Today I want to get hyper analytical.
So let’s talk Battle for Azeroth Alpha, but very specifically, Vengeance Demon Hunter changes.
Since my original post about the Blizzcon demo gameplay, and my start-of alpha datamining peek, there’s a very slightly clearer look at the class. Sure, they are changing more than I anticipated, but also less than it seems. So let’s dive in!
On a look at base abilities, the class is not changing that much. We still have our core rotation, Shearing to generate lesser soul fragments, then using Soul Cleave to heal. While the healing per fragment is now based around a rolling 5 second window of damage taken, the Soul Cleave healing amount is attack power based. This means that our incentive is now to use Soul Cleave directly after large hits requiring that we be topped off. You can use it whenever you have the Pain, but this model incentivizes stronger, smarter gameplay.
Demon Spikes currently has no Pain cost any more on Alpha, which I am not sure is intended, but if so, basically we can solely use Pain for offensive and healing abilities and the only thing requiring management for damage reduction is the charge count and recharge timer for DS. Further, Demon Spikes now increases Parry as it does on live, but rather than a flat physical damage reduction, it now increases armor by a percentage of your Agility, which is buffed by Mastery. This likely will result in smoother, more predictable scaling of the ability around gear – any gear upgrade with Agility on it will improve your Demon Spikes, and also gear with Mastery will do the same, with pieces that have Mastery and Agility effectively netting a larger increase to armor. Without seeing where Armor scaling goes in Battle for Azeroth, it is hard to say how this will fully play out, but my expectation is that we will see better damage reduction at lower gear levels which will start to taper off a bit more as we upgrade. Comparatively, on live, low-gear DHs have a small amount of DS damage reduction, which then scales up wildly with gear, reaching a point where around 960 item level, you can reduce 50% of incoming physical damage, nevermind the Parry buff and the mitigation that grants.
Talent wise, we have some small but meaningful changes.
Tier 1 Talents: No changes here – same 3 choices and values. Abyssal Strike still feels like a winner, but by how much will depend on the fight and the damage values of Infernal Strike.
Tier 2 Talents: Burning Alive ticks way less often, spreading once every 5 seconds. Feast of Souls healing is a smidge lower. This tier will probably have a preferred choice among Fallout and Burning Alive for more skilled players, with Feast of Souls remaining the default choice for new tanks, new DH players, and tough progression requiring excess survivability. Given the new healing calculation for Soul Fragments, you may be Soul Cleaving less frequently, which means less chance to clip a Feast of Souls buff – this may lead to the talent being slightly better, but then again, with proper gameplay, you’re probably not clipping this much already anyways.
Tier 3 Talents: Fel Eruption is gone – RIP, replaced by Charred Flesh, which is a passive Artifact trait brought into talents, increasing the Fire damage you deal to targets with your Fiery Brand on them. Felblade and Flame Crash remain and are identical, save for damage tweaks on Felblade.
Tier 4 Talents: The biggest change here is to Fracture. Currently, Fracture serves as an added action button that gives you some additional damage output and fragment generation. In Battle for Azeroth, Fracture now replaces Shear, generating more pain and still generating soul fragments on use, with the tradeoff being that it has 2 charges and a 4.5 second recharge time, meaning it cannot be spammed in the way Shear can, and further, it means taking Fracture is exactly the inverse of today – right now you take it for a more complicated, branching path rotation, where in BfA, it will simplify your rotation and remove some interaction.
Tier 5 Talents: Same as before – all sigil interaction tweaks or Sigil of Chains.
Tier 6 Talents: Blade Turning is gone, replaced with Gluttony, mimicking our passive artifact trait that gives us a chance to proc Metamorphosis with Soul Fragment consumption. Fel Devastation is still a fun frontal cone flamethrower, and Spirit Bomb has been reworked slightly, still placing Frailty on the targets hit, but it now consumes up to a max of 3 fragments, which limits the bonkers damage it can do. This should make the choice between it and Fel Devastation slightly more competitive. As for Gluttony, it makes an excellent passive, but as a talent in favor of the two choices it shares a tier with? Pass. It is a survival trait at best, which procs randomly – words that you want nowhere near a survival increase. Sure, its random proc is at least based on a healing action, which means it can have some synergy and you can at least try to push out a proc based on when you might need it. Even still, Fel Devastation or Spirit Bomb offer better baseline survival and this is one tier where the choice pretty clearly skews towards the other two. I could see taking Gluttony for new tanks or for a more passive build type, however.
Tier 7 Talents: Last Resort continues to function the same, and Soul Barrier returns with a new twist – currently on live, Soul Barrier has a baseline absorb amount with a bonus per fragment like the alpha version of the talent, but on live, the effect can never be reduced below the baseline amount. What that translates to is a consistent baseline damage reduction while the buff is active, regardless of how much damage the effect has absorbed. On Alpha, this is now gone, which means that while it is still a strong talent choice for survival, it no longer offers quite the same increase in survivability. In effect, it will serve as a large absorb shield, best served to be held for a large incoming damage spike, rather than rolled frequently as you can often do with the 7.3.5 version of the talent.
The Artifacts of the Artifact: While the Blizzcon demo showed Painbringer remaining as a passive, I cannot see it in the Alpha data that we currently have, so that seems to have gone out the window. Similarly, Soul Carver is gone, so the rotation loses that button. The only remaining traces of the Artifact are in Gluttony and Charred Flesh (as talents).
The overall state of the spec seems, just from looking at the datamined changes, pretty good. A lot of our strengths remain, and while it is easy to look at the change to fragment healing as a net nerf, the end result will be the means by which great players can separate themselves from good players. This higher level of active management of damage received, coupled with the loss of Charred Warblades healing, means that overall DH self-sustain will go down, but I don’t believe the net loss will be all that large. It just creates a space for exceptional players to shine. The current talent buildout suggests that we have a similar paradigm to live in that each tier offers a mix of offensive and defensive talents, with some encouraging more active gameplay with more buttons to hit, while other choices remove buttons and streamline gameplay.
While it is obviously too early to make any broad judgments of the viability of the Vengeance spec as shown through these early looks, I feel optimistic about the future for Demon Hunters. We still bring a lot to the table for a raid, with high mobility, strong self-sustain, excellent survival cooldowns, and relatively high damage for a tank. I am waiting for raid testing, Mythic Plus testing, and general endgame level 120 gameplay previews to pass that final judgment, but I feel pretty safe in saying that the class and spec as presented on Alpha will meet my standards for main play and continue to be my main into BfA.
Plus, we give the raid a 3% magic damage buff by attacking enemies! What more can you ask for?