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Cataclysm

Personal Progression Review and Preview

As I have said before, Cataclysm is the first expansion where I have been able to complete PvE content in its entirety from start to finish. Today I found out that on both WoW Heroes and WoWProgress, I have the highest gearscore of Alliance hunters on Eredar. Moreover, I am tied for third overall in the server and am the only Alliance hunter in the top 10.

Those of you who have heard of Eredar may know it because of our local celebrity Lore of Tankspot. Eredar is a PvP realm and leans favorably toward the Horde, especially in endgame content. While the Alliance has had its fair share of successes and has its own healthy progression, we sometimes bang our heads hopelessly against the Horde that outnumber us in every zone and Tol Barad battle.

Although Eredar is one of the oldest realms, having been available since launch, the number of players active over the past few weeks have dwindled. Some may return for the first few months of Mists, but one can feel that the Alliance raiding scene has always featured the usual people and their alternate characters.

I had previously contemplated a transfer to a more active realm, but I have some attachments to Eredar, especially because it’s where I started playing with my friends who are no longer subscribed to the game. Sometimes I still hope that they will someday return, but it has been years since they have logged into the game.

Admittedly, I can also a bit of an elitist. (I think it comes with the fact that as bloggers we sometimes feel special and have some level of authority.) I don’t deny that seeing myself at the top of rankings excites me as an achiever, and I wouldn’t necessarily be able to achieve the same level of success with another guild in a different realm.

I started this blog as a way to chronicle my own journey in the game. As I looked back on my older entries from the Burning Crusade era, I am sometimes surprised at how my view of the game’s content has changed. I think part of the reason is that I no longer have many friends I would consider close who are still playing the game. What has been driving me in the past few months has been the desire to finish what I started in this raiding tier. It satisfied me to say at the end of our last Dragon Soul on Friday that we have finished Cataclysm.

That’s why I hope tonight launch of Mists will return me to that feeling of a child’s curiosity and distract me from doubts on the state of my own progression. Mogu’Shan Vaults opens on October 2, and the earliest my guild can raid will be October 5. I don’t know at this point whether I will be raid ready by then, but I want to believe that new content will reinvigorate my gameplay.

It’s time to shed the old hesitations and push forward to greener grass.


Hunters at the End of Cataclysm

Patch 5.0.4 information is everywhere, and it’s nearly impossible to include everything, so I will point you to Battle.net and MMO-Champion for a top-down view.

We have a month between patch 5.0.4 and Mists of Pandaria to analyze the effects of the new changes. I have never been an expert in analyzing things forward, so I will analyze what has already happened. How has Cataclysm been for hunters?

RaidBots began collecting combat log data since the last days of patch 4.0.6. Unfortunately, we don’t have much perspective from the early days of Cataclysm, but this will suffice.

From the data it collected, it is clear that Marksmanship dominated the combat logs for the majority of Cataclysm. It is also not a surprise for us now that Survival has been the dominant build on the raiding scene since Dragon Soul opened. What is surprising to me is how wide the DPS gap has become over the patches.

Balance is an abstract concept, but other patterns can point us to reasons why it is so hard to achieve. In an true environment of balanced talent builds, any hunter is free to choose his or her own build without impairing the ability to play the game. But what if that game is raiding? Then clearly a DPS gap indicates that the talent builds are in no way balanced. Moreover, a widening gap over a period of changes indicates that all attempts to balance the field have failed.

Patch 4.2 was seen as the nail on the coffin for Beast Mastery. It made the build’s viability in raiding worse, and Beast Masters began thinking they have really been neglected. Their nominal DPS did not reach the patch 4.1 peak until it had passed the middle of 4.2. Marksmen and Survivalists continued their steady upward climb.

I spoke about Survival’s silent comeback in patch 4.3 some time ago. It is obvious now that the comeback is not so silent. Survivalists came back with such a vengeance that the maximum hunter DPS was pushed higher until it reached a plateau of about 53,000. This is a 47 percent increase over the peak DPS in patch 4.2. No one would have foreseen in December.

Marksmen, on the other hand, suffered terribly. Their numbers dwindled, and hunters began switching their talent builds to Survival in droves. In the end, their final nominal DPS was only slightly higher than the patch 4.1 peak.

The surprise here is Beast Mastery. I had seen a small yet persistent group of Beast Mastery hunters continue with their talent build. They have continued against the odds and eventually overcame Marksmanship hunters in nominal DPS. The question, then, is what kept Beast Masters interested in their build that the Marksmen did not have in theirs?

