Friday, May 13, 2011

Survival of the Fittest: A Hunter Dungeon Leveling Guide

"Who are these people and what's their average
net worth?  Do they even own guns?"
Internet, meet Frankie.  Frankie, meet the Internet.

This is Agatha Francesca Biznicks, "Frankie" to friends and potential customers.  She's the heir and owner of Biznicks Rifles and Ammunition, patent holder and exclusive dealer of the legendary Biznicks 247x128 Accurascope.  Basically, she's an RP character that I lost my gusto for not long after creating her.  But now she's going to be breathing new life into this blog, and hopefully into low level hunters everywhere, as the star of the first ever When Enraged recurring feature!

"Survival of the Fittest" is going to be your step-by-step guide to leveling a baby hunter through the LFD system.  It will be done sorta-kinda in tandem with the Glaivecow's Adventures of Prot Cow series, which is a similar project with, er, a prot cow.  Anyway, seeing as we're in the same guild with the same raiding schedule, we're going to at least be starting it off together.


So Frankie is level 15 and getting ready to head into her very first dungeon.  At this point she's got four talent points to spend.  I've decided to level her Survival because it's what I have the most personal experience with in Cataclysm and it made for a cuter feature name.  I really don't have much of a grasp on Marksmanship or Beast Mastery since it's been so long since I played them, and I'd hate to write a "guide" that had huge glaring errors in it.

Your first three talent points are going into Pathing, for a direct 3% boost to haste.  While haste at level 85 is a tricksy beast, with a single "sweet spot" for Survival and a handful of plateaus for Marks, it's easier to deal with while leveling -- more is better.  Focus drain is a big problem at the very earliest levels, and haste not only directly increases your focus regeneration, but it shortens the cast time on Steady Shot, which gives you additional focus regen.

The fourth (and fifth, when you get it) point is going into Improved Serpent Sting.  On its own it's not a super awesome talent, at least not until you get Serpent Spread later on, when it becomes part of Survival's fantabulous AOE toolbox.  But it is at least marginally useful in the sub-Cobra Shot/Chimera Shot levels, when you'll be manually refreshing Serpent every time it falls off.  Constantly.  FOREVER.  (The fact that I am personally awful at remembering to refresh DoTs is a big part of why I was Marks through most of Wrath.)

It's also your only viable dungeon-crawling option in the first tier.  Hunter vs. Wild was kind of hot back in the halcyon days of Ulduar -- its prerequisite was Survivalist, which gave the bonus stamina that HvW does now, and HvW itself converted a percentage of your stamina into agility.  Unfortunately, it's just a straight stamina boost now, and while it makes a decent PvP or soloing utility, it's not going to do us much good in the LFD queues.


Pets are a completely different mechanic now than they have been at any point in hunter history.  The short of it is that every pet family brings a different buff (to the entire party) or debuff (to the target).  These buffs and debuffs mimic those brought by different specs of other classes, so the best thing to do is see what's already being provided by your groupmates, and then fill in the most useful remaining spot with one of your own pets.

A good place to start for this is Zee's Raiding Pet Flowchart (shamelessly ganked from I Like Bubbles, where all good WoW flowcharts originate).  I have this in my "Important Shit" bookmarks folder where I can get to it quickly as people get swapped in and out of raid groups.

As you level a hunter, you gain the ability to have multiple pets "with you" at a time, which you can dismiss and summon at will, fitting in nicely with the whole "bring pet based on group composition" framework.  However, at the very beginning, you're only going to have one pet -- and none of those pets gain their special buff/debuff abilities until they reach level 20.  So for right now, it's not going to matter that much.

If you're looking on down the road, since you don't get Call Pet 3 until level 42, the first two pets you'll probably want to keep with you are a wolf, whose Furious Howl gives everyone in your party 5% bonus crit, and a cat, whose Roar of Courage grants Strength and Agility.  The wolf buff is going to be more useful to others in the party, while the cat's buff is the single greatest DPS boost to yourself.  It doesn't really matter which one you get first (since, again, you'll have both of them before their special abilities even become available).  Whichever one you think is prettiest.


So now that you've got your character all tidy, it's time to figure out what the hell you're going to do!  When you first walk into either Ragefire Chasm or the Deadmines, your rotation is going to look like this:

  • Hunter's Mark (before the pull if possible).
  • Send your pet in to attack.
  • Serpent Sting
  • Explosive Shot.
  • Arcane Shot if you have enough focus for it immediately after Explosive.
  • Chain cast Steady Shot until Explosive Shot is off cooldown and you have enough focus for it.
  • Refresh Serpent Sting if it falls off.
(This is actually a modified version of the rotation I use at 85; I just sub in Black Arrow for Arcane if it's off cooldown, and use Arcane to bleed off focus if I cap.)

An important note: with as little haste as you probably have at this point, it's incredibly likely that ExShot will come off cooldown before you have enough focus to cast it.  That's okay.  Avoid the temptation to just go ahead and hit Arcane because you already have enough focus for it!  You'll just be pushing your glorious explosive victory back that much farther.


