WoW Hunters update: Deading the dead zone

Well this is how quickly it goes. Just my last blog entry was a class review of Hunters. In the meantime the mood in the hunter community has gone to a rather violent mood swing.

First there was an onslaught of upset posts, including very prominent hunters about the sentiment that the 2.3 changes did nothing to address hunters’ real problems.

Then Tom Chilton who is the chief original designer of classes posted under his “blue” acronym Kalgan in the hunter forum.

The mood swung from massive upset to ecstatic cheers. The news was that the dead zone will be reduced or removed.

Now I actually like the dead zone. It makes space matter for hunters. Still I understand the cheers. These really are the cheers of “help is finally on the way” for a class that had it rough since early Naxxramas.

To explain the dead zone: Melee range in WoW is 5 yards. But virtually all ranged weapon attacks (minus one talented shot for hunters) starts at the 8 yard range. This means that if a the distance between a hunter and his opponent is 0-8 yards hunters can use their very weak melee abilities between 0 and5 and virtually nothing between 5-8. Because one can’t do anything this 5-8 yard range is called dead zone.

The dead zone has various impacts. Is general need to be at distance. If you have a hunter at point blank range, they need to get to 8 yard distance and keep that distance to stay effective. So gaining distance is a crucial aspect of traditional hunter play. A core problem is/was the balance of classes to immobilize/snare vs. hunters abilities to remove or escape or outlast these.

 In the case of immobilizing abilities the effect was that indeed the hunter could be almost completely defenseless. The approach for mages against hunters was simple: Run to the hunter, frost nova, and nuke from the dead zone. Two possible counters: Scatter shot and Intimidation. Only other possible disruptive action: feign death. If any of these was on cool, the hunter was completely defenseless against a mage. Being temporarily defenseless isn’t new though. Rogue stun-locks or various fears are similar in game-play feel. The main difference here is that non of these were class-specific from the recipients point of view.

In the case of snares, this had an impact on hunter play against most classes. The strategy is simple. Run to the hunter. You can match normal running speed with a hunter. If you have a slow, you can usually match slowed speeds. Hamstring, frost shock, crippling poison, mind flay, chill effects all are easy favorites against hunters as are short-term stuns (maze stun for example).  All that is needed is keeping hunters from having enough time and excess speed to get outside 8 yards and stay there. 

Hunters have a few abilities that are designed to give range: wing clip, concussion shot, frost trap, freezing trap, scatter shot, intimidation. Of these only wing clip is spammable, but it requires to be in melee range and facing the opponent. It is single target. In 3-5 man arenas the distinct problem was that getting away when assist trained was very difficult.

Even if a hunter gets out of 8 yard range the range/melee efficiency difference means that a hunter wants to keep range. I.e. if opponents try to close in a hunter has to match this by running for distance. However, a running hunter has also a reduced damage potential. The main shot is arcane shot, which is on a cooldown and has high mana use. I.e. even keeping a hunter moving is a good way to take the main danger out of hunters.

Hunters are dangerous when static. The same is true also for mages. Though the relative efficiency when on the move is different and mages have a larger instants arsenal to make them dangerous while moving.

Removing the dead zone will mean two things: One is that casters cannot use a no-defense approach to hunters. When hunters will try to gain distance they get an earlier change to use  instants (arcane, concussion shot). This will add one more usable escape snare in some cases and more damage potential.

I don’t know yet but I might just miss the dead zone. Maybe I would have prefered a solution that gives hunters a long cooldown escape mechanism (ala blink in terms of group impact). But I’ll be very interesting to see this on the test realm.

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