My wife and I haven’t been doing much in the way of MMOs over the last year. We’ve tried a couple since parting ways with World of Warcraft but none have really hit that “sweet spot” for either of us, the sort of feeling we were expecting that would keep us playing for a long time. But there is one poised to hit that exact spot, and it’s called Guild Wars 2.
I never played the original Guild Wars and, as I understand it, I missed out. As such, I can’t comment on how this game is looking to improve upon or innovate in light of its predecessor. Instead, I’ll point out why I’m eager to get started playing when it’s released some time next year.
The first choice you make in character creation is your character’s race, so let’s talk about those first.
Both the Charr and the Norn appeared in the first Guild Wars, and as I understand it, one or both of them were antagonists. Rather than pulling their cultures out of the aether, however, ArenaNet did a very smart thing in taking notes from our own history. The Charr have their roots planted in the fertile soil of imperial Rome, while the Norn seem to hail from the lands of the ancient Norse, if not Marvel’s Asgard. They’re fleshed out in Guild Wars 2 and while their cultures are different from those of humans, they’re not so alien as to be unappealing; in my case, quite the opposite.
The new races are the Asura and the Sylvari. I’m not a big fan of small races, as much as I love the goblins of Warcraft, but the Asura’s thirst for knowledge, love of artifice and esoteric designs have me curious. The Sylvari, on the other hand, were appealing to me from the start. Their society is based on Arthurian legend and folklore, they have disparate but linked attitudes and personalities that bind them together, and gender is largely a non-issue when it comes to relationships and romance. I am so there.
The humans in Guild Wars 2 seem similar to those in other MMOs, but the strata of their society and the history inherent in having an entire previous game gives them just as much weight as the others. I love the idea of creating a character that will be part of a society that has equal parts familiarity and uniqueness, and every single one here fits that bill. It’s pretty much sold the game to me on that basis alone.
Dire situations can lead to self-discovery. And sometimes soiled drawers.
Very few of us are born experts. The process of going from novice to expert can be long and arduous. At times, it can be difficult to determine where to begin. In video games, once you get past the basic questions of which button does what, the various ways to distance oneself from being a newbie can seem overwhelming. Just as writing sometimes needs to be taken one word at a time, and programming to one line of code after another, so to can gaming be broken down into more manageable aspects.
It’s a form of what’s called ‘deliberate practice’. We choose an aspect of our skill set and work it hard until it’s forged into something that will contribute to greater success. This is probably most prominent in any RPG you care to mention. If you want to find more loot, you need to practice picking locks. When I was playing World of Warcraft I found myself needing to improve on laying traps for crowd control or cooperating with a group without becoming flustered. You can be I will continue to work on those skills in Guild Wars 2, along with mastering the nuances of the classes one weapon at a time.
It’s not just limited to role-playing games, though. Even bare-bones shooters like Killing Floor lend themselves to this form of practice.
Killing Floor features a set of perks for each player. You can choose which perk you want when joining a server and between waves of specimens (‘zeds’). You can grind away at a particular perk until its maxed out, or you can get to a particular level and use that perk to earn some cash before switching to a problem area or something relatively untouched. For example, if you like being up close and personal, you can either get every tier of Berzerker or open up a long game by spending a few waves on that perk, then use the cash you earn to buy weapons for an underdeveloped perk such as Commando or Sharpshooter. The best part about Killing Floor is that some perks can be worked on even if they’re not your primary choice – healing teammates contributes to your Medic perk even if you’re running around as the Firebug.
I didn’t realize this particular form of practice had a formal name until I rekindled my interest in StarCraft 2 with the return of Day’s Newbie Tuesday. He’d talked about a mental checklist before, but he also showed how focusing on a particular item on that list not only strengthens that item but also highlights other areas of weakness to be worked upon. I took this advice to heart and started playing again. I actually tried not to win and instead focus on one aspect of my play.
I won a few games anyway.
It’s as true for video games as it is for most of our endeavours: sometimes, in order to build ourselves up, we need to break ourselves down first.
In the Burning Crusade, Blizzard opened up an entire new world. For Wrath of the Lich King, the continent of Northrend became available. Now, in Cataclysm, a mere handful of new zones have been added to the existing contents. While this makes a lot of sense given the major cosmetic and mechanical changes to Azeroth due to Deathwing wrecking everybody’s homestead, if this trend continues, the next expansion will give us a bit of land about the size of Cuba players will fight over to establish their own banana republic.