The only really useful thing you can macro together right now is Hunter's Mark with your pet attack -- saves you a keystroke at the beginning of the fight, and is helpful if you tend to be forgetful about one or the other.

/cast Hunter's Mark

Simple as that.  I keybound it to Ctrl-1, where my pet attack has been bound since I first rolled Jez three and a half years ago.

Heirlooms and Enchants

If you want heirlooms, get the mail agility ones; they auto-convert down to leather until you train for mail.  The leather ones will work fine, too, up until level 50 when the armor specialization kicks in.  You don't get dual wield until 20, but the daggers are fine after that.  The bow is good too.  Enchant everything with the highest agility or attack power enchants you can find. (Ktok pissed me off when he mentioned he was going to be doing this section, because it was more work than I wanted to do, but then I realized how moronically simple it would be for a hunter guide.  Have fun with that parry-dodge ratio, little prot cow!)

And now that this post is over a thousand words, quite possibly the longest thing I've ever written on this blog, I'm going to let it go.  Sometime tonight or tomorrow, Frankie will be heading off onto her first big adventures, and we'll have a post about the dungeons lying between you and level 20!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Drop in a Bucket in a Bucket Full of Buckets

(Keep reading that title and the word 'bucket' will stop making sense to your brain. Bucket bucket bucket bucket bucket.)

So Activision-Blizzard's earnings call went out yesterday, and the big thing that all the Warcraft nerds picked up on is that WoW's subscriber base has slipped from its 12 million high point to about 11.4 million. To put this into perspective, the State of Azeroth has slipped from just behind Pennsylvania (6th in the US) in population to being tied with Ohio for 7th. Oh the fuck noes.

Naturally, that bizarre breed of creature that likes to complain constantly about Blizzard while still paying to play their game* has pounced upon this news with great fervor. Surely their wanton disrespect for the wishes of [casual players|hardcore raiders|alt levelers|roleplayers] in making Cataclysm content [too easy|too hard|too fast|too slow] has come back to them and they're suffering for it. (And yes, I have personally heard ALL of those arguments.)

So I have two points to make in response to this.

1) This is not a massive blow to Blizzard. Guys, the 600,000 subscribers that the game has slipped from its peak is larger than EverQuest's entire player base ever was at a time. People who didn't play MMOs before WoW came around (including me, but my guild started in EQ1 and has a lot of vets from those days to offer perspective) may not understand exactly what an unimaginable juggernaut this game is. Any MMO that manages to get a million subscribers at one time is considered a runaway success on par with a Titanic or Avatar. Most game companies would shit bricks of cayenne pepper wrapped in barbed wire at the thought of having a subscription-based game with five million users. WoW is on a completely different plane of existence than the "MMO market". It is to MMOs what Windows is to operating systems. Yes, there's competition (more on that later) but it's going to take some kind of severe event to knock this game out of commission.

This goes for the people who keep postulating about Blizzard jumping on the free-to-play bandwagon, as well. If WoW goes free to play anytime in the next five years, possibly ten, then I hope one of you bastards has Will Smith's cell number because Mike Morhaime is a goddamn pod person. Despite the slump in subscribers, Blizzard actually made more money from WoW this past year, between sales of the expansion itself and (more likely) the craptons of premium services.

So no, they are not suffering.  Not even remotely.  With every expansion, new players come in and old players pick back up to see what's new.  And a little while afterwards, the newbies who didn't click with it and the oldies who remember why they left peter off.  Morhaime himself said it was a perfectly normal drop, it just happened a bit more quickly than it did with Wrath.  That could be tied as much to old WC3 players being more invested in the Arthas storyline as anything else.  Which brings us to the next point...

2) This is not because of your pet problem with Cataclysm.  Sure, it might have influenced it some.  It may have played some part in the erosion.  But no one problem single-handedly caused half a million people to leave the game.  First there are the people that leave for all the normal reasons people leave: financial burdens, RL issues, just plain burnout with the game.  Then there's the aforementioned normal post-expansion dropoff.  A decent number of people did pick up RIFT (heck, so did I), but most of the ones who left WoW for it entirely were people who were already dissatisfied with WoW and probably would have left soon anyway.

And you know what?  For every person I've seen who did, I've seen at least one who went and tried it, was somehow disappointed, and came back.  (Even more who keep playing both!  Gaming isn't zero-sum, guys!)  For every person I've seen complaining that the raids are too hard and it's not worth playing anymore because they can't progress, I've seen another complaining that Firelands just needs to come OUT already because they're sick to death of tier 11.

So no, Bitchmoan McWhinypants, the loss of six hundred thousand players is not Blizzard facing their comeuppance for wronging you.  They're still making money hand over fist.  World of Warcraft is still the most popular MMORPG in the world, by light years.  And most of the remaining 11.4 million of us are still having a grand old time.

* This does not refer to players who sometimes have complaints, or even who often have complaints. I mean the people who write long rambling screeds on the forums on how Blizzard is the worst game company in the industry and treats them like crap and they've never been so insulted in their life and they want free game time for the 20 minutes they couldn't log on because their server was longer coming up than others on maintenance day. THOSE guys.