I think I've got a pretty big job ahead of me as the new Rogue columnist here at WoW Insider. Sitting here, freshly unwrapped, I know I'll have to both balance the need to fairly represent "real" issues and not get too lost in "rah-rah-rogue" points of view. I'll need you, dear reader, to keep me honest and call-out the unintentional errors or oversights. We're a community and I absolutely want to know what you are thinking, what you love or hate and what you'd like to see me bring to this column that represent your needs.
Like a "do-not-toast-in-the-wrapper" warning on your box of PopTarts, I'd like to point out that any references I make to skills or talents in the Wrath beta should be taken with a grain of salt since they are subject to change at any time.
There are patches and then there are Patches
The 2.4.3 patch, recently released onto the production World of Warcraft realms, introduced a bevy of controversial changes very late in the TBC cycle. All told, this new patch changed (yet again) some very core attributes of the Rogue class, attributes that were introduced in 2.3.0, which were changes from abilities introduced in 1.12.1 during the Rogue refresh. Balancing classes is an on-going effort, but this is a downward-spiral of patch-over-patch changes on things that really make the rogue class what it is.
The Rogue class is an iconic and broadly feared class in the game. As with all classes it can be good or bad based on the play style and aptitude of the player, but the Rogue has many important characteristics that set it apart from the others. Centrally a DPS class, the Rogue uses a combination of short enemy-disabling or disorienting abilities (Sap, Kidney Shot, Cheap Shot, Blind, mace stun, Deadly Throw), bleeds (Garrote and Rupture), and melee DPS with at least one group buff (Hemorrhage). Rogues have very little in the way of ranged attacks, save for a low damage throw and a potentially high-damage, but combo-point centric Deadly Throw.
While it may be tempting to think that the Rogue is just like a junior version of a DPS spec Warrior, the Rogue has no access to essential defense, block or armor stats and is heavily reliant on Agility and Dodge rating to survive direct attack. Rogues are extremely dependent on their talented abilities to escape death from either a PvE or PvP opponent. In other words, once we're in melee range or casting range we require balls-to-the-wall DPS or emergency escape to survive. Full commitment to each encounter is an unavoidable game-mechanic. It is because of this mechanic that changes to both Cheat Death and Sinister Calling (on top of changes already made to Hemorrhage and other talents previously) hurt quite a bit.
A detailed examination of the changes
Cheat Death, accessible with 30 points in subtlety, permitted a Rogue to avoid 90% of any incoming damage (passively activated) when the game-client decides that the incoming blow would have killed the Rogue. The Rogue would then have three seconds to either kill the target (assuming just one target) or use an escape mechanism (like Vanish) to avoid death. Sinister Calling is a 35 point talent that increased agility by 15% (fully talented) and increase Backstab and Hemorrhage damage by 2/4/6/8/10%. Both of these abilities, combined with other changes in Hemorrhage and Sap, make a Subtlety Rogue a primary spec for PvP and Arena teams, and gave a little to PvE Rogues in terms of variety. It also made Rogues the most hated class in organized and world PvP due to the fact that they became incredibly hard to kill, impossible to kite (thanks to Cloak of Shadows), and a general thorn to any cloth wearer who had to suffer the walk-of-graveyard-shame after a four digit Hemorrhage critical.
[Updated for phrasing] There used to be a time when Hemorrhage and all subtlety builds were a laughable build due to the lack of sustainable damage (and the fact that many Rogues used it as a dagger build), and when you're standing in front of a high-dps (e.g. Mage, Warlock, Hunter S-Priest) or high-armor, high-sustain class (e.g.Warrior, Druid, Paladin) not killing them in the first three seconds typically means death for you. At least one major patch ago things shifted back to Rogues being the 700 pound gorilla in the room (750 for locks and 800 for Mortal Strike Warriors). With the most recently changes however, Blizzard has taken us back at least one step and reduced the overall efficiency of Cheat Death and Sinister Calling. Today, Cheat Death uses a complicated formula: 100% avoidance chance to reduce you to 10% health and *up to* a 90% damage avoidance for 3 seconds (modified by resilience). Word on the street is that this change doesn't actually have the intended effect and Rogues are dead before the Cheat Death combat message can be posted on screen.
Another gotcha with the new Cheat Death is that its overall effect is very much modified by stacking resilience. Resilience is an attribute that reduces the change to receive critical strikes and the damage received from critical strikes that land. There has been much speculation on the Official WoW Forums, including a post from Ainsarii on the actual effect. In short 150 resilience or 7.6% reduction in criticals would reduce damage by 30% for three seconds, while a resilience of 433 (or 22.5% reduction in criticals) would buffer you by 90% for 3 seconds, taking at most ten-thousand points of damage during Cheat Death before death.
By making Cheat Death pivot on resilience, which already provides a huge damage mitigation, Blizzard essentially telling us that they don't really want us to spec for it. In fact, many calls on the Rogue forum talk about using those same points for Master of Subtlety, which would increase damage done by 10% for six seconds after coming out of stealth. This is an especially important talent to consider since Blizzard also reduced the overall damage by 5% for hemorrhage with reductions in Sinister Calling.
That's nice but Rogues are OP anyway, right?
You may be saying, "But Jason, Rogues were so OP prior to 2.4.3 in PvP, with talents and abilities that made them too burdensome on the whole Arena and BG circuit. I mean, just look a the escalating number of Rogues on ranked Arena Teams versus, say, Hunters. These changes were necessary to fix blunders made by Blizzard in their attempts to fix underages made in the past. " I'd say, possibly. But I'd also add that Rogues fill a very special spot in PvP and PvE encounters that, I think, warrant them having some special defining abilities. We've got no bubble, we've got no shields, we have no effective ranged attacks, we don't employ any damage mitigation (with the exception of dodge and dodge enhancements via Evasion), we're susceptible to dodge-related counterattacks (a la Overpower) as well as lack of an AoE based stun/fear. My opinion is that PvP spec rogues *need* an advanced escape mechanism that works, even at the detriment of basic 1v1 PvP. Altering that talent, making it resilience dependent and reducing our overall damage output via hemorrhage, is a serious blow.
These changes bring up a few thoughts when looking at the expansion-cycle overall. With level 80 on the horizon, ten more talent points and a raft of new abilities, why would this change come now, on the brink of everything changing anyway? I have a few feelings in that regard.
On the one hand, I think that Blizzard was looking to close some perceived balancing issues, class-to-class, prior to opening up the gates to whatever new changes are on tap. I also believe that Blizzard is looking to differentiate melee classes by providing Rogues with even more specialized abilities (hopefully ones supporting the use of daggers...) and needed to tone down the level 70 abilities to prevent unintentional stacking of effects that make Rogues completely unkillable. Yes, that's right, I'm taking a positive turn on this. From the things I've read, both here and around the blogs, Rogues are going to make a huge return in playability and utility and of course, pure damage dealing.