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NewsAug 8, 2015 8:00 pm CT

Encrypted Text: The illusion of rogue weapon choice

Rfeann ponders a future with Sanketsu.

What if every Rogue spec could only wield swords?

Imagine: No more fretting over those raid daggers that just won’t drop, preventing us from using our Assassination spec. No more obsessing over lot drop tables and rationing Seals of Inevitable Fate or kill points. No more confusion over whether, and when, it’s better to equip a fast weapon in one hand as Combat or Subtlety. No more asymmetrical Combat spec transmogs featuring a wicked-looking axe in one hand and a fuzzy fist in the other. Just swords. All swords, all the time.

Would it make playing a Rogue more fun?


Alternate Paths for Weapons

One of my most frustrating experiences playing my Rogue character has been grappling with the personal drama of unreliable Rogue weapon drops. With only a few situational exceptions, a weapon is the most important gear slot for a Rogue when it comes to prioritizing upgrades. Yet I suspect I’m not the only person whose WoW past carries the dark shadow of entire raid tiers in which, for example, we’ve gone without seeing a single shiny new dagger magically appear in our bags despite many, many attempts.

When bad luck with raid weapon drops persists longer than a few weeks, it leaves us with a set of unsatisfactory options. Let’s say that Assassination performs roughly 10% better than Combat on a given fight, but the power of my daggers is 10% lower than that of my equipped Combat weapons.

  • Am I better off using the suboptimal spec with good weapons, or the optimal spec with bad weapons?
  • Should I re-allocate my small amount of non-raiding time toward rated battlegrounds and arena, so I can scrounge up enough Conquest points to get a couple of adequate PvP daggers?
  • Should I spend a massive amount of gold for a crafted weapon and the materials needed to upgrade it?
  • Patch 6.2 added another possibility: Do I spend hours of playtime amassing a small fortune in Apexis Crystals that I can trade in for item level 650 weapons and the tokens that will upgrade them to 695?

To be sure, these are a wealth of choices — and a fair number of alternate ways to get decent weaponry outside of a raid instance. They help protect against the capricious wrath of the RNG gods, and to those of us who don’t raid at all they offer other means by which we can amplify our ability to murder.

But when we play a Rogue, and we feel the need to play two different specs — each with its own set of weapon requirements — do these additional options provide us with a fun way to offset bad luck? Or are they little more than a menu of unappetizing entrees at a restaurant we didn’t want to go to in the first place?

Rogue in Tier 2 gear, by Guan Zhiyi

The Road Less Traveled

If we want better weapons for PvP, we can PvP until we’ve got enough Honor or Conquest to buy something decent. If we want better weapons for questing or solo play, we can quest or play solo until we’ve got enough Apexis Crystals to buy something decent.

But if we want better weapons for raiding, the road we must travel is less straightforward. We can always fling ourselves repeatedly against the specific raid bosses that have a chance to drop our precious stabby sticks, hoping each time that we’ll get a favorable roll of the die when they go down. Or we need to play another aspect of the game until we’ve accumulated enough resources to acquire an alternative.

WoW has no mechanism in place that would allow a player to accumulate points or currency within a raid and trade them in for a better weapon. Bad luck protection exists to progressively reduce the chances that we’ll get nothing at all when a boss goes boom, but it doesn’t appear to discern between types of gear — one drop is as good as the next, regardless of what actually drops. Our ability to select a loot specialization helps reduce the chances that a weapon drop will be one we don’t want or need, but it doesn’t increase our chances of seeing a weapon drop overall. Bonus rolls offer an additional chance at an item, but nothing offers a guarantee.

If the main activity we want to engage in when we play WoW is raid, should bad luck with weapon drops make some of us feel forced to engage in other areas of the game we that may be less interested in, or may simply not have the time to participate in? In a game that has been designed to scratch any number of different player itches, should there be situations such as these, in which players have to scratch their leg to relieve an itch on their arm?


One Sword (or Axe, or Dagger, or Fist Weapon, or Mace) to Rule Them All

Implementing some manner of grind-able, direct path for raiders to get better weapons is one way to alleviate this problem. But so is a more radical idea: eliminating weapon differential entirely between the Rogue specs.

When it comes to Rogue weaponry, the tension that I see arise is usually not over a player getting zero weapon drops at all. Instead, it’s the anxiety that bubbles up when a Rogue player lacks of the specific array of weapon drops they need in order to play their class optimally. Current class design has cast Assassination and Subtlety in the role of best choice on raid fights where single-target damage is of paramount importance, while Combat is our best option on fights where the ability to damage multiple nearby targets is valued. But Combat requires two slow weapons to play optimally, while Assassination requires two daggers. (Subtlety prefers two daggers, but can be nearly as effective with a main-hand dagger and an off-hand slow weapon.)

To be fair, things are less complicated today — and the difference between weapon types is less stark — than they were earlier in WoW‘s history. It wasn’t all that long ago that we had even more variety in weapon drops than we do now, thanks to two different types of daggers (a “fast” option, whose autoattacks swung once every 1.4 seconds, and a “slow” option clocking in at 1.8 speed).

In addition, a number of spell mechanics, poisons included, relied heavily on weapon speed. As a result, it was important for theorycrafters and high-end players to understand how weapon choice — and weapon speed — affected our spell choices and our rotations. There was a ton of complexity, but there was also a sense of purpose behind much of it.

rogue-jumping-draenor-frostfireToday, we’ve got less variety in our weapon types (all of our daggers are now 1.8 speed), and due to changes in spell design, weapon speed has nearly faded to a non-issue when it comes to theorycrafting Rogue rotations. Yet spec-specific weapon restrictions continue to exist.

Which brings us to a pretty central question: Why?

Does it add something valuable to the experience of Rogue-ness that our Assassination spec can only be played with two daggers? What benefit do we gain as players beyond a slight sense of aesthetic uniqueness? Would we be better off if designers removed all restrictions and allowed all one-handed agility weapons to be transmogged to one another — and, in so doing, eliminated both the illusion that weapon choice still mattered in Rogue class design and the frustration that players feel from being unable to obtain the weapons needed to maintain that illusion?

Or would it be better if WoW evolved back in the other direction, bringing back those old complexities that made Rogue weapons feel more distinct? Or, heck, do you feel I’m overblowing the current situation entirely, and that the current weapon design is the best it’s ever been? Let’s chat about it in the comments.

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