Saturday, September 07, 2013

A Change Would Do You Good

I have a Hunter Week post I was GOING to do today, but I got a wee bit distracted during the day with the house to myself and the germ of an idea I've been throwing around since I was interviewed by the lovely Leeta for her 'Behind the Avatar' Podcast. Therefore today, Alternative Chat was born.

Snazzy new logo FTW!

This is going to be my weekly podcast. Episode 0 comes in at a shade over 13 minutes so I'd expect that's about the length you'll get in future. I'll talk about my week on the Blog, and what #TEAMFAFF projects I currently have on the go, and if there's anything particularly interesting going on in Warcraft News that will get a mention too. It's all a bit string and ceiling wax for now, but hopefully my enthusiasm will save the day.

I'm going to be redesigning the Website to accommodate this change in direction, so watch this space for more details. Hopefully I can be interesting enough to make this a weekly experience... :D

For now, watch this space for more details!

Friday, September 06, 2013

HUNTER WEEK :: The Eton Rifles

And now, the hardest post I've written for a while.

There's a basic problem with change. It means stuff never stays the same.

Like it or not, evolution is inevitable. That means dinosaurs like me whose brains were programmed back in Vanilla have a stark choice to adapt or unsub. The fact I'm still here, after all this time, makes me believe I must have learnt something in eight years, and not simply about moving out of the crap. I'm not here to talk about what's already been altered in the Hunter class this morning. My job instead is to decide what we don't have that we could benefit from in the future. Herein lies a basic problem with the current evolutionary process.

Hunters are not evolving into more sophisticated creatures. The reality is quite the opposite.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, Blizzard are not happy with increasing the number of abilities classes possess each time we move in to a new expansion. There has been a groundswell of complaint using key phrases like 'ability bloat': the fact that there's TOO MUCH to do. Lots of buttons never get pressed at all, or end up as keybinds, and this means that there is a gulf that appears between those capable of handling the sophistication and those who simply never touch the spells at all. Blizzard's task is to strike a middle ground: to allow two distinct styles of play (PvE/PvP) with the same 'toolkit' of abilities. Oh and before people begin the 'PvE shouldn't get nerfed because of PvP' argument... we're not going to get that kind of revamp, because no class will. What then remains is what we can lose, and how that would affect the class if we did. I have produced a graphic to demonstrate the point.

Abilities from Wowhead. Wanton destruction from me.

Currently each spec uses a selection of base abilities tied to specialist shots available in each tree. At present Beast Mastery has only two 'specialist' choices (Kill Command/Bestial Wrath) after the last round of PvP 'balancing.' Survival and Marksmanship have 2/3 respectively, which could clearly be reduced. We could happily all survive with two buttons apiece, using the same 'fillers' (Arcane, Cobra) and lose abilities right off the bat. There is an argument for combining Disengage/Deterrence into one ability (because if you're taking damage you'll want to move, and nothing says move more than a giant leap backwards) and losing shots like Concussive, Scatter and Tranquillising altogether, because they could be perceived to be useless in PvE and only valuable in PvP.

As I wrote that last paragraph I could imagine the rage of many, many people reading the words and wondering how I could be so unassumingly brutal with a class I love. The hard fact however is this is what people are suggesting: I just picked the buttons I thought I pressed least in the previous week. The problem for Blizzard right now has absolutely nothing to do with what skills they could conceivably remove, its the reaction to what happens when they do. When you look at a revamp in those terms it is time to grasp the fundamental fact that we can't just take stuff away any more, because someone will get upset. Is the only way forward to throw away the entire template and start again? I don't think we need to be that brutal, I believe a return to a basic set of core values could be the answer.

From the much missed 35 Yards Out. My tree of choice for many, many many raids.

