Lots of people have this impression of MMO games – not entirely undeserved – that the gameplay is an unbroken stream of monotony. You walk up to a monster an click the attack button until it falls over. Continue to do this until the “level up” gauge fills, at which point you go find a new, slightly different monster and continue doing the same thing.
I alluded to some of the depth of WoW gameplay in an earlier post, but let me go over one of the character classes in WoW and talk about how this really works:
Having played several characters now, I will say that the Hunter character class is the easiest and most solo-friendly class in the game by far. It’s also one of the most maligned classes in the game. The fact that the class is so forgiving means that you can play very poorly and without any understanding of how the thing works and still do okay for yourself. That is, a skilled Mage and a clueless hunter are about even in terms of their ability to bring down monsters and complete quests. “Huntard” is the insult used on people like this.
The main feature of the Hunter class is the pet, which is an animal captured from among the various monsters of the gameworld and which fights alongside the Hunter. Tigers, wolves, and bears are all popular choices. I’ve also briefly had spiders and owls, although I was never really very attached to either one. You can only have one pet with you at a time, although you can trade off between a few pets while in town if you can afford the stable fee.
Your pet levels with you and learns new skills the longer you have it. You feed it to build up loyalty, which leads to earning “training points”, which can be used to teach your pet new abilities.
The classic Huntard is one which sends in their pet to fight and then either stands back and watches or gets in there and fights beside the pet. This is a very inefficient way to play, although like I said – the class is strong enough that you can get away with this.
The trick with pets is that they have a large pool of hitpoints and high armor, but they don’t dish out much damage. The Hunter himself can deal huge damage (with his bow or gun) but is fairly fragile and can’t do much harm when it comes to direct melee combat.
Monsters tend to attack whoever hits the hardest, going after the most serious threat. So the usual Huntard battle has the Hunter send in his pet. He then dings the monster with an arrow, which will do some good damage and really piss it off. At this point the monster stops fighting the pet and runs up to the Hunter. Their lethal ranged weapon is going unused, and their pet is barely contributing to the battle. The Hunter, with his modest hitpoints and leather armor, needs to stick to foes that aren’t going to rip him apart. This means fighting things at his own level or lower, for the most part. Fighting two monsters at once is probably going to be fatal. The hunter is also going to spend a lot of time sitting and resting between fights to recover from their wounds.
But the Hunter has a large selection of special abilities, and if used properly the hunter becomes a tireless and unstoppable killing machine that can cut through foes several levels above him, take on multiple foes at once, and keep fighting for an extended period of time without the need for rest.
The most fundamental thing a Hunter needs to do is teach their pet the “Growl” ability. When the pet growls, it agitates the monster they’re fighting and makes it concentrate on the pet, despite the fact that most of the damage is coming from the hunter and not the pet.
Sadly, the game doesn’t really explain this to the player.
It explains capturing a new pet in irritatingly exhaustive detail. (The quest to get your pet is the ultimate in beating a dead horse. You will get the idea long before your trainer stops sending you to the ends of the earth to capture yet another different sort of animal.) But then the game doesn’t say a thing about growl, which is tragic because that’s the major problem with the so-called “huntards”. They’re people who didn’t have anyone to explain to them how to set up the pet training or what skills they need to focus on. The buttons to do this are not obvious, and are added to your general skill tabs without you noticing. If it wasn’t for Shawn explaining things to me, I wouldn’t have known what I was doing wrong. And because the class is so strong, I wouldn’t have known I was doing anything wrong. There’s nothing stupid about the “huntards”. They’re just players who were not adequately taught by the game how to use their class.
And hey, while we’re ranting about pet training in this game…
Once you acquire a pet, you must drag it to a major city to talk to a trainer who can teach you how to feed it, which is a required step in training the thing. My chosen pet was a bear. Yes, I had to go to a city, and have an “expert” teach me how to feed a bear.
Feeding bears does not require training. The thing that requires training is not feeding bears. When you go into the woods people will often stop and teach you how to not inadvertently feed your provisions or yourself to a bear. The idea that you need to seek out expert training to figure out how to get a bear to eat food is beyond preposterous. Almost as bad as needing to be level 55 to eat a cherry pie. But I digress…
So, by level 20 the Hunter will have a number of skills in his arsenal. These are skills which are used with a bow / gun and which allow the hunter to control a battle. Here are a few I use frequently:
- Concussive Shot: This will slow down an enemy for a few seconds.
