Formerly Hardcore #14: Demon Hunters

Ragar finally gets to do the demon form tanking Blizzard taunted his Warlock with years ago

Hello and welcome to the 14th edition of Formerly Hardcore, ZAMs column on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. Last time we talked about one of the major features coming with the recently announced Legion expansion, Artifact weapons. This time we’ll be talking about the next, arguably bigger, bullet point from that announcement list: the addition of the Demon Hunter class. For all of those players who have been clamoring since Burning Legion to play their own Illidan Stormrage, you’ll now have the opportunity to don a pair of warglaives, pick out your horns/tattoos/blindfolds, and then wreak havoc and vengeance upon your enemies in demon form.

Illidan and the Illidari

So what exactly is a Demon Hunter and what makes them unique? Back when the Burning Legion first attacked, Illidan became the first Demon Hunter, though his path to that role was unique. His arcane tattoos and demon sight were bestowed upon him by Sargeras himself after he discovered Illidan’s plan to obtain the Demon Soul for the Burning Legion; Sargeras actually burned out Illidan’s eyes himself, then replaced them with orbs of mystic fire. While he’s been opposed by the Night Elves and other peoples of Azeroth on multiple occasions, there have been quite a few times where Illidan had been talked into fighting for Azeroth by Tyrande Whisperwind and the world saw just what a Demon Hunter was capable of.

The vast majority of the Night Elves were horrified that one of their own would not only use arcane magic (they’re still a little touchy after the Well of Eternity events), but the fel magic of their enemy as well. There were some among them though who recognized what Illidan’s sacrifices had enabled him to do and they were inspired to follow in his footsteps, to turn the Burning Legion’s powers against them; while they couldn’t go the same route that Illidan took (Sargeras is too busy to come burn out every willing set of Night Elf eyes), they were able to find other methods of binding demonic essence to their bodies (still requiring that they ritually blind themselves) and drawing upon its power. These Night Elves were the entirety of the Demon Hunter population until Illidan accepted the allegiance of Kael’thas and his Blood Elves on Outland. According to characters we’ve met in the game so far, his initial attempts to train the Blood Elves were a bit rough – of the group of five he trained at the beginning, only Varedis and Leotheras the Blind survived the ordeal and Leotheras’ mind did not make it out intact. Varedis had taken over Demon Hunter training after his own was complete, prior to players killing him during Burning Crusade over at the Ruins of Karabor. Per other sources there have been Demon Hunters of other races here and there over the millennia, but the vast majority of them are comprised of Night Elves and Blood Elves. So if there have been Demon Hunters of non-elven races in the past, why are we limited to only Night Elf and Blood Elf Demon Hunters in Legion? It’s actually related to the fact that Demon Hunters are a Hero Class like Death Knights. As a Hero Class you’ll be starting off at a higher level (likely 95-100 according to the developers), so that implies that you’re a fairly seasoned Demon Hunter. The only group of Demon Hunters large enough to support that kind of player influx (and thus have one unique starting experience to play through) would be Illidan’s Illidari that he was forming in Outland prior to his defeat in BC. According to the devs, your character is one of Illidan’s most elite Demon Hunters. 10 years ago, prior to Illidan’s defeat at the Black Temple, your team was sent on a suicide mission to Marduun, originally used by Sargeras to imprison all of the demons he had captured as a good Titan, but shattered when he became corrupted and sought to create the Burning Legion. During the events of your starting experience, you’ll learn what it means to be a Demon Hunter and what sacrifices that entails, and at the end you’ll return to the present day to face off against this new incursion of the Burning Legion. You’ll also have to deal with some animosity from your new “faction” similar to what Death Knights went through – Illidan didn’t exactly leave Azeroth with the best impression of Demon Hunters.

Playing with (Fel)fire

Now that you’ve got some of the lore behind Illidan and Demon Hunters in general, let’s talk about what Demon Hunters bring to the game itself. Demon Hunters are another leather-wearing class to complement their high mobility and agility, meaning they’ll compete for gear against Druids, Monks, and Rogues. For weapon choices, the official website lists a variety of one-handed weapons that the class can dual-wield if desired, but their primary weapon type is the one most associated with Demon Hunters: warglaives, paired weapons (one item that takes up both hand slots similar to a two-handed weapon) that look like curved two-bladed swords with shields covering the grips. Given that the devs commented that the warglaives shown in various Demon Hunter screens from their presentation were in fact Artifact weapons, it stands to reason that one if not both specs will be using warglaives for all of Legion and the other weapon proficiencies are there either for quest rewards during the starting experience or for post-Legion weapon variety options. Well, that or transmogrification since all that’s needed is to flag the class with those proficiencies to unlock all those weapons for player transmogs.

