Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Decline of Rogues

As Cynwise notes, the rogue population at endgame has been steadily decreasing pretty much since Vanilla. This is interesting because rogues haven't really changed as a class since Vanilla. There have been small changes here and there, but by and large the rogue class is still the same as it was at creation. Instead, the game has changed around it.

I've always thought the rogue was well-designed. In fact, if you look at the other classes, more of them have moved towards the rogue model than otherwise. So why then has the rogue population dropped?

I think that it's not one major reason, but several trends. The cumulative weight of all these trends has been to push the rogue population down.

1. Non-rogue melee dps specs became viable.

In Vanilla, pretty much the only melee dps at endgame were the rogues. Warriors tanked. Druids, Shamans, and Paladins healed. Sure, you may have had one or two offspecs running around, but the heart of your melee dps in Vanilla was your quintet of rogues.

Now, of course, all these melee classes can dps. Many of them dual-wield as well, occupying a lot of the rogue style in melee. As well, they also offer more options than the pure DPS class. They can tank or heal if necessary.

2. The new classes overlap with the rogue.

Both monks and death knights are melee dps. Indeed, both of them can dual-wield. Again, the overlap in kit causes the rogue class to bleed players to these new classes.

3. The other pure DPS classes lost a lot of their weaknesses.

Hunters lost their dead zone. Mages and warlocks improved their mobility, cut down on long casts, and gained more instants. Meanwhile, the rogue's fundamental weakness, melee range, has not changed.

4. Stealth has been marginalized.

The signature non-combat ability of rogues is stealth. However, because no other class (save feral druids) uses stealth regularly, it has become a mostly unused ability. The major use of stealth these days is to launch an opener, more than anything else. It is not really used in group play at all.

Think about this in terms of crowd control. In the past, rogue stealth/sap was the only crowd control which did not start combat. So sap had a lot of uses. Now though, all the ranged crowd control is easier to use and does not start combat, while having the advantage of not requiring the caster to get close to the mob.

This devaluation of stealth becomes really obvious if you play The Old Republic. TOR has 2 of 8 classes able to stealth, and that includes tanks and healing specs. Stealth is really powerful in group play, because many packs have one member that, if sapped, will allow the group to avoid the pack. This includes the non-stealthies in the group. Running an instance with a good stealther is a hilariously awesome exercise in avoiding as much combat as possible. In WoW, this type of gameplay is only possible if the entire group is composed of rogues and druids.

Stealth is also the only method to avoid running back from a wipe in TOR. The stealther can vanish if everyone is dead, and then res a healer who resses the group. Between these two elements, stealth remains relevant to group play in a way that it does not in WoW.


Those are the four reasons that I believe are causing the rogue population to decline in WoW. I don't think it's really possible to do anything about the first three reasons, mostly because it would make the other classes howl.

However, a concerted effort to make stealth more useful in group play might be possible. As well, I think the next new class should be a ranged stealth class. Making stealth more common gives a reason to make it more useful, while a ranged class would avoid cannibalizing rogues even further.


  1. As a happy rogue I'm still always jealous of DK melee dps (and love playing one). Their key advantages are:
    1/ DPS plate drops like crazy compared with leather agi gear. Admittedly they have more competition for it.
    2/ They can tank to do 5 mans
    3/ They're plate so take less damage when leveling.

  2. While points 2-4 seem fair, my memory of raiding as a rogue in vanilla WoW is one of being left in the dust by DPS warriors as gear levels scaled up.

    I recall Blizzard having to make multiple adjustments to warriors to bring them under control as better gear meant more damage which meant more rage which meant exponentially more damage.

  3. I'd also point out that it might be that Rogues became strictly associated with PvP/BGs, and therefore aren't considered as a front tier raider.

    Fair or not, but the image of "stun-stun-stun-GOODBYE NOOB!" still hovers over the Rogue.

  4. Interesting point about the relevance of stealth in TOR. I never really thought about it like that, but it sure is a bummer when we don't have a stealther on a progression ops night (preferably a Scoundrel - no cd on the res!) and have to run the whole way back after every single wipe.

  5. You forgot Hunters who got a veritable stealth in Cata (iirc).

    I've been raiding as a Rogue since vanilla and I'm often annoyed when there are fights where we as melee seem to have to do 4 jobs at the same time whereas the ranged have to move every 30sec at best.

    In general raiding in MoP hasn't been really fun for me, but I can't pinpoint why. At first I felt a little overpowered (but I had some drop luck as well), but since Heart of Fear and now Terrace I feel a little underpowered - so my position on the meters doesn't seem to affect the fun.

    Things I really hate:
    - being bad at soloing
    - not being able to switch role
    - stealth is not meaningful

    Looking back over the years I might have been happier switching to Warrior as a main back in TBC...

  6. Rogue has a number of problems that have been permitted to fester. You are right on stealth but there is another problem with it in leveling and landscape play. I'm willing to do things with a rogue that can be fairly exotic because I can stealth, add someone in party and I become a gimped Warrior or DK.

    More importantly the speedy, agile Rogue has one of the slowest combat systems in WoW. I understand that this improves with haste but for most people you are hugely reliant on white damage and poison, neither of which are interactive. The initial burst followed by a slow wait for energy to pool feels ponderous. It is, mechanically, a good system but it doesn't feel appropriate for a Rogue.

