Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flying mounts shrink the world

When I hit level 77 last weekend, I was in the middle of questing in Zul'Darak. So I went to train my spells and to learn "Cold weather flying", enabling me to use my flying mount in Northrend. And when I came back to Zul'Darak and continued questing, I found that the zone had shrunk. Where before getting from A to B was part of the adventure, it now went much faster, flying in a straight line and ignoring the mobs and terrain features. As I have previously argued in my post measuring the size of Azeroth, "distance" in virtual worlds is less a matter of meters and miles, but more a matter of how long it takes you to get somewhere. And flying thus shrinks the world. Are flying mounts a mistake, or should they at least have been postponed to level 80?

One problem with flying mounts is that it makes the traveling and exploring part of questing trivial. Exploring Zul'Darak on foot or horseback was fun, because it was dangerous. You couldn't just go anywhere in a straight line, because there were walls, cliffs, and large accumulations of monsters you had to circumvent. As soon as you have a flying mount, you just ignore those obstacles. The zone might as well be totally flat, you wouldn't notice the difference. Flying mounts take a part of the game away. That is great if you *want* to skip content, for example after having already explored everything on the ground. But it also leads to you missing a lot of the features in higher level zones. Of course some features of higher level zones are designed with flying mounts in mind, there are even flying ships with quest givers. But some ground parts you'll never see, because you don't have to.

I find flying mounts particularly annoying when it comes to gathering herbs and ores. If you don't have one, it is frustrating to run towards a resource node, only to see somebody else fly from above and grab the node before you. And once you have a flying mount yourself, it takes much of the adventure out of gathering resources. Gathering resources by flying is just a trivial grind, but you can't afford not to use your flying mount, because you are in competition with other players. I'm having more fun gathering resources in Wintergrasp, which is a no-fly zone, than in places where it is too easy because of flying.

Players are always clamoring for faster transport: faster flight paths, teleports, flying mounts. But in the end we just make the world around us smaller by that, and eliminate a large part of the exploration gameplay. I'm happy we couldn't use flying mounts in Northrend already at level 70, and wonder if their use shouldn't have postponed to level 80. What do you think?

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