The basic problem with Hunters is twofold: damage and distinction. Despite Blizzard's best efforts to make each spec comparable to each other, Hunters seem to fixate on the numbers, deferring to the most damage for raiding regardless of abilities given. Of course this isn't true for many who just use the class as relaxation or for farming; for them the issues seem to stem with the identity each spec possesses. Over time basic utility has been sublimated, becoming less and less about the spells and abilities wielded and more about the level of gear you're wearing. Somewhere along the line, the three distinct hunter 'identities' have altered, and if Blizzard simply continue to pare away piecemeal at spells and abilities as they have of late, this may only get worse. What I'd like to see is is a shift back to some 'core' Hunter values:

  • More focus on Pet use, specific to each current Spec (not just Exotics for Beast Masters)
  • Clear and distinct mechanics for each Spec (using Arcane/Cobra as 'foundation' shots)
  • Vanity 'rewards' distinct to each class at Level x 10, plus an emphasis on progressive training.
  • Continued investment in abilities not simply during levelling but also at End Game to encourage learning/skill improvement
  • Less reliance on gear, move towards a focus on ability

Pets are the cornerstone of the Hunter's toolkit: they allow us to damage without taking it ourselves, they can tank when needed, and currently offer a range of benefits that have been designed to support raiding. I think it is time that every Spec had is own 'speciality' group of pets, not simply the Beast Masters, and those pets could be tailored to augment the basic abilities given to each tree, so that the Hunter could gain benefit not simply in a group environment. I'd also like to see a ground-up rethink of the pet bar and the basic abilities each pet is given. I suspect that there is movement not just for simplification here (do we REALLY need Cower as a standard ability anymore?) but to allow systems similar to Spirit Bond to be created for each Spec. Hunters need to understand from Level 1 that their pet is a part of their gameplay, and so every class should be awarded a benefit from keeping that pet not simply alive but active.

We should fight to maintain a distinct 'mechanic' for each spec, based on the minimum amount of 'basic' shots learnt in the early levels. Giving Hunters Steady Shot at Level 3 is a waste of time, when most will want an instant cast shot like Arcane because it gives the feel of immediate damage. If you are going to teach anything in the first 10 levels let it be that Arcane uses Focus and Cobra will regenerate it, and reinforce that mantra until we reach 100. Build the three specs around those two key pieces of information, so you don't alienate your existing player base and allow the new players to have a clean, simple mechanical basis to your gameplay Most importantly of all, MAKE FOCUS REGEN MATTER at low levels so players do not get lazy and assume you can simply spam one shot until something dies.

When we reach L10, don't give us a ton of spells and abilities to deal with all at once, reward us with something fun instead, and do the same for every 10th level as we go on. Give us coats for our pets to wear that we can pick up in different colours and co-ordinate with our tabards. Consider using the offhand slot we have for something hunter-specific (maybe a net or a whip as was suggested earlier in the week in this column.) Don't just settle for a special Hunter quest at L20 and 50, give us something to keep us going through Outland and Northrend too, that will be usable not simply as we level but when we're done. I'd even argue that the Monk 'Continue Your Training' mechanic would be a great go-to method of making sure people grasp the key abilities and how they come together. Pick three areas across Azeroth not being used, assign a Spec to each 'hub' and let people port there every 10 levels to earn a reward based on understanding what ability does what.

This learning shouldn't stop at Max level either. We have PvP Battlegrounds to help hone skills, how about PvE Training Academies? The 'Proving Grounds' coming in 5.4 will, I know, be a massive success and help players learn how to be better. Let's keep that momentum going with Academies popping up across the Continents. Present a specific 'Hunter Academy' challenge per patch for people to complete, so they can earn a 'badge' to prove how capable a Hunter they are, and at the end of each Expansion be rewarded with something totally unique and hunter-related. It will encourage people not simply to grasp their own spec but the other two, to become a true Master in all senses of the word. The key here is to keep reminding people that being better does require not simply practice, but a basic understanding of the mechanics they need to grasp to make that happen.

Finally, there MUST be a move a way from the reliance on gear as a crutch. The need to allow people to level quickly by simplifying the process with heirlooms and increased regen is a dangerous precedent that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Making players understand that to gain reward requires effort and ability should not be undermined by handing them everything immediately, or by trivialising the entire levelling experience (which is becoming ever more likely with the introduction of XP boosters.) This is a GAME which you need to LEARN TO PLAY. Streamlining the process by removing abilities that confuse or are redundant is all well and good, but only if it is supported by clear instructions on what to do and the consequences that occur if you don't.

