BlizzCon 2014 Rogue Highlights: Questions Answered, Deaths Mantled

Deathmantle Set Rogue Cosplay at Blizzcon 2014 (Photo credit: Wowhead)It was a very stealthy BlizzCon.
In the live raid competition between Method and Midwinter, we watched as a Midwinter rogue cast Shroud of Concealment to help the raid sneak past trash mobs — only to see the strategy turn against them. We spotted nary a rogue in the WoW Arena Championship match between Bleached Bones and Skill-Capped EU, and Firebat swept the Hearthstone World Championship grand finals without using his rogue deck — BUT WE KNOW HE HAD ONE, so that counts in our corner, even though it’s not directly related to WoW at all.
Plus we saw at least one cool example of rogue cosplay, with these two not only sporting what I think might be the Tier 5 (Deathmantle) raid set, but also my personal favorite rogue weapon, the Twinblade of the Hakkari.
But what most of you probably want to know is: Did designers answer any rogue questions during the Warcraft panel discussions?
Why, yes. Yes they did.
Although there were just two World of Warcraft panels at this year’s BlizzCon (and basically no new game info was presented), four rogue questions were addressed. Considering two of those questions were answered during a panel that expressly forbade class-specific questions, rogues represented particularly well, with many of our key class concerns briefly taking the spotlight. Our own Haileaus (!) even managed to refashion a question about rogue positional requirements into a general class-design query.


Rogue Q&A: Quick Recap

You can read full transcripts of each rogue Q&A exchange below, but here’s the gist:
1) Suicidal Killing Spree. Some boss fights severely punish the use of KS and other abilities that teleport us to/behind the target. Ion Hazzikostas said they do alter specific fights to alleviate that when the boss doesn’t move, but for *mobile* bosses, they consider that risk of death to be a “tactical element” of the fight that is “taken into account” when balancing the class.
2) Combo point UI. They stack on the rogue now, but the default WoW UI hasn’t changed. Kris Zierhut admitted that the designers tried different ideas, but simply couldn’t come up with a new UI approach that wasn’t “jarring” for people used to seeing CPs under the target frame. So instead, they’ll look at what add-on authors come up with and consider adapting that.
3) Positional requirements. After a Day 1 panel session in which Zierhut explained that positional requirements had been removed from all druid spells because they were unreliable and not fun, Haileaus asked why that didn’t apply to abilities like Backstab and Gouge. Tom Chilton replied that they balance “how important the mechanic is” against “the overall feel and fantasy of the class,” and sometimes they feel the fantasy should win out.
4) Balancing talent tiers. Another rogue, while avoiding mentioning any specific rogue talents, asked about the balance of DPS talents vs. non-DPS talents in various tiers. Tom Chilton replied that it’s a very organic process — they gauge how many people actually use talents in each tier, improve or replace the ones nobody takes, and generally try not to tone down extremely powerful talents unless it’s absolutely necessary for game balance.


Full Rogue Q&A Transcripts

“Items, Class Changes and More!” panel 

Suicidal Killing Spree

Kamikazix @ Bleeding Hollow: I have a question about rogues. We have a lot of abilities that put us behind the boss, like Shadowstep, Killing Spree and now Death From Above, and when we use these abilities without Cloak of Shadows or Evasion we end up dying. Is there any way you can fix that?
Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas, Lead Game Designer: We do have some encounter-specific handling for encounters where, at the back of the boss, is literally a bottomless pit, that sort of thing. We’ve put in custom handling for bosses since some of those abilities went in, whether it was, like, Magmaw and Ragnaros back in Cataclysm, Ultraxion, and so forth.
The thornier problem becomes when it’s a regular, mobile boss, but there just happens to be, you know, a void zone or some fire or some weird cleave happening at that moment. And I think we tend to come down on the side of that being one of the tactical elements of deciding when and whether you push those buttons. You do have Cloak of Shadows if you absolutely need the Killing Spree, if you absolutely need to do it. But it’s part of overall awareness, and it’s something that’s taken into account with how the abilities and the class as a whole is balanced.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve set up a discussion thread around the Suicide Spree Q&A.]

Combo Point UI

Malikor @ Area 52: Thank you very much for changing the combo points to allow switching between targets without loss. My question is, do you have any plans to update the combo point UI to better facilitate that process?
Kris Zierhut, Lead Class Designer: That’s a really good question. We debated possible changes to it, but we couldn’t find a really good answer that made us happy. Ultimately, you’re a rogue, you’re used to looking in that one spot for those combo points. If we move them somewhere else, It’s gonna be more jarring than any of the current issues. You can move it to somewhere else, but we’re not sure what a good solution for that is, so we’re probably gonna spend this expansion looking at: What ideas do players come up with?
One of the nice things about the World of Warcraft is the mod community sometimes finds amazing solutions to these problems. We wouldn’t have Group Finder if, say, some mods that did similar things didn’t exist. We often get inspired by what they do. So we’re looking to see what solutions people come up with.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve got a discussion thread going on the combo point UI.]

World of Warcraft Q + A panel

Positional Requirements

Haileaus: Hi. I’m wondering, what does — where’s the line between fun/interesting mechanics and class balance — or class identity, rather?
J Allen Brack, Executive Director (pointing): Right there.
Tom Chilton, Game Director: Right around there.
Brack: There’s the line.
Hail: Alright, so, feral druids for example: Positional requirements are unfun/unreliable. And then for Subtlety, they still have pseudo-positional requirements on Backstab, and positional requirements on Gouge for all rogue specs, so like–
Brack: Is this a class quesiton?
Hail: It’s definitely not, it’s a class identity question.
Brack: Good cover. That’s good.
Hail (overlapping): Yeah, that’s what I think.
Chilton: Well, I definitely think it’s a very subjective line, right? And when we sit down we evaulate it, we try to evaluate how important the mechanic is to the overall fantasy and feel of the class. And, you know, that’s not something that I would think that we’d be able to measure scientifically, right? We’re just gonna evaluate it and try to decide what it’s adding to the game, and try to evaluate the entire context. And in some cases we may land on the side of keeping a particular mechanic, and on — you know, in other cases we’ll land on the side of not.
Person in audience: Rogues do it from behind!
Chilton: And that.

Balancing Talent Tiers

Player: I’m a rogue from Tichondrius, so I’m a horrible person. <audience laughter> So, I’ve got a question about —
Chilton: Hey, so’s my wife. <audience laughter>
Player: Very nice. I guess I’ve got a question about the philosophy of the talent tree going forward. So, certain classes, certain specs — this isn’t a class question, but — some talents are DPS, some talents are not. And I’m just curious as to how you guys see talents impacting gameplay, and the optimization of certain talents going forward. So, what do you like having one talent be perfect in each row, and — how can you evolve?
Chilton: Well, honestly, what we do often is we take a look at our data on what talents get used and which ones don’t get used. We have very good data on what talents nobody picks, and we try to look at those to find ways to improve them or replace them if possible, and make them more interesting, more exciting, more useful, whatever it is.
We’d like to take that approach rather than — and kind of arrive at balance via that, rather than, you know, taking a talent that everybody is taking and beating it down to be no better than the others. Or at least philosophically that’s our preferred way of getting there. There can be times when a particular talent is just so out of control that it’s distorting the entire — you know, all of raiding, they’re all taking warlocks only because of talent X or something like that. Then in that case we may do the nerf or whatever. But we like to avoid that where we can, and just kinda make things better, make things more interesting, make things more fun, make them fulfill the fantasy of the class better.