Encrypted Text: Making sense of the Legion Rogue class preview

Looks like WoW‘s Rogues are about to get a lot roguier.

Ever patient and opportunistic, we Rogue players endured a longer wait for our Legion class preview than players of any other class. When it finally came, it brought exactly what a well-crafted major class design reveal should: A lot of surprise, plenty of disappointment, a great deal of excitement, and a healthy dose of skepticism.

The class preview blog told us an awful lot, and yet not nearly enough, about the sorts of changes that Legion has in store for Rogues. By now you’ve already read the blog (or our summary of the highlights); let’s take some time this week to analyze its words a little more deeply — and ponder some of the big questions that we still want to see answered.

Assassination: When same is different

On the surface, the preview blog makes it appear as though Assassination will be the least-altered of our three Rogue specs heading into Legion. We’ll still build combo points with Mutilate and spend them on Envenom and Rupture; we’ll still rely heavily on poisons and bleeds to do much of our damage; and we’ll still have Venomous Wounds and Seal Fate as passive abilities.

It’s the same old spec we’ve known for years. Right?

Yes. And no. And also maybe.

There are a few key differences between “old” Assassination and Legion-era Assassination. For one thing, this ain’t Great-Grandma Garona’s Garrote we’re gonna be using: The new version, with its 15-second cooldown, is meant to be weaved into our damage-dealing rotations, marking a significant alteration to Assassination’s current three-ability, no-cooldown rotation.

There are also signs that the spec will play faster in Legion — that is, it’ll require more rapid button-pressing. A buff to Seal Fate may yield us up to four combo points per Mutilate; meanwhile, Venomous Wounds’ energy bonus will be tied to our bleeds rather than our poisons, and with two bleeds ticking on our target at all times, that could translate to a steady rush of energy gushing back into the spec’s traditionally parched resource bar. (Whether that’s good or bad isn’t something we’ll be able to determine until we’ve played the spec for ourselves.)

But what may be most interesting about the designers’ plans for Assassination in Legion doesn’t have to do with Assassination at all, at least not directly. Combat Outlaw and Subtlety appear to be losing their use of bleeds and poisons, leaving Assassination as the only Rogue spec that will utilize two forms of damage long considered core aspects of the class. Much of the essence of WoW‘s traditional Rogue design will thus live only within Assassination, while the other two specs undergo more significant evolutions.

Of course, the Assassination preview isn’t the full story. Many questions linger, such as:

  • Dispatch isn’t mentioned in the blog at all. Is it lamentably gone? Will it become a talent? Will it be replaced by another type of “execute” ability? If not, what will Assassination’s strength be compared to the other specs? And what of Blindside, arguably the spec’s most fun and engaging mechanic?
  • What’s happening with Vendetta, arguably the spec’s least fun and engaging mechanic? Designers confirmed that it’s sticking around, but will it get a much-needed personality boost?
  • How will Assassination’s approach to multi-target damage change? Will it be simple or complex? Will it still rely on applying bleeds to multiple targets? Will Fan of Knives and Crimson Tempest play a role, or will we have a new set of abilities?
  • How will Assassination’s talents alter the way the spec feels to play? Will there be more options like Elaborate Planning — and will they truly allow for “expert” players to wring significant extra damage from more complex rotations?

Combat artifact weapon skins

Out of combat

Hey, remember when we all were totally convinced that Combat was going to become a pirate spec based on that thing that guy said that time? Turns out we’re getting the land-based equivalent instead.

By virtue of the fact that Combat’s — er, Outlaw’s — actual spec name is being changed and we’re getting some gun-themed abilities (what is happening to the WoW we knew? Hunters are going melee! Rogues are using guns! Cats are becoming dogs!), it sure seems like it’s the Rogue spec that’s getting the most significant overhaul heading into Legion. But are these changes as fundamental as they seem on first blush?

Yes. And no. And also maybe.

Warlords of Draenor already brought us partway toward the Outlaw design approach: During this expansion, Combat lost all of its damage-over-time abilities, with bleeds sliding off the spec’s spellbook and its primary lethal poison essentially turning into a buff to autoattack damage.

What it didn’t give us, of course, was Pistol Shot — or the as-yet-unnamed ranged finisher (at BlizzCon, designers referred to an ability called Grappling Hook, though the preview blog made no mention of it) — although they may be more noteworthy for their flavor than for the extent to which they differ from current abilities like Deadly Throw and Kidney Shot. The sample talent teased in the preview blog, Quick Draw, also offers a tantalizing glimpse into how we can elect to make Pistol Shot into a more fundamental part of our DPS repertoire than just a PVP tool or a niche PVE crowd-control aid.

That’s an important sample talent to tease, because without seeing Quick Draw, the Outlaw DPS rotation looks like it might be a heavily simplified version of the way Combat plays today. Revealing Strike is off the books, Bandit’s Guile isn’t mentioned at all, and while the spellbook appears stocked with new names (with the exception of our deeply under-appreciated old friend Slice and Dice, which remains with us), the abilities themselves aren’t necessarily novel.

