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WoW Archivist: Classic’s melee hunter and the abilities Legion might restore

I’ll never forget a Hunter that I quested with in Stonetalon Mountains one evening in December 2004. He had two matching swords and he only attacked enemies with melee strikes. He didn’t even have a bow or gun equipped. I asked him why he was fighting that way. He said it was because the swords looked cool. I couldn’t argue with that.

Since the early days of WoW, some players out there have wanted a viable Hunter melee spec. Today’s Hunter can’t even equip melee weapons, but classic’s version of the Hunter was built to use them as a key part of the class’s tool set. Legion will transform Survival into the melee spec that might have been, but never was.

Let’s look back at the classic Hunter’s melee abilities and its evolution away from melee over the years. We’ll try to predict what hunter abilities might return in Legion and then examine other classes’ abilities that might see a glorious rebirth in the next expansion.

Come at me bro: The melee Hunter

The Hunter class came with a number of quirks when WoW launched: ammunition items that were depleted every time your character pulled the trigger, quivers (that took up an entire bag slot) were needed to store the ammo, mana was used as a resource, etc. Most notably, the Hunter couldn’t use his or her bow/gun within melee range of their target. When a target closed in, you had no choice but to switch to your melee weapon. Blizzard gave the Hunter melee-driven abilities both to damage the close-range target and to help reestablish range.

For the roleplaying fantasy of a Hunter, it somewhat made sense: it’s hard to draw a bow or aim a long-barreled rifle when your attacker is right on top of you. In a real combat situation, you’re better off engaging hand to hand until you can withdraw to range. I mained a Hunter during this era, and it did feel pretty awesome to “come at me bro” by drawing my axes and hacking away that mob’s last bit of health.

Hunters couldn’t shoot a target closer than 8 yards. Within 5 yards, they could melee the target. You’ll notice that those numbers don’t match up. If a player or mob was between 5 and 8 yards away, you couldn’t attack them at all. Players called this range the “dead zone.” In PVP, many savvy casters exploited this vulnerability to kill Hunters in classic and The Burning Crusade. The dead zone made less sense in a roleplaying scenario — it was solely an in-game concept.

terokk's quill

Striking raptor, biting mongoose: Hunter’s melee abilities

Classic Hunters had five main melee abilities.

1. Raptor Strike: “A strong attack that increases melee damage by X.” Raptor Strike was the hunter’s big smack in the face when a target got too close. It was a base starting ability and had a 6-second cooldown. Hunters used it a lot when soloing back then because our pets were terrible at holding aggro. It didn’t deal massive damage — in no way would you opt to use this instead of a ranged shot — but it was respectable enough to provide a small bit of burst on a close-range target.

  • Probability of returning in Legion: High. As the iconic Hunter melee ability, Raptor Strike is almost certain to see a return as part of Survival’s base weapon abilities. Let’s hope Blizzard tweaks it a bit to make it more interesting.

2. Wing Clip: “Inflicts X damage and reduces the enemy target’s movement speed by Y% for 10 sec.” It was learned at level 12 and had no cooldown. Every melee class needs some kind of snare ability to stay on a fleeing target. In this case, Hunters used it in the opposite way: to get away from a target so you could start pew-pewing again. Wing Clip was also handy when leveling melee weapon skills to 300. The fastest way to level those skills was to swing as often as possible, and Wing Clip could be spammed.

  • Probability of returning in Legion: Moderate. Survival as a melee spec will need a snare to stay on a target. However, Wing Clip’s name (are we maiming a bird?) and icon (or tripping a guy with a chain? I carry around a chain, that’s also somehow secured on the other end?) were awkward. Personally, I’m hoping Blizzard provides a similar ability but with a new name and icon. It may be considered too iconic to change it at this point, though.

