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WoWDec 5, 2015 6:00 pm CT

Encrypted Text: First glimpse of the Outlaw Rogue in Legion

Hide your valuables: The Outlaws are coming.

No, not those Outlaws. These Outlaws.

A new build of the Legion alpha on Dec. 2 brought with it a host of new, playable content — including several class specs and the opening quest chains in which players are introduced both to their class halls and one of their artifact weapons. For Rogues, a single spec was unlocked and available for early testing: Outlaw.

Evading server crashes and parrying client bugs, I spent a couple of hours poking and prodding the spec formerly known as Combat. Here, in pretty broad strokes, is an overview of what I learned about the Outlaw rogue spellbook. Y’all almost certainly don’t need me to tell you this, but please keep in mind that this is about as early in the public testing phase as we can possibly be, and that a lot of what I describe may very well change before Legion goes live.


The Basic Rotation

Despite the significant Rogue class changes that were previewed just after BlizzCon, the basic aspects of an Outlaw Rogue remains largely the same. We still cast spells to build combo points, we still cast other spells to spend them, and we still make use of a toolkit of handy defensive abilities and offensive cooldowns. We’re still Rogues. But the sheer fact that so many spells in the Outlaw spellbook have different names, different icons and different mechanics could well feel jarring at first.

It looks like we’ll have the option to keep our Outlaw-ing pretty simple, if we so choose — as well as not terribly different from the current Combat experience. At a super-duper basic level, we’re replacing Sinister Strike with Saber Slash, we’re replacing Eviscerate with Run Through, and we’ll still have to keep Slice and Dice up (in some form — it can also be swapped out for a similar talent, Roll the Bones). We won’t have to maintain Revealing Strike anymore, so in that sense the rotation becomes more simple. But we do have a new mechanic to juggle, Opportunity, that makes things slightly more complicated.

Those of you who have played the Assassination spec within the past few years are probably familiar with Blindside, a temporary buff. Every time you cast Mutilate you have a chance to proc Blindside, which gives you one free use of another ability — Dispatch — that you otherwise wouldn’t use at that moment. Outlaw appears to have a very similar setup. Whenever we cast Saber Slash, it has a chance to proc Opportunity, which gives us one free use of a new ability called Pistol Shot. It’s a way for the designers to add some flavor to what would otherwise be a very straightforward — many might call it downright dull — rotation, and to keep us actively watching our buffs and action bars.

Blade Flurry remains part of our spellbook for so-called “cleave” situations (in which we want to damage several targets within melee range); at the moment it appears unchanged from the enhanced Warlords of Draenor version.


Ranged Damage Options

If you think a spell name like Pistol Shot implies that we’ll be able to cast it when we’re not within melee range of our target, well, you’re a pretty perceptive pixel pusher. Although, as I just noted, Pistol Shot has a cameo role in the DPS rotation thanks to Opportunity, the spell’s primary role is more or less similar to that of Shuriken Toss in the current live game: It’s an attack we can use at range to generate combo points. Meanwhile, Between the Eyes becomes a new ranged finishing ability.

Neither of these ranged spells comes close to being as strong as Sabre Slash and Run Through, so it’s not like we’re going to become Hunters. But it looks like the intent is to at least make ranged damage a little more viable for Rogues — without forcing us to give up a talent in exchange for the flexibility.

An interesting wrinkle is that both of Outlaw’s ranged spells have crowd-control components in addition to the damage they deal. Pistol Shot slows our target briefly (it’s sort of like the current Deadly Throw in that respect), and Between the Eyes stuns them for a short time (kind of like Kidney Shot). It’s way too early yet to tell what this may mean for Rogue strength in PVP — as well as whether, in PVE, this will prove to be a huge boon for solo play, or a huge pain in group situations where slowing/stunning makes it harder to round up adds.

DPS Cooldowns

Combat Rogues only have two spells right now that we can truly consider DPS cooldowns: Adrenaline Rush and Killing Spree. In the Legion alpha, only Adrenaline Rush remains as a baseline cooldown for all Outlaw rogues. Killing Spree has been relegated to the level 90 talent tree, where we can choose between it, a new target-able AoE spell (Cannonball Barrage) or a passive damage increase (Alacrity).

For Outlaws at the very least, the class designers seem to moving away from the use of lengthy DPS cooldowns, preferring instead to give us more abilities with cooldowns of a minute or less that we’ll need to keep track of more often. We appear to be saying goodbye to the cooldown-reducing effects of Ruthlessness in the new expansion, so those cooldowns may be available less frequently anyway. I like this direction — personally, I prefer an interesting rotation over waiting up to three minutes between brief windows of DPS-dealing excitement.


Defense and Utility

Some of the most significant changes for the Outlaw Rogue compared to the Combat Rogue are taking place within our toolkit. As teased in the Rogue class preview, the Outlaw has very few stealth-only tools in its tricksy belt — at the moment, I see only Distract and Pick Pocket (in addition to Ambush as the only damage spell), with our old friends Cheap Shot and Sap nowhere to be found. Stealth for the Outlaw is clearly about avoiding the enemy, not controlling the field or setting up the kill.

Beyond the stealthy realm, we’ve still got some old standbys at our disposal when it comes to crowd control: Blind, Gouge and Kick are part of the Outlaw spellbook. We’ve lost Crippling Poison but gained Pistol Shot as a slow; we’ve lost Kidney Shot but gained Between the Eyes as a stun. We’ve also got an intriguing new ability called Bribe, which appears to be a form of automated mind control. (I haven’t yet tested it thoroughly.) Bribe may prove useful as a damage enhancer, crowd control or both, depending on the situation — and depending on how liberal the class designers are regarding when and against whom we’re allowed to use it.

On the self-healing front: For the Legion Outlaw, Recuperate and Leeching Poison do not exist. Our only form of self-healing appears to come from Crimson Vial, which we can use once every 30 seconds to instantly fling 30% of our maximum health back onto our bar. In other words, it’s exactly as strong as Recuperate is right now, only it gives you Recuperate’s full benefit all at once. A level 60 talent option further increases the vial’s healing power.

On damage avoidance: Our good spell-buddies Cloak of Shadows and Feint are part of the Outlaw spellbook, and can be modified with talents. We look to be losing Evasion, which may sound potentially devastating for solo or PVP play — until I note that we’re regaining a long-ago-shelved ability called Riposte, which is actually more powerful than Evasion, since it also deals damage to the target. And, of course, if things still get a little too hot under the collar and we need to beat a safe retreat, Vanish will still be there for us. I’ve always loved you, Vanish. Don’t ever leave me.


Making Things Complicated

Oh, right: There’s also a pretty thoroughly overhauled talent tree, which includes some changes that to me show how serious the class designers are about finding a way to make our talent choices more interesting, after years in which some of the Rogue talent tiers haven’t felt like much of a choice at all. Take the Outlaw’s level 45 talent tier, for instance, which pits a toned-down version of Anticipation against a permanent six-point combo bar or a longer energy bar with faster regeneration. Hopefully, it’ll be possible for designers to balance these options closely enough that deciding between them truly is a matter of taste and gameplay style.

And heck, I haven’t even touched on how our Artifact weapons will change things. Will they add a welcome feeling of progression for our characters throughout the expansion, subtly making us stronger and adding complexity to our rotations? Or will they start to feel as onerous to maintain as our soon-to-be-dearly-departed glyphs did? Only time, and testing, will tell. For now, though, after reading through this column and doing your own research, what are your thoughts on the early-alpha Legion Outlaw? What sounds exciting, and what has you leery? What questions do you have, and what topics would you like to see me flesh out in upcoming columns? Meet me down in the comments!

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