For example: Saber Slash is the alliterative cousin, and the fraternal twin, of Sinister Strike — or, more accurately, of Sinister Strike and Revealing Strike mashed together into a single ability. The only apparent difference is Saber Slash’s ability to proc a free Pistol Shot, nearly identical to the way that Mutilate can currently proc a free Dispatch for Assassination rogues. Run Through appears to be Eviscerate with a slightly larger range (the value of which is thus-far unclear), and passive abilities like Combat Potency and Ruthlessness appear mostly unchanged.

Well, unchanged, with one big exception: Ruthlessness doesn’t appear to reduce our major DPS cooldowns anymore. That may make Combat’s gameplay feel less as though we’re simply biding our time between those cooldowns — although it could also slow down the spec’s traditionally frenetic gameplay style, which some may not like.

Ultimately, although its new style is clearly an exciting concept, the Outlaw preview raises far more questions than it answers about how the spec actually plays. For instance:

  • The designers have confirmed that we still have Adrenaline Rush, but have been less vocal about Killing Spree. Is it still around? Will it become a talent? Will its teleport be fixed so it accidentally kills us slightly less often?
  • We know from the blog that we’re keeping Blade Flurry, but will it function the same as it does now? How does Blizzard plan to prevent it from feeling like a “required” spec in multi-target situations?
  • Are Outlaw’s ranged abilities truly unique to the spec, or did they just get more play in the blog (and in followup tweets) than the other specs’ ranged options, such as Assassination’s poison-tipped throwing knife?
  • If all of Outlaw’s artifacts are swords, what happens if a player prefers the look of fist weapons, which currently can’t be transmogrified onto other one-handed weapons? What happens when a Rogue wants — or feels compelled, if the game situation calls for it — to switch to one of the two dagger-based specs?
  • With no bleeds or poisons to speak of, no crowd control to use out of stealth, and its burst DPS potential possibly reduced, will Outlaw’s ranged options (or other, as-yet-unknown features) be enough to give it a place in organized PVP?

BlizzCon slide on Subtlety "distinct" changes

Not-so-subtle modifications

As it is with Combat/Outlaw (Comblaw? Outbat?), the most obvious upcoming change to Subtlety is to the spec’s fantasy. For years there’s been a running theory that Subtlety’s spells dipped into the darkness of shadow magic; now, it’s official. Where Assassination’s damage will derive from nature and Outlaw’s from sheer physical force, Subtlety will be embraced by the shadows.

But will that change to the fantasy have practical implications for the spec?

Yes. And no. And also maybe.

Mechanically, this means an end to bleeds (and, apparently, poisons), with all damage-over-time effects taking the form of shadow damage — an almost-irrelevant distinction for PVE players, but a potentially significant one for PVP players, where the type of ticking damage being inflicted affects how and whether it can be dispelled.

Many of Subtlety’s core abilities remain in place: We’ll still build combo points with Backstab (which will — hallelujah! — no longer have a positional requirement, but will — oy, vey! — retain a positional preference) and we’ll spend them on either Eviscerate or on the new, shadowy version of Rupture, Nightblade. Although Honor Among Thieves will be honorably discharged, Shadow Techniques will effectively replace it.

Where things get interesting with Subtlety is on the periphery of these core abilities. In one sense, the basic DPS rotation looks to be getting way more simple: Find Weakness is gone; there’s no mention of Slice and Dice, Preparation, or Premeditation; and Hemorrhage isn’t part of the base equation anymore (though it may become a talent). But in another sense, the spec might get more interesting: Shadow Dance will transform from a DPS burst cooldown into a series of mini-burst opportunities, which could make for interesting energy pooling and spell-timing decisions.

And then, of course, there’s Shadow Blades. Yep, that Shadow Blades — at least, potentially. We don’t actually know any details about it yet, beyond that it’s going to be Subtlety’s primary burst DPS cooldown.


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Ultimately, though, there’s a great deal of questions left for us to ponder, such as:

  • Will Subtlety’s talent options truly give players the ability to opt back into all of the complexity they might miss — and get a worthwhile DPS boost from executing that harder rotation successfully?
  • In what ways besides Shadow Dance (and, apparently, the sample talent Relentless Strikes) will Subtlety utilize stealth while in combat? Will Vanish still play a role?
  • Besides Shadowstrike (which appears likely to replace Shadowstep, and is roughly an Ambush-only version of Cloak and Dagger), what abilities will Subtlety Rogues be able to use while stealthed?
  • How will Subtlety’s AOE and ranged-damage capabilities compare to the other two specs?
  • Will all of these changes — particularly those to Shadow Dance — spell an end to Subtlety’s traditional spot as the preferred spec in organized PVP?

These are just a sampling of the questions players have been asking since the Rogue class preview dropped — and this column has only given a glimpse of the glimpse Blizzard provided into how our class will change in Legion. We’ll continue the conversation in another Encrypted Text column next week. In the meantime, what are your chief questions at the moment? What excites you the most about the Rogue class preview, and what leaves you cold? Meet me in the comments!

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