World of Warcraft's early-level combat is broken and Blizzard doesn't know how to fix it

We genuinely don't know where exactly the problem lies.

Ion Hazzikostas, game director

Update: Blizzard quickly issued a hotfix which reduces the damage and health of most mobs up to level 100.

Original story: World of Warcraft's 8.0 patch, which paves the way for the new Battle for Azeroth expansion, has had one of the rockiest launches of recent memory. When it first rolled out last week, players quickly discovered a bunch of new bugs, broken quests, and erratic enemy behavior that Blizzard has been steadily hotfixing every day since. But one problem that continues to elude them is why WoW's combat at early levels feels so painfully slow.

The culprit, in the broader sense, is the 'stat squish' Blizzard implemented in 8.0 which reconfigured WoW's underlying maths to make it all a bit easier to read. Instead of doing damage in the millions, max-level players now hit for a few thousand. Of course, the idea was that everything else, like monster health, would be altered to reflect this change. Ideally, the stat squish wouldn't have any impact on the pace of combat—only that doesn't seem to be the case.

Players began complaining almost immediately that monsters in dungeons and the open world felt like they took way too long to kill than before patch 8.0. It's not that monsters are now more difficult and challenging (which might be a good thing), but that WoW's early-level combat simply feels way too slow.

Yesterday game director Ion Hazzikostas came out and finally said it: "We genuinely don't know where exactly the problem lies."

In a post to the official World of Warcraft forums, Hazzikostas acknowledged players' complaints and explained how Blizzard was struggling to find the exact issue. "At this point, the feel and pacing of the level-up experience is a top priority for the team," he  assured.

As Hazzikostas explains, patch 7.3.5 significantly overhauled the leveling experience by adding level scaling to all of Azeroth and WoW's older expansions. Now, players could quest and level just about anywhere and their enemies would adapt to always provide a decent challenge. Part of that update also included controversial changes to the pace of combat, slowing things down so that players weren't blitzing through hordes of enemies like security detail at a YouTuber convention. "But we also think that those changes went quite far enough, and have absolutely no desire or intent to continue moving in that direction," Hazzikostas says. "Nothing about the pre-patch was deliberately intended to make combat take longer than it did previously."

The current state is not the game experience we intended, and it’s something we will fix.

Ion Hazzikostas, game director

After player complaints started coming in, Hazzikostas said the team checked their raw data and didn't notice any anomalies that suggested something was out of whack. But as more players complained, Blizzard set up internal test servers and started doing empirical tests by killing the same monster with two identical characters but with one playing on patch 7.3.5 and one playing on patch 8.0.1. And that's when Blizzard finally saw what players were talking about.

"We are seeing the same sort of discrepancies that folks in this thread and others have pointed out, but still have yet to pinpoint the exact aspect of scaling that we failed to account for," Hazzikostas explained. "We want to understand [why] the numbers are off and fix the underlying cause: Were stats on gear reduced too much? Some aspect of creature armor or other combat calculations?"

It's a perplexing conundrum that I couldn't imagine trying to investigate, but Hazzikostas reiterated that things will, eventually, be fixed. "But at some point it’s not fair to give you a degraded experience for the sake of that investigation, so we’ll likely go ahead with a blanket health reduction in the near future while we continue to investigate," he wrote.

Jolly jungle

While patch 8.0 has caused some headaches, the expansion it sets the stage for, Battle for Azeroth, is shaping up to be excellent. You'll have to wait for our full review in the week or so after it launches, but we've been playing the beta and are happy to report one of its new zones is easily one of the best WoW has ever seen.

Tangential to this investigation, Hazzikostas also acknowledged complaints that levels 60 to 80 were particularly grindy and their data corroborates that. Right now it takes about 15 percent longer to level through that range than levels before or after, and Blizzard is in the process of assembling "a set of changes" to fix it.

"Either way, the current state is not the game experience we intended, and it’s something we will fix," Hazzikostas wrote.

For me, personally, I'm not too worried Blizzard won't find a solution—they always seem to. When Blizzard last squished stats during Warlords of Draenor in 2014, the update caused similar headaches that were soon fixed. But it is frustrating as this couldn't have come at a worse time. Battle for Azeroth is out on August 13 in North America and players (myself included) typically use this calm before the storm to level new characters in anticipation.

My own experience with leveling in 8.0 doesn't indicate the problem is appallingly bad, but it does make leveling more of a nuisance. More and more I find myself wondering why the only two choices I have when starting a new character is to grind or pay an exorbitant sum ($60!!!) to boost my character to level 110. It's annoying because World of Warcraft's latest stuff is so damn good but Blizzard forces new characters to grind through a mountain of eight-year-old quests and zones that have few of those cool innovations. It's the same reason why trying to get my friends into WoW is such a pain in the ass.

And I'm not alone in feeling that way, apparently. One of the more interesting questions raised during a recent livestreamed developer Q&A is whether World of Warcraft also needs a level squish to shorten how long it takes to go from bright-eyed newbie to soulless endgame veteran. But if a stat squish caused this many problems, I tremble at the thought of what a level squish might break.

One thing is clear, though: It seems like World of Warcraft's most outdated content is beginning to haunt Blizzard. It might be time for an exorcism.

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.