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Are pure DPS classes really just another form of hybrid in disguise?

Once upon a time, my guild was trying its hardest to down 25-man heroic mode Lich King. It was the very end of Wrath, and we were running out of time to put an end to the boss before the inevitable launch of Cataclysm. I had been playing an assassination spec since some point between Ulduar and ToC, having given up on ever obtaining a really good combat weapon (I was partial to fist weapons; something about punching people in the face with knives appealed to me), and I was really good at it. I spent forever poring over stat caps and best-in-slot items and had just gotten the perfect set of items that capped every stat that needed to be capped.

And then it happened -- the prep patch for Cataclysm. Do you know what the best stat is for an assassination rogue in Cataclysm (other than hit, of course)? Mastery. Do you know what wasn't present on any Wrath gear? Mastery. My DPS went down, and due to sup-par burst DPS, I was sat for the realm-first 25-man heroic mode Lich King kill. I watched all my guildies ding the achievement and get the one title I was really excited about. And later, one of the officers, a druid, asked me flat out -- why didn't I have a backup combat spec?

Oh ... if only he knew.


Orcish Army Knife made a post last week that pretty much explains in detail what's so difficult about being a pure DPS class. Now, I'm sure every hybrid class out there is in a state of uproar by that statement, but to be perfectly honest, he's absolutely right. Playing a pure DPS class is difficult -- and it's got absolutely nothing to do with the actual gameplay aspect of it. Rotations are rotations. Some are tougher than others, but they're easy enough to get a handle on with practice.

It's not rotations; it's gear. And I imagine druids are gaping in fury at that statement. Don't get me wrong -- I understand perfectly the woes of playing a druid, having done so for at least part of vanilla and part of The Burning Crusade and Wrath as well. I know full well the struggle of having to carry two or three entirely different sets of gear for different specs, and my druid's bags were never empty as a result of it. However, there's a distinct difference between druids and pure DPS classes. Druids are expected and have been expected to have several different sets of gear since day one, pretty much. It's the same with shaman, paladins -- heck, any class that performs multiple roles.

For those of us that do nothing but hit the boss until it's dead, it's a little different. Before you ask the inevitable question of why we don't simply reforge when we've got a spec change, let's take a look at rogue stat priorities, OK?
  • Assassination Melee Hit > Spell Hit > Mastery > Haste > Expertise > Crit
  • Combat Melee Hit > Expertise > Haste > Spell Hit > Mastery > Crit
  • Subtlety Melee Hit > Haste > Expertise > Crit > Spell Hit > Mastery
Notice the gigantic disparity in which stats are preferred in which spec? Reforging doesn't counter that. In order to fully switch from one optimal spec to another, we also have to look at gems. And enchants. And weapons, and stats on the gear that we have. BiS assassination gear is a different list than BiS combat gear. There's some overlap, but for the most part it's a completely different animal. To switch from one spec to another and still pull out optimal DPS, we'd have to spend a good chunk of time making all the switches necessary to do it.

And that's just rogues. Other pure DPS classes have to look at the same exact thing, in varying amounts of stat disparity between specs, of course. Do you know what the most ideal solution to changing specs is, for a pure DPS class? It's having a second set of fully enchanted, gemmed, and reforged gear, along with the proper weapons in some classes' cases, such as rogues. The problem then becomes the fact that pretty much throughout the history of WoW, pure DPS classes were never expected to carry multiple gear sets, because one spec was always the best one to use in PvE. Ever see a fire mage in Molten Core? Yeah, me neither.

In Cataclysm, that's changed completely. There are fights that almost require an off spec to be used if you want to put out optimal DPS for that fight. There are fights where I have to pick up a subtlety spec, of all things, in order to soak damage. Heroic Morchok is one of those examples; we use subtlety spec rogues standing under Morchok to feint and absorb his Stomp damage without falling flat on our faces. It works, and it works great! However, do you know what my DPS looks like if I switch from assassination to subtlety, keeping in mind my gear is all balanced around the stat priorities listed above? Oooo, my DPS tanks.

And for a pure DPS class, that's about the worst thing that can possibly happen to you. Your job as DPS is to simply pump out as much damage as humanly possibly on whatever target you happen to be killing -- and if you can't do that, what good are you? Rades' post at Orcish Army Knife really got me thinking about this topic and how I handle Heroic Morchok and my dismal DPS numbers for that fight, and it really boiled down to my frame of mind as I looked at the fight.

On that fight, in that encounter, my job is no longer putting out as much DPS as possible. My job is soaking as much damage as I can and surviving it, so that all the other DPSers can pump out as much damage as possible and kill the boss. With that frame of mind, I'm OK with what I see on the damage meters, because it's all right. The boss is dead, we all lived, and part of that was due to myself hitting my feint button every minute or so.

And that's exactly what a hybrid does -- only a hybrid does it way more effectively. Need a healer? Let me toss on my healing gear and do that for you. Need a tank? Let me pull out my tank set and do that for you. It seems like, whether we like it or not, DPS is actually turning into a sneaky sort of hybrid class. We don't have different specs for different roles, necessarily; we have different specs for different types of damage dealing -- or in the case of rogues, damage soaking.

Several months ago, Matthew Rossi wrote a post asking the question is it time to kill pure DPS? Given what I've experienced in Cataclysm, I'd have to say that while pure DPS isn't identical to being a hybrid class, we've already been irrevocably changed. Not dead, just ... different. It started back in Wrath when a very confused rogue watched everyone else get that realm-first kill, listened to that druid officer ask, "Why don't you have a backup combat spec?" and quietly answered to herself, "Because up until today, I never needed one."

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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