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Cataclysm Class Changes: Rogue analysis

I'm sure you've been following along with the recent pre-Cataclysm class information posts that Blizzard has been releasing to the public. I will admit that I was a bit blindsided by the info, as Blizzard is usually reluctant to give any details of their upcoming plans and generally prefers to use vagaries. But not this time! We actually have some serious, meaty details of what the devs have planned for the rogue class, and let me be the first to say, I like what I'm seeing. A lot. Let me introduce you to my new best friend: Improved Distract. Wait, I mean Critical Vanish. Wait, I mean Smoke Bomb.

Smoke Bomb (level 85): The rogue drops a Smoke Bomb, creating a cloud that interferes with enemy targeting. Enemies who are outside the cloud will find themselves unable to target units inside the cloud with single-target abilities. Enemies can move inside the cloud to attack, or they can use area-of-effect (AoE) abilities at any time to attack opponents in a cloud. In PvP, this will open up new dimensions of tactical positional gameplay, as the ability offers a variety of offensive and defensive uses. In PvE, Smoke Cloud can serve to shield your group from hostile ranged attacks, while also drawing enemies closer without the need to rely on conventional line-of-sight obstructions. Smoke Cloud lasts 10 seconds and has a 3-minute cooldown.


The goblins haven't even joined the Horde yet, and already we're seeing the fruits of their labors. Instead of the trashy Flash Powder we used back in vanilla, we rogues of tomorrow have evolved to use the most powerful smoke generators available on Azeroth, courtesy of our engineering buddies. Who needs to Vanish when you can literally become untargetable? This is what we've been waiting for: now when Vanish is down, we won't have the "deer in the headlights" look on our face when the mage begins their Shatter combo. We'll disappear.

I'll be trying to break up the notes into four general topics: Offensive improvements, defensive fortifications, additions to our utility belt and generic class changes. We saw quite a few improvements in each department, which has me excited to see the rest.

Offensive improvements:

Redirect (available at level 81): Rogues will be getting a new ability to help them deal with changing targets. Redirect will transfer any active combo points to the rogue's current target, helping to ensure combo points aren't wasted when swapping targets or when targets die. In addition, self-buff abilities like Slice and Dice will no longer require a target, so rogues can spend extra combo points on those types of abilities (more on this below). Redirect will have a 1-minute cooldown and no other costs.

The first new move we'll receive (at level 81) is basically the answer to our target-swapping problems. I have no doubt that Blizzard wanted to implement this sooner but that they were blocked by the game technology. It seems to me that combo points are now going to be more player-centric in that we can use combo points on Slice and Dice without even having a live target, if we had a few leftover CP. In addition, the ability to bring our existing CP to our new target will be clutch. I can already see the use on something like Marrowgar's Bone Spikes, where I often end up with wasted CP if the Spike dies before I can pull off a finisher. And I absolutely cannot wait to see someone pull of a 5 CP to Redirect to Kidney Shot on a healer, to apply serious pressure.

  • In PvE, even accounting for active modifiers like Slice and Dice and Envenom, a very large portion of the rogue's damage is attributable to passive sources of damage. Yes, they are using abilities for the entire duration of a fight, but we want to reduce the percentage of rogue damage that comes from auto-attacks and poisons. More of their damage will be coming from active abilities and special attacks.
  • We would like to improve the rogue leveling experience. Positional attacks and DoT-ramping mechanics will be de-emphasized at low levels and then re-introduced at higher levels for group gameplay. We are also providing rogues with a new low-level ability, Recuperate, to convert combo points into a small heal-over-time (HoT).
  • Ambush will now work with all weapons, but will have a reduced coefficient when not using a dagger. When opening from Stealth, all rogues will be able to choose from burst damage, DoT abilities, or a stun.
  • Deadly Throw and Fan of Knives will now use the weapon in the ranged slot. In addition, we hope to allow rogues to apply poisons to their throwing weapons.

