Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Just me and my big red pet...through the ages

If you guys have read any of my blog posts or heard me on any of my podcasts appearances, you'll know I'm a wrath-baby, not that I'm a QQ'ing n00b (hush Damarai...) I'm taking the wrath-baby title back guys, wear it with pride, we're the ones not burnt out yet!
But... As a wrath baby it means the end of Cataclysm marks the first time I've played a class from one expansion to the conclusion of another, and it has to be said, Hunters have had their world rocked a fair bit...

Join me as I don my Rose Tinted Goggles and drop a hindsight trap.

So, Hunters, Wrath to Cata' ... I have to confess I think Blizzard did a fantastic job of updating the hunter, although the core of the character feels the same, and everything I've loved about it is still there, Hunters in Cata' finally felt like they knew what they were.

What attracted me to the Hunter class was already established in Wrath, they'd been slowly sanded and polished from Vanilla to Wrath and where in a kind of strange place. The pets, ranged weapons, connection to nature in a dominance way, rather than a druid's 'tree-huggin'-hippy-crap' way (thanks Cartman) the tracking, all of that felt great. The Arcane Shot, using a mage's Mana, arrows from heaven when I'm using a gun, and a fair amount of useless abilities... yeah... not so much.

Hunters in Wrath made perfect sense in PvE levelling, I was a Dwarf with a gun (only sensible way to be really) I had a few pets who I had a real bond with, I fed them and kept them healthy as they did what came natural to them, hunt and kill, meanwhile they kept me safe, like a loyal hound defending it's master, and while dumb schmuck warriors where forever getting their hands dirty, we used out brains, pets do the fighting, lead them to our traps, track them as they hide, and then the killshot to the head from 900 yards!
Then you got in an instance and it all became confusing...

Suddenly, I'm not a lone wolf, hunting with my subservient but ever loyal beast, I am thrown in with flashy mages and diva tanks that want all the attention from everyone, and I find myself trying to be one of them, all I do apparently is summon a rain of blue arrows from the sky. I'm not sure how I'm doing that, with a black-powder weapon, or why the Mage can't do it, but that's me. I've got these trap things I can use, but no, they just want me to keep firing magic out of my gun, till I eventually sit down with my buddies the wizard and the priest for a magic refreshing drink. ignoring the fact this break would be better spent topping up my powder and dropping another musket ball in the chamber, nope, I'll have another sip of dalaran wine and feel those magical powers I learnt while stalking polar bears through Dun Morogh re-empowered.

I can't be the only one that felt like hunters felt like technomancers for a while there?
Hell we even looked like magic uses with 3 glowing blue pads on us (just what you want when you're stalking that rare cheater spawn across the dark of the night time barrens...)

Come Cataclysm however and hunters felt, to me at least, like they had arrived. In all aspects of playing a hunter you now felt like a lone grizzled outdoors type, you didn't start singing Kumbaya when you where out there druid style, no, you slipped silently across it with your loyal beast, your prowess relied on how well you could tune out the chaos of the other people around you and focus on your shots and your best friend in all of Azeroth.

What they did right:
The Hunter was reinvented, from Wrath/Vanilla to Cata' I think very well, I think they did a few things spot on:

> Kill Mana! : This never made any sense, no part of a hunters training would have brought him in contact with the arcane arts, why would he be 'recharging' with preists and mages when most of the damage he does is by shooting stone shot or quivers full of arrows at things?
Focus was great, focus is great! It could do with regenerating quicker at times, but it's drawn a line under a hunter and made us a non magical class

> The End of Volley: Part of me hates this, I liked being able to hammer the DPS meters everytime we met a mob of more than 2. Not that it ever made sense that my dwarf would point his gun at a target, pull the trigger, and rather than hammer them with a bullet, rain magic arrows on their head. Let's be honest, it didn't fit, and although they subsequently made our multishot suck, we do at least feel like we're now doing damage with all our tools, guns, traps, bombs, loyal claws and teeth!

> Trap Launcher: Let me point out, trap launcher is buggy as hell, and not well implemented, but it did do one thing... it made us back into a CC class! Cataclysm shone a light on Hunters as the stand out Utility Class, we were nearly something more than DPS. We're the off tank when the Tank goes down, we're the res when you thought it was a wipe, we're the redirect pull, we cloak right behind the rogue.

Which brings us on to What they maybe didn't do:
> Beast Masters: Making a class who's very identity is they train wild beast to fight for them, would suggest that the beast master tree would be the easiest tree to balance. Apparently not.
BM took a big nerf in Wrath, right when I rolled it, and while I took on Cata' as Marksman, I never really grew to it, I just love my kittys and dino's to much... regardless, the BM spec is still the weakest of the 3 in raiding and indeed has seen increasing calls for it to switch it's focus all together. Some of the best solo raid clearers are BM hunters, taking with their pets, while they DPS and heal their own tank. With the shortage of tanks, and the persistent failure of BM as a DPS raiding spec, it's not surprising that the recent call for hunter player feedback has seen hundreds call for BM to become WoW's first raged Tanking spec.
For me, that would have been the ideal update for the class we just didn't see.

> Pet Happiness:
I'm going to go right ahead here and say I was right behind them scrapping pet happiness and feeding, right till they actually did it.
Now I miss seeing my pet sad and knowing I'll make it all better by grabbing the tastiest stake in IronForge... Or even better, knowing my Dino is enjoying ripping out Hordie's necks as much as I am.

An almost unnoticed change I've seen recently is my lowbie mage can track as many things as my hunter can, was this always the way? I used to feel I was progressing as a character once I learnt to track a new part of the world, but now it feels like everyone can do it?

Hunter Dress-up:
We still look ridiculous!
There has never been a decent hunter-set... there I said it! One thing Cata' hasn't brought us is an awesome look. The big problem seems to be Blizzard treat mail graphically as plate, huge shoulders, stupid helms, agility impairing slabs of metal.

That's a dwarf in mail and leather, notice how it hangs on him without impairing his actual shape, notice how it doesn't look like he's been eaten by a murlock!

The tier 12 sets made hunters look like they all had no depth perception with eye patches, the 13 set looks like we're wearing what our Death Knight friends lent us...

Blizzard still seem to have no idea how to make Hunters look good, while they can make rogues look like the goddamn batman!

All that being said... Hunters in Cata' feel like they have arrived, they feel like they know who and what they are, how and why they work. They don't feel like bolted on caster classes, and the uniquely Hunter skills they bring feel like a real reason to play the class. I think Blizzard did a seriously good job of finally pinning down what even DnD, arguably WoW's starting point, has never been able to agree on.

In DnD Hunters are either religious vigilantes or nature loving druids, in WoW they felt similarly unclassified, but as Cata' comes to a close, Hunters finally, to me at least, feel like they've come into their own. Marked themselves as a DPS class unrelated to the Mana uses, and defined by their ranged weapon prowess and their ability to tame nature, not worship it.

So we're all good then? Well no... it'd be nice if our guns didn't stop working every time we put them to someone's head, the idea guns works very badly at short rage is a little bit moronic... Pets still behave oddly since Blizzard tried to fix something not broken, and the player base will forever call us huntards, but you can't win 'em all.
In the mean time, try rolling an uncommonly good looking hunter, check out the WoW Hunters Union, and...

Swear Allegiance.

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