Encrypted Text: The first glimpse of your future rogue

Scott Helfand
S. Helfand|11.14.13

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Encrypted Text: The first glimpse of your future rogue
Rfeann sits in on a BlizzCon panel discussion (sorry, Kosak)
Every week or two, WoW Insider brings you Encrypted Text for assassination, combat and subtlety rogues. Scott Helfand (@sveltekumquat) will be your shadow on this treacherous journey; try not to keep your back turned for too long, and make sure your valuables are stashed somewhere safe.

Although there was no grand unveiling of mind-blowing class changes at BlizzCon -- for rogues or any other class -- we did learn a few juicy tidbits that will intrigue, delight and (possibly) confuse/fluster/enrage you. Let's take a look, shall we?

Optimizing Gear Will Get a Whole Lot Simpler

No longer will anyone ever have to answer the question, "What's my stat priority?" by saying, "First, get to the hit cap." For Patch 6.0, Blizzard plans to remove the hit and expertise from our gear, and make it so we are automatically at the caps we currently strive to reach.

itemization changes reveal at Blizzcon 2013 (detail)

The design team is also planning to get rid of reforging. And most gem slots. And most enchants. So the entire concept of "gear optimization" will be drastically simpler in Warlords than it is in Mists of Pandaria -- or than it was in Cataclysm, or Lich King, or at any other point in a very long while. The tools that many of us so deeply rely on to tell us the "right" way to juggle our stats -- the ShadowCrafts and Ask Mr. Robots of the world -- will still have their value (and will likely roll out new features to remain useful), but no longer will we need to throw our precious time and gold at the game as we needlessly obsessed over stat differences that usually had a pretty minor effect on our damage potential or our gameplay.

If you couldn't tell, I'm a pretty big fan of these stat changes. Much like our old, billion-point talent trees, hit caps, expertise caps and the reforging/gemming/enchanting game tended to provide welcome customization options only to highly advanced players who were into that level of intricate detail. For the rest of us, it meant spending time blindly following whatever a guide or a reforging tool told us to do, which for me was neither fun nor especially engaging.

Of course, there is one potential side effect of this stat simplification that may be less welcome: If one spec turns out to have wildly different priorities regarding our remaining stats -- if, for instance, mastery is extremely valuable for assassination rogues, while haste is extremely valuable for combat rogues -- then we're facing a possible return of the days when "serious" PvE rogues (particularly raiders) carried around more than one set of gear in their bags, so they could swap sets whenever they needed to switch specs.

That sounds annoying, but at least in that scenario you had all the gear ready to go -- no trudging back to one of our beguilingly bandaged buddies to reforge, no switching out gems, none of that messiness. And we're about to get a whole lot more room in our bags, so there should be plenty of space for that additional gear if we do decide to build multiple sets.

Just Call It "Stab"

Yep, it looks like it's really-for-truly happening: Positional requirements are being eliminated from abilities like Ambush and Backstab. (In fact, it may well be that Backstab gets axed from our spellbooks entirely and a new-and-improved Hemorrhage becomes the go-to attack for subtlety rogues.) No longer will subtlety rogues be disproportionately balder than people who play the other specs due to all the hair they've torn out of their heads from seeing "You must be behind your target" error messages appear constantly on their screen.

For those of us who raid, we'll still usually want to stand behind bosses, since they'll continue to have a chance to parry our attacks from the front. (That, and because many bosses will likely have cleave attacks that will thoroughly tenderize us if we stand in them.) I also assume, though I can't recall if this was addressed, that for similar reasons we'll still want to be behind other players in PvP as well.

The Talented Mr. Roguely

rogue level 100 talents (unveiled at BlizzCon 2013)
A new set of talents will be unlocked at level 100 in the new expansion, bringing with it a choice of three brand spankin' new spells. These may well change heavily before the Warlords actually launches, but at the moment, these are the selections we're looking at, along with their current tooltip text:
  • Master the Basics: "When you critically strike with an autoattack, you gain an additional combo point on your target." (Apparently a passive ability, meaning it will kick in automatically if you select this talent.)
  • Shadow Reflection: "Summon a shadow of yourself on the target that will watch you and memorize your ability usage for the next 8 sec. After this time, it will mimic the memorized abilities on its target over the next 8 sec." (Has a 20-yard cast range and a 2-minute cooldown.)
  • Death From Above: "Finishing move that consumes combo points on the target to empower your weapons with shadow energy and perform a devastating two-part attack. You whirl around, dealing Shadow damage to all enemies within 8 yds, then leap into the air and slice into your target on the way back down, dealing additional Shadow damage. (Costs 50 energy and has a 20-second cooldown.)
It is way, way, waaaay too early for us to start assessing which of these talents will be more valuable than another in various game situations. There are just too many unanswered questions about the nuances of how these talents would work, other ways in which our class (and other classes) will change, and ways in which the strengths and weaknesses of these talents may be highlighted. (For instance, if critical strike, one of our secondary stats, is very low at the start of Warlords, that may make the Master the Basics talent weak, since the talent only kicks in when an autoattack crits.) I hope to explore some of these questions in another column soon -- this week I've only got enough space to provide an overview -- but feel free to sound off about them in the comments and we can chat about them in a little more depth. (I also hope to talk more about those crazy new "tertiary" stats all the kids are buzzin' about.)

One thing I do want to note, though, is that the animation possibilities for Death From Above have me positively giddy. The description feels reminiscent of some of the animations from Dust: An Elysian Tail, an incredibly fun game I played over the summer. I'll be honest: I'm so hungry for cool-looking spells that even the glimmer of hope that we're about to get a flashy-yet-appropriate rogue ability makes me want to root for it really hard, even as all manner of questions about how the heck the ability will work bubble up inside my brain. (For instance: How long will it take our character to whirl around, fly up in the air, and then land on someone? Will we be unable to do anything else while it's active? Will Blade Flurry copy all of the damage it deals? Could we potentially target someone at range with it?)

A Hint of Things to Come

If you blinked during the Systems Panel, you may have missed this beautiful moment:

See that glorious item in the middle of the slide? As a potential reward while leveling from 90 to 100 in Warlords (one of a series of bonuses they plan to give our characters each time we reach a new experience level), rogues in assassination spec may never have to cast Slice and Dice again -- it'll just automatically start and stay active in battle, no matter what.

Sure, you could be a grumpus and counterargue that we shouldn't have to be level 93 or what have you in order to get this "perk" -- that it should be baseline for all assassination rogues, or heck, all rogue specs. I might even agree with you. But what's important here are three things:
  1. It's clear from this example that the designers are willing to seriously consider leveling perks that go beyond just "one of your abilities hits harder." Our perks may sometimes be more interesting than that, directly changing the way we play and the buttons we mash.
  2. It's also clear that the designers are serious about removing action bar clutter so we have fewer spells to keep track of. If they're willing to consider removing Slice and Dice from our spellbook, what else might they be thinking about slicing away?
  3. The designers have been listening throughout Mists. They've heard player complaints, and where it makes sense to do so, they're willing to consider changes that improve our gameplay in ways we've requested. What other adjustments may be right around the corner? What else will we find them plotting for our class as we get closer to a (as-yet-unannounced) Warlords beta, and many more specifics about rogue changes come to light?

Stay tuned. Although I'm not remotely expecting a warlock-level overhaul of our class, I have a feeling many of us will be pretty pumped by what Blizzfolk have in the works.
Sneak in every Wednesday or two for our RPPM guide and tier 16 set bonus review, a look at the eight key things you should keep in mind when leveling your rogue -- and of course, why we'll always be the bad guys.
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