Rogue Ability Bloat: An Overview

In this post I will talk about what ability bloat is, why its an issue, and various ways of addressing it.  In a later post, I will go through the rogue spellbook and list the specific changes I would make if I were in charge of prepping rogues for Warlords.  Ya know, if I get around to it.


What is Ability Bloat and is it really that big of an issue?

Prior to every expansion rogues have looked forward to Blizzard giving us cool new abilities that will allow us to murder hunters with greater speed and efficiency, and every expansion Blizzard has done their best to oblige us.  Unfortunately, as fast as the rogue toolkit has grown, the amount of places we have to put abilities remains constant.  More importantly, our hands stubbornly refuse to grow new fingers.  This leads to an issue of not having enough space or keybinds for all of our abilities.  Ability bloat is what we call the problem of having more abilities than players can handle.  During Mists Blizzard has stated that ability bloat is a concern, and that they plan on cutting down the number of buttons we have in Warlords.  Of course, you shouldn’t just take Blizzard’s word that something is an issue.  Instead, take mine!

The best way to explain the scope of the problem is to describe the worst case, which unfortunately means I have to talk about something I don’t know — high level PvP.  The following is a list of the various abilities a serious Subtlety rogue will want to have easy access to.  The number in parentheses after the name is how much space the ability could take.  This assumes bars are being set up for 3v3 arena with a rogue/DPS/healer comp.  For example, Redirect (5) would mean that a competitive PvPer will typically want five separate ways to use Redirect – Redirect to current target, Redirect to Arena Enemy 1/2/3, and Redirect to Focus.  It’s worth noting that (x) refers to potential size.  Macros and modifiers significantly cut down on actual bar spaces.  Oops, one more thing:  I’m going to pretend that rogues only have one stance, so something that is typically in the Stealth bar, the Shadow Dance bar, and the Neither bar will just count as one.

Eviscerate (1)
Stealth (1)
Ambush (1)
Evasion (1)
Hemorrhage (1)
Sap (5)
Slice and Dice (1)
Recuperate (1)
Kick (5)
Gouge (5)
Sprint (1)
Cheap Shot (5)
Premeditation (1)
Vanish (1)
Blind (5)
Backstab (1)
Kidney Shot (5)
Feint (1)
Rupture (1)
Garrote (5)
Dismantle (5)
Cloak of Shadows (1)
Fan of Knives (1)
Preparation (1)
Shadow Walk (1)
Shiv (5)
Shroud of Concealment (1)
Tricks of the Trade (1)
Shadow Dance (1)
Redirect (5)
Smoke Bomb (1)
Shadow Blades (1)
Tier 30 Talent (?) (0-1)
Tier 60 Talent (SS) (7)
Tier 90 Talent (MfD) (5)
Focus Arena 1/2/3 (3)
Target Arena 1/2/3 (3)
CC Break Trinket/Racial (1)
On-Use Trinket/Tinker (1)
Total:  92-93
Number of Rogue Abilities: 35-36 

Except I forgot that PvPers often have mouse-over options too.  Again, I doubt most serious PvPers do not actually have this many bindings due to coalescing things (ex: alt -> target = focus, etc).  That said the fact that it is reasonable to want to perform 90 unique actions tells me that the number of abilities has gotten out of hand.  For the rest of the post, I’m going to assume you are convinced.

What are the main contributors?

Since bar bloat is a more pressing issue in PvP, it makes sense to begin discussion of the main contributors there while at the same time being mindful of ramifications for solo play and group PvE.

Probably the main contributor to PvP bloat is target options.  The extreme here is Shadowstep, which you want to be able to quickly use on any enemy or ally in addition to your primary target, focus, and other miscellaneous entities (totems especially, this is where mouseover comes in).  Unfortunately, I don’t see that much can be done to address this without causing excessive frustration for PvPers since keybind options for targeting  arena enemies/allies and focus with spells already exist.

At this point cutting down on ability bloat translates directly to reducing the number of unique abilities rogues have access to.  Since addressing bloat primarily from a PvP angle seems appropriate and PvPers use almost the entire rogue toolkit, it makes sense to just consider everything.  That said since this is a general post about the issue, rather than delving into the rogue toolkit I’ll be talking about general categories.

