Encrypted Text: Your comment flurry on Rogues in Legion
You’ve all clearly coated your keyboards with Feedback Poison, because the conversation in the comments section of the last Encrypted Text column was outstanding. You posted over a hundred comments in total, and most of it was really thoughtful, engaging discussion about what Legion might hold in store for our plucky, pointy-stick-swinging crew of thieves and scalawags. Or ninjas. Or pirates. Or whatever the heck it is we’re all supposed to be.
To honor all the fantabulous comments in that previous column, I’d like to use this week’s edition of Encrypted Text to keep the convo going. I’ll highlight a few of your comments from last month (I’m sorry there isn’t space to reply to more!), and offer my own follow-up thoughts on some of the general changes it’d be nice to see — or not so nice to see — happen to Rogues in Legion.
I agree with the first part of this comment. When I look at what we’ve learned about Demon Hunters thus far, I don’t think, “That’s everything I wish my Rogue could be!” I don’t doubt there are some Rogue players out there who do think that — but I also bet there are some people who currently primarily play a Monk, or a Warrior, or a Warlock, or any of the other classes, and who see within the Demon Hunter a new and interesting design that they’d be willing to shelve their current main in order to try out for a while once Legion launches.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw every class’s representation at max level drop in Legion relative to where it is now. Will some drop more than others? Potentially. But I also don’t see it as much of an issue if, say, Rogues were to make up 6.5% of the max-level character population in Legion instead of the 7.2% or so they currently make up. Differences like that are meaningless; game designers, who mostly just want to make the game fun and cool, are not going to say to themselves, “I see that Rogue class population dropped a bit over the past year. That means it’s OK to put 1% less effort into it now.”
If I were to be concerned about anything negative happening to Rogues simply as a result of the addition of the Demon Hunter class, it’s that the class design team within WoW has to divide its attention and resources between 12 classes, rather than 11. But there are probably a greater number of designers — talented designers, no less — working on WoW these days than ever, so I suspect even that is not an especially valid concern.
As for the second part of Solidus’s comment, about how much Rogues have been hampered in their role: To a pretty large extent, I think raid encounter design in this expansion has done well to ensure that it’s not a major liability to have a bunch of melee in your raid group. I don’t feel that Rogues suffer from mobility concerns much more than other melee (if at all), thanks in large part to Sprint supplemented with a choice between Burst of Speed and Shadowstep. Meanwhile, Rogues have never been penalized less for target swapping than they have been in this expansion, thanks to the fantastic bit of class-design surgery that sliced combo points off of our targets and grafted them directly onto us.
I wouldn’t be surprised if WoW‘s class designers have worked through thought processes very similar to this. Given that they’re willing to do what they’re planning to do with Hunters — that is, take a class that for WoW‘s decade-long history has had three ranged DPS specs and turn one of them into a melee DPS spec — I’ve gotta believe they’ve at least contemplated going in the opposite direction with rogues.
However, I think you pretty nicely summed up many of the biggest reasons why we’re unlikely to see a rogue spec go ranged. Or become a tank spec. (Or even a healing spec, for all you wackadoos who think that’d be a good idea.) Every Rogue spec, whether you love it or hate it, is balanced around a mix of utility and damage that is specifically designed to work from within melee range. A design team can’t just go in, turn a few knobs and suddenly have a viable ranged spec that still feels like what any reasonable player would call a WoW Rogue.
Also, let’s not forget that the decision to switch a Hunter spec from ranged to melee is a pretty honkin’ big deal — one that’s never happened in the history of the game. The designers can’t be certain that the melee spec will prove especially popular, balanced or fun to play. It’s a pretty big risk to take with an already-popular class — which I think makes it less likely, in turn, that they’ll want to run the experiment with two classes at the same time.
This gets at another major snag that Blizzard almost inevitably runs into when it considers major alterations to a class or a spec: Whatever those alterations are, there will be people who don’t like how they feel. Maybe a lot of people. Maybe too many. The earlier comment I quoted from BnDov3r explores the idea of a rogue spec changing its role to ranged DPS, and admits to some discomfort with the idea. This comment from fez0606 explores the idea of a rogue spec remaining in the melee DPS role and simply changing its theme, yet fez expressed discomfort even with that.
And you know what? I don’t blame either of them. When one of us plays a certain character in a game for months or years, over the course of that time we’re inevitably going to come to associate ourselves closely with that character’s style. Pixellated or not, it still becomes a part of us, and though we might have our own ideas about how we might like to see it change, we’re still fond of that spec (or that class), warts and all. If someone comes through and institutes sweeping changes that knock that close association out of alignment, we’re going to be uncomfortable. We might get angry. We might, in extreme cases, even lose our desire to play that class, or the entire game.
So, the folks who design classes in WoW (or most any other part of the game, for that matter) have to ask themselves: Is the number of people who are going to be pleased with a class/spec overhaul likely to be greater than the number who are going to be alienated? That having been said, it’s looking increasingly clear that Combat is destined for a more pirate-y direction when Legion comes out, if this recent tweet from technical game designer Chadd “Celestalon” Nervig is any indication:
Class design involves such exciting variety. One day, I may be brainstorming high-level concepts for abilities used by a pirate…
— Celestalegion (@Celestalon) September 15, 2015
So, at least some change is inevitable, and (from the looks of it) that change may involve entirely new or rewritten abilities. That’s going to thrill some people. It clearly won’t thrill others. And I expect a fair number of folks won’t especially care either way, as long as the revised spec can still rack up competitive DPS numbers or provide critical synergy with other classes in arena.
For my own part, Combat has never had a clear identity in my head, even during the lengthy spans of time during which I’ve played it. Rather than associating Combat with a particular theme, to me it’s always simply been “the cleave damage spec” due to the unmatched power of Blade Flurry (which, oddly, after being brought to heel somewhat in the previous expansion, was once again made stronger in Warlords thanks in part to the lack of a target cap). Whenever I need to deal significant damage to a bunch of nearby enemies, I use Combat. That, plus I get to wield some pretty sick-looking weapons that I apparently forget how to use if I switch specs to Assassination.
So I’m game for pretty much any changes that give the Combat spec — and the other specs too, I should note — a solid, cohesive, consistent and well-defined sense of having their own unique themes. As long as those efforts are seen through all the way, I’ll probably enjoy the outcome. How about you? How deep a set of changes are you willing to — or, perhaps, are eager to — see made to our long-standing Rogue specs? When it comes to spec adjustments, where would you draw the line? What abilities or spec-defining characteristics would you hate to see go away? What characteristics did individual Rogue specs used to have in years past that you’d bring back from the dead, if you could? Let’s do that comment thing we do so well.
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