Hands-on with WoW: Legion’s demon hunter class

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Demons have come a long way in the Warcraft universe, from appearing in one level of Warcraft II (and referred to as ‘daemons’ in the manual) to being the primary villains of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Now they’re essentially hosting the next World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, and hot on their heels also comes the demon hunter class. Players won’t officially slip into the tortured souls of demon hunters until 2016 when Legion releases, but BlizzCon 2015 attendees got to take the class out for a test drive. And I liked what I played, especially the movement abilities.

Demon hunters can dash, double jump, and glide on very short cooldowns. After playing most other classes in WoW, switching to demon hunter feels like trading in a cement mixer for a Ferrari. The only class that really comes close to being as mobile is the monk, with its rolls and flying dragon kicks. Demon hunters can move around as much if not more, but do so in more dimensions, so it really feels quite unique.

In our interview with Executive Producer J. Allen Brack (embedded above), he said that making demon hunters the most mobile class in the game was a key design goal for the team. These qualities actually make Illidan the least believable demon hunter in Azeroth: I can't imagine a demon hunter not double jump dash gliding everywhere.

The mobility of demon hunters was my most immediate takeaway, but their look and feel should also make them popular. The appearance customization options at character creation include horn style, tattoos, eye coverings, and various skin options. You can look stunningly similar to Illidan if that's your occult jam, or even go with a hornless, tattoo-free, blind monk vibe.

While the lore has demon hunters giving up their eyes in order to get spectral sight (more on that in a moment), you can eschew any eye coverings and just have burning green eye sockets. The skin options can leave you with "normal" skin, skin that seems to have fel energy bursting out, or a more ‘demonic’ scaled kind of look. Plus, when a demon hunter glides, a pair of bat-like wings pop out of the back. It feels pretty cool.

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The demon hunter ‘feel’ also comes through in how they fight. As World of Warcraft has evolved, Blizzard has gradually implemented marginal health recovery options for every class so that leveling by yourself isn't a waking nightmare. For demon hunters, a passive ability called ‘Shattered Souls’ creates a purplish orb on the battlefield after the player kills something that rewards experience or honor. Trundling over said orb restores 25 percent of the demon hunter's health (in the demo this could crit). If the slain baddie was a demon, the demon hunter also gains a temporary damage buff.

In the “very cool but of questionable application” category we have spectral sight. Demon hunters can essentially flick a switch and see invisible creatures and through walls. The animation for this in the demo was nifty, with the creatures showing up with an infrared heat signature and the edges of your UI consumed in flickering green flames.

Lots of longtime WoW players will want to know how viable demon hunters are in raiding and PVP environments. The truth is that it’s hard to say yet, and anyone with a strong opinion one way or another is blowing smoke. With such a long gap between this playable demo and game release, any numbers from the demo—damage, hit points, percentages—are subject to change. Additionally, the demo works in a similar fashion to the death knight opening levels from Wrath of the Lich King, with gradual, phased progress and a slow introduction of abilities.

At this point it’s unrealistic to make any sort of end game projection without all the abilities available. For example, in the demo, demon hunters only gain one talent point. We had to complete about two thirds of the playable demo before choosing between a damage or a tanking specialization, as well. That said, I expect there will be a ton of demon hunters wandering around regardless of technical viability. They're new, they can fly (kind of), they can see invisible dudes, and they look awesome. That will be more than enough boxes ticked for most WoW players.

Additional interview reporting by Leif Johnson.

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