I have recently been reading a variety of forum threads concerning Cataclysm and noticed an interesting trend. Many people like to state that they know their class the best, because they've been playing it "since day one." I think that's a funny thing to say, considering that most classes barely resemble their original forms. Hybrids are now capable of tanking and doing damage, and many classes have more than one viable tree for both PvE and PvP. Even the basic playstyle has been drastically altered, with Blizzard moving more and more classes to the reactive model of DPS instead of the fixed rotation of previous years.
I firmly believe that rogues have changed the least over the past expansions, when compared to any other class. Our basic playstyle remains unaltered, and the majority of our new abilities and deep talents are cooldowns or trick attacks: Mutilate and Envenom are the only two new abilities that we've added to our rotation repertoire. Assassination's 51-point talent is so bland that Ghostcrawler confirmed it's being yanked in Cataclysm. What is it about the rogue class that makes it so resistant to change? I think that we had a very solid original design, coupled with several unique mechanics that make it impossible to flex the rogue experience without breaking it entirely.
Now I'll admit it right now: My first character was not a rogue. I made the horrible mistake of trying to level a paladin as holy on an RP server at release. Once I was around level 30, I realized the error of my ways and promptly rerolled as a rogue on a PvP server. I loved the rogue from the moment I saw the starting dagger in my hand. Realizing that it was my destiny to play an assassin, I wanted to learn everything I could about the class, and I wanted to truly master it in every aspect. To facilitate this, I started a rogue-only guild, <Poison Lotus>. While an idea like this would fail immediately today, in the early formative months of vanilla WoW, there were so many people looking for new guild homes that a single-class guild seemed as good as any other.
A fraternity of assassins
We quickly filled up with a ton of new rogues who were experiencing the class for the first time and reached a healthy size of 100 rogues in total in just two weeks. As the group learned the class and leveled side by side, we shared the knowledge we were learning along the way. Talks of the proper poison usage for a dungeon and early discussions on how to restealth properly were the standard fare of guild chat. I remember one conversation in particular regarding weapon specs, which ended with five rogues meeting up in Feralas to test the mechanics of mace specialization on each other. Most importantly, you could always find a gaggle of rogues willing to help you farm Plugger for your Barman Shanker, offering tips and advice as you made the long walk from the entrance of BRD to the Grim Guzzler. Even now, years after <Poison Lotus> dissolved in the wind, I still feel the same brother-to-brother connection with other rogues that I did back then.
The last true rotation class
Rogues have long been blessed to count a number of intelligent and inquisitive people as members of our class. While hunters are busy talking about which pet looks the coolest, rogues are hard at work trying to figure out how to squeeze every last point of DPS out of their character. Part of what makes rogue theorycrafting so interesting is that it starts from such a simple premise: You'll be using X combo point generator with Y finisher and possibly throwing in a few Z finishers as well.
The method of building combo points and then releasing them with a finisher is so basic to understand that even brand new players are able to intuit what to do. Other classes have playstyles that aren't so obvious. Feral druids watch multiple timers while trying to maintain some semblance of a rotation while JOHN MADDEN. Death knights play the game of flipping back and forth between runes and runic power; I'm pretty sure you could pull off their X-X-Y-X-X-Y DPS rotations with a drum kit. Retribution paladins are diligently practicing their FCFS system with their eyes closed. I'm not sure what FCFS stands for, but I'm pretty sure it means "smash your keyboard with both fists."
Rogues believe in min-maxing
The simplicity of the generator/finisher system doesn't seem to lend itself very well to theorycrafting, as it's fairly easy to figure out what the optimal rotation is based on fixed durations and a limited toolset. I feel that rogues have compensated for that by putting an increased scrutiny on gear and stats. I know several healers who will gem to meet socket bonuses, without any concern for what their optimal gearing strategy is.
Catch a rogue with the wrong gem or enchant, and every brother or sister of the shadow will be giving them hell as soon as they see it. Right now, I've got my Nightmare Tear in a non-ideal slot, simply because I'm hoping to shuffle my gems around soon and I'm not exactly rolling in gold. I get whispered by my fellow assassins in raids and even in Dalaran when a friendly rogue walks by, letting me know that I could gain two agility by moving the prismatic gem to my pants. Rogues genuinely want for every other rogue to be played to the fullest. With no true parallel class (save for the one-quarter of the druid class that happens to use energy), the rogue fraternity has become one of the strongest bonds in game.
I constantly see rogues inspecting each other, sizing each other up, competing on DPS meters and sharing advice back and forth. As a member of our class, you're expected to maximize your DPS with no exceptions. Otherwise, where's our competition going to come from? As iron sharpens iron, so does one rogue sharpen another.
I've thought about what it is that binds rogues together in such a deep way, and it comes down to several different things: a love for energy and the rotation system that drives us, the solidarity of being the only pure melee DPS class and the nearly unanimous hatred that other classes show toward us all play important roles. However, I believe the final tie is the strongest of all: the sheer bleakness of being invisible. It gets lonely spending so much time without being seen, really lonely. Having another soul walk the shadows with you means all the difference in the world. It's knowing that we're not alone in the world, and that there are others like us in the underworld of stealth.
We can talk to death knights about the dangers of fighting bosses in melee range. We can talk to warriors about the finesse of disarming our targets. We can even talk to ret paladins about mobility issues when fighting casters. However, none of our allies on the front lines will be able understand the complexities of stealth, the cold loneliness of the void. Our fellow rogues can stand by our side as we plot the best way to capture the lumber mill, and they can flee with us as we pop Vanish and Sprint to run when we've bitten off more than we can chew.
Rogues play the game with a proactive tempo, leaving everyone else to play the reactive game. I played quite a number of 2v2 arenas with another rogue, and it was truly unlike any other arena encounter I've ever been a part of. We were able to examine our opponents, get into any position we wanted to and orchestrate complex strategies without interruption. While other classes play off the cuff and frequently call audibles, rogues are able to plan their actions and then execute on them. Stealth is what enables this luxury, and it fundamentally changes how a player approaches a combat situation.
Once you start playing a rogue, you start thinking like a rogue. Once you've begun thinking like a rogue, you soon become a Rogue with a capital R – a member of the community for life. Prot warriors and fury warriors are constantly at odds -- one complains about how they can't maintain threat, the other complains about how they can't drop it. Mages are split down the middle, with fire mages arguing that only their spec is truly difficult, frost mages stating that PvP is the only real challenge, and both agreeing that arcane mages are simply dumb. Rogues are a unified class, with combat and mutilate rogues working together in harmony -- well, as long as combat passes on the daggers and mutilate lets combat soak up the ArP gear. Rogues, above all else, have each other's backs. We understand the importance of that fact more than anyone, since we know all of the sharp things you can put into someone's back.