For their specializations, Demon Hunter is unique in that it only has two specs: Havoc (Melee DPS) and Vengeance (Tank). When asked about this, the developers said that while they could have made a ranged Demon Hunter spec or another melee spec, it would only have been marginally different from Havoc and would have simply diluted all of their cool ideas, so they decided to stick with just two specs. There was also talk about how, if they could turn back time, some older classes might have fewer DPS specs for similar reasons.

Now let’s look at what we know so far about the Demon Hunter’s abilities. Everything the Demon Hunter uses is based around their resource, Demonic Fury - some of their abilities built Fury, while the majority spend it. From that description, Fury sounds more akin to a Warrior’s Rage than any other existing resource, but it’s possible it could be a hybrid of sorts similar to Diablo 3’s Crusader and their Wrath bar which has both attacks that build Wrath as well as a passive regen rate.

A handful of attack abilities were shown off during the announcement. The first is a basic Fury spender, Chaos Strike, which cleaves all enemies in front of you. The next, Chaos Nova, is a short cooldown (1 minute) that stuns nearby foes for five seconds in addition to dealing damage. Finally there’s Eye Beam which is fairly self-explanatory: you fire off a fiery beam from your eyes, dealing damage to your target and any enemies unfortunate enough to stand next to them. That still leaves a lot of room for different kinds of attacks. What kind of attacks would fit best for a Demon Hunter? Do they try for a mini-Illidan design and give the Demon Hunter equivalent skills to match what he used in Black Temple or do they have a different idea in mind? Would a Demon Hunter be more likely to focus on burst attacks or would they have a lot of DoTs from bleeds, felfire, etc? I can see justifications for either gameplay style.

The class is designed to be highly mobile, starting with the fact that it’s the only class in the game with the ability to double-jump. Anyone who’s played WildStar (or a good chunk of console platformers) will be familiar with this – I know it’s one of the main things I miss about WS when playing other MMOs. In addition to that, Demon Hunters can charge through their enemies with Fel Rush (dealing damage to all enemies in their path and generating Demonic Fury if they hit at least one target), use Vengeful Retreat to vault back and avoid the next spell/attack directed at them, as well as use their demonic wings to perform gliding descents and attack enemies from above.

Metamorphosis: Not Just For Demonology Warlocks Any More

As a Demon Hunter, one of the main things you can look forward to is something only Demonology Warlocks have experienced up to this point: demonic Metamorphosis. You will gain the ability to transform yourself into new forms to enhance your combat abilities as either DPS or a tank. Havoc Demon Hunters will look more like Doomguards with wings and hooves, gaining even more speed and damage potential to finish off their enemies as well as new abilities like teleporting into combat. For the tanks out there, Vengeance Demon Hunters will look closer to Wrathguards with spikes instead of wings. The only real detail that’s been given for Vengeance Demon Hunters other than the different form and the fact it will emphasize defense is that they’ll be able to grant powerful supportive Auras. Of course now that brings up the question of how these Auras will be treated: will they be closer to the old style of Paladin Auras where it was a set of passive bonuses you could flip between or will they be more like current Paladin Auras which are more raid cooldowns?

Another question is just how long you’ll be spending in these demonic forms. The gameplay footage shown during the gamescom presentation showed a Demon Hunter in his elven form using all of his abilities with his warglaives equipped, but the videos of the two demon forms showed them with claws out instead of weapons. Now this could go a few different ways. It’s possible that Metamorphosis is a higher level ability that wasn’t unlocked in the videos shown, which would explain why he’s fighting in elven form. If it’s not level gated, then it’s more likely that Metamorphosis is use-limited, be it by Demonic Fury expenditure and/or by a cooldown. The way Demonic Fury worked for Demonology Warlocks, you built it up with your normal rotation, then hit Metamorphosis and spent all of that Fury instead of Mana. Since Demon Hunters only have the one resource bar and we’ve seen that they can use Fury spenders in elven form, I’m not sure they’ll go this route. If they did though, Metamorphosis could be treated like a maintenance buff of sorts with a passive Fury drain that players have to take into consideration while going through the rest of their rotation. My gut instinct is that it’ll be more of a cooldown style ability, though likely with a short cooldown at least for Havoc Demon Hunters. That way Demon Hunter players get enough of their fix of “looking like an awesome demon” while also giving enough elven form uptime that players can still admire their weapons without running into the Druid problem of needing alternate demon forms tied to their Artifact weapon.

