Thursday, March 29, 2007

The [Dwarven] race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.

It's necessary to revisit the question of dual-wield versus a two-handed weapon. Beclemund and his co-star Anonymous both suggested that I reconsider two-handed weapons as my primary choice.

Beclemund pointed out to me that I had misinterpreted Kalgan's post about dual-wield for Warriors. I don't know what I was thinking when I read "1h+s" except possibly "one-handed weapon and a Stabby-dagger," but of course Kalgan was talking about the damage mitigation from shields, which I can't use. The parts about miss rates still apply, but any "damage mitigation" will come from the items' overall stats -- dps, agi, sta, etc. -- not from any inherent benefit in dual-wielding weapons or not.

A couple posts I found (finally!) that relate specifically to Hunters and dual-wield in melee seems to say that 2H weapons' dps generally outperform dual-wield dps. The anonymous comment to this blog supports 2H weapons as well, asserting that 2H+Raptor Strike+Savage Strikes should dish out markedly superior damage.

Even the question of weapon enchants is changed with the Burning Crusade, since the best of the relevant enchants, Savagery (+70 AP) and Major Agility (+35 agi), are for a two-handed weapon. Dual +15 agi enchants are no longer the king. (Yes, there's Mongoose for one-handers, but I don't see myself getting two 1H weapons that together rival a 2H and then putting Mongoose on both of them. I'm also not convinced of the superiority of Mongoose procs over a consistent +35 agi.)

The 2H weapon choices look pretty good in the expansion, too, with items like the Hellforged Halbard out there.

As long as I'm able to hold aggro against my pet when I'm using a 2H weapon, I don't mind using one. But in reality, it's the availability of weapons that dictates what you use, especially when leveling. With respect to that, polearms seem to make a great choice. Before I developed such a crush on dual-wielding, my plan had been to use polearms exclusively. There are a lot of good polearms out there with stats that complement my plan, and many of them sell for next to nothing in the auction house because so few people actually use them.

Which is the Ultimate Answer? (No, the other Ultimate Answer. Nerds.) It has to be taken on a case-by-case basis, according to what's really available. It's not just dps that matters. It's agi, sta, int... the whole kit-and-caboodle. One weapon has to be judged against another (or two) holistically to really see what's better. But having reconsidered the question, I won't be so quick to dismiss two-handers now. In fact, I think it's time to pull that Gargoyle's Bite out of storage, kick the tires, and take it on a long test drive.

Anon and Beclemund, thanks for the input!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ding 26!

Starting at the moment I dinged level 25, I cleared out my battle history as recorded by KombatStats and allowed the addon to collect data as I made my way from 25 to 26.

It's interesting to see, percentage-wise, how my attacks were actually utilized. I dealt a total of 117,083 damage, divided between my attacks as follows:
  • Melee: 48.7%
  • Raptor Strike: 37.0%
  • Mongoose Bite: 7.3%
  • Immolation Trap: 5.2%
  • Wing Clip: 1.8%
Together my pet wolf Cafall and I dealt a total of 164,255 damage, with Cafall accounting for 47,172 of that -- a minority 28.7% of the total damage.

I'm happy to see that my Raptor Strikes represent a healthy percentage of my damage, but I find myself longing for level 30, when I finally pick up Counterattack. Over the course of the level I parried 103 times. That's a lot of lost opportunities.

Looking at Immolation Trap's damage dealt, it's fair to say that 5% is not insignificant, and I think it reinforces my earlier assertion that traps are an important part of the melee hunter's repertoire.

Incidentally, just to reinforce that it's me, not my pet, who's the primary combatant, the damage taken breakdown was 60% (26,958) to me and 40% (18,172) to Cafall. He is neither tank nor battle champion -- only a fast friend who stands ready to assist.

Part of what causes Cafall to take damage is my technique of using him to perform ranged pulls. Sometimes a pull just doesn't go off like I'd hoped (and I expect Dash to help with that when he learns it). Poor Cafall sometimes finds himself swamped with adds, whimpering as he limps valiantly back toward me. And how do I handle it? I abandon him to his fate. (Nobody tell G.E.T.A., okay?) I'll toss on Aspect of the Cheetah and book it in the opposite direction, leaving him dazed and in the dust. Eventually I get so far away from him that he disappears! This is great, because it prevents him (and me) from dying on those bad pulls. As soon as he's vanished and I'm out of combat, I just blow my whistle and he's right back by my side, ready to try again, his happiness icon still just as green as the grasses of Mulgore.