Anyway, I recently concluded the quests and exploration of these new zones. Here are my thoughts on them, and unlike certain punditry outlets, I’m going to try and keep this as fair as possible.
Since the conclusion of the Third War, the area atop Mount Hyjal in northern Kalimdor has been inaccessible, due to the world tree Nordrassil being protected by rampant overgrowth. While once this was believed to be a scar concealing a near-fatal wound, the emergence of Deathwing burned the growth away to reveal that Nordrassil had been healing all along. As druids and servants of Cenarius flocked to the site to protect the Tree, Deathwing has called upon his Twilight Hammer cultists and summoned an ally to burn the Tree to ashes once and for all: the Firelord Ragnaros.
If you’re a long-time fan of Warcraft and enamoured with its lore, Hyjal’s a great place to start. While its opening quests feel a bit like the same-old “Kill X amount of monster Y” in a forest not unlike that around the night elf starting zone, interacting with the legendary Ancients and the buildup to the final chain make the questing worthwhile outside of the material rewards. It definitely gets you into the feeling of older Warcraft games in terms of setting and lore, but it also reminds the player of older content best left forgotten. Overall, though, a pretty solid zone.
Thrall has made his choice, abdicating leadership of the Horde to Garrosh Hellscream and becoming leader of Azeroth’s shamans, the Earthen Ring. The Maelstrom in the middle of the sea has grown even more tumultuous in the wake of Deathwing’s awakening, and he has called for champions to aid him in preserving the balance of elements. En route, however, adventurers find themselves assaulted by a vicious sea monster and dragged into the cold depths below. With help from the Earthen Ring, the source of this kraken must be discovered, and answers lie within the sunken elven city of Vash’jir.
Vashj’ir is the other ‘starting’ area of Cataclysm’s new content, and it begins with a bang that plunges its players quite literally into unfamiliar waters. Over and above all else, the visuals in the zone are absolutely stunning. The diversity and danger of deep sea life is captured quite well, considering the engine is six years old. However, it’s not all good news beneath the waves. Needing to navigate and fight in three dimensions can be disorienting at first, and even once you get the hang of it, adequate view distance may not be enough to save you from a band of angry creatures diving toward you seemingly out of nowhere. The lore within the area feels tangential to the rest of the content of the expansion, and while the look inside naga society is interesting, the goblin submarine a neat distraction and the cephalopod exploration unique (if somewhat disturbing for some), the bulk of the zone doesn’t really stand out the way others do. It’s not as bad as some people might make it out to be, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering this is the WoW community we’re talking about, but I feel it’s the weakest of the five zones. Which is a bit like saying The Two Towers is the weakest of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. Relative to the other two, it might be true, but relative to other films they tend to blow everything else out of the water. So, your mileage may vary.
Deathwing tore his way back to Azeroth and left nothing untouched in his wake. Even the Elemental Plane of Earth was affected, as the pillar supporting Azeroth from below was cracked. While the druids tend to the World Tree above, the World Pillar below threatens to collapse, taking Azeroth with it. To prevent this, one must venture into Deepholm, home of the Stone Mother Therazane. The Twilight Hammer has made beachheads here, and adventurers must put a stop to their misddeds if the world is to be saved. In this place, the cultists and heroes have something in common: they are unwelcome.
Like Vashj’ir, this is a zone that has a lot of eye candy going for it. Instead of making things a uniform gray or brown, color explodes out of corners of Deepholm almost without warning. Adding the characterization of Therazane to that of Ragnaros and Neptulon (the lord of Water, featured at the end of Vashj’ir’s final quest chain and its solitary dungeon) expands the history of Azeroth in an interesting way, and other NPCs make time spent in Deepholm worthwhile. Mylra quickly became my second-favorite dwarf behind Brann Bronzebead. Deepholm is also like Vashj’ir in some moments of tedium, and unlike Vashj’ir, the nature of the rewards from gaining reputation with Therazane means it’s more than likely you’ll be coming back. Still, I enjoyed Deepholm more than Vashj’ir, and I look forward to earning the Pebble vanity pet. Who knew a pet rock could be so gosh-darn cute?