In the end, I love my class as it is, but I understand enough about what has happened before to grasp that we need change, and soon. I don't envy Mr Street or his compatriots one bit in the task ahead of them: this will not be easy and people WILL get cross. All I can hope is by stating my case I can encourage more people to do the same, without anger or annoyance, and that all these points can then be heard as the Expansion approaches.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

HUNTER WEEK :: Guns and Horses

We interrupt what was my scheduled post today for a special announcement.

Frostheim may have retired from blogging, but his legacy lives on at the site he created, the Warcraft Hunter's Union. Arth, who has taken over the mantle of Hunter in Chief, posted something very interesting yesterday in light of this week's worth of celebrations. I'll let him explain  in his own words:

Here’s the premise: Blizzard wants to revamp the hunter class for the next expansion. We’re not game developers, and frankly, a bunch of our “great” ideas are horrific for a variety of reasons. BUT. Not all of our collective ideas are bad. Many are quite good, and a few have been implemented by Blizzard. Probably the most notable example of this is minimum range and Stampede.

My goal is to identify several areas of the game that could possible be made more awesome for hunters. I’ll rarely talk about things like balancing, because that’s an internal issue that we don’t have the raw data to be able to handle. But, in the abstract, a lot of cool changes can be made that affect the feel of the hunter class.

If you go take a look at the original post, you'll see it has over forty comments already. Arth asks you you be clear and concise in your comments and suggestions, and I would urge every Hunter reading this post with their own ideas go take a look at this and comment, if you haven't already. I'll be doing the same myself, and you can read what I'd like to see introduced in the Expansion in tomorrow's post.

The most important thing here is getting everyone to contribute, but to do it in a way that isn't going to mean Arth is deafened by a blast of noise. You are far more likely to get your point registered if it is done not from the point of view of  'Blizzard hates us this is what you have to fix' but in a positive and optimistic fashion. Everyone has their own particular issue with the rotating door of class changes, this isn't about airing grievances or getting frustrated with what's been lost, this is about presenting a case for changing things in the quality of life department. Blizzard itself understands the problem of getting objective feedback on class changes, and one well-constructed treatise that covers many different points of view is far more likely to have impact than lots of smaller ones.

I urge everyone to get involved in this, and I wish Arth all the best with the collation of what will end up being a massive undertaking, but which could have some seriously awesome consequences for the Hunter class in the upcoming Expansion.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


Watch the video. Go on, it's splendidly dated and yes, that's Rik Mayall :D

Today, we're going to talk about ranged weapons. Before we begin, let us ask Wikipedia for some definitions:

A gun is a normally tubular weapon or other device designed to discharge projectiles or other material.[1]

The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system (a bow with arrows) that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures. Archery is the art, practice, or skill of applying it.

A crossbow is a type of bow consisting of a horizontal limb assembly mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles, called bolts or quarrels. The medieval crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the word ballista, a torsion engine resembling a crossbow in appearance.[1]

Hunters are now the only class that can successfully utilise ranged damage with this form of equipment (though for quite some time they were not the only class that could use them.) Logically your weapon will only take up one of the two available slots: as you require two hands to fire it both correctly and accurately it makes perfect sense we only get one thing to play with. I'd like to consider what might happen if we thought outside the box for a while, and what alternatives might be available to Hunters if we weren't restricted simply to using the weapons we have. Yes I KNOW they took away our ability to wield just about anything excepts shields, maces and wands because it gave us an undue advantage. I'm not looking for an alternative to the buffstick or a return to rolling need on everything in dungeons (though that would be nice ^^) I'd just like to offer up some alternatives.

Face it. Dual wield pistols would be AWESOME.

As Blizzard are only 25% done with the redesign of our class models, this would be an ideal moment to ask if we could get the opportunity to write in some animations to allow us to dual wield pistols. I'd like to think this would have penalties (reloading) but if that could be balanced/synchronised with movement in longer fights, I'd take that. yes, I'd also like to see ammo returned to hunters in game so that YOU HAVE TO THINK IF YOU CAME OUT WITH ENOUGH, but is most likely a problem that Blizzard don't want reintroduced into the equation. I did for a while think about the possibility of having a big-assed gun/bow for being at the back and then running into melee for some pistol closeups, but then I realised I'd watched too many Terminator movies and I should probably go an have a nice lie down somewhere. The fact remains however, we have two slots to fill: let's at least consider the possibilities.

