Little red lights

Rotation is not a foreign concept. Do thing A twice. Do thing B. Do thing A four or five times again. Do thing C. Repeat. Sounds pretty simple.

Thing is, a rotation is more than that. Especially in melee, where you’re not guaranteed to be hitting if your target is moving and especially if you’ve got any points in anything that modifies how often you have to do thing B or C.

This post is, of course, about rogues. I have a troll combat rogue, lvl 70 and hanging around in Dragonblight (I think. Don’t quote me.) He was enjoyable in the sense of having a different playstyle… I’d sneak through entire areas pickpocketing my ostensible foes, then accomplish my objectives and simply stealth right back. It also allowed me to avoid the issues I’d had with xp gain and outlevelling quest areas on other characters*.

Problem is, of course, combo points. The mechanic itself is simple – certain attacks will place a token on the target. Those tokens can be redeemed by other abilities, causing extra damage or granting buffs. Now, here’s where it gets annoying.

  • The tokens are not generated by missed attacks
  • The tokens are mostly generated one at a time, but there are a number of abilities that will give a chance of generating an extra
  • All of the class’ buffs are tied to this resource
  • Much of the class’ damage is tied to this resource
  • Only one target can have tokens at a time

So, obviously since these things are important, you’d want to track how many you have on a target at any given time. Except that the default UI shows them as tiny red dots on the enemy’s portrait, way up in the top left. Oops. So, in order to track my vital resource I now have to keep an eye on a couple of dim red pixels way off the playing field. Not ideal.

Enter PowerAuras. Not particularly newbie-friendly, but a grand tool. Effectively this allows you to create custom graphical overlays dependent on any number of conditions. I set up a couple of auras – one to show when my target had any tokens on at all, one for three or more, and one for five. This worked great! I could maintain buffs, I knew when to spend points, everything was cool. My rogue was a force to be reckoned with.

Then 4.1 hit.

PowerAuras was broken. Badly. And suddenly my vicious mauler was just a troll swinging around a couple of weapons that my warrior would probably have used as hair ornaments. Mistiming everything, misspending points,  failing to spend points at all when switching targets or wasting time trying to trigger abilities that didn’t have a resource… okay, yeah, I’m not a natural rogue. But honestly, could the designers really not think of some better way to handle the core mechanics of a class that’s been around since vanilla? And honestly, it’s probably the class that feels the most vanilla. There are huge gaping holes in basic functionality that the player has to use external tools to mitigate. That’s not indicative of a compelling design.

Anecdotally, rogues are probably the least populous class in WoW. Any BH group is open to them immediately, since it’s unlikely there’s already another in the group. Maining a tank and healer I do many, many instances. Rogues are extremely rare in 5-mans as well. Part of this is probably the fact that they’re the only pure melee dps class in an expansion that hates melee dps, part of it is the fact that their dps stats are mostly lackluster. But the lackluster status is a side-effect of an outdated design.

When WoW launched, fights were simple. There are trash mobs in 5-mans that have more mechanics than any of the Molten Core bosses. You hit things, and you try not to eat too much fire. By comparison, today’s environment features heavy movement, zone conditions, target switching etc as simple facts of life. On paper, the rogue utility is all good here – movement boosts, debuff removal, interrupts and stuns – but in practise, most of these conditions punish melee extensively, and rogues are particularly single-target dependent. A target switch means ramping up poisons, debuffs, and racking up combo points. Every single time. Burst dps off the bat? Forget it.

While this doubtless worked great for simpler encounters, it’s killing rogues at the moment. Combine this performance at the top-end with mechanic implementations that are unfriendly to say the least, and the class is not really attracting much attention.

Of course, it’s easy to whine. What would make the class better?

Redesign combo points as a buff on the character, rather than a debuff on a particular enemy. Yes, this removes some of the flavour of playing a rogue. Yes, it pulls us closer to the Holy Power mechanic that I hate for Ret. However, the funny thing is that HP actually works amazingly well as Prot. We just need to find the same sweet spot.

Random +combo point abilities have to go. The big difference between prot and ret is that prot generates holy power steadily, where ret has one ability for steady generation, then another million conditions that give a chance of generating a point. Prot can also generate extra HP – but it does so by reacting to procs and if specced, by using a triggered ability. This makes the spec feel much more in-control. It’s not the game rolling dice for you – even if the proc trigger is in fact random – it’s you reacting to your mechanics.

Tying into this, the class needs a more reactive rotation. Yes, I’m aware that I haven’t hit max level and gained all of my abilities yet, but I have maxed out a couple of trees for my specs – and there’s nothing that switches the rotation from spamming a single cp builder as energy allows and hitting a finisher at cp-related intervals. I’d like to see procs for free cp-generating abilities, especially triggered on enemies that the rogue hasn’t really had time to build up on. Look at the shadowpriest Shadowy Apparition talent for inspiration – spriests have few options for instants, so a clever design mitigates moving by introducing a condition to add value when doing so. I’d like to see procs that buff abilities that may not be attractive as part of a primary rotation, for variety and interesting choices.

But really, most of all? I’d like to actually see my combo points. You know, without missing the whole fight.

* That dicking around and murdering of pirates on the way to catch a chicken to feed the iron-bound loa of some sunken tribal god? Yeah, that stuff’s actually pretty sweet xp. Except every bite is taking you further from what are usually really great wrap-up quests for the zone, since those will be green or grey by the time you’re done committing wholesale pixelslaughter.

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