The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume Two, Book Seven patch is on test. There is much to discuss, and my heart goes out to Captains, but right now I want to talk about Hunters. Because my main character is a Hunter, and everything is about me me me.
Ranged DPS classes are hard to balance. Turbine has it easier because there is no ranged AE class, but consider the problem. High DPS and long range are both things that get your defenses cut, so the plan is to burn something down before it gets to you. Once it gets to you, your primary defense is a robe, and nothing slows your casting times like being smacked in the face. The ranged DPS class fares relatively poorly against ambushes and unexpected respawns. Your primary defense is to kill it before it can kill you, ideally before it can hit you.
Based on that threshold value, “kill it before it gets to you,” a ranged DPS class is a god or a weakling. A little too much DPS relative to enemy hit points, and you are overpowered, taking no damage, farming endlessly without risk. A little too many enemy hit points relative to DPS, and you are worthless, getting smacked around by every enemy, with heavy downtime between fights and a death if there are any surprises. The attempt to hybrid a little melee into the Hunter does not change this equation.
Leveling a Hunter is a beautiful thing. It blows through solo content faster than anything except perhaps a Champion. Ranged DPS is the safest way to pull one enemy from an ugly spot. It has the intuitive benefit of not standing there and trading blows with a fanged beast, and it fits our modern notion of combat as shooting things. Hunters also get the teleport powers, making them the most mobile class, and I have said often that The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume One: Shadows of Angmar™ is too fond of lengthy travel.
As level 50 dragged on, Hunters became less useful. At the level cap, they were in the bottom half of the class rankings: nothing to offer a group except DPS and taxi service, and Champions provided AE DPS plus tanking. The only unique Hunter niches were Cure Poison (instant, long-range, no cooldown: needed for one raid and convenient in a few instances) and Rain of Thorns (instant, long-range, AE root: frequently useful).
The problem was that Hunters had (and have) great burst DPS and survivability against low hit point targets, but only good sustained DPS and no survivability against high hit point targets. The leveling game, especially solo, is dominated by single, low hit point targets. Hunters are really great against those, killing them quickly and taking little damage. Against bosses, why would you seek out the class that has nothing to offer except damage? Don’t get me wrong, every group needs damage, but there are no bosses that are DPS checks who go berserk after x minutes. Better to have a Champion who can off-tank or a Burglar who can trigger fellowship maneuvers.
Enter Moria. Damage and hit points scaled up quickly. For Hunters, damage scaled up more quickly, with several changes synergizing: higher stats, higher weapon damage, new trait set bonuses to Strength Stance, a third arrow on Improved Swift Bow, devastating criticals, legendary items that increase critical chances and damage, Burn Hot plus Burn Cool, and traits to increase critical chances or the big crits of a few attacks. If your goal in life is to do more damage faster harder now now, take everything and stack it. Being a one-trick pony does not hurt if that trick is “kill it now.”
The apotheosis of this was the 10k crit. Stack every possible damage increaser you have, then get in a fellowship with buffers and debuffers. Find a target that is weak to your damage type, with no special defenses. Have your allies put every possible damage increaser on you and your target; those +5%s add up. Use Heartseeker, and hope for that devastating critical at maximum damage. You need it to work just once to get that screenshot showing your 10,000 damage attack.
Once that is even possible, you can see the nerf coming, so get your screenshot now.
The Book Seven patch notes take the Cryptic approach: hit the problem from every angle. The primary component is a global (player) DPS and (enemy) hit point reduction; even if this is time-to-kill neutral, it reduces the relative importance of DPS and increases the value of skills other than “shoot it in the face.” Going through that earlier list, Hunters are taking hits on the Strength Stance trait set bonuses, that third arrow on Improved Swift Bow, and the big hit traits. Quick Shot and Bow of the Righteous were also weakened, just in case. So not quite every angle, but enough for it to add up.
I do not use the test server, so I cannot comment on how that works in-game (see the Hunter board), but I respect the willingness to nerf the most popular class in the game. I mean, this is a class that is not popular because it is somewhat overpowered at the moment; it was still popular at its worst state. There are times when you must tell your playerbase that a change is necessary to the health of the game, no matter how many people it makes unhappy in the short run. I cannot say if this is the right change, but I respect the willingness to step up to the plate.