Now you're just being silly (from Gizmondo)

Would it be possible to fill that second slot with something other than a bun/bow/crossbow? Could hunters be give the opportunity to modify their weapon using the second slot, depending on what kind of fight they found themselves in? As rogues have different types of poisons, perhaps that second slot could allow us to have ammunition that did specific schools of damage to specific targets? Maybe we could have the opportunity to drop Goblin Bombs from some kind of pack launcher that do explosive damage in the same ways as our traps do? Or, even better, how about you gave us something on our arm that we could use to blind an opponent for a short period of time, or that would release a net from the secondary slot allowing us to root an opponent in place? I know, all brilliant ideas, and more ways to make us even more awesome than we already are and inevitably lead to the GREAT BIG BAT OF NERF hitting us squarely in the unmentionables. It would be worth the pain, I reckon.


I doubt Blizzard would want to introduce anything too complicated into the game at this late stage, because it would have the potential to screw up a great deal of hard-worked at class balance (and the mages would complain, you know they would.) However, having had so much of our utility stripped away over the years, maybe as the Tenth Anniversary of the game appears we might be able to cash in a few favours. After all, if you don't ask, you never know. It would certainly make our lives a bit more interesting...

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

HUNTER WEEK :: The Luckiest

Two sides of the same coin...

Yesterday was all about the Hunters online.

For those of you who don't Twitter and are in the EU, I've managed to become the GM of an all-Hunter Guild on Draenor (EU) called, rather satisfyingly, 'Hunting High and Low' When I left last night we'd almost hit 20 members (all hunters, obviously) and were at Guild Level 2. I will be honest, this is most definitely a side project/hobby, especially when 5.4 hits and I'll be back to my Main, but this week I'd expect to be hanging around a fair bit... if you want an invite, gimme a shout. Draenor is certainly a heck of a lot busier than I'm used to at present, and the most Horde players I've ever seen in one place. Hawking Lei Shen kills seemed quite popular last night, for instance, and I pretty much sold every stack of leather/pile of ore I mined/skinned in the hour after I put them on the AH. It is easy to see why Blizzard want to return all realms to this default state.

This morning I went back to my traditional server to roll my new Draenei Hunter: both are named Garassah after my first ever hunter on Al'Akir, all those years ago. It also means that currently there are only two of these girls that exist in the EU region, and both of them are mine :D

Stalkers, start your engines :D

I'm going to be playing Horde/Alliance for my Hunter guides, so I can get a feel for the journey on both sides of the fence. I had considered rolling a Forsaken Hunter, or even a Tauren, but for now we'll stick with the Troll, who levelled to 10 in an evening without any heirlooms, and should have at least 100g in her bags this morning from sales of gathering materials. This proves a very basic point: find a Server with a decent standing economy BEFORE you roll your character and you won't need to transfer anything. Money can be made incredibly quickly and easily with gathering professions and a little patience, quite before you pick a production profession (if you pick one at all.) I should have enough money to upgrade all my bags too :D However, I'll be doing 1-10 on the Draenei first today, to get the girls balanced. Yes, these things matter.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who came over to Draenor and rolled a Hunter, especially those who don't normally play the class and have decided to give one a chance for Alt Appreciation Week. I will most certainly be getting both Garassah's to 90, so if you wanna pop by and say 'hi' on my journey you are most welcome to do so :D For now, I'll be faffing on these two new additions to the Hunter stable... and working out how I fit these two into the header graphic :D

Monday, September 02, 2013

HUNTER WEEK :: Kemosabe

A little music to start the week proper... 

Today's post has but one aim: to explain how you begin playing a Hunter.

Back in Vanilla, when I began my hunting career, things were considerably different than they are today. We used mana as our casting resource. The only weapons we couldn't equip were wands, shields and maces (all loot really WAS Hunter loot) and if we didn't regularly feed our pets they'd get unhappy and leave us [*] A great deal has changed in the intervening eight plus years, not all of it for the better, but Hunting Today (which will be the title of the new series as I level my newest addition to the stable) is still not nearly as Easy Mode as many people will have you believe. Wowpedia states that we are 'a class that is easy to learn, but difficult to master' and as I'm still improving my craft even now I'd attest to this statement. If you want to play a Hunter, be ready to accept that you'll need a brain.

