I can't say that our talent preview arrived in good company. Blizzard released a first look at our new talent trees alongside the new trees for three of the four healer classes in WoW. I would have liked to have seen a few of our DPS brethren's trees alongside ours, but at least rogues were in the first batch of previews released. I remember being the very last class to receive its talent review in vanilla WoW, so being first in line is definitely a cause for celebration.
Each of the three talent trees received some pretty significant changes, including a few potential rotation changers. Blizzard stated that their goal was to consolidate some of the mandatory DPS talents to allow for more flexibility and utility, and to reduce the number of simple damage increasing talents. In addition, each tree needed to be fleshed out a bit, to give us somewhere to sink the five additional points we'll receive at level 85. Finally, they also had to add in some flavor to each tree, making any given spec a bit more unique from the other two.
I'll be starting from the top of the tree and covering the important changes -- at least, the ones that I think are important in the long run. What hits me right off the bat in the assassination tree is the change to Vile Poisons. If you remember when Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) and company announced that Fan of Knives would now use our thrown weapon's poison instead of our melee weapons' poisons, I said that they were cutting the poison potency in half. With Vile Poisons allowing FoK to proc our melee poisons as well, that could potentially have us proccing three poisons at once, which would be pretty sweet. That would give mutilate rogues the edge they need to keep up in the AoE arms race against combat's very potent Blade Flurry and FoK combo. This talent may be too powerful, especially in PvP, so I expect the melee poison procs to replace the thrown weapon procs, so we'll only have two poisons proccing from FoK at once.
Next up are the significant changes to mutilate's cooldowns, specifically the buff to Cold Blood and the redesign of Hunger for Blood. Cold Blood now gives us the Thistle Tea / Renataki's effect, which have been abused by great rogues since Day One. Extra energy may not seem crucial in a long PvE battle, but the ability to add an extra attack into an Improved Kidney Shot can be significant. It gives mutilate rogues a bit of zing when they need it, instead of simply waiting for their energy to pool all the way back up to 60 before attacking again. A low-level rogue, say level 60, with a Renataki's, Thistle Tea and Cold Blood could become quite the swift assassin.
Vendetta is our HfB replacement, and it provides a bit of the same burst. Instead of 5% more damage over two minutes, we get 20% more damage for 30 seconds, every two minutes. While seemingly the same as HfB, it's actually significantly more valuable. The ability to choose when we deal extra damage allows us to synchronize it with trinkets, potions and other cooldowns like Bloodlust. It also lets us prioritize certain phases or adds in a fight, as there are many fights with situations where dealing extra damage is ideal, like XT-002's heart phase. And they even removed the bleed requirement and gave it some PvP utility for chasing down other rogues! I would say the new Vendetta is everything we could've wanted to see in an HfB replacement.
Lastly, there are a few game changers lower in the tree. Improved Expose Armor could be coupled with a Relentless Strikes build to let us keep up EA for the low cost of one GCD every 30 seconds. This is great news for any smaller raid without a warrior to keep up Sunder Armor. The deep talent Venomous Wounds looks like Blizzard wants mutilate rogues to start using Rupture, but I feel like this might end up becoming a flexible talent: two mutilate playstyles, one with Rupture and one without. Finally, I am really hoping that Murderous Intent has rogues working overtime. By reducing the energy cost of Backstab to just 30 energy, we could realistically be spamming Backstab, with a huge crit rate from Puncturing Wounds. As the boss drops below 35%, the fight accelerates, we're pushing tons of buttons, finishers more often by the virtue of more combo points, etc. I don't know about what you think, but that type of post-35% shuffle sounds incredibly fun to play.
My only gripe with the assassination changes is the significant bloat still found in the tree. To truly maximize your DPS, you'll need to drop most of your points into a cookie-cutter DPS build. The other trees don't share this same DPS talent bloat, as you'll see soon, and so I hope that Blizzard decides to loosen up the tree a bit. Seal Fate still costing five talent points is one possible area to improve, and I have heard many arguments against Turn the Tables being present at all.
