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NewsJun 18, 2016 4:00 pm CT

Encrypted Text: Previewing the Legion Assassination Rogue

The assassins are back.

The Rogue Assassination spec took its time joining Outlaw and Subtlety in our upcoming war against the Burning Legion, clearly awaiting the opportune moment to strike at the heart of an overconfident enemy. That, or the designers decided the spec didn’t need as much testing time because it didn’t require as hefty an overhaul as most of the other classes and specs. Way cooler to pretend it was the first reason.

Either way, it wasn’t until four months into the Legion alpha that Assassination poked its daggers through the electronic curtain. What we’ve seen since then is a spec that, in some ways, is fundamentally a lot like the Assassination that those of us who played the spec in Warlords of Draenor came to love and/or hate. But the devil is in the details, and there’s a lot of devil in the new (and probably improved) Assassination. Let’s take a look at some of the early highlights.


The DPS rotation

Assassination in Legion may well be a poster child for Blizzard’s new design approach to DPS specs. We can elect to have an impressive amount of simplicity, or we can opt to add a bunch of additional buttons — or we can decide to settle somewhere in between.

Want to keep things simple? Like, really, really simple? If you want, you can build combo points with Mutilate, spend them on Envenom, and occasionally mix in a Rupture and a Garrote (now usable outside of stealth) to ensure we don’t stop munching on those tasty morsels of Venomous Wounds energy. That’s it: four buttons.

Assassination has long been regarded as the easiest of the Rogue specs to learn, but this may mark a whole new level of simplicity. In Warlords, we had random Blindside procs to shake up the rotation a little, and we had to keep a close eye on our enemy’s health bar so we’d be sure to switch over from Mutilate to Dispatch when it dropped below 35%.

Of course, while a four-button rotation may sound like a luxuriously stress-free experience to some (points at self), there’s probably plenty of you who fell asleep just imagining what it would feel like to play it. Fret not, challenge-seekers! Thanks primarily to the design of Assassination’s talent tree, optional complexity abounds: We can incorporate any (or all) of several additional spells into our rotation.

In the level 15 talent tier, we can add Hemorrhage — yes, I said Hemorrhage, and no, you’re not reading the Subtlety preview — as a third debuff to weave in alongside Rupture and Garrote. In the level 90 tier, we can add Exsanguinate, which adds a strategic burst component to our rotation once every 45 seconds. And in the level 100 tier, we can incorporate a short-cooldown finisher (Death From Above) that periodically replaces Envenom. All told, we can nearly double the number of buttons in our rotation (and more than double the challenge of mastering it) — if we choose to so.

Also worth noting is the level 45 talent tier: Although it doesn’t add a button, it does allow us to choose among three different energy- or combo point-affecting talents — Anticipation, Deeper Stratagem and Vigor — each of which alters the speed and feel of our rotation in subtle but distinct ways.

What remains to be seen, of course, is how much of a choice it truly feels like to add those additional buttons and play a more complex rotation. If the designers have done their job well, we’ll be able to squeeze a noticeable amount of additional damage from that added complexity — but not so much more damage that players will feel like it’s required even if they’re not Mythic-level raiders.

In the meantime, chew on this fun fact about Assassination: For the first time in WoW‘s history, it will be the only one of the three Rogue specs that lets us apply poisons to our weapons. (Not only that, but it’ll also be the only one that can apply bleeds, now that Subtlety’s damage-over-time spells deal Shadow damage.) For our lethal poisons, we’ll still have Deadly Poison and Wound Poison — and we can opt into a new spell, Agonizing Poison, as a talent. For our nonlethal poisons, we’ll still have only Crippling Poison at baseline, although Leeching Poison remains as a talent option.


DPS cooldowns

On the major cooldown front, Assassination starts and ends where it left off in Warlords: with Vendetta. The cooldown itself remains as unremarkable as it’s ever been, but in Legion we’ll at least have some adjunct spells that can add a little spice, such as the artifact traits From the Shadows and Urge to Kill.

As was the case with our DPS rotation, however, Assassination’s talent tree offers the option to add more timers for us to keep an eye on. One such option is Marked for Death, a level 100 talent choice that Warlords Rogues are already familiar with.