When I do take damage, I find that it's not always practical to sit and eat or to bandage after combat. Since I primarily grind on beasts, cloth for bandages isn't readily available so I prefer to save bandages for when I'm in combat and don't have the option of eating. And I don't always want to sit down to another meal of Curiously Tasty Omelet when I still have 13 minutes left on my last food buff. So to kill the time, I do leatherworking in the field while my health and mana regenerate. I don't manufacture items, but I work Light and Medium Leather into Heavy Leather. That frees bag space and saves food and bandages, ultimately letting me grind for longer before I head back to town.

When I hit level 25, I put a point into Deterrence. Ordinarily Deterrence would be considered a panic button similar to a Rogue's Evasion. For the melee hunter, Deterrence's increase to dodge and parry chances by 25% for 10 seconds means that the chance to Mongoose Bite or Counterattack are also increased. Deterrence has a very long cooldown -- five minutes -- meaning that it probably should be saved for those uncomfortable occasions when you need a boost to kill off something quickly, or survive just that little bit longer.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.

Back to the topic of racial abilities. The elves' +1% to dodge would have been nice for Mongoose Bite, but it seemed weak compared to Stoneform and Gift of the Naaru. The few times I've played Draenei, their Gift of the Naaru spell has essentially worked as a very strong damage mitigator -- once it lands, you have a few seconds where your HoT is ticking for near the same rate as the damage that's incoming from a single mob. Used as a damage mitigator it compares favorably with Stoneform. Gift, however, can be used out of combat to reduce downtime, whereas during combat Stoneform shines, as it reduces damage by increasing armor by 10%, and also grants immunity to bleed, poison, and disease effects. Since I'm always carrying so much food from cooked meat, I'm not especially worried about having another means of healing myself out of combat.

There is a thread on Thottbot regarding dual-wield that I found enlightening. In particular, one post relays information from Blizzard employee Kalgan's response to warriors about dual-wield. The relevant portion of Kalgan's post is as follows:
While you will kill more quickly using 2h, you are expected to end the fight with a lower remaining health compared to the same fight using 1h+s. In the 1h+s case you will be killing more slowly, but have more health at the end of the fight, and therefore less downtime over the long haul (and yes, it is balanced to account for the fact that killing more quickly implies taking less hits from the enemy).
For a class not specifically designed with melee as a primary combat style, it seems sensible to take the approach that should, theoretically, end with me having taken less damage. Additionally, I have a second weapon providing an additional stat boost. So when level 20 rolled around, I definitely decided that dual-wield was the right way to go.

Conventional wisdom dictates that when dual-wielding, you should place a slower weapon in your main hand and a faster weapon in your off-hand due to the increased miss rate for your off-hand weapon. In terms of roleplay, this is perfect for my Dwarf. His main hand is the one that was crippled by his pet, so he would strike more slowly with it. And any person striking out with their non-dominant hand is sure to land fewer attempted blows.

As WoWWiki notes, since patch 2.0.1 traps can be placed in combat. Although I didn't initially anticipate it, traps are a valuable part of my play. When pulling a mob, I lay an immolation trap, send in my pet, have him grab the mob's attention and then bring it back across the trap to apply a DoT as I jump in with a Raptor Strike and a Wing Clip. (I always keep a Wing Clip up in case an unexpected crit sends the mob running.) When I charge into a mob along side my pet, I don't always drop an immolation trap right away. In that case I usually wait to see if I need some more DPS in the fight. The reason I wait is because I prefer having my freezing traps off cooldown, either to trap an unexpected add, or to trap my combat target so I can back away and bandage. I prefer freezing traps to fearing beasts for crowd control since runners sometimes bring friends back with them.

I also didn't quite expect the utility of Entrapment or Improved Wing Clip to be so helpful. Both of these talents sometimes give me a surprise moment where I have the luxury to back out and decide to heal myself or my pet for a little extra security.

