Reading through the comments on a recent WoWInsider Encrypted Text article I saw a similar sentiment expressed by a lot of players, “Rogues are just generic mDPS.” This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this sentiment, it pops up quite often on various forum posts but this time I saw it I started thinking about why this sentiment is so common when in my experience it is simply not true. The answer I believe is an issue of level of play, the exact things that have opened up raiding so well to casual players have resulted in this sense of homogeneity. Before I go further I quick note on the use of the word “casual,” I’m not a fan of the word in general, it has too many definitions to be broadly meaningful, in this post I am using it as a convenient shorthand for flex, normal and lower progression heroic raiders who do not min/max their raid comp.
“Bring the Player not the Class” was the watchword of Wrath of the Lich King and almost every mention of class balance brought up the ugly acronym “BtPNtC”. Blizzard mentions BtPNtC much less now, primarily because it worked so well. While I would be a fool to claim that class balance today is perfect, the degree that classes are balanced to today is incredible even from the perspective of late Wrath. There will be misses occasionally (Hello Destruction Warlocks) and questions about how BtPNtC applies to high-end heroic progression but overall Blizzard succeeded. Left unsaid in many of the discussions of BtPNtC is how it enabled the other major Wrath philosophy change, casual raiding.
The link between the two is obvious in hindsight, casual raiding, pug raiding and the new hotness of flex raiding basically require raid comps to flexible where one a melee dps is a melee dps and a healer is a healer. To be sure certain dps may be better for one encounter or another but the encounter is balanced such that groups don’t need to care about those differences. Lets consider flex style raiding because come Warlords flexible raiding is going to be what most people experience. Flex is built around a simple idea, the raid must go on, if someone can’t get online, the raid must go on, if someone has to leave early, the raid must go on. It isn’t perfect, a tank leaving is still a problem but flexible raiding loosens up comp restrictions about as far as they can go while still preserving the basic concepts of raiding and the trinity.
It should be clear why BtPNtC is essential to flex, BtPNtC allows raid leaders to think of people in terms of their role, with skill and gear being deciding factors about whether or not to bring someone rather than having to think about their classes. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say BtPNtC at a high level turns players into roles rather than classes. This brings us full circle, the reason many rogues feel like generic melee dps is self-apparent, the design of raiding today requires it. The question casual players need to ask themselves is not “Would you like less homogeneity?” but rather “Would you be willing to give up flex raiding in exchange for reducing homogeneity?”
I try to end my posts on a positive note, if I identify a problem I like to at least point in the direction of a solution, here I have nothing. The conflict between casual/flexible raiding and class diversity is fundamental and in many ways built into the underlying design philosophies Blizzard has been pushing since Wrath with great success. When I first started thinking about this I called it “Blizzard short-changing casual raiders” but I’m not sure that assessment is accurate. Blizzard looked at this seemingly intractable conflict and deemed access to raiding more important than class diversity and I suspect a large portion of casual raiders would agree.