The zen rogue of ages past
While it's certainly commonplace now to find rogues pressing their Mutilate button several times a second, it wasn't always this way. If we go way back to the days before haste affected energy regeneration, the world was different. Every rogue knew exactly how much energy they were earning: a flat 20 energy every 2 seconds. Our combos were designed around this knowledge. Thistle Tea and Renataki's were precisely timed to maximize the damage from the bonus energy.
One of my all-time favorite addons was EnergyWatch. It allowed rogues to push their buttons accurately with the tick-tock of our energy regeneration. I could time my actions with each new wave of 20 energy. Playing a rogue felt like it required some finesse. A good rogue pushed his keys precisely when he meant to. Considering that most of our abilities cost more than 20 energy, we had to wait at least 4 seconds between each attack.
Because energy regeneration was not a smooth curve, there was no point in spamming your buttons. You knew you weren't getting any energy for 2 seconds, so why waste your time? Combat Potency and Venomous Wounds weren't even imagined, and so there were no surprises in our energy bar. With a fixed amount of energy regeneration, it was easy for us to draw up very precise rotations, like the old 3s5r5e or 4s5r rotations we used to rely on. The rogue felt like a very meticulous and metered class.
Major changes to the energy system
So what changed? In The Burning Crusade, rogues picked up all sorts of talents that resulted in sporadic energy gains. Focused Attacks and Combat Potency allows us to earn energy at an irregular rate, which resulted in adding a significant amount of randomness to our rotations. While we were usually able to model the energy gains well enough to find reliable rotations, we could no longer simply ignore our energy bar between ticks.
In Wrath, Blizzard changed energy to regenerate smoothly. Our energy bar began updating multiple times per second, rendering EnergyWatch completely useless. The massive upside of this change was that we would no longer be stuck waiting 2 seconds for the last 5 energy we needed for our next attack. Rogues should be able to react more quickly to different situations, like an enemy starting to cast a spell that we wanted to interrupt. When coupled with our proc-based forms of energy generation, we could often execute multiple abilities in quick succession.
Smooth energy wasn't quite dramatic enough to cause any major changes by itself. Rogues could still easily watch their energy bar and time their attacks properly without spamming their keys. The final major change to our energy regeneration came in Cataclysm, when haste was updated to affect our energy regeneration. The haste change couldn't have happened without the smoothing change, and the two of them together completely redesigned the way rogues interact with their energy bar.
What's your energy regen?
If I asked you what your energy regeneration rate was, right now, would you know? I imagine that you wouldn't, as the exact number isn't really important anymore. Your energy regeneration changes constantly, as haste procs and buffs tweak the value and Venomous Wounds and Combat Potency are still granting you energy randomly. Our energy regeneration is so erratic that we never really know how much energy we have at any given time. We only care if we're near the cap, that's it.
Energy is no longer our master
Unfortunately for us, now that we're no longer at the mercy of the 2-second tick, we're now held captive by our keyboards. In order to properly use our abilities to the fullest, we have to ensure that our abilities come quickly in succession. We want to get more attacks in every Envenom window, we want to get more combo point generators in during Shadow Blades, we want to deal more damage during our Bandit's Guile periods, and we want to squeeze every possible Ambush into our Shadow Dances.
I feel like we've taken a major step backwards in terms of mechanical gameplay. We've transitioned from the class that played methodically and planned attacks ahead of time into a button-mashing brute that doesn't have the luxury of waiting around.
Unfortunately, I don't think there's any going back. Today's assassination rogues are frequently complaining about the massive downtime between their attacks, when in reality they're attacking much more frequently than the rogues of old. Many rogues embraced the mindless Sinister Strike spam of Dragon Soul and its instant damage gratification. Haste is currently assassination's worst stat overall, so everyone is reforging out of it. This only serves to exacerbate the problem, widening the divide between a late-Cataclysm rogue's rotation and today's slow attack rate.
I don't see a way out. It's too late to revert energy regeneration back to its pre-BC days, and rogues are only getting more and more addicted to spamming their combo point generators. Where can we go from here?
Sneak in every Wednesday for our Mogu'shan Vaults guide, a deep-dive into the world of rogue rotations -- and of course, all the basics in our guide to a raid-ready rogue.