3. Mongoose Bite: “Counterattack the enemy for X damage. Can only be performed after you dodge.” Mongoose Bite had a 5-second cooldown and became available at level 16. The dodge requirement made Mongoose Bite kind of sketchy. Hunters did have higher than normal dodge, but staying in melee long enough to proc that dodge usually meant something had gone terribly wrong. It also didn’t come up very often in group PVE encounters, which made it more of a soloing/PVP ability. You could use it in conjunction with Deterrence, which originally increased your dodge and parry chances by 25%, to proc a bunch of Mongoose Bites. Mongoose Bite didn’t hit very hard though. It was barely worth keeping on your bar.

  • Probability of returning in Legion: Low. Few players liked this ability. I could see Blizzard retaining that hilarious name and possibly the icon, but redesigning Mongoose Bite as a more useful ability in group PVE.

4. Counterattack: “A strike that becomes active after parrying an opponent’s attack. This attack deals X damage and immobilizes the target for 5 sec. Counterattack cannot be blocked, dodged, or parried.” Counterattack was Survival’s 21-point talent. Another strike that depended on being unsuccessfully attacked, Counterattack was limited in the same way Mongoose Bite was. It was all but useless in group PVE, but shined while soloing and in PVP. It also comboed well with classic’s version of Deterrence.

  • Probability of returning in Legion: Moderate. To be useful to melee Hunters, Counterattack would need to drop the parry requirement, since rooting another melee class or mob isn’t very helpful. Ideally you’d want it to root a caster, so the proc requirement would need to change. In that case, however, the name Counterattack doesn’t make much sense anymore. So either way you go, it will be an awkward ability unless it is altered.

5. Lacerate: “Wounds the target, causing them to bleed for 77 damage over 21 seconds.” I’ll answer your first question right away: no, this didn’t scale as you leveled. That was the level 60 version. It was a pathetic amount of damage. As the final talent in the Survival tree, it was unquestionably the worst 31-point talent in WoW at the time.

  • Probability of returning in Legion: Low. Lacerate became a Druid ability, slightly modified, in The Burning Crusade, and remains in the game as such to this day. Given its notorious worthlessness, I doubt anyone is clamoring for its comeback. However, I’ll bet that Blizzard tries to work in the name or the idea into the Survival spec somehow. They’re cheeky like that.

classic survival tree

Survival: Hunter’s lost melee spec

Most players remember the version of Survival that existed in the late classic era, with most of the melee talents altered or removed, and Wyvern Sting in place of Lacerate. Looking back at the original version of Survival is shocking today, with its complete focus on melee damage and traps. (Traps could be considered “melee” abilities back in classic, since Trap Launcher didn’t exist.) These days it’s very hard to dig up the 1.0 talent trees. Thanks to Thottbot and for keeping a version of them online! Here is the original 1.0 talent tree for Survival, row by row:

  1. Precision (bonus to melee hit chance) and Improved Raptor Strike (lowered the cooldown)
  2. Entrapment (chance for traps to root), Lightning Reflexes (increased dodge), Improved Wing Clip (chance to root)
  3. Improved Immolation Trap (increased damage), Improved Mongoose Bite (increased damage), Deterrence (with a 5-minute cooldown!)
  4. Improved Freezing Trap (increased duration), Improved Disengage (increased threat reduction), Deflection (increased parry)
  5. Improved Frost Trap (increased duration), Savage Strikes (increased melee crit chance), Counterattack
  6. Improved Explosive Trap (increased damage), Melee Specialization (increased melee damage)
  7. Lacerate

Note the complete lack of ranged talents in the tree. Is it hard to blame hunters like my sword-wielding friend from 2004 when they tried to make the melee Hunter work? The tree literally had a talent called “Melee Specialization.” Unfortunately for Hunters like him, Survival and melee in general were never balanced to deal competitive damage. Also, traps had many limitations. You couldn’t place more than one at a time, and they couldn’t be set in combat. You had to make creative use of Feign Death to set them during a fight, which wasn’t often worth the mana or the GCDs.

Even so, the concept of the Survival tree was never particularly bad. The problem in classic was that melee damage was far inferior to ranged damage, so the spec couldn’t compete with Marksmanship for raw DPS. Survival had its niche in PVP, but it wasn’t a strong spec for PVE.

