Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Encrypted Text: Has dual spec ruined the rogue experience?

Scott Helfand

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.

Four and a half years. To many of you, it may feel like a lifetime ago -- and to most of the rogues we play, it probably was. My own stealthy toon, yet to encounter a certain rouged chapeau that would change her (and her humble puppetmaster) forever, was only at level 50, tripping and tumbling her way through Tanaris, oblivious to the game-shattering changes that had just been introduced. By the time she reached max level, almost half a year later, she took for granted the existence of something that many players were still hailing as a miracle.

Dual spec. Oh, how it shined! How its siren call beckoned! Never more must a beleaguered rogue trek to a faraway NPC and back again to swap from their Hunger for Blood/Mutilate raid build to their Mutilate/Preparation PvP build. So much hassle removed! So much freedom gained! A win for everyone ... right?

Let's take a closer look at how dual spec changed rogues forever -- and whether it was truly as much of a boon for our class as we might think it was.

Last week, WoW's Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street took to the tweetwaves to wax philosophical -- and maybe a little maudlin -- about how he feels dual spec has worked out.

Through much of Mists, one of the recurring complaints I've come across from longtime rogue players is that they feel our specs lack the definition that used to really set them apart from one another. These players have pointed to any of a number of changes that have been rolled out over the past couple of years -- such as Preparation and Shadowstep being made available to all specs (instead of being exclusive to subtlety), or the fact that for much of the expansion every spec's PvE rotation has looked quite similar.

But might the erosion of our feeling connected to our specs, and by extension to our rogues in general, have started much earlier?

A Bygone Era

When dual spec was introduced in April 2009, specialization itself was a very different beast. We didn't have choose-one-of-three talent tiers that unlocked every 15 levels; instead, we had intricate, complex talent trees -- one for each spec -- and we received a whopping 71 talent points as we leveled. We would drop points into those trees from the top down, one by one, each point a leaf floating onto a branch, until at max level we could finally paint a full arboreal picture.

Sounds pretty, but the reality was a pain in the donkey. Most of the talent points we allocated as we leveled were utterly meaningless to our gameplay -- and though they were more meaningful at end-game, they still felt like they required an advanced degree to understand. (For instance, we could opt to use one talent point to give us a 6% increase to the "critical strike damage bonus of all combo moves that do not require stealth." When I was still leveling my first rogue, I couldn't even tell whether that tooltip had been written in English, much less whether it was a smart choice.) The amount of customization offered to the experienced, highly knowledgeable player was unprecedented -- but so was the confusion experienced by newer players, who more often than not were paralyzed by the maze of choices and simply colored in the lines set by guide writers' "cookie-cutter" builds.

To make things even more fun, switching specs meant making our way to a class trainer in a capital city, paying up to 50 gold (at that time, a much less paltry sum than it is now -- Alan Greenspan, the WoW economy needs you!) to completely erase our talents and action bars, and reallocating all 71 points in our talent tree again.

It was not convenient. It was not enjoyable. For players of hybrid classes, who sometimes felt great pressure to switch between roles (e.g., tank and healer), it often meant an awful lot of game time spent e-commuting, coughing up gold and clicking on talent choices. And if you were a rogue who enjoyed PvE as well as PvP -- or soloing instances as well as raiding, or world PvP as well as questing, or of optimally experiencing any other combination of gameplay options the game had to offer? Good luck with that neverending, spec-wiping adventure.

For these players and many more, dual spec felt like a godsend. And rightly so.

But a lot has changed about WoW since the days when dual spec brought hope and relief to the playerbase.

Losing Rogue Religion

The days of allocating 71 talent points are long gone. We can now swap out our six talent choices -- and our glyphs, for that matter -- at will, without even changing specs. And if we do want to switch from assassination to combat, or combat to subtlety, we can do so in a couple of clicks; no muss, little fuss. (Setting up our action bars can still be a little rough, but we've got addons like Dominos to help with that.)

Five years ago, when a player said they were an "assassination rogue," they meant it. They were locked in. Cookie-cutter build or no, this was their spec. They arguably were able to identify with their character more easily way than we're able to today.

Today, most players are not "subtlety rogues"; they're "rogues who choose to play in their subtlety spec more often than not." Or "rogues who were told by their raid leader that assassination spec is the best for DPS right now, so they mainly go with that." Or "rogues who heard on Rzn's Twitch channel that combat is making a comeback in arena, so they're learning that alongside their subtlety spec." The players I've come across who deeply identify with a particular spec often seem to be those who were around before dual spec existed, when the level of commitment we had to make to a spec went much deeper than it does now.

To be sure, the simplification of talent choices -- as well as the "homogenization" of abilities or talents that were formerly exclusive to one spec -- eroded many of the walls that once existed between our three rogue specs. But if we didn't have the ability to dual spec, would we still feel those walls have grown so thin? How many of us would even have bothered trying to play more than one spec during this expansion if it meant that each time we wanted to change things up, we had to head to a class trainer, pony up a bucket of bold, and reselect each of our talent options and action bar buttons one by one?

Think about this in the context of another much-buzzed-about but as-yet-nonexistent game feature: tri-spec. I wonder, if we had the ability to select from three specializations on the fly, whether the choice would continue to mean anything to us anymore as rogue players. I wonder what it would do to our feeling of connection to the rogues we play, if we could quickly swap between optimized setups for any situation whenever we wanted. (Heck, for many of us, we already can.)

What is the answer to the dilemma of rogue specs losing their definition, when WoW already allows specs to be embraced and dumped on a whim? For those of you who feel that playing a rogue has lost its luster -- despite our class often topping DPS charts in raids and recently rediscovering its strength in competitive arena -- consider what might happen if we went back to only being able to choose a single spec (something that Ghostcrawler made clear will not happen, despite his grumpiness). Do you think that could actually make playing your rogue more interesting and more meaningful?

Join me in the comments for a rollickin' hootnanny.
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.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr