Doing It from Behind

I love playing a Rogue for many reasons, but there’s one thing I hate with every fiber of my being: abilities with positional requirements. For Rogues, that means attacking from behind. “Behind” covers 180 degrees and should only be a minor annoyance. Oh, if only that were true.

I touched a bit on positional requirements when I wrote about 4.1’s Stealth, but after a rough week of PvP and raiding, my inner rage has been reignited. When only 3 specs (of the 30 in the game) need to deal with this issue, it’s hard to find a sympathetic ear. But if you can imagine running after your target madly spamming keys to no avail while your opponent free-casts on you, you might feel our rage too.

Rogues get a small consolation: our Combat spec sidesteps positional issues. But for the other 66.6% of our specs, we’re stuck dealing with headaches that are entirely out of our control. Which headaches, you ask?

Questing

Around Azeroth, once you engage a monster you’ll never see its back again unless you stun it. Granted, you’ll likely be stunning your targets throughout the fight, so it’s not game-breaking. But when you lose the ability to Backstab in Subtlety, your toolbox is transformed into a single hammer. Hope you enjoy spamming Hemo until your stuns come off cooldown! You think Shadowstep will help you? Nope, those monsters can spin as fast as you can teleport. Assassination fares a bit better, especially when Mutilate dropped its behind-the-enemy requirements in 3.0, since we only use positional attacks when opening and after our target is <35% health.

Raids

There are bosses that force you to fight facing them. Maloriak’s red phase, Al’Akir’s 2nd phase, and Argaloth come to mind, but there’s plenty of mobile fights where the boss isn’t perpetually facing away. For Assassination it’s annoying since our Envenoms can be dodged, forcing Slice & Dice to not refresh. Subtlety’s DPS however is shattered, as Backstab and Ambush are rendered unusable. This leads to fights dictating your spec. In bad RNG situations, it knocks you down a few pegs on Recount.

PvP

In Battlegrounds and Arenas, positional requirements become game-breaking. Subtlety is the predominant PvP spec due to its ridiculous mobility. In a situation where your position, your opponent’s position, and server lag all intertwine… you can imagine the resulting disaster. You stalk up behind your moving target, spamming attacks, but in reality you’re .3 seconds behind and he’s well out of your reach (or worse, facing you and staring at your opaque form quizzically). You’re chasing your prey, trying to unload a chain of Backstabs or Ambushes, and “You’re not behind your target” alerts cover your screen despite you staring at their back. On their screen they’re turned around, responding to you closing in. As you jump through them and spin around to account for the error message, they’re ahead of you and staring at you again. Thus begins the terrible game of ring around the rosie as you tickle them with auto-attacks while praying to get an ability off.

I strongly believe that primary attacks for any spec should not have positional requirements. It’s okay if they’re tied to abilities used at special times, but when you blow cooldowns and spend 75% of the time trying to see your opponent’s back, you start questioning why you use them at all.

In worst-case scenarios it can utterly destroy your PvP match. What could’ve been a focused burst on the healer turns into them laughing and healing up unimpeded. For example, let’s say you activated Shadow Dance. Your normal attack bar immediately gets replaced by your Stealth bar and the attacks you’d use out of stealth are replaced with a host of “Must be behind the target” abilities you can’t get off. Even if you included some out-of-stealth abilities, why would you use them? You’d be spamming your stealth abilities hoping they’d go off! Otherwise why would you even proc Shadow Dance in the first place?

It’s no secret that melee are gimped in certain areas of the game. We’re punished with poor battle visibility, since we’re all stacking in one area with a giant boss obfuscating our view of the environment. We’re punished with difficult target switching, since in this expansion if you tank targets apart they’re either clear across the room or stacked to the point they’re impossible to click-target reliably. If we’re kited with slows and snares, we’re useless.

Add to these weaknesses an inherent inability to use burst attacks due to lag and we’re knocked way off-balance. Our role is balanced around the assumption we’ll be able to use all our abilities with consistency. When that only applies to players with <100ms world lag, that cuts out a majority of the player base and laughs in the face of anyone on Oceanic servers.

The only solutions are for Blizzard to:

  • fix in-game latency (something they’re attempting in 4.1, but still a tall order)
  • re-balance damage around the assumption melee’s burst won’t work at key times due to latency (overpowering those with good latency)
  • remove positional requirements from staple abilities (fairly reasonable given the other options)

I want to play well. But so long as I’m not living within 100 miles of Blizzard’s server farms or on a super-ISP, it seems perfection will be out-of-reach. Other games (FPSes especially) have algorithms tooled to reduce latency to sub-50ms levels. If Blizzard lacks the capabilities to do the same, there needs to be attention paid to making abilities usable in the latency ranges most players are forced to play with.

There’s nothing in the patch notes or developer discussions alluding to resolving this, but if Blizzard wants to continue pushing difficult raid tiers, Rated Battlegrounds, and Arena PvP, it needs to re-examine how players with these restrictive positional abilities- Rogues especially- are forced to cope.

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