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Hyperspace Beacon: Your eyes can deceive you


I don't know about you, but this Friday's update surprised me. After the freighter-full of information we have been receiving, I was kind of expecting a meager morsel of facts from Star Wars: The Old Republic in this most recent update. However, just knowing that the update was written by Lead Combat Designer Georg Zoeller, I was excited about it. Zoeller is surely the most active developer on the SWTOR forums, and he always has some incredible nuggets of information to share with the community.

This week, I want to talk about combat roles. Although BioWare mentioned that it supports the standard trinity, it was refreshing to read that the team is mixing things up a bit based on advanced classes. For instance, your Bounty Hunter easily slips into the DPS or the tank role, but developers have thrown healing into the equation, too. This week, I want to talk about another role I did not expect to see: the Stealth Tank.

In the most recent Friday update, Zoeller listed all the roles for each class. Listed under the Jedi Consular, the Jedi Sage is as you would suspect: a dealer of mid- to long-range damage, as we saw at PAX East, and a healer, as we saw in the first group combat walkthrough. However, the first on the list was the Jedi Shadow. As many of us suspected, the Jedi Shadow is a type of rogue class, with stealth and close- to mid-ranged burst-DPS being its advanced class forte. At the end of the sentence, tanking was also listed.

This initially confused me because, generally speaking, rogue and tanking abilities don't mix. For the longest time in nearly every MMO, the rogue classes were barely built for PvE, let alone for tanking. On my Spy in Star Wars Galaxies, the last few levels were like wrestling a wampa -- literally. Sure, rogue-types and Spies have great burst-DPS; that's how they cut through player characters so quickly. But that DPS isn't meant to be sustainable, so when facing creatures and NPCs (which generally have higher HP than players), roguish toons found themselves quickly overwhelmed. However, many a rogue found out that their extreme DPS is definitely a good way to grab aggro, which called for the ability to dump that aggro or exit combat.

The makers of many games saw the lack of PvE content for the rogue classes. For many such characters, it was hard to get into raid groups and PvE was obviously difficult to solo. As a game grew more PvE-centric, the number of these types of classes started to drop. I happened to be playing SWG when Sony Online Entertainment made some major changes to the class, and I had a friend who was able to spec out his Spy not only for PvE but for honest-to-goodness tanking. Perhaps this is the idea Star Wars: The Old Republic has in mind with the Jedi Shadow.

The general premise behind a rogue tank is to hit hard then avoid damage. Hey, that kind of sounds like what a rogue does anyway. The principle is the same, but the execution is slightly different. Unlike a standard rogue, a rogue tank will have to sustain aggro, which is obviously more easily said than done.

When the average MMO player thinks about a tank, he thinks about absorbing the brunt of enemy damage. The tanks are usually clad in heavy armor and deal very little DPS. Most aggro is sustained with taunt abilities, which generate more hate toward that particular player without his actually increasing damage output. We actually saw this ability at PAX East with the Trooper and Jedi Knight. The Jedi Knight would raise his saber above his head, taunting enemies, and the Trooper's reactive shield would generate more hate just by being activated.

Generally, the rogues have neither heavy armor nor taunts. Rogues have to rely on tactical prowess to be effective tanks. Most NPCs in MMOs see a rise in "hate" toward a player based on the amount of damage he does. It appears that mobs in SWTOR will be no different, so our Jedi Shadow is going to have to hit a mob with heavy burst-damage right up front then sustain a steady stream of damage to maintain the enemy's attention. When jumping out of stealth, most rogue classes have a high damage attack to kick things off, which can keep the enemy's attention for quite a while. However, if the rogue loses aggro, a quick stealth and high-damage hit again will help him snatch it back.

Things get tricky when your rogue dons armor. Light or even medium armor is not designed to absorb large amounts of damage. A rogue has to rely on damage avoidance through stats. If we use a World of Warcraft Rogue as an example, the stats we need to increase would be Block, Parry, Dodge, and Enemy Miss Chance. Now, granted, I am not a hardcore WoW player, but I've been told that a player can stack these stats such that they total over 100%. At that point, a Rogue is nearly impossible to hit. I am going to guess that the Jedi Shadow will be the same.

So you have your aggro control and damage mitigation figured out. Why is this not a common class? I, obviously, cannot speak for how the role will play in SWTOR, but in other games, it simply is not the best use of resources. It's not an easy class to play, and therefore it isn't easily understood by raid leaders. Getting in a group is even more difficult. On top of that, the damage output of a rogue is greatly reduced in tank-mode, thus removing a staple element of the class.

That being said, I do find it extremely progressive of BioWare developers to think outside of the box like this. On a personal note, I look forward to trying something like this out. Let me know what you think -- will you play a Jedi Shadow tank or a Sith Assassin tank? What I'd really like to find out is whether anyone here has ever played a rogue tank in any other game. How did that work out for you? What pros and cons did you see?

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 Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!

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