Back in November, I pointed to a blue post on the official forums which should have indicated that the three talent builds are balanced. The story of the past nine months, however, have indicated otherwise. Assuming that Blizzard was correct, what changed the mathematics?

The answer should be player behavior. For reasons which I have yet to see articulated, hunters shunned the two talent builds which are not the top to a greater degree in patch 4.3. The fact that nominal DPS continued to rise steadily through patch 4.2 meant the ratio of players for each talent build and the rate at which they gained new gear remained constant. This status quo was thrown away when patch 4.3 arrived, and I have yet to rationalize how and why this happened.

We can assume that Blizzard already has this data because it constantly monitors players’ progress in the game. They may already have the answer to this puzzle, and if they do, I hope they will attempt to prevent this from repeating in Mists of Pandaria.


Dawn of Twilight

Patch 4.3 arrives. It has been 22 weeks since our last content update, and 51 weeks (almost one year) since the release of Cataclysm. This is the mother of all patches because:

Our intent is to start acting even more on our Mists of Pandaria philosophies of encouraging players to approach the content they want to, how they want to, and be able to work toward meaningful player progression.

That statement is a side commentary that accompanied yesterday’s announcement about Conquest point reward changes. All the changes in 4.3 are pointing toward the envisioned gaming philosophy for the next expansion.

Changes for hunters primarily come from buffing the Beast Mastery and Survival talent trees. It appears that the changes to Focus Fire and T.N.T. never made it to the official patch notes that was posted before the entire Battle.net site went down for maintenance. For now, I will mark them as undocumented until they have been confirmed in-game.

Beast Mastery

  • Animal Handler now increases Attack Power by 30%, up from 25%.
  • Focus Fire now lasts 20 sec, up from 15 sec. (Undocumented)
  • Widow Venom now reduces the target’s healing received by 25%, up from 10%.

Survival

  • Explosive Shot damage has been increased by 15%.
  • T.N.T. now has a 10/20% chance to proc, up from 6/12%. (Undocumented)

Pets

  • Burrow Attack (Worm ability) now does approximately 20% more damage, and has an increased area of effect.
  • Froststorm Breath (Chimera ability) now does approximately 20% more damage, and has an increased area of effect.
  • Monstrous Bite (Devilsaur ability) now reduces the target’s healing received by 25%, up from 10%.

Although there were no changes planned for Marksmanship (which indicates just how strong the tree is already), there is a puzzling change that affected Marksmanship’s Trueshot Aura buff. Results are still inconclusive as to how this affects the DPS balance between hunters and other melee classes.

All raid and party buffs which grant group members 10% increased attack power have been changed slightly. They continue to provide 10% increased ranged attack power, but now provide 20% increased melee attack power.

  • Trueshot Aura: The melee attack power bonus from this raid buff has been increased to 20%, up from 10%. The ranged attack power bonus remains 10%.

If you are part of a progression raiding guild, it’s time to dust off that guild standard because it’s gotten a bit more useful.

Guild Standards are again useable in Firelands. Duration has been increased to 15 minutes, the effect has a 100 yard radius, and now affects dead players.

For the rest of the patch notes, visit the Battle.net blog entry.

What is the first thing on your to-do list when the realms go live? I’m going to transmogrify my ranged weapon to the classic [Sunfury Bow of the Phoenix].


Cataclysm Ranged Weapons: Review and Preview

This morning’s update on MMO-Champion included the latest addition of weapons added to the Firelands loot, which includes an epic 384-item-level bow. This means tier 12 content will see one of each type of ranged weapon being added. However, that doesn’t actually change the balance of ranged weapons currently in place in Cataclysm.

Let’s take a look at all ranged weapons with item level 333 and above. Notice also that we have a throat needler, a chicken splitter, and a hole puncher. What silly name will the developers come up with next?

Bows

Bows are the most abundant ranged weapon in Cataclysm, with almost as many bows as there are crossbows and guns combined. Many players seeking to enter heroic dungeons start out with a bow. Soon, the new Zul’Gurub bow will replace the varying 346-item-level weapons as the new standard for entering raids. Don’t we have too many bows already? Moreover, Arathar will be the new best-in-slot weapon for tier 12 raiding.

