Locked and Loaded: First impressions of Marksmanship in Legion

Are you ready to give up your pets on your Hunter? That is what the new Marksmanship spec in Legion will ask of you. No, I’m not talking about the Lone Wolf talent. There is no option to summon your pets at all if you play Marksmanship in Legion. Pets are the primary reason I chose to play a Hunter in the first place, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t using Lone Wolf most of the time since patch 6.2. So, you could say Marksmanship without a pet was a bit less of a shock than melee Survival.

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Kiting 101

Without a personal pet tank, one must turn to kiting and crowd control as a Marksmanship Hunter. The scenario where you acquire Thas’dorah encourages you to learn how to kite right from the get go. There are a few enemies inside that will freeze and stun if they hit you, a not-so-subtle reminder that face tanking is a bad idea for a Hunter. Thankfully Marksmanship has quite a few tools to keep enemies at range:

While questing, I enjoyed the convenience of Exotic Munitions automatically applying a 50% slow to everything I attacked. This is now a level 45 talent, which I think will give it a lot more use compared to its current spot in the level 100 tier. I could usually kill things before they reached me if I started out at 40+ yards. If they got close, all it took was a simple Bursting Shot to knock them back and disorient them. From there I could Disengage away, Binding Shot, or just strafe while shooting.

Oh, and then there’s this little talent called Dark Ranger. Your attacks have a chance to summon a Dark Minion which will attack (and taunt) your current target for about 10 seconds. This has a very high chance to proc, and having multiple minions summoned at once was common. It randomly summons an undead dog, eagle, wind serpent, or boar. It also applies a dark shadowy effect to the Hunter while active. These minions are great for soloing because they will keep things tanked the majority of the time. However, without some adjustments it will be problematic in dungeons. These pets are on autopilot, so there is no way to turn off the taunt yourself.

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The rotation

Marksmanship is the only spec to retain any sort of active Focus regeneration. Arcane Shot only generates 5 Focus, but unlike the old Steady Shot it is instant cast. It also does decent enough damage that it doesn’t feel like a chore to cast it. If 5 Focus sounds like too little, you also have to factor in the increased base Focus regeneration of 10 per second. I never had those slow, boring periods where I had to wait for 2 or 3 Steady Shots to cast before I could do anything meaningful.

Aimed Shot still has a cast time, but it’s been reduced to 1.5 seconds. It can’t be cast while moving, but the shorter cast time helps make up for that. You’re also no longer penalized for movement when it comes to Sniper Training, so moving and stopping briefly for Aimed Shots will be an acquired skill. If you’ve spent some time with Focusing Shot, you should know what to expect. On its own, Aimed Shot doesn’t do much more damage than Arcane Shot, which is why you have to build up stacks of Marked Shot to increase its damage by up to 75%.

Become a Watcher

Marked Shot can only be cast when the target is marked. Marking happens automatically when you cast Arcane Shot or Multi-Shot via Seek Vulnerabilities. When a target is marked, you’ll know because the Marked Shot button will glow. The chance to mark is relatively high, and I didn’t find it difficult to get three stacks and maintain it within the 10 second window. The Marksmanship rotation feels like an endless sprint instead of a marathon. If you’re not fast enough or make a mistake, it’s easy to trip and fall. When that happens, it takes a little bit to get back up to a full speed. It’s got a little bit of old Survival, a little bit of old Marksmanship, and a little bit of new. Some of what I am talking about is greatly influenced by the talents.

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Talents

Instead of covering every single talent, I’m just going to focus on some of the more interesting choices available to Marksmanship. If you want to see them all, I recommend Wowhead’s Legion talent calculator.

The level 15 tier consists of Black Arrow, Steady Focus, and True Aim, and is one of the more compelling tiers in terms of choice. Black Arrow is an obvious throwback to old Survival, except now it has 3 charges. You can use this to multidot or stack all 3 charges on a single target. The duration maxes out at a whopping 36 seconds, making it easy to maintain once all 3 stacks are applied. Steady Focus is like before, only now you cast two Arcane Shots to activate it. It’s much more forgiving than having to cast two Steady Shots in a row, and with the increased base Focus regeneration this talent gets even more mileage. True Aim won’t be for everyone, because a simple mix up will make you miss the 3 second window and lose your stacks, which takes a long time to build up to 20. Those with good discipline will be rewarded. Remember when I said the rotation was like a sprint? Well, True Aim turns it into an olympic sprint!

The level 45 tier consists of Piercing Shots, Exotic Munitions, and Broadside. Piercing Shots is something old Marksmanship Hunters will remember, a simple passive bleed that you don’t have to worry about. Exotic Munitions is positioned in a better tier now. It’s the same as you remember it from Warlords, only now I think it will be getting a lot more use. Broadside shoots additional shots at any vulnerable targets when you use Aimed Shot (including the primary target). Since Multi-Shot can apply marks to multiple targets, it seems like a powerful cleave talent.

The level 75 tier consists of Light ‘Em Up, Heightened Vulnerability, and Head Shot. Light ‘Em Up requires you to constantly place your flare to do extra damage, very much like if your were using a trap on cooldown (traps are gone from Marksmanship). Heightened Vulnerability is the ultimate target switching talent. Instead of having to cast 3 Marked Shots to get up to 3 stacks, you use Heightened Vulnerability first and then only have to cast one, which really reduces the ramp up time. Head Shot is my favorite talent here. It has a variable Focus cost of 20-100, so if you’re below 100 Focus it will spend all of your Focus. On the alpha it’s currently doing ridiculous damage, but I’m guessing the intention here is for the shot to do more damage based on the Focus spent. A neat idea if you ask me!

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The level 100 tier consists of Dark Ranger, Kill Flip, and Lock and Load. I’ve already touched on Dark Ranger, so let’s talk about these other talents. Kill Flip is just weird. It almost turns Disengage into a resource. You’ll have to decide when to continue using it on cooldown for damage or when to hold onto it for when you actually need the mobility. I’m not totally sold on this one (and I can’t currently test it since the buff isn’t working). Lock and Load is another nod to old Survival, but I think in its current state it’s a little lacking for a level 100 talent. The proc chance is simply too low. It might be more appealing if there was another effect on top of it, such as changing the Lock and Load Aimed Shots to fire damage instead of physical damage, or have them explode for AoE fire damage. Perhaps increasing the proc chance is all it needs.

Overall, I have to say my first impressions of Marksmanship are largely positive. There’s still a lot of rough around the edges at this early stage, but I see where Blizzard is going with it. The fantasy seems to have changed from a sniper in tune with the wild to more of an agile ranger who will use any power available to them to increase their killing power, including shadow magic if necessary. If that appeals to you, and you’re alright with going solo, I think you’ll like the new Marksmanship.

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