Legion Initial Worries

After yesterday’s info dump we don’t really have enough information for any kind of broad feedback. This post is a collection of potential worries to watch during early beta. When possible I’m working from the information we got yesterday but where things are unclear I’ve attempted to read between the lines a bit. Note these worries are roughly ordered by my worry about the issue.

Positional Requirements Positionals have always been one of those odd cases where Blizzard lets flavor overwhelm gameplay. A design only made weirder by last year’s Blizzcon comments by Kris Zierhut where he talked happily about the removal of feral positionals with no mention of backstab. WoD sidestab was a marked improvement and since the devs confirmed new backstab remains sidestab things aren’t as bad as they could be.

That said the decision to remove the positional requirements from backstab and replace it with a damage bonus is a poor solution as I said in my positional requirement blog post more than two years ago.

This solution despite being functionally identical to the current system is in fact worse because it provides no feedback mechanism. In the current design if backstab isn’t usable you know you aren’t behind the target, in this new design if you are just outside of the positional arc you will be doing less damage without an obvious indication.

The devs noted today that we would be seeing new UI elements to indicate target facing. This is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t really solve the problem. As several people noted on twitter a small indicator may be hard to see under raid ground clutter. Beyond that trying to rough out 45 degree arcs extending from a known point in space, while also paying attention to other mechanics is non-trivial. Yes technically it is a source of difficulty but estimating angles in space, especially given inconsistencies in boss hitbox sizes, doesn’t seem like a good source of difficulty.

If we are going to keep this backstab mechanic better UI support is essential. This could be done as an API function, IsBehind(unit) or a less ambiguous target circle marker as proposed by multiple people on twitter. Without better UI support I’m sure the rogue community will develop some big fancy weak aura to figure out if you are missing the 30% bonus but after recent comments about mechanics being too UI dependent this seems like something Blizzard wants to avoid.

Assassination Speed
Despite Blizzard’s assurances that pooling will remain important to assassination in Legion I remain skeptical. The key problem is pooling wasn’t really relevant in WoD either so if that is what Blizzard is trying to preserve, that isn’t going far enough. The key metric for pooling for me is, how high does a player have to pool to consistently generate 5 cps during the envenom buff. For simplicity let’s ignore anticipation and pandemic and just focus on that 6 second window. The key threshold is can you generate enough energy in a 6 second envenom window to use two mutilates. If you can do that, pooling broadly falls apart. With relentless strikes in WoD this meant 110-25=85 energy in 6 seconds, subtract off the 30 energy from 3 venomous wounds procs in a 6 second window and you end up with 55 energy in 6 seconds, which is to say even at 0 haste (10 energy per second) you could use two mutilates per 6 seconds. (Worth noting here that the apparent removal of dispatch even combined with the seal fate change will actually lower assassination combo point generation somewhat, something I am entirely fine with).

If relentless strikes is being removed, and since there is a subtlety talent called relentless strikes this seems quite likely, you now need to generate an additional 25 energy in 6 seconds. Of course with new sources of venomous wounds procs that value can be easily made up.

The question is how much gap should there be at 0 haste. If you start doing the math for even relatively low pooling thresholds, say 30 energy, you get 4 energy per venomous wounds tick, a dramatic step down from today, and at most the rotation requires pooling to 50 energy at 0% haste, ignoring venomous wounds ticks completely. This is a far cry from Cata and early MoP pooling up to 80+ energy. The key problem is there is no RNG. Regardless of the required pooling threshold the pooling target can always be computed exactly taking away the dynamism of pooling.

I know many players hated RNG resource generation but given the strictly deterministic energy regen of WoD and now potentially Legion assassination pooling thresholds create relatively small challenge. Since we now have 66% more venomous wounds procing events perhaps venomous wounds could return to a chance to proc with more events making zero procs within some window somewhat more unlikely.

I should note here that the example talent with a shorter pooling window does have the potential for interesting pooling based rotations if it is beneficial to squeeze another finisher into that damage window.

AoE rotations
The preview blog didn’t contain any information about AoE rotations however on twitter the devs made a pretty sweeping statement about AoE balance. This is a great goal but I am skeptical because blade flurry still exists. In fact at the start of WoD all three rogue specs were relatively balanced for AoE. Assassination fell off at higher target counts due to GCD capping but all three specs were competitive with each other on 2-4 target sustained and combat and subtlety were competitive with each other well past 5 targets. The problem, in addition to Blizzard’s odd tendency to buff blade flurry rather than combat single target in 6.0, is how the three AoE rotations scale mechanically (yes I’m about to make a scaling argument).

