|Hunters. Are they really broken?|
Once upon a time, I applied for the job of Hunter Columnist at WoW Insider. When I didn't get it I found myself thinking I was quite relieved, because on reflection I'd have been exactly the wrong person for the job. I don't think about Hunters the same way a lot of people do. Certainly I don't have the sharp end raiding mentality that I suspect I'd have needed to be impartial about the way hunters have changed since that time. What I'd always hoped, however, is that whenever key issues were discussed by people who mattered, they'd grasp the fact that there are many, many ways to play a Hunter. More importantly, many different people play them.
For a long time I allowed myself to get unreasonably obsessed about my dps, mostly because I couldn't play the game with my friends the way I wanted. I made some fundamental changes as a result and I'm having more fun with my Hunter than I've had at any time in the last eight years, and I haven't touched a serious raid environment since January. Those changes in my playstyle made me realise that, yes, dps is an issue. It does make the difference between success and failure in many situations. However, when your primary weapon hasn't been upgraded since three weeks into the Expansion, and despite multiple attempts to do so you're still packing less dps than most of your fellow raiding Hunters, you are forced to compromise.
My discussion above with Frost (which came off the back of a discussion with Ghostcrawler about how hunters need less things to press to make them better) has filled me with a measure of surprise, because for the first time since I started reading his comments (both on WoW Insider and on this own website) I know I disagree with him. Reward should NEVER be measured with a number. I get his point, really I do, but I don't see that making things 'easier' with less buttons and forcing people to play a 'set' way will ever end in anything but failure. I'll happily agree that there are a ton of people who can't play their class for toffee, but that's not just the Hunters, that's anyone who can't be bothered to work out how things actually work. I believe the problem is that the three Hunter specs are just variants of the same basic principle: we trap stuff, we sting it for damage over time and our pets kill things. That's three specs, all too similar to the other for it ever to be a big difference.
The problem therefore isn't the shots, it is the specs themselves.
Let's say, for the sake of example, that Blizzard went back to the drawing board. They'd need a spec that owned in PvP and was an easy fit. There'd need to be a spec you used for Soloing, and then one in Raiding situations... except, of course, you don't do that anymore in this game, all specs fit all contingencies... which is why Hunters now work rather well, because they are simply one spec that can be adapted to any problem almost seamlessly. The fact they overlap so much is part of the charm, at least for me. You can simply spam Arcane Shot if you so desire but then you can go to town with other abilities in specific situations. I have learnt to love my Silencing Shot so much in solo play. Disengage is a godsend. Deterrence also is a must have in situations where it's just you V the Game World. Reward in these cases comes not from dps, but from not running from the Graveyard.
Reward exists in other places too: soloing stuff notwithstanding, I am hugely resilient in LFR with a Spirit Pet and when I've never met anyone whose healing me nine times out of ten the ability to keep myself alive is very welcome indeed. Killing large groups of mobs with Mr Alt is an absolute joy with the right pet and a combination of traps and aoe. In these situations, having the right weapon doesn't actually matter at all. You know if you are a regular here that I have lamented my lack of LFR drops over many, MANY months but now, as I type this, I realise my weapon really is only a means to a 10 point achievement and the thought I finally beat the RNG. I can do so much without it, and as the rest of my gear increases in iLevel around it I can still do the numbers in LFR without being laughed at because it's less and less about just standing still and pumping out numbers and more and more about learning the mechanics and adapting my abilities to play around them.
I know I speak from a standpoint that is a world away from the business of serious damage, of World of Logs and World First Kills. I also know that with eight years of experience under my belt I'm in no position to understand what it must be like to pick up a Hunter from scratch. Satisfaction and enjoyment does not come simply from an ability to pick a specific set of commands to execute. It is an incredibly complex process that I sense has a lot more to do with gender than I'm comfortable or capable of discussing. There's an awful lot of contention over that subject in mainstream gaming right now, after all. Suffice it to say: Pavlov taught dogs to respond to basic stimulus. Game designers are doing the same thing, for an audience of considerable diversity. Assuming reward is simply quantified is a dangerous precedent to take. What makes one person happy is clearly not how it works for another. Blizzard have been living off the ability of this game to perform that task for a long time now, and I'd like to think this part of the game plan isn't likely to change any time soon.
Frost felt the need to clarify his position after that initial tweet: the reward for optimal execution of your rotation should be better dps. It is, right now: if you do it right you bring the numbers. Poor players will, by definition, never execute correctly, they'll just keep mashing buttons and never learn. Giving the people who do learn less things to do sends us back to the school of 1 Button Magery: you'll get bored in the end. Better dps is meaningless unless it is coupled with many other abilities. Reducing the number of buttons so you can move out of the !*$£ will never help some people regardless of how much you streamline the process. Making this 'easier' might help Frost and the high end people, but it has the capacity to cause more damage over time than his correctly executed Serpent Sting ever would. Some people will, regardless of any change, simply revert to the way they find simplest. I'm pretty convinced that we want to try and prevent that happening at any cost. 'Not thinking' should never be the default state in this game.
The reward for optimal execution of your rotation should be the knowledge you're doing your best. The numbers should be a bonus, and they should never define you. The acceptance of your friends that your class is really robust and great fun to play right now should not be a hindrance. Not raiding should not make you a bad person, and raiding at high end should not make you a pariah in your peer group. Numbers are academic, what matters is enjoyment and frankly this class is NOT BROKEN AND DOES NOT NEED FIXING. Like a flesh wound that's happily healing, the last thing you should ever do is keep picking at it until it becomes inflamed or infected, because you're right back at square one. There are lots of ways you could change Hunters, of course there are. I just don't see the need.
Despite 'everything', I'm really rather happy where we are.