Similarly, in a pinch I may choose to use Disengage and momentarily activate my pet's Growl to drop aggro and cause the mob to focus on my pet while I heal. Aggro sharing with my pet isn't optimal since it limits my opportunities for Mongoose Bites and Counterattacks, but it's a valuable tool when necessary.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Every man is the architect of his own fortune.

At level 24, I've already made a good deal of progress, so I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, and I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air.

...wait, let me start over.

Before I rolled the character, I had several choices to make. I wanted to hit the ground running with a plan in mind, so I had premeditated my choices for race, profession, pet, and gear to some extent.

Realistically, I've chosen my race very poorly. Trolls get passive health regeneration, +5% to beast slaying, and berzerking. Orcs have blood fury, resistance to stuns, +5% to your pet's melee damage, and +5 to axe skill. Tauren have war stomp and +5% to max health, and Blood Elves can manage weaponless ranged pulls by using Mana Tap. Meanwhile on the Alliance side, Night Elves have +1% to dodge, Draenei have a racial HoT, and Dwarves have stoneform. It should be obvious that any of the Horde races would have been a superior choice, but I'm just not comfortable playing that faction. So between the Alliance races, none of my choices were outstanding, but I opted for stoneform. Besides which, the personality I was imagining for this character simply seemed to suit a Dwarf better.

Leatherworking as a profession was an easy choice. Since I'd be avoiding instances, the ability to craft my own gear was not only convenient, but a necessity unless I planned to rely only on world drops, quest rewards, PvP gear, and auction house buys. Since I have an aversion to PvP, it was plain that not taking up leatherworking would have been grossly irresponsible. I decided that in the event that I simply had to attend battlegrounds for the sake of obtaining gear, working for trinkets and weapons would be a lot less demanding than working every 10 levels for a full set of armor.

I do carry ranged weapons, but only for the sake of stats. My current ranged weapon is a quested crossbow with +1 agi/+1 str. In-character I explain my willingness to carry a ranged weapon as a sort of sentimentality. In reality it's because I need the agility and strength on it.

Stat-wise, I found that agility was my number one stat to pursue. There are very lengthy discussions about this on WoWWiki, but the short of it is that a hunter gets +attack power, +crit, +armor and +dodge from agility. Stamina is my secondary stat, since it's necessary for me to have aggro (more on this in a bit). Strength can (and should!) be neglected in favor of agility, since for a hunter 1 str adds the same attack power as 1 agi, and 1 agi raises so many other stats besides just AP.

Why is it necessary for me to have aggro, and not my pet? To understand that we have to look at the hunter's melee attacks. Raptor Strike can be dished out once every six seconds, regardless of who has aggro. Wing Clip has no cooldown, but deals so little damage it can't rightly be considered a viable attack -- it's purely a crowd control mechanism. The remaining melee attacks are Mongoose Bite, which can only be used after you dodge, Counterattack, which requires that you parry, and Kill Command, which can be used whenever you've landed a crit. So if you do not have aggro, you will never be able to perform a Mongoose Bite or a Counterattack, because you will never have the opportunity to dodge or parry.

An alternate approach would be to put a lot of points into Beastmastery to boost my pet's dps and rely only on Raptor Strike and Kill Command. In my opinion, this is not viable for the "melee hunter" project, because at this point, it's the pet that's meleeing, with the hunter acting in a support role. Besides which, Kill Command isn't learned until level 66, and it seems unrealistic to claim you've been a melee hunter for 66 levels when your pet has killed everything for you while you back it up with white damage and a Raptor Strike every now and then.

The necessity of maintaining aggro also influenced my choice of pet. I looked over Petopia. Clearly none of the defensive pets were an option, because I don't want a pet that maintains aggro. Similarly a high-dps pet seemed like a poor idea; I was concerned that even without the pet Growling that its dps would outdo mine and draw aggro that way. So I looked at the "well-rounded" catalog. I was sold on the wolf: the only pet with the Furious Howl ability, a buff to both hunter and pet that increases melee damage dealt.

With leatherworking and skinning, a pet that eats meat, a need to cook to buff my stamina and regenerate health, the Monster Slaying talent available in the Survival tree, and various beastslaying enchants out there, I anticipated a lot of synergies happening that practically begged that I focus my efforts on grinding on beasts. And so I have, which is how I've gotten artisan skinning at level 24, and I'm ready for the artisan cooking quest. The quest in the Wetlands that rewards you with a leather chestpiece, the Raptorbane Armor, that adds 30 AP when fighting beasts was awesome for me.