You can see that Blizzard had a framework in place to focus on up-close combat and dropping lots of traps. It makes sense that Survival should be the tree, if any, to make the melee Hunter a viable option. It’ll be interesting to see how Blizzard adapts these classic concepts into 7.0’s version of Survival.

thoridal, the stars fury

Death of the dead zone

Blizzard gradually moved Hunters away from melee. They heavily revised the Survival tree about halfway through classic. Many melee-focused talents got the axe or became relevant for ranged attacks also. The dead zone later went away during The Burning Crusade. Mists provided the biggest shift away from melee: Hunters could no longer even equip melee weapons after patch 5.0. The minimum range for ranged attacks was removed, too. Hunters seemed destined to be a ranged-only class for all time, but then an Icy Veins interview blew Hunters’ minds everywhere with the announcement that Survival would return to its melee roots.

Returning abilities?

Blizzard has stated that they want to emphasize diversity among specs within each class, to give each spec its own identity and feel. Given this goal, other long-lost class abilities may return as spec-specific spells. Here are a few that may have a shot:

Create Spellstone/Firestone: Soulstones and Healthstones are the only stones left to Warlocks. In classic, they could also make Spellstones and Firestones. These stones were conjured equipable items. They originally went in the offhand slot. Firestone provided a buff to fire damage and Spellstone provided a buff to DOT damage and spell haste. They were generally less powerful than an actual off-hand’s stats, and they couldn’t be equipped with a two-hand weapon, so they were problematic. They were later moved to the wand slot and given on-use abilities, and some Warlocks found them useful after the changes. It would be fun to see reimagined versions for Legion, along with a new “Stone” slot for Warlocks. Firestone would obviously be for Destruction and Spellstone for Affliction. Demonology would need its own version.

Divine Intervention: One of the most fun and most iconic Paladin abilities, Divine Intervention allowed you to sacrifice your own life to help a party member survive. It could prevent a wipe or help the ground recover from a wipe quicker. It also allowed Paladins to avoid repair costs. The spell had two problems. First, it was confusing for the player affected, since it prevented them from using any abilities until they clicked off the “buff.” Second, it enabled a number of exploits versus raid bosses. Blizzard could update the code so that DI won’t bug out bosses and rethink the spell to be more intuitive for its beneficiary. It would make a great addition to Retribution’s toolkit.

Khadgar’s Unlocking: This spell allowed mages to “pick locks” using arcane magic, but it was removed in beta. It would be a fun utility spell to make the Arcane spec feel more unique, and given Khadgar’s return to prominence, it would make sense in the storyline of Legion.

Grapple Weapon: Monks only got to use this spell for their first expansion before its removal in Warlords. If you succeeded in stealing a weapon better than your own, Grapple Weapon gave you a damage bonus, a healing bonus, and a reduction in damage taken. It wasn’t used incredibly often, but it was a cool idea. A redesign specific to Windwalker or Brewmaster Monks could be a unique ability.

Void Shift: This spell allowed you to swap health totals with a friendly target. The griefing possibilities were endless, particularly in LFR, so Blizzard removed it in Warlords. A less griefable version could only allow you to swap with a target that has lower health than yours. This would be an interesting utility spell for Shadow Priests.

Stormlash Totem: Of all the specs, DPS Shamans probably need the fewest additions to their rotation, and already have more cooldowns than they know what to do with. That said, Stormlash Totem was a powerful and interesting group DPS cooldown for the one expansion they had it (Mists). Elemental Shamans could perhaps ditch one of the DPS cooldowns they share with Enhancement in favor of Stormlash Totem.

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Ranged weapons for Rogues: Rogues lost their ranged weapon slot at the same time Hunters lost their melee weapon slots. Celestalon hinted at a pirate-themed spec on Twitter not long ago. What is a pirate without a gun? A pistol slot with a few themed ranged abilities or limited use of two-handed ranged weapons would be an amazing way to differentiate one of the Rogue specs (probably Combat).

Legion likely has many surprises in store for WoW‘s 34 different specs. We’ll find out more soon at Blizzcon!

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