The outlaw AoE rotation with blade flurry scales very well because the outlaw AoE rotation is identical to its single target rotation. Anything that increases single target dps increases AoE dps. By contrast the subtlety and assassination AoE rotations are entirely distinct from the single target rotations using only a subset of the mechanics. Increasing envenom damage, envenom buff uptime, or cp builder damage had very little impact on assassination AoE damage and those mechanics tended to be where later buffs and set bonuses focused. Similarly for subtlety increasing FW uptime, dance uptime, or ambush damage, have a minor impact on AoE damage.

We have basically no information about AoE rotations but it is important to keep in mind during beta how each spec’s AoE rotation will scale mechanically. So long as outlaw keeps blade flurry in its current form I suspect it will out scale the other two specs without regular buffs.

One dev tweet yesterday mentioned anticipation and I believe entirely misses the issue with anticipation. I realize this is a single tweet and nuance may have been lost due to character constraints but I think it is important to be clear about the issues with anticipation balance for each spec since marked for death was added (the less said about the other talent on that tier the better).

Subtlety has the most interesting relationship with anticipation, while marked for death has been in theory competitive since the 6.0 actually achieving better dps results given the random and rapid combo point generation of HAT has eluded the rogue community. In practice trying to squeeze combo point builders into 1 GCD every 2-2.3 seconds approximately, is very difficult to do without accidentally losing a couple combo points. The relative competitiveness of anticipation for subtlety will likely not depend on the tuning of anticipation’s competitors but the tuning of the HAT replacement shadow techniques. The relative value of anticipation is also increased by higher combo point generation per ability so if shadow blades behaves as it did in MoP this may also push rogues toward anticipation.

Assassination has never favored marked for death due to its highly variable combo point generation. The change to seal fate increases the strength of anticipation. Using a 4+ rotation, as assassination rogues did pre-MoP, the potential combo point waste per finisher used at 3 cps is now crit_chance^2 higher than pre-MoP. This is a relatively minor effect, no more than 0.15 combo points additional waste in high gear levels but it will increase the value of anticipation. None of the changes to outlaw appear to make it more likely to take anticipation so it may continue to favor other talents. That said even for outlaw many players prefer anticipation due to increased quality of life which will likely continue to be true. The fundamental challenge with anticipation is the talent increases quality of life while providing a dps increase. Talents that are merely competitive are less likely to be chosen unless they offer comparable quality of life improvements.

The New Subtlety Rotation
Since the Blizzcon announcement about subtlety I’ve been somewhat miffed about the changes to subtlety. The WoD subtlety spec, especially in T17, was a wonderful piece of design with difficulty that scaled with player desire for challenge, with appropriate dps rewards, and broadly embodied the design principle of easy to learn, hard to master. The new rotation doesn’t seem to do that nearly as well. The new rotation, in it’s base version, doesn’t seem to have any of the timing window based hooks the spec has relied on since Cata. As Blizzard keeps reminding us talents will change up the rotation but I’m somewhat skeptical of the new rotation’s potential for interesting mechanics.

Vendetta is Boring
Blizzard confirmed yesterday that vendetta would be sticking around for another expansion to defend it’s title of most boring dps cooldown. I hope Blizzard has something new in store for envenom (beyond the silly WoD cold blood perk) because vendetta is entirely unexciting in its current form. At the very least making the ability on the rogue rather than target locked would be a nice quality of life change.

Outlaw Theme
For all the work Blizzard has done on spec identity one piece of information seems to be missing from the outlaw section, what mechanic is outlaw built around. With assassination we know that the spec mechanics are all about dots, poisons and bleeds, for subtlety it’s stealth and openers but for outlaw, no idea. The spec is supposed to be swashblucker/swordmaster but that doesn’t define a playstyle just an aesthetic theme. Strictly speaking there is no reason for a spec to need a mechanical theme, WoD subtlety for instance is all over the map but given all the discussion about defining the specs it seems like an odd oversight.

To that end the rotational sketch we get is very generic combo point system and basically the same as the live rotation. Sinister strike is now saber slash (at least we get to keep the same acronym), eviscerate is now run through. We’ve got a new proc mechanic with pistol shot and it looks like the spec has lost the cooldown centric cooldown reduction and bandit’s guile mechanics. Obviously talents will help flesh out the mechanics but unlike the other two specs there is little indication of what those talents will hook into or what kinds of mechanics the spec will emphasize.