I believe Blizzard is really trying hard to normalize the rogue experience between weapon types and also bring it closer in line with some of the other melee DPS classes. By removing weapon specializations from all classes, including spells like Ambush, they really open the door to dropping just about any weapon in a dungeon and having a rogue want to pick it up. This will become especially important now that death knights and warriors with both have viable dual wield builds.

At the same time, they're taking the focus away from our weapons and back into onto our yellow damage. Then again, they're now making our thrown weapon important for Deadly Throw and Fan of Knives. Make no mistake, this is a clear nerf to Fan of Knives. They're restricting it to a single poison and they're making it a ranged attack so that Blade Flurry won't work with it, and even though Ghostcrawler says it isn't a nerf, the way it is designed now is clearly weaker for those two reasons. I'm not pronouncing FoK dead until I see the numbers, but my prediction is that FoK will be toned down to match the rest of the AoE pack. We'll be fine without the best AoE in the game, but I can say that it was fun while it lasted.

Defensive fortifications:


Combat Readiness (level 83): Combat Readiness is a new ability that we intend rogues to trigger defensively. While this ability is active, whenever the rogue is struck by a melee or ranged attack, he or she will gain a stacking buff called Combat Insight that results in a 10% reduction in damage taken. Combat Insight will stack up to 5 times and the timer will be refreshed whenever a new stack is applied. Our goal is to make rogues better equipped to go toe-to-toe with other melee classes when Evasion or stuns are not in play. This ability lasts 6 seconds and has a 2-minute cooldown.

Smoke Bomb (level 85): The rogue drops a Smoke Bomb, creating a cloud that interferes with enemy targeting. Enemies who are outside the cloud will find themselves unable to target units inside the cloud with single-target abilities. Enemies can move inside the cloud to attack, or they can use area-of-effect (AoE) abilities at any time to attack opponents in a cloud. In PvP, this will open up new dimensions of tactical positional gameplay, as the ability offers a variety of offensive and defensive uses. In PvE, Smoke Cloud can serve to shield your group from hostile ranged attacks, while also drawing enemies closer without the need to rely on conventional line-of-sight obstructions. Smoke Cloud lasts 10 seconds and has a 3-minute cooldown.
  • In PvP, we want to reduce the rogue's dependency on binary cooldowns and "stun-locks," and give them more passive survivability in return. One major change is that we'll put Cheap Shot on the same diminishing return as other stuns. The increase to Armor and Stamina on cloth, leather, and mail gear will help with this goal as well.

Talk about a mixed message: Blizzard tells us that they want us less reliant on CDs, and so they give us two new ones. I'm not complaining, though; I think Combat Readiness and Improved Distract Smoke Bomb will be incredibly fun to use. The key here is that these are short-duration spells that aren't necessarily game breaking. The design is such that these CDs are actually designed to keep the game going longer, not shorter. Combat Readiness sounds like what Cheat Death was supposed to be: a reason to not train a rogue and to stop attacking the rogue for a few seconds, instead of simply spamming your way through his meager CDs. The way I read it, the stack will constantly refresh if you're hit every six seconds, so a team that doesn't stop training you will be doing half damage for up to 30 seconds at a time. Hunters are screwed, as their pets will likely keep a stack rolling on us full time. I've never understood that part of hunter design: putting the smarter creature under the control of the less intelligent one.

Smoke Bomb is basically everything we ever wanted Vanish to be. It's got utility, real group utility, and seems to be something unique to the class that nobody else can provide. I'm thinking of using it as the rogue's version of the "cardboard box": throw one down and run into it to drop aggro. Life Grip into a Smoke Bomb? Fighting a rogue/priest team will be like open combat with Harry Houdini. We'll have to see how it treats various boss AoEs to get a good feeling for its usefulness. I can already see the benefit of using it to avoid a frost mage's Shatter bomb or a beast mastery hunter's Bestial Wrath. No green fire from the warlocks is going to reach us in there!

