Ahh Combat. The cornerstone of the end (and mid-) game PvE Rogue. While not perfect, the Combat tree can be hugely satisfying and bears with it none of the positional damage dealing that the other two trees require, at least in part. Getting in people's (as well as creature's) faces and crushing them is all just part of the experience of the combat spec. Many a Rogue has popped a pleasing-sigh-inducing Adrenaline Rush to burn through the last tasty bits of, well, whatever stands in its way.
Although things do tend to change quickly in beta, I'm going to take a look at the five new expansion Combat tree talents. The most important question I had when looking at them, as well as all the discussion surrounding them, is "are they worth it" and "do they reflect the kinds of changes or improvements that players have been asking for." This is especially important in raid settings where Rogue vs Caster DPS and overall damage done can mean the difference between getting another invite or not.
I'd like to subtitle this column: "The Expansion Combat Tree, Now in PvP Flavor!"
An eye opening experience
Eighteen new talents across three distinct talent categories. If you're like myself, and many of the players across every class, you have a mild case of GiG or "grass is greener" disorder. You're wondering if, after all this time in your one specialized build, your consistent Ol'Faithful, if maybe the new expansion will bring introduce something to truly introduce a significant change. The very first thing I thought to myself when I saw the new Combat tree talents was...is this for PvP? Wow, that is quite a significant change.
Player skill and gear aside, the Combat tree excels in white damage generation. Depending on what you choose, you can proc extra swings, negate all finisher dodges, increase energy generation by 100% every five minutes as well as increase melee attack speed by 45% for up to 21 seconds. You can now add to that our first new talent Unfair Advantage granting an additional 2% dodge and 2% crit chance for eight seconds every time you land a critical blow.
Wait, what? Two percent? Malice in the Assassination tree will get you a full-time (fully talented) five percent to critical strike chance, and 2% dodge and 2% crit for *forty points* seems a little deflating. However, the talent had been even less glowing previously when it only gave dodge. Overall I know I'd take what should end up being a full-time 2% bonus to crit chance on my way to the 51 point talent versus just skipping it, but when you consider the role that Rogues play in 5, 10 and 25 man encounters, and the competition they get from other DPS (especially those with more group utility...biscuits anyone?), why this doesn't bring more to the table is beyond me.
Adding more monkey to our wrench is the similarly expensive (at forty points) Stay of Execution. Much like explaining time travel paradoxes, this talent creates some interesting encounter issues and I'm not really sure where this would fit well in a group PvE encounter. To start with, a lot of classes have abilities that kick in once a target is below a certain health threshold (Execute and Kill Shot come to mind), but with Stay of Execution you are treated as if you're at full health. So you've just been saved from that massive crit Execute (but not Sudden Death) but I've been wracking my brain to figure out how this might be useful anywhere but in PvP? On the one hand I'd concede that PvE spec Rogues might not like having much comparative survivability in PvP, but when placed so deep in the tree I have to wonder why this wasn't a group buff, where a 15% damage reduction might actually be useful.
A little PvE love
Is your head spinning yet? Well hold on. Like an ice-road trucker in an emergency spin, we drop right back into PvE viability with Prey on the Weak. Previous top-end Combat talents eliminated a dodge on finishers, but getting an additional 25% on critical strike damage when the target's health is less (as a total percentage of health, whew!) than your own is actually quite nice. At least in terms of current encounters, a boss should almost always have less health percentage wise than you, which means this translates into a full time twenty-five percent boost to critical strikes. Combine it with the seemingly PvE lackluster Stay of Execution (just one point in it), and you've potentially got Prey running even below 35% health. This combination of both Stay and Prey is something that I'd have to watch, since I'm not completely confident the mechanic could work this way, but seeing as how they are so deep in the tree, I'd be disappointed if they didn't.
Feeling a little better about that raid spot? Well, allow me to hand you the blue pill. Our fifty-one point talent, Murder Spree, seems to have got lost on its way to the Subtlety tree. Frankly, I'm shocked and just a little dismayed that our most expensive talent is one that bounces you like a super-ball between multiple targets every half-second (or the same target), allowing you to hit with both weapons, until five assaults are made. Er, what? Sure, I like that I can now hit stuff with both swords, potentially critting with an extra 25% critical damage, and I'm sure the visual effect is cool (beware healers who click on targets to heal versus the party/raid box), but where is my group utility? Where is my haste buff or survivability increase? I just get to do a Sonic? Oh man.
In my mind, the talents in the Combat tree need some serious modifications before they go live. It would be easy for me to leave this column on a low note since what I had been hoping for in Combat (raid utility) isn't really there yet. However I'd like to give a few props out. Prey, for one, has some good potential and a 25% bonus never hurt anyone.
It's true that I feel that the rest seem misplaced, out of focus and mistargeted, but when I stand in front of that first boss in Northrend, I'm really looking to see how much I've delivered in both damage and utility to the raid. Perhpas the rubber-ball effect of Murder Spree will actually make a strong difference on overall group surviveability. Maybe being able to throw four more yards (a la Throwing Specialization, lol) will factor in greatly in more than specialized, one-time encounters. I'm hopeful that these changes are indications of a bigger change upcoming, possibly pre-expansion launch, possibly in a patch after, that will bring us 180 degrees and give us some of the things that will make us "more."