Bit of an off-the-cuff post here, apologies if I get rambly.
Newly minted Blizz Community Manager Lore has been dipping into various conversations in the official WoW PTR Discussion forum over the past couple of weeks. He’s focused on addressing major class-specific concerns related to Patch 5.4. He’s talked about Shadow priests, warlocks, Holy paladins, Windwalker monks and hunters, among others — and now Combat rogues have gotten their turn.
Posting in a brief thread filled with some really nice feedback from players on Combat rogues in Patch 5.4, Lore wrote:
Combat is supposed to feel faster-paced than the other specs, but we agree that it’s gotten a bit TOO spammy, particularly where the Tier 15 set bonus is concerned. We don’t have any solid info on any changes we might make yet, but we definitely see the concern and are discussing it.
The challenge we always face when balancing between different specs that perform the same role is that, even if the benefits are relatively small, some players will feel “required” to play whichever is “best”. Even in cases where each spec has a clearly defined niche that they excel at, some players still feel like they should change specs from fight to fight to match each encounter’s mechanics.
We’re not sure it’s even possible to ever balance things out completely perfectly so that all specs are equal in all areas, but we do our best to at least minimize the differences. It’s far too early to guess at which specs will be “best” once 5.4 launches, but our goal is to allow you to play whichever you enjoy the most without feeling like you’re making a huge sacrifice.
This is essentially a long-winded way of saying, “The developers have heard your complaints, they understand and agree with them, and they’d really like to do something about them.” There’s no resolution promised here, but that wasn’t the point of the post:
Lore really nicely explains in his post just how dastardly a conundrum this is. Rogue specs are a microcosm of WoW classes/roles in general: There is a perpetual tug of war, particularly within the massive playerbase, between the desire for all roles/specs to be similarly valuable on all raid fights and the desire for all roles/specs to have clearly defined differences in their usefulness and style.
Combat arguably lost its “niche” back in Patch 5.2, after the spec’s long-standing strength on two-target fights became stunningly obvious on Stone Guard in Mogu’shan Vaults, where Combat blew all other DPS specs out of the water. Blade Flurry got a bit of a redesign as a result — instead of copying 100% damage to one target, it now copies 40% damage to up to four nearby targets — and Combat has hardly been seen or heard from in higher-end raiding since then.
This has led to a fair number of calls for some kind of niche to find its way back into the spec (and ditto for Subtlety), or at least for more raid fights to be designed that favored (or at least stopped punishing) Combat’s mechanics. While I get the allure of that idea, I’ve never felt quite comfortable with it for exactly the reason Lore stated: Rogues are usually a black-or-white class in raids. They’re there to perform a specific role (usually maximizing DPS), and if one spec performs that role even slightly better than the others, it will be widely regarded as the “go-to” spec even if the difference is small.
I don’t think it’s realistic or wise to expect the playerbase to master all three specs and then feel pressured by our playerbase’s culture to switch from one to the next depending on which is viewed as the strongest. That may actually be worse than the current situation, in which Assassination is largely viewed as the only spec worth bothering with right now in a raid environment (even though that’s actually not true — all specs are fine to use even for progression raid groups, unless you’re seriously hardcore).
I’m similarly wary of suggestions that heroic raids in particular should be tuned to “require” that a pure DPS class use different specs on some fights in order to be successful in its role. Some folks may find that fun, sure. But that sounds like a fight design nightmare to me, not to mention a very thin wire to attempt to walk across (they’d have to ensure the same niche value for every other underplayed spec in the game, not just rogue specs) with very little gamewide benefit to be gained from it.
In other words, this shit’s hard. I don’t deny that it feels crummy to feel strongarmed into playing a single spec throughout an expansion, particularly if it’s a spec you don’t especially enjoy playing. That’s a good recipe for burnout. But I don’t see any simple alternatives that avoid creating the same problem in different ways, or that avoid making already-similar specs into an even more poorly defined melting pot of gooey rogue gameplay.
I also suspect we’re stuck with this reality until at least the next expansion. We’ll see some tuning changes and maybe some mechanic adjustments in an attempt to convince players that it’s not some kind of cardinal sin to go Combat or Subtlety in the new raid. But ultimately, there *will* be a determination made by theorycrafters and raid strategists as to which spec is “best” to use on a particular fight (or all fights), and players will flock — many of them kicking and screaming — to that spec regardless of the margin by which it’s deemed to be superior.
Man. I really need to start adding more images to these posts.
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