First off, anyone who's read my posts on this board understands I'm about as far from a "ZOMG The Sky Is Falling!" type of forum poster as is imaginable. I also believe in numbers. And finally, I believe you have to look at the entire scenario before making a judgment; numbers alone are not enough without a real understanding of the context surrounding them.
After a long time of looking at all the available data, I have come to a few conclusions:
1) Hunters' soloability is more or less fine.
2) Hunters are no longer a Tier 1 dps class in groups.
3) Endurance stance has been rendered entirely useless.
4) Unless you specifically need a ranged tank (ie, for tentacles in The Watcher), there is almost never a reason to bring a Hunter instead of a Runekeeper, Champion, or at times even a DPS Guardian.
Now, I will address each of these points.
Hunters' soloability is more or less fine.
I will spend the least amount of time on this one, as things seem to be okay. While not all Hunters may share this point of view, the vast majority of players can complete any solo content other classes can with relative ease, regardless of gear.
Hunters are no longer a Tier 1 dps class in groups.
This depends on how you define "Tier 1," of course. But here are some comparisons for you.
Recently I've been comparing turtle raid parses between my Guard, my Hunter, and a few kinmates/friends--two Hunters, two Runekeepers, and a Champ. All of us are well-geared and highly experienced players who understand DPS skill rotations.
Here is an example of a recent parse on my Guardian. In that same raid:
Guardian (2nd age 2H Great Hammer @ 193 max dmg): 95k
Hunter (1st age Crossbow @ 141 max dmg, fully leveled dps & both crit multipliers leveled to +16-19%): 97k
Runekeeper (leveled up +Wrath of Flame and +WoF dot legacies): 131k
Since that accounts for ~323k of Nornuan already, this means that the other 4 dps classes (2 Hunters, 1 RK, 1 Champ) plus the Loremaster/Captain all combined for ~300k. The other two Hunters were more casual players who had 3rd age bows and average gear. Meaning, mathematically it's likely the Runekeeper nearly doubled their DPS, and the Guardian & Hunter w/ a 1st age bow far surpassed them.
Now, a couple of things to note here on the way to interpreting these numbers. First, the group make-up is listed in the link. Second, it should be noted after talking to the Minstrels that they did not have Ballad of War up for much of the fight, so those melee numbers are not unreasonably skewed (in other words, with the right buffs they would be even higher). And third, none of these three players were being targeted by our Captain for individual buffs such as To Arms.
(*additional footnote on DPS comparisons at the bottom)
It should also be noted that the Hunter was running with 3 Bowmaster / 4 Huntsman setup and ran in Strength stance the entire fight (+15% dmg). So, if he was being fed power the entire time by a Loremaster, running 4 Bowmaster would have raised his dps output to ~105k (from the 8.7% increase from 115% to 125%).
In other words, it would have taken a very experienced Hunter wielding a 1st age crossbow and taking up lots of LRM time/power running in fully traited Strength stance the entire fight to out-dps a Guardian with a 2nd age hammer by a mere 11%. Keep in mind that if a Guardian has a comparable 1st age 2-hander, or a Hunter has a 2nd/3rd age bow, these numbers will be even closer.
Which leads me to point #3:
Endurance stance has been rendered entirely useless.
A fully geared/traited Guardian will out-dps a fully geared/traited Hunter in Endurance stance against a single target. Against multiple mobs, a Guardian will out-dps an Endurance stanced Hunter by a huge margin.
Essentially, if your Hunter cannot run in full Strength the entire fight, sucking power from the Loremaster and pulling aggro over your tank, you are losing DPS versus other classes. Bringing another Champion or Guardian will increase your single-target DPS by a slight margin and increase your multi-target DPS by a huge margin. Bringing a Runekeeper will increase your single-target DPS by a huge margin without the aggro & power problems.
Unless you specifically need a ranged tank (ie, for tentacles in The Watcher), there is almost never a reason to bring a Hunter instead of a Runekeeper or Champion.
A Hunter in Endurance essentially adds less DPS in a group than the previous classes, and there's no reason to bring a Hunter unless you are getting superior single-target DPS. I'm leaving Precision out on purpose, since there is no +dmg component, but rather a To-Hit boost, particularly against higher level mobs. This is much harder to measure, and likely only affects DPS in a significant manner in specific situations when facing much higher level mobs.
So essentially, unless you don't mind a LRM dedicating much of his time to feeding the Hunter power, and unless aggro is not a concern (ie, versus The Watcher), you should never bring a Hunter when given the choice.
How did it get to this point?
Some editorial freedom on my part here.
First, Hunters looked a lot more overpowered on the surface than they really were, because of three primary reasons all working in conjunction:
1) For soloing, the initial burst of DPS (aka Swift Bow) burned down mobs so quickly that solo content was trivialized somewhat, even if in groups this was a much harder argument to make.
