Ghostcrawler recently described the rogue class as "slippery". He was met with a backlash of rogues arguing every side of the argument. I have personally struggled with my mental image of the rogue class. What does a rogue look like? Are we lightly-armored thieves or toughly-bound brawlers? Let me get this one out of the way early: "A rogue doesn't look like anything because you can't see them!" While I appreciate Stealth humor, the quip doesn't answer my question.
Appearances have always been an important aspect in WoW. Players used to gauge their opponents' strength based on what shoulder armor they were wearing. Transmogrification is easily the most important feature of the past few years, as it has breathed life into content both old and new. The rogue class draws from several diverse archetypes, such as the thief, the assassin, and the brawler. Each source archetype contributes flavor to the class, but the end result can look like a confused mess.
Each spec has its own aesthetic
While it's not perfect, you can generally break rogue aesthetics down to match our talent specs. There are obviously themes that are shared between all three specs, and players are free to customize their appearance any way they like. If we examine the three specs in detail, we can find the elements that add to each aesthetic.
When you think about an assassination rogue, you don't want to make any comparisons to a modern-day assassin. Assassination rogues aren't about launching a single sniper shot from a mile away. In fact, they're not built for killing their target swiftly. What they're designed to do is guarantee that their target dies, and that death comes as slowly and painfully as possible.
When you look at assassination's mechanics, it's easy to see that Deadly Poison is the core of their being. Garrote and Rupture, our two powerful DoTs, are the accompanying abilities. Assassination rogues are about inflicting their target with so many bleeds and DoTs that their target's death is ensured immediately. All they have to do is sit back and watch the debuffs do their job.
An assassination rogue should have a mask to hide their identity from their targets and any witnesses. An assassin could wear green-tinted armor, matching the color of the Deadly Poison coursing through their victim's veins. The spec is designed to attack quickly and swiftly, so light and flexible armor is key to their effectiveness. Their weapons are small, swift daggers that can deliver their lethal poisons as quickly as possible.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, assassins are less about using Stealth and the shadows and more about blending in with crowds. Their attitudes are ice cold, and their loyalty only lasts as long as their contract.
While Blizzard has since removed the talent Reinforced Leather, it really exemplified the combat rogue experience for me. Combat rogues aren't designed to be swift or subtle, but rather powerful and imposing. They command your attention when they enter the room, and you'll see them coming. The combat rogue doesn't need the cover of Stealth but instead prefers to attack head-on.
Combat rogues are all about thriving in the heat of battle. Adrenaline Rush and Killing Spree are the two most potent cooldowns in the rogue arsenal, and both of them require you to play aggressively. Blade Flurry, the spec's defining ability, requires combat rogues to always be in the middle of a fray. Brawlers want nothing more than to be surrounded by enemies so that they can smash skulls more efficiently. They're undaunted by the number or size of their opponents.
Combat rogues don't require masks, since they don't see a need to hide from anyone or anything. Their armor is reinforced and designed to withstand furious blows, even at the expense of flexibility and speed. Brawlers could care less about what color their gear is, as they're more concerned with how effective it is as deflecting attacks.
Combat rogues don't need to run around the battlefield doing cartwheels and somersaults to avoid their enemies. They're rushing towards their opponents, swinging their weighted weapons the whole way. Speaking of weapons, combat rogues prefer two slow weapons, as these can inflict a massive amount of damage per swing. Swords, axes, maces, and fist weapons are in combat rogue's domain.
Subtlety rogues actually fit the description of a modern-day assassin better than assassination rogues do. They pick their targets carefully, stalk them from afar, and unleash their fury in a single instant. While assassination rogues relish watching their targets bleed slowly, subtlety rogues are designed for quick execution. Stealth is their greatest ally, as they use it to both assault their prey and to escape after the deed is done. Subtlety rogues live in the shadows.
Ambush is the key ability in subtlety's bag of tricks. With all of the subtlety-specific Ambush-boosting passives like Find Weakness, subtlety rogues have some of the best burst damage in the game. Shadow Dance, which is their primary cooldown, simply enables them to use Ambush more often. A subtlety rogue without Stealth is like a fish out of water, and a subtlety rogue that fails to get the opener is often a dead rogue.
Subtlety rogues are always clothed in the deepest blacks. They must constantly blend in with the shadows, and their leather must be quiet and simple. Subtlety rogues can choose to use a mask or not, as they can always use the shadows to hide their face. A subtlety rogue relies on trickery and subterfuge to avoid their opponents, rather than facing them in open combat.
A subtlety rogue's greatest ally is a massive, powerful dagger. In order to ensure that their executions are swift and effective, a deep wound is required. The dagger doesn't need to be thin enough to sneak between ribs, as subtlety's massive Ambush attack will simply break through any bones in its way.
Sneak in every Wednesday for our Mogu'shan Vaults guide, a deep-dive into the world of rogue rotations -- and of course, all the basics in our guide to a raid-ready rogue.