The sands have uncovered forgotten lands due to the shift brought about by Deathwing. To the south of Tanaris lies the lost land of Uldum, an ancient desert kingdom used by the Titans for experimentation. In addition to its curious indigenous people is evidence of the Titans’ work, valuable to both archaeologists who would study it and dark opportunists who would usurp it. Finally, the djinn-like beings that have seized control of the Elemental Plane of Air had come to Azeroth through Uldum, allying themselves with Deathwing.
No matter what you seek in Uldum, you won’t be bored. The introduction of the society in Ramkahen deepens the diversity of life on Azeroth even if their presence may feel tangential to some. The quests in Uldum are a particular delight, changing pace and focus quite often in addition to packing the zone with hiarlious references. Individual quests can harken to everything from The Great Escape to Katamari Damacy, and then there’s the long chain that just might have you whistling the Indiana Jones theme. The dungeons in Uldum are a diverse lot and continue the trend of changing up challenges. The only circumstances under which someone might not enjoy Uldum is if they find these sorts of things tedious or just don’t like deserts.
Seat of the Twilight’s Hammer and its leader, the mad ogre-mage Cho’gall, the Twilight Highlands are also the site of a conflict that has not ceased in ages, between the Wildhammer dwarves and the Dragonmaw orcs. Despite the looming mutual threat of Deathwing and his cronies, these two just won’t stop killing each other. While there may not be an end to hostilities in sight, canny adventurers can win some support from their respective if wayward allies and make an assault upon not only the Twilight’s Hammer’s holdings, but also upon Deathwing himself, with a little help from Alexstraza and the red dreagonflight.
The Highlands get off to a good start, tossing the player into the conflict bodily. There are bits of very enjoyable questing here, from the Horde opening to the assault on the Bastion’s gates, but between these bits is some cross-faction conflict that underscores the resurgence of lore-friendly PvP in Cataclysm. As hilarious as it is to set fire to Wildhammer kegs only to see them violently explode – they’re something like 200 proof – I personally felt that dealing with the mutual threat of Deathwing and the Twilight Hammer should come before perpetuating very old grudges. This doesn’t make the content in the middle of Twilight Highlands bad, per se, and it’s a solid zone overall especially in comparison to Vashj’ir. It could also be that, despite being Horde, I’ve always liked the Wildhammer dwarves and I felt a little bad scoping and dropping so many of the amusing and badass woad-wearing drunken brawlers.
There you have it. In my completely subjective and not-at-all authoritative opinion, Uldum is the strongest zone of Cataclysm while Vashj’ir comes up a bit short. However, all of the Cataclysm material represents a high point in Blizzard’s design, a welcome departure from the things that made Wrath of the Lich King so tedious in general. While that expansion had only a few standout zones, every single area of Cataclysm has something going for it.
Every so often, Blizzard patches World of Warcraft. With dozens of dungeons, ten distinct classes and millions of players, a balancing act is inevitable. When new expansions happen, talent and gear combinations can lead to unforseen consequences, and Blizzard makes it a point not to see one class outstrip all of the others in chosen areas of performance.
Taking the damage output of an ability or talent for the sake of game balance is colloquially called a “nerf”. Amongst the 19 nerfs being applied in this upcoming patch are several to hunters, specifically those using the survival specialization. For a while, it looked as if survival hunters were going to enjoy total dominance of the all-important DPS meters in raids. Not anymore, if Blizzard devs have anything to say about it.
According to some sources, survival hunters were doing around 20,000 points of damage per second (dps) in endgame raids. Some number-crunching from the community theorizes that this round of nerfs will reduce that number by 10-15%, putting hunter dps output at around 17,500, which is on par with assassination rogues, unholy death knights and destruction warlocks.
To a rather vocal portion of the community, this is completely unacceptable.
“How can you do this to us?” they cry. “Does Blizzard not know how hunters work? How am I going to get into raids if my damage sucks this much? I’m rolling a new character/quitting the game because of this!”
Let me take these in order.
How can you do this to us?
They’re Blizzard. They’re developing the game. It’s an ongoing process and some of this might get rescinded in a hotfix or another patch. Calm down, it’s nothing personal. They have an overview of how the entire game is now and where they want it to go. You have some virtual bits of armor and a spreadsheet.
Does Blizzard not know how hunters work?