Crossbows

So far, crossbows remain limited in this expansion, with only three weapons on live and one in development. They are also more difficult to obtain for the casual player because one cannot simply enter heroic dungeons daily for that drop. The three crossbows listed here are created by engineering, bought with Tol Barad Commendations, and drops from a raid boss. Granted, Dragonheart Piercer is a best-in-slot item for tier 11 raids, but that’s only a single crossbow.

Guns

While it is true that no epic level gun has yet appeared in game, guns are actually just about as rare as crossbows in Cataclysm, with only three available on live and one in development. At the very least, one can easily enter Vortex Pinnacle every day to get a decent gun, unlike crossbows. As much we like the addition of the new gun in the 4.2, we’ve also come to realize that it is only the new superior level weapon and doesn’t compare to anything that drops in Firelands.

Scopes

It has been pointed out that [Flintlocke’s Woodchucker] is an homage to a series of webcomic strips from 2008 that make up Episode 7 of Flintlocke’s Guide to Azeroth. It explains why not many people understand the reference because the golden days of WoW webcomics and blogging have ended. If you would like to compare how the new scope holds out against the [Gnomish X-Ray Scope], head over to Rapid Fire to see the mathematical comparison.


Patch 4.1.0: 20 Weeks Post-Cataclysm

Patch 4.1 hits live servers exactly 20 weeks after Cataclysm was released in Europe and North America. Because this patch has been in the Public Test Realms for quite some time now, sometimes even I forget that all of these changes are coming out today.

Overall, very few changes are being made to hunters’ offensive abilities, which gives us an indication that Blizzard probably feels the three talent trees are now pretty well balanced.

  • Multi-Shot damage has been increased by 250%. Although this change, which gives us better area damage capabilities for Marksmanship and Beast Mastery, sounds very aggressive, it actually isn’t. Multi-Shot currently deals 55 percent weapon damage. When increased by 250 percent, Multi-Shot will deal 138 percent weapon damage.
  • Distracting Shot and Multi-Shot are now properly 40-yard range. As I’ve mentioned before, this change closes an era of hunters having a 35-yard maximum range, which means the title of this blog is now obsolete.

Perhaps the biggest changes for hunters this patch comes from changes to the pet system.

  • The Happiness/Pet Loyalty System has been removed. Hunters will no longer have to manage Happiness for their pets, and the previous damage bonus for pets being happy will now be baseline for all tamed pets. Sometimes I wonder why this change was not introduced when Cataclysm was originally released. The happiness and loyalty system is a relic of the original game when pets with low happiness and low loyalty would leave your side. Why did Blizzard wait 20 additional weeks?
  • Tame Beast now tames pets to match the hunter’s level, rather than 3 levels below. I can also confirm through the Public Test Realm that tamed beasts that are below your hunter’s level will match the appropriate level when they are summoned again. I still remember the days after the Grimtotem Spirit Guide was discovered as tameable in Burning Crusade, and many hunters were bringing their level 30 spirit wolves into heroics to level them fast.
  • Summoned pets now start with 100 focus, up from 0. I have not tested this, but this is supposedly a solution to the problem of pets instantly dying if you are dismounted when being chased by a loose mob.

Auto Shot, which has cause a whole slew of problems after it became useable in motion, saw the bulk of bug fixes for hunters.

  • Hunters will no longer automatically acquire a new target if the current target dies in the middle of a cast. Note that this note itself has been fixed since the previous version failed to include the negation “no longer”, which caused a lot of confusion.
  • Aimed Shot and Steady Shot should no longer start casting Auto Shot on a new target when the “Stop Auto Attack” option enabled.
  • Auto Shot now automatically turns off until reactivated once Freezing Trap is cast on an enemy player.
  • Scatter Shot’s disorient effect should no longer sometimes be broken by the hunter’s Auto Shot.

We’ve come a long way since December, but still not everything is perfect. We’ve now taken for granted how to manage focus through rigorous shot rotations. We’ve also learned to bring out the inner collector in us and fill our stables with beasts we’ve come to love. There is, however, one curious item left over from the 4.0.1 patch notes:

  • The Stable will now store 20 pets. If a pet is moved into the Stable, its talents are wiped. As far as I know, the second half of this note was never implemented, which makes for a curious question as to why this is the case and why there has been no mention of it.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that all these changes will have a tremendous impact on how we play the hunter class. Gavendo has surveyed how hunters have changed since beta yet believes that all the original tenets of the class still remains. With time, we will take all these changes for granted, whether for better or for worse.

Have these 20 weeks changed how you approached playing your hunter?


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