Short answers: “Lots”, “Soon”, and “Because it’s a good idea.”
Need more? Read on.
As I type this, the Public Test Realm for patch 3.0 — the big pre-Wrath content patch that Blizzard has mentioned several times — is not yet up. The Test Realm Forum has been cleaned off and re-opened, though, which is usually a sign that the PTR will be opened soon. For a normal PTR I’d be guessing that it might be up this evening or (more likely) tomorrow, but for something this size I wouldn’t like to speculate. It might take until the end of next week or longer.
But I am very much looking forward to this PTR and I, for one, will be keeping a close eye on it to see when it opens. I may not be able to check it out myself since I am in the WotLK beta — PTR 2.4 wasn’t open to alpha players, I believe, and that restriction may still be in place for this PTR and beta players. But lots and lots of hunters will be able to check it out.
So what is in Patch 3.0? Well we don’t have an exact list yet (although Blizzard did mention some major points) but it appears to include all of the general mechanic changes from Wrath of the Lich King that will affect all players, regardless of whether or not they buy the expansion. What won’t be included is the new Northrend content or content for level 71+.
What does this mean specifically for hunters and hunter pets? Here’s a list (although please note that we won’t have confirmation on all of this until the PTR is actually available):
- You will have access to the new hunter talents. You will only have talent points up to level 70, of course (assuming you are level 70), but that’s enough to reach the top tier talent in a tree.
- In other words, Beast Mastery hunters will be able to purchase the 51-point Beast Mastery talent and tame exotic pets.
- And there will be exotic pets to tame. Chimaeras, devilsaurs, silithids and worms all have pets available outside of Northrend that we should be able to tame.
- Rhinos, however, only exist in Northrend and so won’t be available until the expansion itself launches.
- Hunter pets will use the new pet skill system. No more Beast Training!
- Each pet will automatically know Growl, Cower, a focus dump, and their family skill.
- Each pet family will know a unique family skill.
- These skills will level up automatically as the pet levels.
- In addition to skills, each pet family will also have access to one of the three pet talent trees.
- Pets will start getting talent points at level 20.
- That means that level 68+ pets will have 13 talent points to spend, unless their hunter is full BM in which case they’ll have 17 or 18 (depending on whether the Beast Mastery talent ends up giving +4 or +5 pet talent points).
- Pets will auto-level to within 5 levels of the hunter.
- Newly tamed pets will automatically level to be 5 levels below the hunter if they are not within 5 levels when they are tamed.
- Likewise, any pets that have fallen more than 5 levels behind while in the stable will automatically level to 5 levels below the hunter when they are taken out of the stable.
- Pet loyalty will no longer exist. Tame and go!
- There will be lots of new pets to tame.
- In addition to non-Northrend exotics, you will also be able to tame non-Northrend moths and wasps.
- You will not be able to tame level 71+ pets even if they can be tamed in Wrath because you won’t yet be high enough level.
- You won’t be able to tame level 67-70 Northrend pets because you won’t be able to get to Northrend.
-  And there will be plenty of space to tame new pets with our two additional stable slots!
In other words, the only part of the cool new pet system we will be missing will be the ability to tame Northrend and level 71+ pets.
Now I said at the start that I think this PTR is a very good idea. That’s not just about fairness or letting more players see the upcoming changes, although those are nice side effects. No, this is a very practical thing.
Hunters in the beta are currently at a disadvantage for testing hunter pet mechanics simply because we don’t know the content that we are attempting very well. Is this quest way too hard, or is our pet way too weak? Is there something wrong with this pet skill, or something wrong with our new equipment that’s messing it up? And it doesn’t help that Northrend is notorious unstable on the beta realms right now. But who wants to hang out in southern Azeroth or Outland when there is a whole new sparkling continent to explore?
But the 3.0 PTR will fix these issues. First off, even on beta the old sections of the game are very stable. It’s only Northrend that bounces up and down like a kid on a trampoline. So I don’t expect too many stability problems to interrupt testing on the PTR.
More importantly, though, many of the PTR testers will be very familiar with the content that they are attempting. The hunters will be able to directly compare their pets’ performance between live and 3.0. (And their own performance too, of course.) Not only that, but it’s a lot easier to compare pet-to-pet when you have a good feel for the content already. Which family skill is working out best for Sunwell dailies? Do ‘em, swap pets, do ‘em again tomorrow!
And yes, you could do this level of testing on the beta, but in the best case only a few hunters will give up their Northrend exploration for level 70 comparisons. But on the PTR, I anticipate a huge crowd of hunters who haven’t gotten into beta but who are nevertheless eager to try out the new mechanics. They’ll play, they’ll test, they’ll analyze, and if necessary they’ll complain. *grin*
Now I’m speaking as if the primary benefit here is to us as we learn to evaluate the changes in this expansion. But the real benefit is to Blizzard. This PTR will open up a huge new pool of feedback to them specifically on the class and pet changes, shorn of the complicating content changes. I’m certain that they are looking forward to this opportunity to fine-tune their little hearts out.