One of the Demon Hunter’s defining traits, those glowing green eyes from where they’ve sacrificed their original eyes to bind demonic essence to themselves, actually has some gameplay tied to it as well. Once every two minutes, players can use Spectral Sight to grant themselves a new kind of vision, allowing them to see all of their enemies, regardless of whether they’re stealthed, invisible or even blocked by physical barriers. No duration is currently listed on the sample tooltip from their gamescom slideshow, so I can’t venture to guess what the uptime for Spectral Sight might be, but I can definitely see uses for this ability in both PvP and PvE. PvP is the obvious choice given that you have reason to worry about Rogues/Feral Druids moving in stealth to capture a flag in Warsong Gulch, one of the points in Arathi Basin, etc.

PvE is a little more difficult since you can never bank on a group having a Demon Hunter in 5-man dungeons, Raid Finder or Normal/Heroic raids, but Mythic raids are another matter. Developers have specifically said they liked the strict 20-man size for those because they could design encounters assuming that you had at least one of each class and that allowed them to include mechanics that made use of the more class-specific abilities like Priest’s Dominate Mind or Mage’s Spellsteal to use the abilities of different mobs that pop up during the encounter. Spectral Sight could be used for something similar, where stealthed mobs could only be brought into the open if struck by a Demon Hunter using Spectral Sight or maybe there’s something that has to be clicked off (a bomb to diffuse) or moved out of (a cloaked AoE) that the Demon Hunter has to look out for and either disable or warn the raid to move. Now these mechanics would need to be used sparingly to prevent feeling overused as well as making sure all of the melee don’t reroll Demon Hunter to cheese the encounter, but I can see how they might add some variety to PvE fight design.

How Does a Demon Hunter Play Anyway?

Now until we can get our hands on that Legion beta whenever it hits later this year, all we can do is speculate on how the Demon Hunter feels to play. In addition to the question I mentioned earlier about DoTs versus burst attacks, there’s the matter of gameplay pace. Since the Demon Hunter is a dual-wield class, I would assume it’s supposed to feel faster paced, but does that mean we’ll see a Rogue-like reduced global cooldown for one or both specs?

Since Demonic Fury is a builder/spender system like Rage, there’s also the question of how you’ll fill your GCDs. Will there be a cooldown on your Fury builders? If so, how long? If you’re out of Fury and your builder attacks are all on cooldown, will you have a free filler attack like Brewmaster Monk’s Tiger Palm you can use in the meantime or will you simply have empty GCDs depending on your Haste levels? How does Haste affect your Fury generation?

As a tank my main question right now is how the Demon Hunter will differentiate himself from the other tanking classes. Protection Warriors and Paladins can block attacks, Blood Death Knights and Guardian Druids give themselves absorption shields, and Brewmaster Monks can stagger off portions of attacks to smooth out damage. Assuming that they don’t create a fourth style of mitigating/smoothing damage input for the Demon Hunter, I would see them falling in with either Brewmasters or Guardians with either a stagger or an absorb mechanism. While we could see something unique like the equivalent of stagger for magical damage, I’m doubtful because Blizzard tries to design their encounters to allow for any tank option. That requires that they each have a certain toolset (taunts, AoE attacks, survival CDs, etc) and that they have equivalent (within a few percentage points) survival capabilities against nearly every raid boss – this is because if one boss happens to be 6% easier on Mythic for one tank and a couple of world-first guilds switch to get the kill, then you’ve got a bunch of other guilds who follow suit because “well if they changed to X, then obviously Y is bad”. It’s always possible I’m wrong and we’ll see something completely unique, which I’d love, but past experience tells me they can never stray too far off-course with new class additions.


We’ve barely scratched the surface of what Demon Hunters are capable of. What other attacks will the Havoc and Vengeance specs bring? How much time should we expect to spend in demon form versus elven form? Will both specs use warglaives as their Artifact weapon or should one of the two expect to dual-wield something else? What kind of Mastery bonuses should we expect to see for the two specs? I’m hopeful that it’s something more interesting like Blood Shield instead of a flat scalar to damage dealt/taken, but Mastery has somewhat turned into a general tuning tool for spec damage these days.

That’s it for this edition of Formerly Hardcore. What do you think of the Demon Hunter class? Are you planning on rerolling or sticking with your current main in Legion? If you were designing a Demon Hunter, what kind of skills would you like to see? For Artifact weapons, do you want warglaives for both specs or do you think one of them should be different just to stay unique? Let us know in the comments below.

Michael “Ragar” Branham


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