Locked and Loaded: First impressions of Beast Mastery Hunters in Legion

Hunters have really been turned upside down in Legion. We have one spec going melee, and another spec losing their pet. Being ranged and having a pet have been Hunter fundamentals since the beginning, so I understand if you’re resistant or concerned about these huge changes coming to Hunters. The good news is we still have Beast Mastery to fall back on, the last bastion of the classic WoW Hunter.

Beast Mastery has always been my favorite spec, even if I wasn’t playing it during a particular raid tier. Switching Hunter specs was never that big of a deal because they shared so many common elements, so if one did a little more DPS it was always hard for me to justify not switching to it as a raider. In Legion, I think that will change. I think players will form loyalties to their spec, not just the Hunter class. Rather than swapping specs because one does 5% more DPS on paper, a Hunter might try to maximize the strengths of their favorite spec instead. At least that’s my optimistic theory.

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Going back to Ulduar

I was pleasantly surprised by the Titanstrike artifact quest line. It’s my favorite of the three by far. Brann Bronzebeard, in search of anything that might give us an edge against the Burning Legion, has discovered the location of a legendary rifle infused with the power of storms called Titanstrike. One of his associates enlists your help to infiltrate the tomb of a Vrykul warlord and recover this rifle.

Eventually you meet up with Mimiron and find yourself back in Ulduar. I won’t spoil it all, but it was a lot of fun going through there again. It ends at the Temple of Storms in Storm Peaks, with Thorim and his pet wolf Hati. Things transpire, and Hati’s spirit becomes bound to Titanstrike. Whenever you have Titanstrike equipped, Hati is there to fight with you as a permanent secondary pet.

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Hati

I absolutely love the idea of having a second pet. I am not totally on board with their choice of model though. Why use an 8 year old model and texture when better wolf models exist now? The silver lining is that additional colors have been datamined (two examples shown above) that will likely change based on your chosen artifact color. That is pretty cool.

Hati still needs some technical improvements for being a permanent pet. My suggestion to Blizzard is to have Hati mirror all of the commands given to the primary pet, including its current stance. I think this really needs to happen, as Hati has already been misbehaving quite a bit for me.

One thing they did get right was dismissing Hati when you dismiss your main pet. Hati can also take damage and die. When this happens, you get a debuff that prevents Hati from being summoned again for 2 minutes. This shouldn’t happen too much in practice, but I can see Hati being targeted in PVP to take her out of commission for 2 minutes.

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Summoning pets as part of the rotation

Beast Mastery in Warlords of Draenor is all about three things: maximizing global cooldowns while using Kill Command as much as possible, not Focus capping, and managing Focus Fire stacks (typically using it with other cooldowns).

Beast Mastery in Legion does away with Focus Fire and puts less emphasis on Focus management in general. Instead, you’re monitoring many cooldowns of varying length and deciding what order to use them. In some ways it reminds me of pre-Focus Hunters. It’s pretty simple to pick up and play, but how hard it will be to master is yet to be determined.

Become a Watcher

The staple Kill Command is still here, but now it costs only 20 Focus.  Your other main Focus spender is Cobra Shot at 30 Focus. It’s the button you’ll be spamming (or not, depending on your Focus level) as you wait for other abilities to finish cooldown. The Multi-Shot and Beast Cleave combo remains for AoE damage.

So, if Cobra Shot spends Focus now, how do we generate it? With Dire Beast! Dire Beast now has a 10-second cooldown and generates 4 Focus every 2 sec, so you don’t have to worry about the beast making contact to generate Focus. I am having a blast summoning beasts as a part of my rotation. They appear beside you, but quickly move towards the target. Every time you crit, there is a chance that the cooldown is reset, which means you sometimes have multiple Dire Beasts at the same time. I see we already have some glyphs to customize our Dire Beast summons as well.

Beast Mastery also has more DPS cooldowns than the other specs, with a total of 3 baseline cooldowns (plus more available through talents):

  • Aspect of the Wild: A moderate critical strike bonus for you are your pet, plus extra Focus regeneration. Ideal when stacked with other cooldowns.
  • Bestial Wrath: The main difference is it no longer reduces the Focus cost of your abilities, but the Hunter now gains the full 20% damage boost. Also, its cooldown is reduced by 15 seconds every time you use Dire Beast.
  • Titan’s Thunder: This is part of Titanstrike itself and it’s the first thing you unlock. All of your pets discharge electricity into their target, including any Dire Beasts you have summoned.

The biggest concern with Beast Mastery’s rotation is potential downtime. This happens when you have no Focus available, or need to save what you have for an imminent cooldown. Previously we could fill in those periods of downtime with a Cobra Shot, but now there is no filler. Some people might enjoy having brief periods of rest where they can get their bearings and focus on the fight, but others will despise those few agonizing seconds where they have no buttons to press. Personally, I am okay with 1-2 seconds of downtime occasionally, but anything longer than that feels bad.

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An early look at talents

It’s too early to say anything definitive about the talents. Many aren’t working or are obviously not balanced, but I will focus on a few of them. Chimaera Shot is the main outlier right now: it’s simply too good to not take. I wouldn’t mind having it as a baseline ability for Beast Mastery, because every time I stopped using it the overall rotation felt like it was missing something.

The level 15 tier is mostly about Dire Beast. Currently, Dire Stable is very strong because it adds so much Focus regeneration. I tried One with the Pack for a bit and the extra chance to summon more Dire Beasts with Wild Call was somewhat noticeable, but not enough to compete with doubling of Focus. Tuning can change all of this down the line, and the balance could shift as you get better gear with more crit chance.

For level 100, we have Stampede, Killer Cobra, and Aspect of the Beast. Stampede is not what it used to be. Instead of summoning your own pets it calls random beasts from the wild that charge forward and hit anything in their path. It certainly looks cool but it has a lot of technical issues that need to be worked out before I can pass judgement. I also miss seeing my stable of pets out on the field. Killer Cobra is actually 100% chance despite what the tooltip says (and I don’t know which is intended), but it’s a heck of a lot of fun to unleash a half-dozen Kill Commands during a single Bestial Wrath! Aspect of the Beast is pretty interesting for Cunning and Tenacity pets for PVP and soloing, respectively. I think these level 100 talents have some good potential.

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The Beast Mastery fantasy

Beast Mastery Hunters in Legion are incredible masters of the wild. Wherever they are, they can call for the aid of the wild beasts around them, and these beasts will drop what they’re doing to help the Hunter without question. I can dig that fantasy, but if I had one overarching complaint it would be that it tends to depersonalize your overall relationship with your pets — you know, the beasts you actually tamed and formed a bond with.

This has been a common piece of feedback from Beast Mastery fans on the alpha, and I’m happy to report Blizzard is listening. Celestalon just announced an upcoming glyph that will make Dire Beast use your stabled pets instead of random beasts. This is a great first step, but I hope this courtesy is extended to Hati as well. Any form of Hati customization would be a welcome addition.

Beast Mastery delivers on its promise of being the ultimate pet class, almost to a fault. I had quite a bit of fun using pets as my main weapon. The big question is if the cooldown whack-a-mole gameplay will be enough to keep things interesting. Talents will undoubtedly play a large role but they are far from finished. My advice? Start stocking up on Kibler’s Bits. You’re about to have a lot of mouths to feed.

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