A couple of weeks ago I was entered into the alpha test for World of Warcraft: Legion. This is the first time that I've had access to an expansion this early, so I was eager to jump in and test everything out. I started my adventures with the feature I'm most excited about: Gnome hunters. The following are my impressions of what it's like to start a Gnome hunter from scratch as well as what the level 100 Legion questline is like.
A few caviats: First of all, this is going to be spoilery. If you don't want to know anything about Legion (then why did you click on this article?), this is not the article for you. I won't be discussing story elements, as those are pretty sacred to me as a writer, but I will be talking about general features of the hunter class as they stand in the current alpha.
Secondly, this is all Alpha test information, so it probably (hopefully) will change before the game launches. I've encountered entire bosses in previous WoW beta tests that never made it to the live game. I can only imagine the changes will be even more drastic as we compare the alpha version to the launch version of the expansion set. If you keep that all in mind, and you're still here, then you're ready to dive into what I my impressions were playing a gnome hunter in Legion.
This was the first thing I did when my alpha test client finished installing. I have been incredibly curious about the gnome hunter since I first heard the announcement at Blizzcon 2015. As a hunter main player, the idea of being able to run around with mechanical pets makes me deliriously happy.
What I found was that there is very little difference in how a gnome hunter plays as compared to the rest of the races. Yes, you start out with a mechanical bunny as a pet, and it's very satisfying. But no where in the starting zone, or in Dun Morogh at large, can you find mechanical pets to tame. I expected a small little taming quest where they introduce you to a whole slew of mechanical pets. Granted, I also expected the gnome hunter to be able to tame mechanicals exclusively. This is not the case, and I can understand why. Having completed the starting zone quests and moved toward Kharanos, there was nary a mechanical in sight beyond my own little bunny.
This is a shame, because playing with a mechanical rabbit is very fun. It immediately felt like I had made my own pet to travel with, and I sort of hope that Blizzard ends up adding such a storyline to the gnome hunter experience. As it stands, the pet is a bit overtuned, which I guess is fine for your first fighting companion.
One weird bug I found concerns the weapon you earn from your first quest. The gun is flagged as a melee weapon right now, which means you have to stand in melee range to shoot it. I ended up switching back to my starter gun until another grey one dropped to replace it. This might be a result of few people actually testing the starting experience for gnome hunters, but it seems like weapons are pretty absent from the quest loot tables in the current alpha. Granted, it's been a couple weeks, and I haven't yet started a third gnome hunter to retest any changes.
My ultimate impression from a level 1 gnome through level 10 is that it's pretty disappointing. Normally the fun of the hunter is being able to search out and tame cool pets (especially at the beginning stages). After all, taming used to be the entire focus of the early level class quests for the hunter. Right now there is no impetus to tame, because as soon as you do, you lose your only mechanical pet and the only reason to play a Gnome hunter in the first place.
I say that the only reason to play the Gnome hunter is the mechanical pets, and that is even more evident when you start a fresh level 100 character, because a fresh 100 Gnome hunter starts with a boring old wolf. Not an awesome mechanical wolf, no, you log in standing in Dalaran with an incredibly bland grey wolf looming over you. I am hoping this is another instance of a feature that just isn't live yet in alpha, but currently a gnome hunter has the same starting pet as all other hunters. It's disappointing and honestly a good motivation to try out the Survival artifact questline, which I did.
Here's where I will have a harder time not talking about story, since another disappointment for me is how the hunters start their quest. You literally walk into a shop and start talking to a lady standing there. In comparison to how some of the other questlines begin -- with epic summons from magical elementals, or letters read to you in classic JRPG style -- just walking in to chat with a night elf standing stiff against the wall feels far from epic. But that's the last I'll say about the questline -- except for one more thing. I just needed to put it out there.
But how does it feel to play a Survival spec Gnome? Largely like playing a slow, stodgy melee monk, but with traps. Here's the last thing I'll say about the questline: the Survival artifact questline has you doing heroic things with Taurens. Storywise it makes complete sense. But being a Gnome following around a Tauren or two feels ludicrous. How in Azeroth are you supposed to keep up with them? How are you supposed to stand at their side and fight? How do you not get trampled? All of this feels very silly. I suppose the Taurens serve a purpose beyond making your Gnome feel like a baby more than a person: They also hit slow, so the survival spec abilities don't feel completely torpid in comparison.
I hope they adjust the feel of the Survival hunter, but the Survival Gnome hunter weirdly doesn't feel like a hunter at all. There are traps, but right now the ability set comes down to spamming one ability -- Mongoose Bite -- and then waiting for it to proc again. You don't have combos the way that a rogue does, so it feels a little like a weak warrior. I guess I just feel that the Survival hunter is just a less interesting version of other class types right now. But granted, I never enjoyed melee hunter when it was allowed. As Blizzard said at BlizzCon, this isn't my fantasy, which is why I'm trying it out in alpha.
It's alpha I know, but in comparison to some of the other class builds I've played around with in alpha, gnome survival hunter feels the least cool. I hope I'm wrong, but right now it feels like Survival suffers from a lack of identity, and throw the gnome race into that mix and it gets even more convoluted. Let's hope everything tightens up as we get closer to launch. Otherwise my Gnome Survival hunter might not...err...survive.