Once upon a time, you began your Hunter life without a pet (melee ftw!), but that all changed with the introduction of Patch 4.0.1. Whereas before your first 10 levels were played without a faithful companion, rolling for the first time now provides you with a unique pet depending on which starting area you begin at:

Alliance Pets
  • Humans receive a Grey Wolf
  • Dwarves receive a Dark Brown Bear
  • Night Elves receive a White Striped Saber Cat
  • Draenei receive a Green Moth
  • Worgen receive a Black Mastiff

Horde Pets
  • Orcs receive a Black Boar
  • Undead receive a Black Widow Spider
  • Tauren receive a Purple Tallstrider
  • Troll receive a Red Raptor
  • Blood Elf receive an Orange and Red Dragonhawk
  • Goblin receive a Red Crab

Pandarens are provided with a Green Dragon Turtle

Once you hit L10 you'll gain control of your pet, but until then it will simply attack the target you do regardless. You'll not get any special abilities until L20 either, so taking care of them in those early days isn't a massive priority... but it will be. One of the biggest issues in any group content is Hunters leaving Growl active on their pets. You want to be a great hunter? Write yourself a Post-It note and stick it to your screen before you begin your journey. It will serve you well for the rest of your 'life':

The best Hunter Advice you will ever get :D

Where you are 'born' therefore will largely depend on your preferences. Sadly the only place you can't begin a hunter is Gnomeregan (which hopefully will be sorted at some point in the future, give us a mechanical pet as a companion and you'll have people re-rolling ad infinitum) but this does mean perhaps the largest range of variety you'll find in terms of faction/race combinations. After yesterday's vote (Alliance 59, Horde 48) my latest additon will be starting on the Alliance side, and I'll be going back to Bloodmyst Isle as I've decided I'll be playing a Draenei. The vote is on for the gender I'll be adopting on Twitter: click here to choose :D

I'll be producing a full Hunter Levelling Guide (because I've meant to do it forever and now is as good a time as any) in conjunction with this little experiment, so watch out for Part One at some point this week. For now, if you're ready to roll, there are a few basic things you ought to bear in mind, especially if you're buying heirlooms for the first time. Hunters have two weapon slots, which may confuse those of your who still think we can use melee weapons. Well, we technically can, but frankly if you're not packing a gun, bow or crossbow you're going to look stupid, plus you're unable to use most of your abilities. There, I said it. Buying a heirloom weapon is possibly the most significant investment you can make to get yourself to 80/85. You want the Charmed Ancient Bone Bow to maximise your dps, and as you can transmog a bow into either a gun or a crossbow, this is no longer a decision swayed by aesthetics.

This item initially costs 3500 Justice Points to buy, and is good to use until L80. For an additional 1400 Justice Points and the Bow itself you can then upgrade it to last until L85, when you will have the choice to buy a better vendor equivalent [**]. This is probably the soundest investment you will make for PvE levelling. There is also a PvP purchasable equivalent (the Updated Dwarven Hand Cannon) which sells for Honor, if you are so disposed to biffing the opposite faction more than the world in general. Needless to say, for PvE, the Bow is your friend, if such relations with inanimate objects is your thing :D Then there are the armour items: don't be confused by them showing as leather on the vendors. You wear leather as a hunter to L40 as Shaman do and then your heirlooms will automatically transform into mail. This means you'll want some/all of the following:

Finally there is the perennial discussion of what professions are best for Hunters to take, especially considering the levelling process is considerably shorter than it has been for many years. Noxxic will tell you that Engineering provides the highest dps gain of any profession with tinkers: therefore if you want the boosts I'd suggest pairing Engineering with Mining to make your life easier along the way.


