Encrypted Text: Answering your questions about Rogues in Legion
While we wait for the first new Legion alpha build of the new year (fingers crossed for playable Assassination and Subtlety specs!), how’s about we take a column to catch up with each other, fellow roguelings? As we take stock of what we’ve learned about the Rogue class in Legion thus far, what’s on your mind?
The Magic 8 Ball says: Reply hazy, try again later. The Legion version of Backstab appears to move one step closer toward that holy grail — Backstab will be usable when in front of our target, but will deal less damage. But as a recent @WarcraftDevs tweet (actually, two of them) implies, Subtlety Rogues will still strongly prefer to use Backstab from the side or behind.
At this point in the game’s evolution, I really don’t understand why.
My confusion isn’t anything new. When Warlords launched over a year ago, positional requirements were removed from Ambush — as well as Feral Druids’ Shred — but not Backstab, although they were made significantly more flexible (in that we gained the ability to use Backstab from the side of our enemy in addition to the portion of the body mentioned in the spell’s name). I didn’t understand the partial change back then, and it’s only stranger now that another partial change appears to be on its way.
I don’t see Backstab as any more iconic a Subtlety ability than spells like Preparation (which was made a baseline ability in Mists of Pandaria), Cheat Death (which became a classwide talent option in Mists), or Honor Among Thieves (which appears to be going away entirely in Legion). So the designers’ apparent attachment to its positional requirement — or, at this point, to its continued existence at all, considering the number of efforts that have been made in recent years to streamline class spellbooks — increasingly baffles me.
I’ve long been frustrated by the feeling that since Backstab is more powerful than Hemorrhage, I’m playing a weaker version of Subtlety in solo play, because we usually can’t attack enemies from the side or behind when playing alone. And I’ve seen plenty of folks express frustration over the years (albeit less so since Backstab also became Sidestab in Warlords) when latency issues in PVP cause Backstab to miss even when it looks like it should have hit.
I remember a slide from a BlizzCon 2014 session that was titled, “What Makes Abilities NOT Fun?” The list on that slide included characteristics such as “redundant,” “too situational,” “lack of feedback,” and “unreliable.” Backstab meets all of these criteria to at least some extent, in the same way Ambush did when its positional requirement was removed. What compelling reason can possibly remain to support the retention of this frustrating anachronism of unsatisfying WoW gameplay?
If there is any saving grace here, it’s that WoW‘s designers have promised a visual change for Legion that will at least make it easier to see when we’re standing in front of our targets.
If you’re referring to Dagg and his ilk, I haven’t seen any yet — but the Rogue class hall design appeared very far from complete as of the last alpha build, so anything it still possible. Plus, we don’t yet know what sorts of new followers we’ll be getting for our class hall missions.
Of course, it’s always possible that ogre Rogues are just really good at remaining undetected. Just like all those Tauren and Draenei Rogues.
I’ll do a more in-depth breakdown once Assassination and Subtlety are available for testing and I feel more secure about the direction each spec is going, but in a way, all of the specs are both losing quite a bit and gaining quite a bit — and on the whole they appear to be retaining the most important aspects of their versatility regardless of spec.
Take Shadowstep, for instance, which is currently available to all three specs as a level 60 talent option. Legion alpha datamining appears to make Shadowstep available only to Assassination and Subtlety. But Outlaw will still have its own brand of a gap-closer, or at least the option for one: The spec’s level 30 talent options include a permanent speed boost as well as Grappling Hook, in which you teleport to a spot on the ground instead of a creature.
There are many similar examples of one or more Rogue specs appearing on first blush to lose a slot or two in their toolkit, while in actuality one of two things is happening: Either the “lost” ability is being replaced by a new, similar spell, or it represents a type of ability that’s being reduced for all classes as part of a general adjustment to PVP that hasn’t been fully unveiled yet.
It’s clear to me that the intent is to ensure that each Rogue spec will still have various options to increase movement, control the enemy, reduce incoming damage, use a major damage cooldown and so on. Some specs will have a little more variety/strength than others, but they’ll all still have some inherent flexibility, which hopefully will mean that they’ll all continue to be fine to use in most non-intense areas of gameplay, like solo questing, non-mythic raids, casual arena and the like.
As for more competitive situations? WoW’s designers have responded to criticism by countering that just because Rogues will be different doesn’t mean they’ll be weaker, but obviously the only real proof one way or the other will come when Legion is fully testable at max level in 3-vs.-3 arena matches.