Cooldowns:  This category is somewhat difficult to define, so I won’t.  That said a “Cooldown” is not simply an ability with a cooldown, but rather one that feels like one.  In other words, I’m not talking about Gouge.  Often it is almost always optimal to stack Cooldowns, like how Shadow Blades simply gets macrod together with Adrenaline Rush for PvE Combat rogues (not PvP though).  This is stupid, since you might as well just have one Cooldown.  Other times a Cooldown is almost always used in one situation.  An example of this is Premeditation,  which in PvE is always used as soon as no Combo Points will be wasted.  While it is by no means clear what to do with this type of Cooldown, such usage suggests that there may be room for improvement.  The extension of this category is Cooldowns that are almost always best used as soon as they are ready, such as Tricks of the Trade, and well, you probably already know how I feel about that one.  While Cooldowns that tend to only show up in macros and ones that have uncompelling usage are not necessarily bad, those are factors that need to be considered when determining whether or not an ability is more trouble than its worth.

Crowd Control:  Now we’re talking about Gouge.  One of Blizzard’s goals for Warlords is cutting down on crowd control.  While I personally don’t think rogues will be getting hit as hard as other classes since it is one of our niches and much of our CC has been around as long as we have, it would be naive to think we won’t be losing some.  As such, something we should consider is what abilities we are OK with losing.  We already know that Paralytic Poison and Dismantle (along with all disarms) are going away.  Considering we have no idea what the CC landscape will be for other classes, its impossible to have any idea with regards to the amount of CC we can expect to lose.  That said, it may be worthwhile to consider what you are most/least attached to, and how powerful you think rogues should be compared to other classes.  This is one place where I consider providing specific feedback to Blizzard especially important since this is a super subjective subject.

Rotational Abilities:  This one is very spec dependant and also very subjective, but it is reasonable to assume that our rotations will change.  Do you want Assassination to need to keep up Slice and Dice?  What about Combat?  Subtlety?  Should something replace Backstab for Subtlety or could it perhaps just have one out of stealth generator?  Keep in mind that this is not about making every spec one that you want to play.  As someone who is passionate about Subtlety, I feel free to talk about the spec, why I like it, and what I would have different about it.  However, as someone who has wanted nothing to do with Assassination since Wrath, it wouldn’t be fair for me to promote changes to the spec that would change its nature so much as to alienate its base.  Of course, saying why you don’t like/play a spec is always valid and useful feedback.

Around now you might be thinking, “Hail, you said ‘main’ in the section heading and then listed off pretty much every category of ability.  What’s the deal?”  If in fact you were thinking that, then I’m glad you mentally asked!  While most of our abilities fall into these categories and it is true that I said nothing should be immune to scrutiny, there are certain abilities whose existence is easy to justify in this context.  Pick Lock is a prime example of this type of ability, as since it is never actually used in combat it need not take up a keybind.  Another example would be poisons, since if you are doing your job correctly you will almost never have a reason to apply them in combat, and so again it need not take up space.


Even if you are convinced that bar bloat is a problem and you have a list of abilities that for whatever reason you would be OK with not taking up space on your action bar, what to do with those abilities is by no means clear.  In this section I will outline ways of dealing with abilities that don’t make the cut.  It’s important to remember that even if you hate an ability and don’t see how anyone could like it, someone out there does and would be very sad to see it go.

Removal:  The simplest solution is to simply remove the ability in question from the game.  Crude but effective, this is the developmental equivalent of ripping off a bandaid.  Blizzard appears to be doing this for Paralytic Poison and Dismantle, which makes sense when you consider that limiting the number of CC in the game is a goal.  In general the gap in functionality that removing an ability leaves is a consequence that cannot be ignored.

Pacification:  This solution is for buffs or abilities with over time effects that are worthwhile in their own right but that you don’t want on your action bar.  The leveling perk that Blizzard showed at Blizzcon that makes Slice and Dice a passive for Assassination rogues is a good example of pacification in action.  While this does not leave a gap in functionality, it can have other unintended consequences….

Combination:  Don’t like having to macro Shadow Blades to Adrenaline Rush but like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?  Why not just combine the two abilities!  But seriously, often if a Cooldown is used extremely predictably, two or more abilities are consistently used at the same time, or you want to keep an interesting mechanic but not have it take up space, then combining abilities can make a lot of sense.  What’s that?  You want an example?  Uh…lemme get back to you on that one.*

Talentization:  Some abilities people are just split on.  Some like it and would hate to lose it, while others think it is more trouble than its worth.  In situations like these the solution may be simply to just let players choose whether or not they want it for themselves by making it a talent.  Blizzard did this in the beginning of Mists with Combat Readiness, which I like because sometimes I don’t want to bother finding it space, while other times I think its worth the annoyance on account of its niftiness.

*Ah yes, Old-No-Really-Old Blade Flurry and Adrenaline Rush were combined at the end of Wrath so that instead of one Cooldown that temporarily increased energy regen and one that temporarily gave haste and cleave, we got one Cooldown that gave energy regen and haste.  Blizzard then decided that Combat having cleave was cool and gave us a completely OP cleave.  They then called it Blade Flurry and kept the icon.