up to be a decent addition to any raid. As long as Blizzard makes true on their promise that "pure" DPS classes deal more damage than others, and that the differences in DPS between the four "pure" classes doesn't amount to much, Hunters will be a welcome addition to any raid group.>