Another is Exsanguinate, which I mentioned earlier. I consider it to be a rotation modifier because of its relatively short cooldown (just 45 seconds) and its interaction with Rupture and Garrote, but one could make a fair argument that it’s more like a major cooldown than part of the core rotation.

(For the record, I stubbornly refuse on principle to acknowledge Vanish as a true DPS cooldown, even if it does interact with our level 30 talent tier — the new home for Nightstalker, Shadow Focus and Subterfuge — to provide an occasional damage bump on boss fights.)

Ranged damage and AOE

If ranged damage and AOE were upgrade items we could buy in the proverbial WoW spec store, Outlaw would probably be the super-deluxe package, Subtlety would be the mid-range option, and Assassination — as it currently looks, at least — would be the bargain-bin value buy. The spec’s sole ranged option is the baseline spell Poisoned Knife, a sibling of the soon-to-be-Subtlety-only Shuriken Toss.

Unlike our rotation or our cooldowns, there are currently no talents that would increase our number of ranged damage spells or give us a realistic way to execute a ranged DPS rotation in a pinch. (Neither Death From Above nor From the Shadows count as true ranged damage options in my book.)

If you think that’s uninspiring, wait till I tell you about our hot new AOE damage spell: Fan of Knives!

Things didn’t always look this bleak for Assassination AOE in Legion — and, in fact, they probably aren’t as bad as they presently look. Earlier in the Legion testing process, Assassination had a level 90 talent option called Blood Sweat, which gave our bleeds a chance to spread to additional nearby targets like a highly infectious virus. However, the talent proved to be too powerful, which is why it was replaced with Exsanguinate in a recent beta build — leaving our old stalwart Fan of Knives as Assassination’s only option for multi-target damage.

That said, the designers probably aren’t done with Assassination on the AOE front: In the same post in which he explained why Blood Sweat was being replaced with Exsanguinate, Technical Game Designer Chadd “Celestalon” Nervig stated that the design team would improve Assassination’s baseline AOE to compensate. So it’s unlikely that we’re at the end of our multi-target journey.


Of toolkits and fun factors

Whereas Subtlety looks like it’ll be the Batman spec in Legion, Assassination appears to have left its utility belt at home. Sure, we’ll still be able to club people over the head, empty their pockets, keep them looking the other way, give them a swift kick in the pants and periodically stop them in their tracks, but all three specs can do that — or, in the case of Kidney Shot, two specs can do that. What can Assassination do that no other Rogue specs can?

The answer: Not much. Ultimately, utility is not going to be where Assassination makes its mark in Legion. Offense is where the spec’s unique flavor comes to the fore.

That said, there is at least one handy tool Assassination will have at its disposal that the other specs lack: an ability to make the enemy bleed at will. Garrote will become an Assassination-only ability, and although it’s the same spell we’ve long known (including its ability to silence casters when used from stealth), we do get some additional complexity out of its potential interaction with Hemorrhage as well as a new level 75 talent, Thuggee.

On the defensive side, Assassination has nothing on the menu that other specs don’t have as well: It will share Cloak of Shadows, Crimson Vial, Feint and Vanish with the other two specs, and will share Evasion with Subtlety.

That said, I haven’t really gotten into PVP talents here, and they do include some intriguing, fun-looking spells — such as a completely redesigned Shiv that may become the latest of a long, storied litany of Rogue spells that frustrate and infuriate our hapless player opponents.

I’ll also need to save for another day a deep dive into Assassination’s artifact traits, which include a number of options that introduce flavor, intrigue and a surprising (some might even say uncomfortable) level of randomness to our damage potential, thanks to spells like Bag of Tricks and Blood of the Assassinated.

Suffice to say for now that, when taken as a whole, Assassination looks like it may satisfy the needs of Rogue players across of a wide range of preferred playstyles. It’s a welcome next stage of evolution for the spec that technically needed the least amount of redesign work going into Legion. Hopefully the spec, and the individual spells that make it what it is, will be balanced well enough to ensure that potential becomes reality when the expansion goes live.

But don’t let my word be the last one on the subject. What’s your take on how Assassination looks at this point in the Legion beta? What interesting — or unfortunate — design changes are you especially excited or concerned about? Let’s comment it up!

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