I’d say they do. A hunter is not that different from a warlock, a mage, or any other class that produces damage instead of maintaining control of the enemy (tank) or keeping the party alive (healer). The job of the hunter is to reduce the enemy’s health, control any crowds that appear or would interfere with the tank or healer, and stay alive long enough to make a difference in the encounter. That’s how all the dps classes work. Hunters are no different. To pretend they are, that they’re supposed to be some paragon of precise point production, is ludicrous. It’s a sentiment that reeks of entitlement.
How am I going to get into raids if my damage sucks this much?
Simple. Be good at your class.
Let me reiterate. Your job, as a hunter, is to produce consistent ranged dps, without needing to pause for mana or worrying about running out of your resource. Focus regenerates itself, and only does so faster if you use the right skills in the proper rotation. You also need to trap enemies intending to rape your healer in the nostrils, give the tank your threat so he maintains control of his target, and stay alive by following the old platforming rules of “move correctly” and “do not die.”
In other words, if you focus entirely on the numbers of your damage meter by hitting shot buttons, you are going to fail. The party will get wiped out and nobody will advance. I’ve seen this happen, and I’ve seen hunters in the aftermath blame other players for their mistakes. At least now those players can be kicked, but it doesn’t stop them for making hunters out to be one of the worst-behaved classes in World of Warcraft.
Please stop. I like being a hunter. I like bringing skills and abilities to the party no other class can. I like my pets, my bows and my engineering trinkets. Stop trying to ruin it.
With the Survival and Marksmanship talent builds for the Hunter class in World of Warcraft out of the way, all that remains is Beast Mastery. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a long, hard look at this tree, since I spent most of my time in the specialization spamming my Steady Shot button and generally being bored. Looking at it now, though, I can see a lot of reasons why players interested in either raiding or PvP will want to explore the tree.
The Beast Mastery Tree
Right from the start, it’s clear that Blizzard has tailored this talent tree to focus just as much on the pet as it does on the Hunter. And this is also the only signature ability of the talents that is not a shot. Intimidation is rather a pet ability with a two-fold purpose. It causes threat, for those pet tanks we use while soloing, and a 3-second stun, which is useful for crowd control and especially in PvP. The more stuff you can throw at someone to lock them down so you can fire off more damage the better. This does have a 1-minute cooldown, so use it wisely. Animal Handler increases you Attack Power, and remember that more Attack Power for you means more for your pet. And for Mastery, we have Master of Beasts, which increases pet damage by a percentage with every point of Mastery.
Improved Kill Command
Kill Command is likely to be one of your biggest sources of damage as a Beast Master. This talent increases the chance the pet’s attack will crit, which works well with both the reduced Focus cost that comes from the glyph and talents further down the tree. Considering that Kill Command is still active during Deterrence, this talent is one you’ll want to pick up for both PvE and PvP builds.
One With Nature
This is a decent talent for any build, even if your taste is more towards the other trees. You get more attack power out of Aspect of the Hawk and more focus back from Aspect of the Fox. In situations where your pet is going to be marginalized, such as PvP, this may be a secondary concern for “floater” points in a Marksmanship or Survival build. Beast Masters should definitely be picking this up.
This is another talent that has appeal for multiple builds. Since our pet is a good portion of our DPS, getting them to do damage more often boost our overall output. This talent, coupled with Go For The Throat, increases the Focus regeneration of your pet by quite a bit. Once you get the pattern & rhythm of your own Focus regeneration down, you can pick this up along with Go For The Throat to maximize your pet’s DPS in a raid. PvP builds in other trees may want to go for One With Nature instead.
More speed from your Aspects of the Daze and when mounted. I guess this would make corpse runs go more quickly. Other than that, I don’t see much value in spending talent points here.
Pretty much a must-have for raiding Beast Masters, this talent makes both you and your pet easier to heal. Not only do you and your pet regenerate health, healing done to both of you is boosted significantly. This means healers spend less time and mana healing you, which they’ll surely appreciate.
This talent is an interesting beast. Every time your pet makes a basic attack, it boosts its attack speed. This effect stacks up to 5 times. Your pet may be attacking up to 30% faster after just a few bites and swipes, which not only benefits your output but also ties into a talent on the next tier that I feel no Beast Master should be without. It goes without saying that you should pick this up.