[*] Don't make me tell the story of how my first pet left me again. It'll make me upset.
[**] All Heirlooms work from 1-80, but can be updated by exchanging the original item and more Justice Points to work from 80-85 as well.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

HUNTER WEEK :: Getting To Know You

DAY 1 :: The Family Hunter

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Under my hat :D

Let's start at the beginning, for those of you who don't know the story. My interest in Blizzard games began just before the birth of my son nearly 13 years ago. My husband and I wanted to find something we could play together, which back then meant LAN, so we chose Diablo/Diablo2. To make an efficient team, he'd stand up the front and bash stuff and I'd stay at the back and fire at it. His love of Paladins began here (thought he only owns two at 90 and is clearly far less deranged than I am) as did my love of ranged dps. This is P, my main since 2006 (with a brief hiatus along the way which we don't talk about) and the longest serving of what is, let's be honest, an awful lot of hunter alts. I have grown so invested in her storyline that she now has her own fiction series. She has become my default for just about everything with the exception of mining and herbing, but if she could do it I'd easily dispose of everyone else.

I'm the Godmother, and I love to play Hunters.

Best Gun in game. EVER.

This is K, who only came into being at Level 80 thanks to the last round of 'Recruit a Friend' (yeah that's how sad I am about mounts, but that's a story for another week.) However, she's quickly become a favourite because of her mining skill and the fact the blog post I did of this Mog gets consistently hit on my website. In fact, the mog's one of the most popular aspects of my site period, which makes me think that Hunters are a stylish bunch, who like to co-ordinate whenever possible. She used to pick flowers as well but has recently converted to Engineering to allow me access to the two mounts that profession can make (I said leave this for another week!) but has been wandering around in LFR a bit whilst Farming (both varieties) and is now passably well geared. Needless to say, she'll continue to do her thang until the next Expansion, and I'll never get tired of staring at her gun, because...

Probably the most satisfying Mog.

E began her life as a Tauren, I'll be honest, and got a race change when I decided I wanted to experience the Blood Elf starting area 'in character' Since then she's been levelled pretty much piecemeal, but when the 'Double Agent' achievement was introduced pre-Pandaria I KNEW she'd come into her own, and she has. This mog is the one I'm most proud of, as it happens, beating out P's red ensemble simply because I think the whole thing looks the most huntery, with a large side of Blood Elf finery on the shoulders. Currently E skins and mines as a way to make a modest wage on the Horde side, but this may change in the run-up to the expansion. That's all the current 90's (until you guys give me a new project which we'll come to shortly.) However, that's nowhere near all my Hunters.

Token male!

G's a bit of an oddity in my character stable: one of only two male toons (I love the Dwarfen Male emotes, I'm sorry) and one of the oldest of my entire family, behind the mage and the warlock. He's currently languishing in Dalaran at 85 and acting as my miner mule. He used to be my only Engineer for a long time too but that has changed in this expansion. His mog is the recolour of the Hunter dungeon set from TBC (those boots took AGES to farm from Botanica if memory serves) and I'm hoping to get him to 90 in 5.4 so I can use him to make some much-needed cash from the AH. He really needs a beard trim too, and possibly a bath. Maybe several, if truth be told.

Best Bankalt EU.

This is my Primary Bankalt since... well, forever, really. He's only 28, which is where he got to before I realised that I wanted to level something that wasn't a Hunter in TBC (HERESY!) and he's not been out of Stormwind since about 2008. However, he's vended and AH'd more stuff than I care to remember. I love him dearly, and I doubt he'll ever get levelled because his bags are too full of stuff I need now and I couldn't send it elsewhere. That's not a mog either, btw, it's the Dervish leather set which is all appropriate to his level, because... well, JUST BECAUSE :D However, none of these guys are the oldest. I still have the first ever hunter I made, before P came along on a PvE server and you couldn't transfer.

The First.

She began her life on a PvP Server, where she languished for a long time. She was a Dwarf, and I will be immortalising her name in my new project, but now she's Human and lives with the Guild of my good Twitter friend @ReliqEU. For now C remains unmogged and largely unloved but that will change this month and in the months that follow, because she is the constant reminder of why I chose this class to begin with and I why I keep returning to it with consistent regularity. However, this week l I have a project, not simply around this website. It all began this morning on Twitter:

As you can see, voting is already brisk and close, so I'd urge you after reading this (if you've not already) to go cast your vote. Yes I KNOW I should have typed faction (before anyone points it out) but I think the rest of this is self explanatory. I already have races picked depending on the outcome, then it's just down to a Male v Female battle tomorrow.

What are you waiting for? GET VOTING!