2) The high spike dmg on crits led to a misleading perception of 10k heartseekers being pumped out en masse.
3) The group content in Moria tended toward fights where Hunters could run in Strength and unleash without having to worry about aggro: Watcher 1.0, Watcher 2.0, Turtle raid, The Lost One, et al. As a result, this led to Hunters pumping out some serious numbers in groups, far surpassing other classes' DPS, even though in any instance where aggro & power management matters, running in Endurance or Precision is the better choice. Turbine's response was to nerf Hunter DPS down to the point where in fully loaded Strength stance, Hunters hold a slight lead over Champs, Guards, etc. The only problem, as I will continue to mention, is that the moment a Hunter drops out of Strength stance, they become an inferior DPS class.
Essentially, by adjusting Strength stance toward a more group-friendly role and scaling everything else downward with it, they effectively chained Hunters to it in terms of DPS.
What needs to happen?
Cries of "Raise Hunter DPS!" don't lend much insight to the problem. The answer isn't simply to raise Hunter DPS, although that's certainly part of it.
I also don't want to turn this into a "Here's what they should do" thread. We all have ideas, they're a dime a dozen.
What I do want to do is shed some light on the Why's and the How's, and hopefully Turbine will get a different look on the way things are. The point is not: "Hunters are useless." The point here is: "They don't add anything to a group that a Champ, Guard, or Runekeeper can't do better, while adding much more in other areas." In other words, when you want single-target DPS, Hunter is no longer your best choice, nor is it even your 2nd best choice, which is a problem since single-target DPS is the only real reason to bring a Hunter in the first place.
The biggest problem is the imbalance & ambiguity in what our stances are really supposed to do, specifically Strength & Endurance.
If Turbine wants Strength stance to be for burst DPS, great. Bump the damage back up a bit, bump the aggro back up a bit, even bump up the power cost if need be. Make it completely unrealistic for sustainable DPS in groups, except for quick bursts in specific spot use. Then adjust Endurance to bring its DPS back in line with our target DPS compared with other classes.
If Turbine wants Strength stance to be sustainable/viable in groups, great. Lower the power cost & aggro component of Strength stance. Make it so a Hunter can actually run this stance in groups without wiping due to aggro mismanagement or running out of power 2 minutes into the fight.
Either way, our group DPS needs to be brought back up to speed. I know Turbine is gearing RKs toward sustained single-target DPS and Hunters toward burst single-target DPS. Ok, fine. But Hunters still need to be a sustainable Tier 1 single-target DPS class, 95 cents on the RK dollar, or else they lose all utility in groups.
If having a Loremaster constantly supply power is not a concern, and aggro is not a concern, Hunters with a 1st Age Bow running in fully traited (+25% dmg) Strength stance are Tier 1 DPS'ers.
ANY other time (ie, any Hunter in Endurance stance, or in some cases even a Hunter with a 3rd Age Bow in Strength), it is not ideal to bring a Hunter in the group over a Runekeeper, Champion, or Guardian.
* Additional Footnote:
It's important to use both in-group comparisons such as the example I listed, as well as compare DPS numbers from different groups, when looking at the numbers. I've compared parses of both my Hunter, my kinmate's Hunter, and another friend's hunter. All of us have 1st Age Bows.
With 3 Bowmaster traits slotted, the DPS range in our parses have ranged from 340-385. With 4 Bowmaster traits, this # would be ~8.7% higher (~370-415), but requires an inordinate amount of power from Loremasters to be able to sustain. My Guardian's parses have ranged from 330-350 range. Keep in mind again, however, that a Hunter without a 1st age bow, close to 600 agility, and a fully ranked +crit legacies will not output near the same #'s as these 3 Hunters--as is evident by the fact that of the 3 Hunters on my last parse, my Guardian out-DPS'd the 2 with 2nd/3rd-age bows, and he does not have a 1st age weapon himself. My two Runekeeper kinmates have consistently been in the 430-455 range of DPS, without any power concerns.
** One last note
The "Hunter vs RK" debate is a misguided one. I've seen arbitrary numbers thrown out from both sides, along the lines of "Hunters need to be X% of RK dps, or vice versa." This is a fallacy, since the DPS discrepancy among different Hunters is huge--much larger than for RKs. Between different stances (Endurance vs Strength), and the major DPS increase from 3rd to 2nd to 1st age bows, you just don't see that kind of variance with RKs. So a more constructive debate would be to talk about specific situations rather than an imaginary catch-all DPS comparison. For instance: A Hunter with a 1st Age bow in Endurance stance should be able to output X% of a RK's single-target damage. But a Hunter with a 1st Age bow in Strength should be at Y%. These are the choices Turbine needs to consider & make. An apples to apples comparison is, to be frank, impossible.