- Arcane shot: This does a nice chunk of damage, usually quite a bit more than a regular shot.
- Serpent Sting: Poisons your arrow (or bullet) to deliver a huge damage payload. The drawback is that this damage is done over time. (Known as DoT to regular MMO players.) Therefore it’s pointless to use this near the end of a fight, or when you’re trying to draw a monster to yourself.
Note that for these abilities there are cooldown times (usually several seconds) and energy costs. You can’t just hammer away at Arcane Shot until your foe drops. These special shots are tools, which must be used carefully and at the right time.
So the Hunter gameplay is centered around managing “aggro”. You want monsters to attack your pet while you tear them apart with your weapon. You want to do lots of damage, but only when doing do isn’t going to draw your foe away from your pet.
In the most simple fight against a single enemy, you’ll send in the pet and wait until it bites your foe. The foe then turns and attacks the pet. The temptation at this point is to blast it with everything you’ve got, but if you hit it too hard it will disengage from the pet and come after you. Suddenly you’ll have this monster in your face. Your ranged weapon will be useless, and your combat options will be reduced to: 1) Run 2) Wait (hope) for the foe to go back to fighting your pet.
So you open up the fight with Serpent Sting. This actually has a greater damage output than Arcane Shot anyway, although it takes a while and you don’t get the visceral thrill of watching his health meter take a huge hit. After peppering him with a couple of regular shots you can hit him with an Arcane Shot. By this time he should be fairly focused on the pet, but there is always a chance he’ll break off.
If the monster disengages from the pet and makes a move towards you, hit him with the concussive shot. This will slow it down, allow you to back away, and give your pet a few free bites on his butt. If the foe is nearly down you might just keep hammering and try to finish the job, but if he’s got a ways to go then it’s better to hold your fire until he decides your pet is the bigger problem again.
When you’re fighting foes near your own level, you and your pet can remain in almost continual hunting mode. As a foe drops, you send your pet at the next one while looting the body you just killed. Once that’s done you join the fight yourself and finish him off. Rinse repeat. You can keep moving, keep fighting, keep looting, without the need for downtime or rest. I haven’t found another class in the game capable of chewing through foes at this speed. (Note that I haven’t tried them all.)
But sometimes you’ll want to draw a foe away from a group. (In MMO-speak, this is called “pulling”.) If there is a village of Gnolls, the last thing you want to do is send your pet into the village to attack one of them. The ruckus will draw other Gnolls and it will eventually be your pet vs. the village, which will quickly turn into you vs. the village, which will earn you an expedited trip to the graveyard.
So instead of sending in your pet, you just ding one member of the tribe with a normal shot. Showing the kind of stupidity we’ve come to rely on in an MMO, he’ll run out after you, away from the village. When he’s where you want him, you ding him with a concussive shot and send in your pet.
When you’re facing a formidable foe, something well above you in level, you have to change your tactics a bit. Higher level monsters tend to be resistant to Growl, and will rush you in a heartbeat. The temptation when fighting a powerful foe is to give him both barrels, and try to bring him down fast, but the key is to do less damage so he stays focused on the pet. Keep a careful eye on Serpent Sting, and make sure to use it the instant it becomes available again. That will doing doing a lot of “slow” damage that will wear him down without drawing his ire. If you’re feeling brave you can pelt him with the occasional Arcane Shot, but know that this gets risky. You should probably avoid using Concussive Shot in these fights. If you do, it will be on cooldown and might not be available in an emergency. If you’re tangling with a foe four or five levels of you, it’s crucial to keep him at a distance. If he engages you directly you’re probably not going to live long, so it’s probably best to save CS for when he breaks off and rushes you. You’ll also want to save it for when it looks like your pet is going to die. If your pet is in trouble it’s time to nail the enemy with a concussive shot and run. Use your pet’s last few seconds of life to put some distance between yourself and that behemoth you foolishly pissed off. You can bring your pet back to life once you get away.
This is not a definitive guide to the Hunter. I didn’t mention all of the skills and I didn’t even touch on the different things you can teach your pet. I just wanted to show what WoW is deeper than the dull grind some people expect. I predict that in the comments things will get even deeper as people post their own strategies and views on how to wield the Hunter. If I’m very lucky someone will explain the finer points of the Hunter’s Mark ability.
Whatever it’s flaws, this game is not a mindless clickfest.
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