  7. As a die-hard rogue, the decline of rogues has been a surprise. I have more fun on my rogue than any other class (and I don't pvp at all).

    One problem is that the class has simply not changed as the game has changed. Over my long years as a rogue, I have become accustomed to skipping over the "class changes" section in patch notes. There is rarely anything there about rogues. The developers have said that they like the design of the class and that it needs no major changes, but that has also resulted in the model becoming stagnant.

    I'm in a very close-knit guild with people who play a lot of alts. There is no other class in the game that so often results in people saying, "I'm really bad at playing it" or "I can't figure it out". No one complains that they can't figure out their mage or priest, and DKs are effective even if you play them badly. There is an art to playing a rogue well.

    The plate vs leather issue is big during leveling. For other melee dps - warriors, DKs, paladins - if you accidentally pull three or four foes you can usually survive on brute strength. Rogues play more like a clothie in that they have to pull carefully and try to escape from accidental multi-pulls. This can be frustrating. People tell me that they died more while leveling their rogue than with any of their other alts.

    Rogues have been marginalized in raids by the fact that their CC - sap - is useless. I cannot remember that last time I was asked to sap during a raid. Also, they bring no interesting raid buffs or cooldowns. The upcoming change to Smoke Bomb is nice, but too little, too late.

    Pickpocketing is a silly flavor mechanic with no real use. Find Traps? Yeah, right. Rogues have so many unique tools but they are not being used in the name of class homogenization.

    I still love to play my rogue.

  8. To be honest I am not sure I concur with your conclusion. The minute Hunters got a quasi stealth in Cata it took something away from the Rogue. Distributing the Stealth skill to others would further marginalize this hallmark of the Rogue class (Feral druids play very similarly to Rogues in my experience), moving them further towards the "Gimped-Warrior" spot.

    Having leveled a Rogue and Raided and PVPed on him from BC through Cata (untill I switched to Resto Druid). I have to say Rogues lost their special feeling with marginalization of other core skills like open locks, pick pocket, disarm trap and the old poison system. Making stealth further dsassoziated with Rogues and further not a Rogue (and Feral druid) only skill would only be the last nail in the coffin that seals Rogues as "Gimped Warriors".

    I totally concur with your point about SWTOR though. Being a stealth tank was also so much fun (and OP) =)

    PS: Rogues also lost a lot with the weapon styles (for good and bad reasons) vanishing from the Combat specialization tree as well for me... :(

  9. Regarding another class getting stealth, my thinking is that if stealth is more common, then it is more likely that systems will be built around stealth.

    As long a stealth is pretty much rogue-only, it's going to be ignored.

  10. You touched on it but I think a major factor is the fact that they've changed so little over the years. Even if Blizzard got the class perfectly from the beginning it's bound to get a little stale after 8+ years.

  11. IIRC, the last trap I could disarm in a raid was in the front room of ICC.

    Mogushan Vaults has those firebombs, but those (a) unstealth you when you go to disarm them, and (b) won't disarm at all. The gear-tool is there, but you complete your cast and nothing happens.

  12. You missed one other feature of stealth in SWTOR. It drops you out of combat. My group beat many bosses because our stealth tank was able to drop out of combat and res someone with an out of combat resurrect (if he wasn't the focus of the boss of course) while we were on CD from the battle res.

    I actually think that is likely one of the keys to the rogue to differentiate them from the other stealth/invisibility users. Find a way to integrate stealth into their combat capability. Let them stealth and change up their fighting through either CDs or combo points.

    The other thing that really hurts them is that you may be able to run a raid with all range DPS, but more than two melee is often a handicap. Since the start of the game, the new classes brought in have been melee only, so now 5 (and two hybrids with ranged options) classes compete for 2 raid spots while 4 (and two hybrids) compete for 3. And there are some people that will only DPS regardless of class. It is not surprising the Rogue gets squeezed out of this.

    I think one solution here would be to build a range spec option for Rogues. A sniper style would fit the class and emphasis on rogue features like stealth and combo points should enable it to be differentiated from the Hunter. Then the Rogue becomes another one of those raid options that can switch between range and melee DPS if the fight warrants it.

    I think one of the main reasons rogue popularity dropped was that they can no longer CC and kill someone with no chance of fighting back. Most non-rogues are glad to see this gone however. Another change is that the rogues would have had a rise in popularity with Dragon Soul, due to the legendary every raid suddenly wanted one. Pandaria was always going to see a drop from this.

  13. More reasons:

    1. PvP: every class has new big bomb spells, AOE, multi target CC. Rogues didn't get a new big group CCer. FOK and the other AoE arent very good. 5.2 finally gave a nice single target killer.

    2. PVP: Is a giant AOE fest. As a Rogue I can't get in the middle of the action anymore because I always get a 24 second Dot from some class (DK) that makes it so I can't restealth (sans COS). Yeah I know rogues arent suppose to be in the middle. I can't get near a group. Aoe bleeds from a warrior: brilliant. (Wheres mine?)

    3. Weapons: Two two handers on a fury warrior. Yeah I can't compete with my two one handers.

    4. Without cool downs Rogues
    are not competitive. Yeah, I can kill without cooldowns, but its not fun.

    5. Warriors: More stuns than Rogues. More gap closers than rogues. More armor than rogues. Before 5.2 warriors could keep a target in melee better than rogues.

    Yes, I switched to warrior.