Firstly, and most importantly: That is an awesome Twitter name.
As for Anticipation: For those of you who haven’t been scouring Legion alpha spell tooltips, Anticipation appears to be moving to a new branch of our talent tree. In the live game right now, Anticipation is a level 90 talent option alongside Marked for Death and Shuriken Toss — and it kinda-sorta-but-not-really lets us gain an extra five combo points (they’re actually “charges” that appear in a separate part of the default display, alongside our other buffs). In the Legion alpha, Anticipation is a level 45 talent option alongside two new talents, Deeper Strategem and Vigor — and it really-truly-in-every-way appears to let us gain an extra three combo points.
But it’s three extra combo points instead of five. Sounds kinda nerf-y, right?
Yes and no. Sure, it’s two fewer combo points, but they’re more reliable — for instance, they get consumed the same way whether we’re using enemy-targeted finishers (like Eviscerate) or self-targeting finishers (like Slice and Dice), while in the current game Anticipation charges can’t be used for self-targeting finishers.
Another plus is that in Legion, the game’s native user interface will finally display Anticipation properly: You can see the extra combo points immediately below your “regular” set of five combo points within your character’s unit frame, as well as right smack in the middle of your screen just below the target you’re stabbing.
But back to your core question: Why three instead of five? This is just an educated guess, but I think it’s primarily for PVP balance reasons.
Remember that in Legion, Anticipation is being separated from Marked for Death in the talent tree. This is a great move: The current level 90 talent tier is a hodge-podge of mismatched spells, while the upcoming level 45 and level 90 tiers each have more cohesive themes. (Well, more the level 45 tier than the level 90 tier, but we’ll talk about that more when I do a deep dive into our Legion talent options later this year.)
As a result of this change, it will be possible in Legion to talent into both Anticipation and Marked for Death — a combination that would have allowed a Rogue to cast three five-point finishers in three seconds if Anticipation still stacked to five. That’s potentially a whole lot of damage — or, even more terrifying from a PVP standpoint, a whole bushel of stuns potentially being doled out to multiple targets in rapid succession. That may have felt a little too powerful.
I may be wrong, but I think it’s unlikely this has much to do with PVE. In most situations, having 10 combo points is little different for Rogues in the current live game than having eight combo points: Although combo point “pooling” happens occasionally in all three specs (e.g., Assassination Rogues may cast Envenom, then try to stuff an extra Mutilate in while the Envenom debuff is still active), it’s not especially common, nor is it all that important from a DPS standpoint. Usually, once we get to or above five combo points, the next ability we cast is gonna be a finisher, not another combo point builder — and none of our abilities grant more than three Anticipation stacks as it is.
So shifting from five to three is more or less a wash from a PVE standpoint, I think, leading me to believe this is a PVP-centric decision.
Prior to the unveiling of Legion, I would’ve said that three characteristics set Rogues apart from other classes: our use of poisons, the extent to which stealth benefits our damage and control, and our “toolkit” (the range of abilities and talents we have at our disposal to protect ourselves from damage or make our enemies less effective). But in Legion, poisons will become Assassination-only, many stealth-related benefits will be removed from
Combat Outlaw, and the future of our toolkit … well, we covered that debate earlier in this column.
What I think remains, surprisingly, is something I’ve spent years hoping I would one day be able to say: Rogues will have some very distinct lore and flavor baked into the class that, by definition, no other class will have. I think the designers’ efforts in Legion will help solidify the feeling that no other class quite fits the feeling of assassin, pirate/swashbuckler or spy like a Rogue. And as different as each Rogue spec theme will be, the archetype will remain the only one of all the classes whose number one rule is to break the rules.
And, of course, we’ll still be unique in our ability to wield one-handed agility daggers, for whatever that’s worth.
One of the questions that linger for me is: Will WoW‘s designers do anything to make the Rogue experience from levels 1 through 99 feel as distinct as the experience will feel from 100 to 110? Or will those just starting out with a Rogue in, say, Elwynn Forest or Deathknell feel little different from other melee DPS classes until they take part in Legion‘s class-specific quests?
Time will tell. One tidbit of datamining gives me hope: The Extraction Point spell that teleports us to our class hall is labeled “Requires level 14,” which could just be a placeholder number — but it could also mean that Legion will introduce new class flavor early on in the leveling experience, which would be most welcome.
Have you ever seen a Rogue screw in a light bulb?
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