If you’ve been playing WoW for a long stretch of time, you’ll remember back to 2014. A simpler era – pandaren, Sha, bad no-good Orcs, and…rapidly inflating health and damage totals.
This was flattened down in 6.0 to make the game run smoother, and to aid in readability.
Since then, our health totals are now…far beyond where they were in 5.4, pre-squish, and our damage dealt and DPS numbers are right up there again. What happened?
To start with, let’s take a look through history at stat inflation.
In Vanilla WoW, the game kept stats relatively light, and inflation didn’t really happen to the same scale. The start of the raid game in Molten Core gave you item level 66 stuff, on average, while Naxxramas had a bit more float but only peaked around 88-91 in item level. The curve was larger than it had been through the leveling content, but not by much. 25 levels of gear inflation meant that getting raid gear was great, and at that point, it didn’t need to blow things up to be a big upgrade.
This mostly continued into Burning Crusade, with endgame rewards starting around an item level of 110 and increasing gradually towards 146, with a few outliers in the 150 range. A larger stat inflation, but not by much.
Then, across 3 expansions, we had the perfect storm of stat inflation.
Wrath of the Lich King brought raid size item level differences, multiple raid difficulties, and with these came a significant amount of bloating stats. Item level shot up from 174 around the start of the expansion to 277, with some pieces at 284! 110 levels of item bloat from start to finish, not counting the slight inflation from leveling. This brings WoW’s itemization philosophy into sharp focus. During the early age of the game, items did not have to shift anywhere near this dramatically, because there was still noticable value in small shifts. By Wrath of the Lich King, we needed larger swings to make content viable, and this led to the huge array of item levels within a given tier.
Cataclysm compounded this in two ways. Firstly, it introduced a 5 level increase for the player level cap, meaning that the statistical increase prior to endgame would be lessened, but it gave shorter player level gaps between the spikes in endgame power. This was coupled with a need to adjust to the endgame spikes in Wrath – player level 80 content starting around item level 174 and ending at 284. This is why, even to this day, you can feel a noticeable shift in your ability to progress when starting Cataclysm quest content – the content, designed for people that played Wrath of the Lich King, was a bit harder. (This drops off as you quest, since your rewards all start at 272 item level and go up from there!)
There was another big change though – Cataclysm, 4.0.3 specifically, rebalanced how Stamina calculated your health. In the early days, your base health was a fixed number and Stamina added around 10 points of health per point of Stamina to that pool. Blizzard rebalanced Stamina upwards to avoid the nasty trend of GCD killing in PvP, so in the Cataclysm pre-patch, nearly everyone just gained 5-10 thousand hit points for no noticeable reason. This led to health nearly doubling from the start of level 80 to the end of Wrath, and this trend continued into level 85 content. Tanks had 200,000 hit points, DPS and healers had around 120-150k, and everything was getting larger. While raid content removed the shift in item level due to raid size, a shift in the balancing of item levels led to normal raid gear having to be better than the heroic prior tier gear. While the shift seemed lesser at the time, a lot of item level bloat happened during leveling for some reason – meaning it wasn’t uncommon to gain 50+ item levels on your way to 85, and then nearly 80 more by the end of Heroic Dragon Soul.
We were now in an era of odd stats – everyone had 6 digit health totals, 5 digit DPS totals, and HPS that was skyrocketing. It was hard to predict what Blizzard would do in Mists of Pandaria.
Some of the changes made mimicked what we saw in Cataclysm – another 5 level player cap increase, a large amount of item level gained during character leveling (413 at the peak of Cataclysm -> 450 normal dungeon gear) and another rebalancing of the values behind Stamina, yet again spiking player health, albeit not to nearly the same degree.
Blizzard had a problem on their hands – the reward structure for PvE content was inflating item level in leaps per tier – 19 item levels or more each time. This caused PvP to be more challenging than ever to balance – PvP gear was balanced and built to be middle of the road, with the best options from Arena. But the investment to reward ratio was skewed in favor of PvE, and it wasn’t uncommon to see people gear up through PvE and then enter PvP and do far better than they should while they were grinding the ranking necessary to get the PvP gear they wanted. You might be asking, “what about Resilience and PvP Power?” Well – they were steps, but Blizzard giving everyone baseline large amounts of Resilience meant the gearing process in PvP wasn’t quite as lucrative as it once was. Trying to keep PvP in a state of balance wasn’t doing them any favors on the PvE side either – the frequent changes to Stamina values were designed around PvP problems primarily, and they meant that bosses had to hit players for large amounts of damage, plus huge raid damage to keep healers engaged. Coupled with another triple digit item level shift (413 -> 572), the largest yet, in fact, and things were getting out of hand. Garrosh Hellscream in Siege of Orgrimmar had 3 different full heal phase transitions solely to allow the amount of health he would need to have to present a challenge, and you’ll notice large swaths of the fights in Siege are multi-phase with similar mechanics, or use large numbers of adds and other more unique mechanics for the same reason.
