Last night I briefly loaded up the PTR, which currently has the 4.0.1 patch available. As of 10pm pacific time character copies were not available, though I did begin the process for Gossamer this morning. Since I could not try things out with my 80 hunter (I'm rabid to test our focus with her) I instead rolled a new Dwarf Hunter to take a look at the new changes to leveling and starting hunters. I ran into some problems (it's still the PTR, so this is expected) but many of the new changes will be very welcome.
Changes for New Players
A lot of the changes I noticed were not hunter specific, but will instead be helpful for any new leveler. A lot of us long-time players will turn this off immediately, as it's not useful to us, but I still remember being new to WoW back in 2004 (holy...!) and I didn't have a CLUE. Up until this point I had never played anything even resembling an RPG. The concept of questing was completely foreign, and though they introduced me to my trainer I promptly forgot him and had to be led back by a friendly player several levels later when they noticed I was still using my level 2 skills. Even after this I regularly forgot to go back and train.
To help with these sorts of things Blizzard has added a few features. The first I noticed on the PTR was the new "help-a-newbie" pop-ups that teach you things players who have not previously played an MMORPG, or other PC games. This is stuff like using the AWSD keys to move. When I was playing the pop-up was not working exactly right and was popping up blank, though I shortly discovered that hitting the back button to "go back to the last lesson" cleared the problem up.
There are also several new ways Blizzard has implemented to notify you of important events, such as completing your first quest, or gaining a level. You'll see a message in the center of your screen that tells you what important event has happened. In the case of gaining a level the chat window will now also display what skills are available at this level. You can also see what skills you can train at the various levels in your spell book, which displays all skills that you can obtain and the level at which you can obtain them.
I also noticed that professions has a tab of it's own now; found in the spell book. At level three I didn't have any professions, so this was not something I really looked at.
Have a pet at level 1 is fun! Sure, you didn't tame him, it's nice to have a cohort and my bear kept aggro surprisingly well. At one point he randomly ran off and ate a rabbit (!!!) but I never got him to do it again, so I'm not completely sure what happened. It would be incredibly amusing if our pets were intentionally "disobedient" in these ways for the beginning levels, almost like you must earn the pet's respect.
On of the first things I wondered about my starter pet was if I could abandon him (I was naming him, I'm not a heartless monster!), and what would happen if I did. The option appeared to be available, and I did encounter the warning letting me know if I completed the action I would no longer be able to summon the pet, but nothing happened after this. I suspect this is intentional on Blizzards part, and I expect they'll remove the option for lower level players before the game goes live.
Next I wanted to try out the new "Move" feature. Again, this appeared to be available in my spellbook, but was not actually active at level 3.
One thing I was glad to see what Blizzard giving hunter Steady Shot at level 3. This is going to be one of our basic skills in Cataclysm, and I'm glad to see new hunters will learn to depend on it very early. Because I only played to level 3 I hardly noticed I was using focus rather than mana, but with my 80 hunter copied I should be able to get a better sense of it with this character.
I logged off soon after hitting level 3 due to lag issues, but overall I liked the changes. I've always thought hunters should have a pet at level 1, but controlling a pet is a bit much for a player who is completely fresh to WoW. I think the pet acting like a guardian the first few levels works as a compromise. Baby hunters rejoice!