That's been the plan, and I've largely stuck to it. Thus far it's been a really positive experience, and pretty smooth. I don't feel like I'm gimped. Rather, it all seems pretty natural.

Next post I'll talk about some of the things I discovered as I've leveled, including thoughts on dual-wield, stoneform, and using traps in melee.

Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?

My first level 60 (pre-expansion) was a shadow priest. After him came a druid who is now a moonkin. A close friend of mine plays a paladin tank. So you might say that I have a certain familiarity with and sympathy for unusual gameplay. I like doing things nobody believes in, just to spite them. I like pushing limits. For me, World of Warcraft ceased being about pwnage and phat lewtz a very, very long time ago. My monthly subscription rents me a playground, not a bunch of pixellated e-peen enlargers, not a spot as somebody's slave in a raid guild. It's all about fun, and I get a major kick out of pushing the envelope. So I suppose it was really inevitable that I level a 100% pure melee hunter at some point. I mean, look at these quotes:
Honestly, how could I resist that?

Now, I'm not unrealistic. The hunter class is designed for ranged damage. (Although Blizzard concedes that when "wearing light to medium armor, hunters can also dual wield weapons in combat, fighting beside their pets in battle.") I don't expect to dish out massive damage. I don't expect to be number one in anything, except possibly Leatherworking. But I do believe that a melee hunter is perfectly viable as a personal playstyle, and I intend to prove it.

To make this work, I've had to make some concessions.

First off, I will not group for an instance unless the group knows beforehand that I will not, under any circumstance, deal ranged damage. While it is precisely the "your class must play this way" cookie-cutter mentality I'm challenging, I have no desire to upset someone else's gaming experience by forcing my own strange choices on them. This effectively excludes me from any instance group, but that's fine. WoW accommodates questing/grinding to the exclusion of instancing.

Second, I will not join a guild that is not aware of my decision. Guilds -- good ones, anyway -- work hard to maintain their reputation, and a 100% melee hunter is a potentially massive source of embarrassment.

I will, however, willingly participate in group quests outside instances without preamble if I'm invited to do so, because this character is hosted on a PvE roleplaying server. The RP environment should be relatively accommodating of a person doing strange things out in the world. And if it's decided that I am not welcome in a group, asking me to leave before fighting a pack of elite dogs outside somewhere is not the same as reaching a boss halfway through an instance, then realizing that you need to replace a team member.

Without instancing, I intend to rely nearly exclusively on my leatherworking skill to maintain my armor. To keep my weapons current, I will allow myself to participate in battlegrounds. Unless the group in a battleground is pre-formed, battlegrounds are different from instance groups in that the constituency of the group is random. In other words, you take what you're given. I believe that I have a right to participate in a random grouping like that, as much as a shadow priest or other non-optimally specced character. And certainly an active BG'er of any style is immeasurably preferable to an AFK'er. However, I am not particularly fond of battlegrounds, so it may prove to be that I will use my main to purchase BoE blue weapons at every ?8-level (18, 28, and so on) from the auction house that are approximately equal to the rewards I could have gotten had I spent the time in Warsong Gulch.

I will also permit my main, an enchanter, to put enchantments on my gear, though nothing grossly disproportionate. No Fiery enchant on my level 10 "of the Monkey" dagger. Overpowering the hunter by use of enchants would be antithetical to the purpose of the project, which is to demonstrate the viability of a melee hunter. At that point it's the twink gear winning the battle, not me and my wolf. Gifting myself level-appropriate enchantments doesn't seem unreasonable to me. I have a Draenei friend who is a jewelcrafter near my own level that sends me items to use, just as I send her gemstones and patterns she can use, and I have a tailor friend that has donated bags. Even a backwards Dwarf has friends in the world, and their assistance is always welcome.

While my self-imposed restrictions represent a significant limitation in the number of avenues open to me, I firmly believe that I will be successful in reaching level 70 without tremendous difficulty. I will use this space to detail both my journey to 70 and the tricks I've learned as a pure melee combatant, just as I would welcome constructive criticism.

For Khaz Modan!