Improved Mend Pet
This is one of those talents that is probably more useful to a soloing Hunter than one in a group be it a raid or a battleground. If you’re in a raid and you need to hit Mend Pet to cleanse or heal your pet, your healer needs to pay more attention. Time you spend mending your pet is time you’re NOT doing damage to the enemy. Anyway, unless you’re soloing, skip this talent.
Another talent that increases the output of your pet, Cobra Strikes grants crits to your pet’s attacks when you hit with Arcane Shot. Since Arcane’s a high-damage shot to begin with, following it with a pair of crits from the pet yeilds much higher numbers. Worth 3 points easily.
This is a decent “panic” button for situations where you need more Focus than standing still and casting Steady or Cobra Shot will yeild you. In addition to that it opens up some of the biggest features of the Beast Mastery tree. Even if you never use Fervor to restore 50 Focus to you and your pet, you’ll want to snag this talent.
When your pet hits 5 Frenzy, you can hit Focus Fire and, in essence, transfer its haste to you. Your pet gets Focus back, you get a boost to your ranged haste (meaning faster Steady & Cobra Shots!) and your pet begins building up its Frenzy again. At one point, you can’t ask for bigger bang for your buck.
You Intimidation cooldown is now 30 seconds instead of a minute. Beastial Wrath is ready to use after one minute instead of two. And your pet’s special abilities? Those will happen more often, too. There’s no reason not to drop 3 points in here as soon as its available.
You’re going to be using Kill Command a lot as a Beast Master. Statistically this means you’ll also have an increased chance of seeing it crit, especially with Improved Kill Command. Killing Streak makes the third Kill Command after back-to-back crits hit harder and cost less. This talent strikes me as another no-brainer for Beast Masters.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera
This is Beast Mastery’s big PvP talent. It reduces the cooldowns of the skills we need to survive in PvP, namely Disengage and Deterrence, every time we’re hit. If we have a healer, this means we’ll be jumping away and immune to damage more often. Remember how Kill Command is still active during Deterrence? Be prepared for a lot of people raging at you and pick this up for your battlegrounds and arenas.
The big, red kitty remains the lynchpin talent of the tree. For 10 seconds, your pet does more damage and becomes immune to crowd control. Need I say more?
At the time of this writing, the Ferocious Inspiration buff isn’t overwritten by anything from other classes. It’s a straight damage increase for all party & raid members. It used to, but now it stands alone. Plus it leads us into another very useful talent. Drop a point here.
This is just about the only means a Hunter has to increase both his own Focus and that of his pet. I know I’m started to sound like a broken record, but more focus means more damage. Absolutely worth its 2 points.
The Beast Within
Big red kitty now triggers a big red YOU. More damage, reduced focus cost AND Terminator-style implacability? Grab it.
Whenever your pet gets a crit, you automatically get some Focus back. Considering how often Beast Masters will want enough Focus to hit Kill Command, it goes without saying that this talent is worthwhile. Everything ties together at this point in the tree, and Invigoration just makes all the other talents and abilities synergize even more coherently.
Exotic pets and more skill points. Why would you go Beast Mastery and NOT tame a miniature T-Rex or a ghost kitty or a chimera? Especially now that we have so many stable slots.
While this brings us to an end of the talents for Hunters, there’s one more ability coming our way in Cataclysm.
Here’s what we know so far…
You camouflage, blending into into your surroundings, causing you and your pet to be untargetable by ranged attacks, reduces the range at which enemy creatures can detect you, and providing stealth while stationary.
You can lay traps while camouflaged, but any damage done by you or your pet will cancel the effect. Cannot be cast while in combat. Lasts for 1 min.
I am of the opinion that people’s opinions on Hunters in PvP, that they are “useless” or “pointless”, may change when they start using Camouflage. Ambushes and surprise attacks are unfortunately rare in PvP. With Camouflage, Hunters can now join Rogues, feral Druids in cat form and certain Warlock pets in laying vicious traps for incoming opponents. A well-coordinated group of stealthed gladiators can make things very difficult for the other team. I’m not entirely sure how the mechanics of this ability will work quite yet, but I’m excited to find out.
This wraps up the Hunter in Cataclysm series. I may carve out some time to get a video up with all this information before the expansion hits. Not everybody reads my blog, after all.