I don't consider myself a combat design expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have played every class in SWTOR extensively with the exception of the Bounty Hunter and Trooper classes. But then those two classes aren't seeing any major changes in Update 2.5. Therefore, I don't have much to talk about with them anyway. My favorite class is the Marauder/Sentinel, so the nerfs and upgrades to that class are dear to me. But I also really enjoy the Operative/Scoundrel class as well. This class will see (and frankly, not see) some changes in the upcoming patch. But I believe the class that is affected the most is the Madness/Balance-specced Inquisitor/Consular. Let's start there.
For simplicity's sake, I will refer to the Imperial classes, but know that the same can be applied to the Republic classes, too.
Before the Rise of the Hutt Cartel raised the level cap to 55, a Madness specced Sorcerer would perform fairly well in raids, and although it was never the best in PvP, it usually caught players by surprise, especially those classes with no way to cleanse DoTs. The Madness-specced Assassin never did well in PvP (although I have been able to catch a few people by surprise here and there), and just like nearly every melee DPS class, it never stacked up well against a Marauder or any ranged DPS class. Then when Update 2.0 hit and the level cap increased to 55, the Madness tree quickly became the most useless tree of either of the Inquisitor advanced classes, arguably becoming the most uselessly DPS tree of any class.
The developers obviously noticed this disparity, and in Update 2.5, they hope to alleviate some of the issues by making the DoT abilities uncleansable. Near the top of the Madness tree in both the Assassin and Sorcerer advanced classes sits a skill called Devour (Psychic Absorption in the Consular trees). Currently, this increases the healing received by the targeted AoE ability (Death Field and Force in Balance) and the healing received on DoT crits, assuming the player is specced into that. I can only assume that Devour will maintain this effect in 2.5, but additionally, it will make all DoT abilities uncleansable by the purge abilities with short cooldowns, like the Sorcerer's Purge ability, which "purges a friendly target of up to 2 negative mental or Force effects" according to the tooltip. However, self-cleansing abilities like the Agent's Evasion ability will still be able to remove them.
A discerning player has to ask, "Will this buff impact the class enough to perpetuate meaningful change?" Of course, you can't see a change of this magnitude and expect a simple answer. The bad news says that individual, uninterrupted abilities will not hit a target any harder than they did before. So I'm sorry, Madness-specced PvEers: Your viability remains unchanged. Lightning-specced Sorcerers and tank-specced Assassins will still maintain their place in raids. For Sorcerers, I suggest you learn to heal, and Assassins, learn to tank. If those are not viable options for you, then perhaps, you will have better luck with PvP.
Most classes and teams with decent healers can remove debuffs from players when needed in PvP. In fact, as I play a DoT-specced Marauder and a Madness-specced Assassin and Sorcerer, I can tell you from experience that gameplay is extremely frustrating when your most powerful damaging abilities are immediately removed. Not only does that reduce your overall DPS for individual matches, it also makes facing down healers that much more frustrating because they just won't die. Of course, many of the classes have a self-purge, so a Madness-specced Inquisitor won't hit one hundred percent of the time. But at least, the Inquisitor can reapply the DoTs if they do happened to be cleansed.
The Assassin tank received a major nerf a few months back because frankly the spec dominated PvP in ways that should never happen in a "balanced" PvP system. Not only did the tank spec have tremendous defensive abilities, but the Advanced class rivaled and even surpassed many of the DPS classes in damage output. However, the much-needed class nerf nearly destroyed the class as a tank in raids. For instance, my guild's main tank rolled a Juggernaut because his Assassin was too much of a strain on healers when facing a heavy-hitting boss like Thrasher!
In Update 2.5, Assassins receive some attention in the area of damage mitigation, although I'm hesitant to call it love. Abilities like Dark Charge increase the Assassin's armor vs. healing as they currently do. Although pure numbers will be hard to calculate until the patch hits the PTS, we can estimate that Assassins will receive about 20% more damage mitigation if all buffs are in place. In theory, this should reduce the sharp health dips when tanking heavy-hitting bosses, decreasing the deaths for the Assassins and headaches for healers. At the same time, these changes should make reducing an Assassin tank's health a bit easier in PvP, especially against classes that have armor penetrating or reduction abilities.
Next week, I'll tackle the Marauder and Operative changes and non-changes, but in the meantime, let me know your thoughts on the changes to the Inquisitor/Consular class. Do you think the non-purgeable DoT helps or hurts the overall balance in PvP? What about the Assassin/Shadow tank? Is the class now more viable? Do you think we will hear fewer complaints from healers? (I doubt it, but it's good to have dreams.) I'll see you next week!
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!