If you were to ask a random rogue how the class is doing, you would receive one of a dozen answers. Many rogues are frustrated with the class' transition to passive damage and the meager number of actions we perform to maintain our rotations. I have met rogues that are both extremely disappointed and incredibly enthusiastic about how we're competing in PvP. For every subtlety rogue that longs to have Preparation back, there's an assassination rogue that is praising Shadowstep's usefulness.
If you take an empirical look, like our friend Rfeann suggests, you'll see that rogues are doing quite well in Mists of Pandaria. Assassination rogues are sitting at the top of the melee DPS classes in Mogu'shan Vaults, and of course we're untouchable on the combat-friendly Stone Guard encounter. We're not at the same ridiculous level of DPS as we were in patch 4.3 with our legendary daggers, but we're still making a name for ourselves against raid bosses. Why are so many rogues discontent when we look to be doing so well?
The noisy minority
Whether you're reading the doom-and-gloom threads on the official forums or a bleak entry on a rogue blog, you have to remember that the poster is merely one rogue amongst nearly a million. For every rogue that posts an unhappy diatribe about feeling starved for energy, there are a hundred thousand rogues happily flurrying their way through dungeons. For every rogue that feels underpowered in PvP, there are a hundred thousand rogues plunging their daggers into their opponents' internal organs.
Overall, rogues are doing well. There are definitely rogues that are struggling, and not every rogue is going to have the same experience, but that doesn't change the facts.
Ghostcrawler has been repeatedly confirming that rogue DPS in PvE is fine right now, and that they'll keep an eye on PvP. He's right. Rogues are capable of contributing massive value to groups running heroic dungeons, challenge modes, and raids. Assassination is the spec of the week, and it's edging out frost DKs and windwalker monks in nearly every format. Rogues are in no danger of getting benched, and I've seen several guilds actively recruiting rogues for the upcoming raid instances.
Form vs function
Historically, most of the disgruntled rants about rogues are complaints about being underpowered. When we can empirically prove that rogues are quite powerful, what do people have to complain about? I'm not seeing rogues lamenting their high damage, but rather I'm seeing rogues that are unhappy with the way that they're dealing that damage. The argument has shifted away from a rogue's performance and is moving towards how a rogue's performance is executed.
I personally believe that the windwalker monk is Blizzard's best-designed class. Every aspect of the rotation and the mechanics feels sharp and fun. Playing my windwalker, even while simply doing daily quests, is a delight. However, they're not doing so well in raids, and are quite clearly in the bottom half of DPS specs. Are windwalkers a success? I might enjoy the action-packed chi-fueled rotation, but if I'm not bringing a lot of value to the raid, why bother?
Resilience will fix it
Ghostcrawler suggests that the massive drop in rogue satisfaction is due to the fact that we had massive amounts of haste in Dragon Soul that inflated the number of actions we could perform. We're only in the most basic of Mists gear, so it should be expected that we have fewer buttons to push. While I completely disagree with the design, the fact is that it's true. Our energy regeneration was being propped up by gear in late Cataclysm, and now we're feeling slow because most of us are still wearing dungeon blues.
Active vs passive damage
In my mind, there is one core issue with the rogue class of today: passive damage makes up too much of our overall damage. We all would've loved some more interesting talents and not simply rehashed subtlety abilities, but I can live with the talents we have today. I know that a lot of people think combo points need a complete redesign or need to be tossed completely, but I disagree. If I had just one wish for the rogue class, it would be a transition back to yellow damage making up the bulk of our output.
I've thrown some figures around before, but the number that you can quote me on is 60% - I'm claiming that around 60% of our damage comes from automatic attacks. I understand that our finishers like Slice and Dice and Envenom are directly improving our passive damage, but that's my point. Our combo points and our energy are allocated to improving our automatic attacks instead of dealing damage directly.
Maintaining buffs and debuffs is a core part of the rogue, and several other, rotations. There's nothing wrong with burning a few combo points to keep SnD active or to put Rupture up. The key issue, as I see it, is that rogues are more poorly equipped to both maintain these effects and to deal damage outside of these effects than we have ever been in the past.
Our talent trees were gutted
Many key rogue talents disappeared after the streamlining of the talent trees. Talents like Overkill were removed, which leaves assassination rogues with less energy than they're used to. Talents like Improved Slice and Dice were removed, which leaves all rogues spending more combo points and energy on refreshing SnD than we have in years. Talents like Puncturing Wounds were removed, which leaves rogues with weaker generators and fewer combo points to use in combat.
Rogues are dealing great damage in raids, but we don't feel like we are. If you turned off Recount but left your scrolling combat text active, you'd feel like you were really weak. You'd see mages and monks dropping six-figure attacks like they were candy, and you'd wonder why rogues don't have anything like that. You'd spend the 200 energy on five Sinister Strikes, which takes almost 20 seconds, just to finish with a Slice and Dice that deals 0 damage. It's disheartening.
By my calculation, rogues spend more than half of the energy and combo points on maintaining boring effects. Refreshing Slice and Dice around every 30 seconds ensures that there's little time for damaging finishers in our rotations. When we do get to unload an Envenom or an Eviscerate, it's completely overshadowed by everyone else's big attacks. Maybe it's just me, but I don't get the same visceral response when one of my random auto-attacks hits for 20k that I do when one of my active abilities breaks into the six-digit territory.
You will have a hard time arguing that rogues aren't doing well, because we are. Our current performance is not an issue. What you can argue, and what hundreds of rogues are arguing today, is that the abilities and mechanics that we use to execute that performance are flawed. The combo point and energy system isn't the issue, it's the relative strength of the abilities within that system. Rogues are mathematically doing great, but that doesn't matter if the class isn't fun to play.
Blizzard is stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Rogues tend to be amazing in PvP due to our arsenal of DPS and utility cooldowns, and the fact that we start with a full energy bar and the element of surprise don't help either. How do you prevent rogues from becoming overpowering in PvP but still increase their active damage in PvE? It's a tough problem to solve, but it's one that needs to be figured out before rogues will feel fun again.
Sneak in every Wednesday for our Molten Front ganking guide, a deep-dive into the world of playing a subtlety rogue -- and of course, all the basics in our guide to the latest rogue gear.