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World of Warcraft Column: The Power of Flight

By Reza Lackey on January 28, 2013

One of the most compelling aspects of MMOs is the exploration and sense of discovery as you adventure through the world. With the recent announcement of no flying mounts in the new 5.2 zones, the debate of flying mounts and their use has reheated. While flying mounts offer tremendous convenience, I would argue that they also detract from the overall fun and experience of adventuring - perhaps giving a player too much power when exploring new content.

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Grounded

My first character was a Dwarf Paladin which I started the day the World of Warcraft servers went online. Back then, there were no flying mounts to be had, the concept of them wasn’t even a thought. Looking at my map, there was nothing uncovered other than the spot where I was standing. I was so excited to start my adventure and see what this new world had in store for me. This would be done all on foot as I knew I wouldn't be getting a mount for quite a while, and for me this was very exciting. 

You see the thing I love about being grounded is the sense of wonder and fear of the unknown as you explore new areas. As you enter a new zone, or come over a hill for the first time, the world gets a little bit bigger and it dares you to keep pushing forward. Without the ability to summon a flying mount and scoop out of any area, there is a heightened sense of danger and awareness. As you explore on foot, you’re having to navigate the terrain and objects you come across. You’ll stumble upon interesting places and areas that you would never see from the sky. One great example of this is the Jade Forest zone in Pandaria. There is lots of uneven terrain and high foliage that create interesting sight lines and corners to come around. 

Fast forward several levels and I was able to taxi around the world with the flightmasters and for the first time, I could look down on Azeroth. From way up in the air I could get a grand view of the landscape and recount areas I had explored. Often times this served as a preview of things to look forward to as I would fly over zones I had yet to set foot in. There is nothing quite like seeing something off in the distance, whether a unique terrain feature or structure of some kind that you couldn’t wait to figure out how get to. Not being able to fly created an interesting challenge that promoted exploration.

Lock Seats and Tray Tables

When flying mounts were introduced to the game, it changed the way you thought about the world of Azeroth (and Outland). Now, you could get almost anywhere, anyway you wanted. The freedom this brought to the game was exciting and fresh. It felt like a great quality of life addition that made things easier and more convenient. It even made PvP raids on the other faction more fun as you could bring death from above and swoop down on unsuspecting players (sorry if you fell prey to me).

The problem with the introduction of flying mounts was how to handle future content. When flying mounts first became available to players, they had already explored a vast majority of the environment so taking to the skies wasn’t necessarily about skipping content but rather having the fastest path from point A to point B. 

When the Isle of Quel’Danas was introduced in Patch 2.4, this daily quest hub didn’t allow the use of flying mounts because it would simply make questing far too easy and lessen the player interaction in the zone. While a minor hindrance, the area wasn’t that large so getting around didn’t take too long. But when it was announced that flying mounts wouldn’t be usable immediately in the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, many players became upset. It is understandable because we were so accustomed to getting on our winged mounts and taking care of business. At first it felt like a major feature was being removed but then it made sense, especially when you hit the shores of Northrend for the first time. 

Unlike the Isle of Quel’Danas, Northrend was obviously much larger in scale which made the lack of flying mounts more pronounced. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

I Had to Walk Uphill, Both Ways

By being forced to explore by land, we can experience the world as the designers have intended. We can see all the new content while the sense of discovery is maintained leading to many wonderful moments. Hitting the shores of Northrend with no flying mounts made it feel like the first time you logged into World of Warcraft - a whole world awaited.

After Cataclysm’s segmented zones, I was so happy that Pandaria would be the new land to adventure through because all the Pandaren zones are one large, connected landmass. In fact, I often hear many players liken their questing experience in Pandaria to the vanilla days of World of Warcraft because of this one fact.

There are a lot of players who argue that flying mounts should be available immediately when new content is released and be able to quest however they chose. Here is an analogy of why I think exploring new content for the first time on foot is better: I have flown all over the country, mostly from Los Angeles to New York more times than I can remember. While the views can be breathtaking from thirty thousand feet, it wasn’t until I spent eleven days on a cross country road trip before I really appreciated everything I had once only flown over. I was able to see so many wonderful things, absorb details and make many discoveries that have forever changed my perception of our country. This same idea applies to video games and in this case World of Warcraft.  Think about all the elements that make up World of Warcraft that you wouldn’t know about had you not been restricted to the ground. 

What are your thoughts on flying mounts? Also, I’d love to see what your favorite mounts are. Mine? Currently the Thundering August Cloud Serpent.

WoW Factor Throwback:

I’m going to start doing something new with each column - I’ll be adding a “throwback” item that will hopefully remind you of something fun and memorable from your days playing World of Warcraft. This week: Staff of Dominance.

Follow me on twitter: @rezalackey

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