Locked and Loaded: How Focus has changed for Hunters in Legion

When you think about class changes in Legion you probably think about new abilities, talents, artifacts, and changes to the fantasy of the class. It’s easy to forget about what’s going on under the hood, such as resources and core mechanics. Today we’re going to talk about what’s up with Hunter resources and how that affects Hunter gameplay in Legion.

A brief history of Hunter resources

Until the release of Cataclysm, Hunters used mana as a resource. There really wasn’t much to it. You simply used all of your cooldowns on time and in the right order, and made sure you stuck to your ABCs (Always Be Casting). We had some ways to regenerate the mana (Aspect of the Viper), but it was mostly used in the rare case when you ran dry during a long fight.

Today, Focus consists of a small amount of passive regeneration, with the bulk of it coming from active regeneration like Steady Shot and Cobra Shot. The passive component scales a little bit with Haste, but the Focus generators do not other than reduced cast times.

This brings us to Focus in Legion. Now the bulk of it is regenerated passively, and the benefit it receives from Haste is greater. Even abilities like Dire Beast give you more Focus with additional Haste. In short, it’s become a lot more like Energy. On top of this, Blizzard has also made some other changes to slow down the gameplay, such as increasing the global cooldown from 1 to 1.5 seconds.

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Beast Mastery

Beast Mastery regenerates Focus passively at 10 per second, and every 12 seconds you cast Dire Beast which gives you an additional 3 Focus per 2 seconds, per Dire Beast (sometimes you will have two of them active, or three in rare cases). So the only real control you have over your Focus is remembering to use Dire Beast every 12 seconds. You also have Aspect of the Wild, a 2-minute cooldown which gives you 100 Focus over 10 seconds. So what happens when you run dry while Dire Beast and Aspect of the Wild are still on cooldown? Well, you have to wait.

In an upcoming build, Blizzard is adding a new talent called Dire Frenzy. It will replace Dire Beast as an alternate Focus regenerating mechanic. It triggers your primary pet to do a flurry of attacks, generates some instant Focus, and gives you a stacking Haste buff (and yes, it will fully function with the Wild Call mechanic). If you’re not a fan of summoning lots of extra beasts, it sounds like a nice option to put more emphasis on your primary pet.

If you read the feedback from alpha testers on various forums you’ll see that these core changes to the resources and mechanics aren’t going over so well. It’s hard to know how much is resistance to the change itself and how much is simply because it’s not balanced satisfactorily yet. The chief complaint is downtime, or the general feeling that the spec feels “empty.” Downtime happens when you can’t cast anything at all because you’re either out of Focus or casting Cobra Shot would delay something more important, such as Kill Command or Barrage.

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This really bothered me at first, but I’m getting used to it. Beast Mastery is a lot of fun to play when you step away from the target dummy and stop worrying about GCD capping and downtime. My problem is not the downtime itself, but the fact that “doing nothing” doesn’t give you much of a reward. If I’m going to restrain myself for a few seconds, I want to feel like it mattered. Technically it does matter as I’d be doing a few percent more DPS by prioritizing my abilities properly, but there’s not really any in-game feedback to indicate or encourage that. I think this is why the downtime feels inherently wrong to some players.

Before Legion, we spammed our filler Cobra Shot when we had nothing better to do. That’s not much more exciting than downtime, but at least we had more Focus control and the reward for adhering to our ABCs. Blizzard acknowledged this in the original Hunter preview blog last year:

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Originally Posted by Blizzard (Official Post)
Beast Masters were already in a good place overall, but we’ve refined existing abilities and talents to better differentiate them from other Hunters. Previously, Cobra Shot filled all of your free moments in combat, leaving no time for managing your pet, which should be a defining characteristic of Beast Masters.

Maybe I’m misinterpreting this quote, but it seems like they were implying you would have new tools or some sort of reason to actually manage your pet. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet, so maybe it was scrapped or maybe the blog just wasn’t clear. However, it did get me thinking that maybe some kind of extra pet management is Beast Mastery’s missing ingredient. Perhaps a buff we can manually cast on our pet (think Mend Pet for group content), or even a completely new pet-based attack. Am I the only one who really misses the original version of Blink Strike?

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Survival

Survival is pretty simple when it comes to Focus. There is no active regeneration whatsoever. The one exception is Spitting Cobra, a level 100 talent that increases your passive regeneration slightly. As a melee spec, a resource that feels more like Energy than Focus makes a bit more sense than it does for Beast Mastery.

Survival currently has the most Focus-related downtime of all the specs, but it also has Mongoose Bite. In a way you could look at Mongoose Bite as a secondary resource. It has 3 charges, costs no Focus, and there are several ways to gain these charges. You’re also encouraged to use them in bursts, which allows for your Focus to regenerate as you use them. On top of that there are traps to fill in downtime. Depending on talents, you’ll want to be using 1-3 of those regularly during combat, purely for damage purposes.

Survival’s main problem for me right now is more in the balance department. I think a few numbers could be tweaked to make the experience better. For example, reducing the Focus cost of Lacerate or allowing another ability to refresh it. It’s the one thing that always seems to get in the way of my flow, but that may be related to my talent choices.

You’re already learning a brand new class in itself with Legion’s Survival Hunter, so a new method of using Focus is to be expected. The biggest barrier for Survival is still going to be that it’s a melee spec, and I’m not sure how many Hunters are on board for that. That being said, I’m happy to say that recent changes emphasizing traps and general polish have made the spec more fun for me to play.

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Marksmanship

Most of the Hunters I have heard from in the Legion alpha are already gravitating towards Marksmanship, and I think that’s because it’s the only spec retaining any sort of semblance to the pre-Legion style of play. There is no downtime and a lot of the mechanics feel familiar.

The lion’s share of your Focus regeneration is still passive, but in addition to that you have the instant-cast Arcane Shot which generates 5 Focus and serves as your classic filler ability. However, Arcane Shot feels more like a way to apply Hunter’s Mark, with the Focus regeneration being a secondary benefit. Doing well with Marksmanship is all about getting targets marked and vulnerable as soon as possible so your Aimed Shot can live up to its full potential.

There is an exception with the new Sidewinders talent. It alters the gameplay by replacing Arcane Shot and Multi-Shot entirely. It’s similar to Focusing Shot in that it generates a burst of Focus at once, but it’s instant cast and hits everything in a cone as wide as Barrage. I love it, though I am dreading the inevitable “oops, did I pull that?” moments. I actually think a little bit more about my Focus than I do when using Arcane Shot, and being able to mark everything in sight with one button press feels incredibly powerful after you’ve been used to the randomness of Hunter’s Mark with Arcane Shot and Multi-Shot.

Altering class fantasies, adding new abilities and talents, and introducing the artifact system is only part of the equation. Blizzard is changing the very core of how you play a Hunter. In my opinion it’s a bigger overall revamp than switching to Focus was in Cataclysm. It’s nice to see Blizzard take some risks, I just hope it all pays off in time for launch.

P.S. Did you hear? Marksmanship is getting its pet back, and Lone Wolf is returning as a level 15 talent. More on that next time!

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