Utility belt additions:

  • To complement the change to combo points, non-damage abilities such as Recuperate and Slice and Dice will no longer have target requirements and can be used with any of the rogue's existing combo points, including combo points remaining on recently killed targets. This will not affect damage abilities, which will still require combo points to be present on the specific target you want to damage. To coincide with this, the UI will be updated so that rogues know how many combo points they have active.
  • In general, Subtlety rogues needs to do more damage than they do today, and the other trees need to have more tools.

Blizzard is clearly trying to improve the quality of the rogue leveling experience, and I think that's great. There's far too many new rogues who are looking for daggers to Ambush with once they get the ability. By focusing on doing direct damage the easy way, they can wean players into the more advanced abilities. Recuperate also sounds amazing, as rogues were literally the only class without a heal of any kind. I'm serious. Go look at every single other class in World of Warcraft; every other one had a heal of some sort. Now, I really hope that this is usable at 85, because Recuperate seems like the solution to rogue leveling and grinding. Blizzard's wording was a bit vague, so we'll see if they clarify it at all.

Subtlety will see some damage buffs but will probably lose a lot of the tools it currently has a monopoly over. This means great things for combat and assassination rogues, as we can expect some of the awesome tricks to be spread out to our trees for easy access. We'll have to see what goes where before picking out the best talents, but I am secretly hoping that combat gains Setup: Unfair Advantage and Setup would be amazing during Evasion.

General changes:


  • As we've done recently with some of the Subtlety abilities, we want to make sure more rogue abilities aren't overly penalized by weapon choice. With a few exceptions (like Backstab), you should be able to use a dagger, axe, mace, sword, or fist weapon without being penalized for most attacks.
  • Weapon-specialization talents (for all classes, not just rogues) are going away. We do not want you to have to respec when you get a different weapon. Interesting talents, such as Hack and Slash, will work with all weapons. Boring talents, such as Mace Specialization and Close Quarters Combat, will be going away.
  • Assassination will be more about daggers, poisons, and burst damage.
  • Combat will be all about swords, maces, fist weapons, axes, and being engaged toe-to-toe with your enemies. A Combat rogue will be able to survive longer without needing to rely on Stealth and evasion mechanics.
  • The Subtlety tree will primarily be based around utilizing Stealth, openers, finishers, and survivability. It'll be about daggers, too, but less so than Assassination.
Mastery Passive Talent Tree Bonuses

Assassination
Melee damage
Melee critical damage
-Poison damage

Combat
Melee damage
Melee Haste
-Harder-hitting combo-point generators

Subtlety
Melee damage
Armor Penetration
-Harder-hitting finishers

The initial tier of rogue Mastery bonuses will be very similar between the trees. However, the deeper that a player goes into any tree, the more specialized and beneficial the Masteries will be to the play style for that spec. Assassination will have better poisons than the other two specs. Combat will have very steady and consistent overall damage. Subtlety will have strong finishers.


Conclusion:

Our yellow damage will be going up, and our poison and white damage is going down. We'll have to see what that means for combat, but we already know that the devs' plans are to increase the damage of our Sinister Strike via the mastery bonus. Our assassination mastery bonus firmly assigns Mutilate the #1 poison build title, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few poison talents moved down lower in the tree to keep combat and sub from picking them up too easily. Subtlety's persistent focus on finishers will pretty much require a complete redesign of Honor Among Thieves, which had serious scaling issues and never really worked how it was intended due to bugs and rapidly inflating critical strike levels.

Rogues were already in a pretty solid place. While we're definitely underrepresented in terms of our population, the people who are still playing rogues are seeing a golden age of viability. We've got enough utility and DPS that nobody puts a rogue on the bench if they can help it. Blizzard made the smart move and decided not to mess with that: the CP->SnD->Finisher rotation has been going strong for five years and doesn't need a revamp. Instead, they threw a ton of quality of life improvements at us, in the form of cooldowns and new abilities that make playing a rogue more enjoyable than ever. We weren't broken, so we didn't need fixing, but the doctor gave us a lollipop anyway. And hey, maybe they'll get Vanish to work this time!

Filed under: Rogue, Cataclysm

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