The first change we see in the combat tree shouldn't come as a surprise, considering what we know about the Cataclysm mastery bonuses. Combat is destined to be the strong combo point generator tree, and so the 5% damage buff to Improved Sinister Strike is an expected change. Even though it's now a five-point talent, I think that the damage buff is worth the cost. There have been plenty of talent points cut later in the tree, and we won't miss these three at all.
Defense is the key focus when it comes to combat's new direction. With an armor boost from Reinforced Leather (currently a 25% boost to raw armor) and two different talents that buff Recuperate, it's clear that combat is designed to be the tank-y tree. They even made Blade Twisting apply to all attacks, which will help combat keep targets snared in PvP. I can't wait to see what Recuperate can do, and I don't know how far off the idea of a rogue tank may be from reality in Cataclysm. What we do know is that combat can spend a few talent points to make itself incredibly durable and even has enough spare talent points to pick up these abilities without sacrificing any core DPS talents. I feel like combat is moving in the right direction in terms of talents, and I can't wait to see what the finished product looks like.
The final change to combat is in the form of Restless Blades. I pulled out an Excel spreadsheet to do the math on this one, and my initial reaction is that it looks good. After running a few various test cases, I have put the value of this talent at around 10 seconds off each cooldown per point. If you were to take 3/3 Restless Blades, you'd be cutting 30 seconds off of the cooldowns of Blade Flurry, Killing Spree and Sprint. Killing Spree would be available incredibly often, at around 50 seconds between each spree. Blade Flurry and Sprint would drop to be available about every minute and 30 seconds, which is pretty significant in terms of improvement. The one catch is that Blade Flurry would stop lining up with Hyperspeed Accelerators, which is the optimal use case. Consider that Adrenaline Rush yields more generators in a shorter period of time, and AR would actually be lowering the cooldown on these spells even further by accelerating our finisher rate. Combat looks to retain the title of cooldown king.
Let's all take a moment of silence for Master of Deception. It's gone. And I couldn't be more excited. Blizzard is doing away with the dumb idea of "stealth levels" and just making all stealth the same, which is great. Combat and assassination rogues will be just as stealthy as subtlety rogues; subtlety rogues will simply have the ability to move faster and restealth quicker. It also frees up three points at the top of the subtlety tree for DPS talents, which this tree desperately needed.
Subtlety is now clearly designed as a dagger-wielding bleed tree. Hemorrhage lost its curious debuff and now mimics the Mangle effect, causing the target to take 30% more bleed damage. Blood Spatter is now the only talent in any rogue tree that buffs Rupture and is found in subtlety's deeper levels. Serrated Blades received the same treatment, dropping its soon-to-be antiquated armor penetration for the ability to refresh Rupture, just like Cut to the Chase does for assassination.
With Slaughter from the Shadows dropping Backstab's cost to just 40 energy, it's clear that the design is to use Backstab as your combo point generator, keep up the Hemo debuff and use Slice and Dice, Rupture and Eviscerate in that order. Honor Among Thieves will help with this rotation, and it provides the 5% crit buff to your raid as well. HAT should provide a steadier stream of CP since it now applies to the raid, and with a 2-second CD, it actually yields combo points faster than a combat rogue would generate them. We'll see if the buffs to Rupture and the bleed talents in subtlety finally make this tree viable, but I can definitely see the plan they have for the tree taking shape. Previously, it had no real direction or niche. There's also an interesting Recuperate-buffing talent via Energetic Recovery, though we'll have to see how powerful this talent becomes to decide if its actually raid-ready.
Assassination rogues will see a huge quality of life improvement via HfB's replacement, while also gaining a beat rush playstyle when their opponents drop below 35%. Combat sees its cooldowns buffed even further and a significant amount of flex points to spend wherever they want. Subtlety is finally seeing the light at the end of the PvE viability tunnel, and I think that with the mastery knob to tweak at will, sub rogues will be found in raids for the first time in recent memory. I like the direction these talent trees are going, and I hope Blizzard continues along the same tack of making utility talents easily accessible.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it. Nothing will be the same. In WoW.com's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion. From goblins and worgens to mastery and guild changes, it's all there for your cataclysmic enjoyment.