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Ghostcrawler discusses class design in Mists

Matthew Rossi

You're going to want to read this post from the forums discussing the rogue class and the design process for classes in general. It is, in my opinion, one of the more interesting posts Ghostcrawler has made on the forums. There's a lot to discuss, so let's break down some bullet points before reproducing the whole thing.
  • "Rogues are in a good place in Cataclysm in both PvE and PvP. We don't see a lot of huge, glaring problems that need to be fixed."
  • The dev team understands that sometimes people want change simply to freshen up their playstyle, but the danger there is alienating players. Both the Cataclysm redesign of paladins and the Mists redesign of warlocks are offered as changes the dev team felt were necessary but that absolutely alienated some players.
  • Rogues haven't seen a lot of change in part because the rogue has it pretty good and is potentially the best-designed class with the best resource system, strong class abilities and an easy-to-understand role in PvE and PvP.
  • Even fixing broken mechanics risks turning off players because they have to relearn the class.
We'll take a look at the whole post and then discuss it.

Ghostcrawler - Rogue
Rogues are in a pretty good place in Cataclysm in both PvE and PvP. We don't see a lot of huge glaring problems that need to be fixed. I realize there are several players out there asking for change just because they're getting bored of the same class or at the very least wanting to spice it up, and that is a totally valid way to feel. But you also have to consider the risk we'd take for all of the rogues out there who are totally happy with the way their class is playing now, thank you very much.

As an example, we changed paladins in Cataclysm because we thought they needed a resource mechanic to make their gameplay more interesting. Overall we're happy with the way that has played out, and it's even better in Mists, but it's also very easy to find "please remove Holy Power" posts regularly. While we disagree with those players, the fact remains that we made the class worse for them.

To use a second example, we are changing warlocks pretty extensively for Mists because we thought they had several fundamental problems. Is every warlock going to like those changes? Of course not. Are there going to lots of players who beg us to revert the changes? Absolutely.

(And this is all ignoring the risk that even changing a mechanic from an acknowledged bad design to a good design still risks frustrating or annoying many players just because they have to relearn something.)

We are trying to fix some of the annoying things rogues have had to deal with and we are trying to offer some options in talents and glyphs that can help spice up the gameplay for someone who has been loyally Sinister Striking for these eight years. But we also don't want to fix what isn't broken. We try really hard not to change classes for the sake of change. It's hard. But we try.

I'd go as far to say that most of the class team would probably agree (and I didn't poll them, so I may be sticking my neck out) that the rogue is the best designed class. And much of that design was in place before virtually any of us started working on classes, so we can't even really take credit for it. The rogue has the best resource system (energy), a strong kit, a good toolbox, and a clear role in PvP and PvE, yet it still has disadvantages to go along with the advantages and can't just do everything flawlessly all the time. It's a good design, again in our humble opinions, which is why you see so few changes to the class overall. But please don't over-read that as my stating that we won't fix bugs, add polish, balance numbers, undo bone-headed design flaws when the need arises, or yes, add a little bit of newness once in awhile just to keep things shiny.

Ironically, one of the big complaints I hear about holy power is that it's too much like the rogue secondary resource, combo points. I found this focus on making necessary change and otherwise trying to stay conservative, hewing as closely as possible to the established design, fascinating for the way it informs class design changes over the years. Balance druids, paladins, and, even to a lesser extent, arms warriors have seen fairly serious redesigns over the years, and this post makes me think those redesigns must really have been seen as important to have even been implemented.

The best-designed class

I also found the idea that the rogue is the best-designed class shocking but well argued. Rogues do have a resource system that they don't really have to babysit, and they are strong in both PvP and PvE. I'd even go further and say that they don't really have any of the disadvantages he mentions (at least, I can't think of any). It would in some part explain why we've seen resource systems become more rogue-like over the years.

The fact that the comfort level of the playerbase for change is being considered and that change is made with the awareness that it will affect some players negatively helps create an awareness on our part of why sometimes it can seem that Blizzard is slow to make changes to a class. From my own perspective, fury has been broken for the entirety of patch 4.3, but since it still plays the same, there are probably players who would take another change amiss. (That doesn't mean that I don't think they should absolutely fix it.) To go back to Ghostcrawler's example above, if you had a long-time rogue player used to using Sinister Strike, suddenly removing the ability, even if it were to improve rogue DPS, would be off-putting.

I'll admit I hadn't even considered that there are players who might be upset by changing to a new design even if it fixed design or balance issues. It's a point that simply eluded me, and I think it's potentially the most important point of the post. Class design and redesign tends to come up for change most strongly in the expansions for a similar reason. People are more willing to relearn the class when they're going to be learning other new things, anyway.

How much class redesign should we see in an expansion? How much change for change's sake is good, or do we want change only when it's absolutely necessary? I don't have an answer, but I find thinking about it truly diverting and interesting.

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

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