This is where we were then squished.
Blizzard, at the time they were debating it, put forward two ideas about how they would squish – a straightforward scaling and “megadamage.” It was a bit of a joke at the time, in that Megadamage basically entailed the game calculating 1 million of anything – say HP, damage, healing – as 1. It sounded silly, but I am going to come back to this in a minute. 🙂
The end result of using the straightforward scaling was interesting. In patch 6.0, players went from having 500,000 or so health to around 40k, a substantial reduction. Blizzard’s explanations for this are that gear was basically made to scale linearly from player levels 1-85, flattening out the giant jumps that were had at each endgame cap. You can see this in practice when you compare a piece of Warlords of Draenor gear to a Mists of Pandaria piece, and those two against a Cataclysm gear piece. The change is substantial.
You can then see this during leveling in Warlords of Draenor, where your health once again skyrockets throughout leveling into the 6 digits, but this happens at a bit of a more conservative pace. Further, DPS values don’t jump to the same extent, in a way accomplishing what Blizzard had hoped for during all the back and forth tuning in Mists of Pandaria – player health increased at a healthy enough pace to keep damage interesting and avoid GCD blowups. This was aided by the leveling curve going back to 10 player levels, and further by Blizzard using a very old-school item level curvature for the leveling process, with gear only shifting up about 28 levels on the way to character level 100.
So, About Legion…
Legion has, you’ve probably noticed by now, completely blown the numbers up. When the early alpha/beta footage was online showing 110 characters with 1-2m health, I was amazed, and at least one of my friends said it wouldn’t be real (he was very wrong!). Further, our health throughout the expansion has blown up even more than at any point in the game’s history. For many of us, we have 2-4x the health we had when we first dinged level 110, and the expansion isn’t even over yet!
Further, Legion also scaled up our item levels so much. Top Mythic Hellfire Citadel gear was 735, but the baseline normal dungeon gear was 805 at launch! 70 item levels just in that small period of time, and since then, we’ve gone up over 100 more. We’re going to end the expansion with players getting 960 item level Mythic raid drops and legendaries at item level 1000!
At first, I thought this was really freaking awesome! It feels great to be hyper-powerful, with huge health pools and beefy DPS numbers. But still…
Megadamage Makes A Comeback! Or Not!
There’s one thing that Blizzard maybe had right with Megadamage – readability is not great at present, and to be completely honest, as a tank, I don’t even notice unless a boss hits me for 1 million damage or more. For how I analyze my damage intake in the moment during a raid, Megadamage would be simpler and accurate to how it computes in my head.
And that is when it hit me – we’re probably going to need a squish again.
There are a few reasons for that.
1. Our health pools are on track to top 10 million (for tanks, at least) by end of Legion. With cooldowns like Metamorphosis, Vampiric Blood and the like, your tanks may have as much as 15 million health in a pinch. It’s a massive amount of health, which is cool, but there’s a big drawback we’ll get to in a minute.
2. DPS numbers are already in the millions, and will likely be 2 million or so by the end of the expansion. Maybe not, depending on how Antorus gear and artifact scaling works – especially the Netherlight Crucible. Which is cool! However…
3. People still play WoW on 32 bit systems – which limits the amount of massive superhuge fun numbers that can be slung around. While most people these days are likely on a 64 bit system, it’s fairly unlikely that Blizzard removes 32 bit support. Maybe in another 2 years or so, but not today. Even still, though…
4. These huge numbers are unwieldy and difficult to parse mid-combat. It’s hard to get really, genuinely excited when a number takes more than a glance to read. That’s not a slight on anyone’s intelligence either – I find myself just looking at the size of the number to tell if I should care or not. For DPS, you have a large amount of events happening where numbers might be popping up on screen, and with such large numbers, the readability of the situation is just not great. Same thing for healers, with an added caveat – current healer balancing makes picking the right heal a lot harder, as most of your heals are low 6 digits or high 5 digits. When a tank is missing 1 million of 8 million health, it can be hard to tell what to do. You can get unit frames and all kinds of GUI addons to try and improve readability, but it’s tough.
5. Even without the artifact, we still have gained so much health through raw item inflation that taking just the artifact away won’t drastically improve readability. You’ll notice this is the opposite of what I argued in my Artifiction post recently, and I feel like this is the more reasoned position to take. Just removing the artifact and accompanying damage traits doesn’t flatten your stats out hard enough to then make them readable. It just removes a lot of the overhead in that math, while still leaving big, 7-digit numbers behind.
There would be some additional benefit to these changes – if they did Squish 2.0 the same as the first one, Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor raid content would be much easier to solo – while you can do both currently, WoD still requires a fairly high item level and awareness of the fights to push some of the tougher mechanics.
Considering all of this (and the history lessons haha) I think that we’re likely to see a squish in 8.0 – whatever content may follow.