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The item squish is a concept that was first aired in a developer blog posted on November 3, 2011, regarding the numbers in the game growing larger than envisioned over the course of WoW's first decade. Blizzard is now trying to scale back the power that item level provides to make the numbers a bit more manageable. Stat inflation began in earnest during Wrath of the Lich King with the development of hard modes and the insertion of a fourth raid tier sending item levels far higher than they were originally anticipated to reach by the end of the expansion.
The item squish was demonstrated in action for the first time to players two years later at BlizzCon 2013, and is expected to go live with the World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor mechanics pre-patch in Patch 6.0, a few weeks before the expansion is released with the new content.
Blizzard has stressed that the item squish will not affect the relative difficulty of killing any creature, or the ability to solo old content. As of Blizzcon 2013 they have yet to reveal how they will accomplish the latter, but an idea Ghostcrawler tweeted months earlier involved buffing high level players in low level raids to compensate for the reduced relative power. During a Q&A session, a dev said "If players could kill Gulp Frogs on the Timeless Isle in five seconds before the squish, it will take five seconds to kill them after the squish."
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Over the course of five expansions, the power level jumps between tiers within an expansion have far outpaced character level. At the time, this made sense, as moving to a new tier of content should mean a jump in player power level commensurate with the creature power level in the new tier. In other words, a new tier of loot should always feel like an upgrade to the previous tier. Blizzard approves of large jumps between tiers, as they can tune raid encounters to be extremely punishing for cutting-edge raiders (still mostly geared from the previous tier) yet still accessible for other players who may not see the later fights or higher difficulty levels until they have grown much more powerful by obtaining current gear.
This is all well and good, but nearly a decade has passed since the release of the game. The power level jump between Molten Core (tier 1) and Blackwing Lair (tier 2), or even between Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm is utterly inconsequential in the era of Throne of Thunder (tier 15) and Siege of Orgrimmar (tier 16). As a result of the successive power jumps, currently near the end of Mists of Pandaria, the average damage-specialized raider has more than 600,000 health (more than most bosses in Molten Core) and is individually dealing more than 240,000 damage per second (nearly as much as an entire 25-player raid attempting heroic Al'Akir).
Additionally, bosses have run into issues where their maximum health has grown too high. WoW stores health values in signed 32-bit integers, which have a maximum value of 2^31 - 1, or 2,147,483,647. Ra-den, the heroic-only boss of Throne of Thunder, starts at roughly 1,500,000,000 health in 25-player mode. As part of the fight, if players make mistakes his health could increase to the point where it would overflow. In order to avoid repeating the problem, Garrosh Hellscream must heal (from 10% to full) several times with a smaller maximum health pool than would otherwise be necessary.
The table on the right provides an overview of the item level-vs-character level change over the course of the raid tiers of World of Warcraft. For the sake of simplicity, the table only shows the "normal" item level of most armor pieces and items in a tier. The table does not show Raid Finder, Flexible, or Heroic difficulties, nor Thunderforged/Warforged random drops, nor 10-man raids which varied from 7-13 ilvls behind during Wrath, nor raid end bosses' higher ilvl drops, nor Pandaria's NPC upgrades. It should be stressed that all of these give rise to considerable variation. By the time of the Siege of Orgrimmar items drop in no fewer than six different types (RF, Flex, Normal, Normal Warforged, Heroic, Heroic Warforged) and combined with the NPC upgrades, SoO gear ranges from 528 for stock Raid Finder gear up to 580 for 2/2 upgraded Heroic Warforged. As there will still be four difficulties in Warlords of Draenor this wide variation is expected to remain as well.
Rather than having massive jumps between tiers in an older expansion, and from one expansion to the next, the plan in Warlords of Draenor is to flatten out the power curve. In all previous expansions' tiers, there will be a minimal jump from one tier (and one expansion) to the next, and the effective power that item level provides will be scaled back. The current expansion will still have notable power jumps between tiers, just like before.
From the "Pruning the Garden of War" blog post:
It's important to understand that this isn't a nerf—in effect, you’ll still be just as powerful, but the numbers that you see will be easier to comprehend. This also won't reduce your ability to solo old content. In fact, to provide some additional peace of mind, we're implementing further scaling of your power against lower-level targets so that earlier content will be even more accessible than it is now.
Before public beta, Celestalon tweeted that the "squish [was] applied across the board (numbers about ~4% of what they were). Except player health, which is at ~8%.".
For comparison, using the numbers seen at BlizzCon 2013, the table to below lists stats of random level 90 gnome frost mages wearing similar PvE-focused item level 538 gear before and after the squish. Note that the stats are not exactly the same because the gear wasn't an exact match.
- ^ Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street 2011-11-04. Dev Watercooler - The Great Item Squish (or Not) of Pandaria. Retrieved on 2013-11-12.
- ^ https://twitter.com/Celestalon/status/442150239672094721