I love the way the brain works. I want that out front on this post. I’m fascinated by the ways that we humans craft our thoughts and feelings, while at the same time seem to be completely unaware that most of the facts we think are immutable are actually just feelings that we have emotional investment in.
The whole argument about flight in World of Warcraft that is currently swirling in game conversations across the internet is an excellent example of this completely human tendency. For those people who think flight has ruined the game, a group filled mostly with game developers and troglodytes (my own confirmation bias) they point to game history and assert that
Flight has always been a perk. You always have had to pay for it.
While the cost of flight was quite steep when introduced in Burning Crusade, the first expansion of World of Warcraft, in Wrath of the Lich King it was available at level 68 for a nominal fee for the Tome of Cold Weather Flight. Only your first game character had to slog to get to level 77 before flying, and then it was flying for the last three levels. The game was designed to incorporate flight into the mechanics in a rough approximation of the way I thought it should be, and the way I thought the game was going to progress into the future. In Cataclysm you could fly for the entire expansion, once again for a very nominal fee (about 300 gold) and even the dead could fly from graveyards to wherever you died last, a change that was made for Wrath of the Lich King in areas set up for flight play.
While I had a lot of complaints about Cataclysm, flight was one of the things I really liked about it. It wasn’t quite ideal, I couldn’t fly and fight or even ride and fight, but at least I could use the flight mechanic I had already paid so much for in Burning Crusade. Flight is just another form of travel, no different than the riding mounts allowed in later levels of the original game. Not too many players remember having to slog to level 40 on foot. These days you can obtain riding skills and mounts at level 20, with fast ground mounted speed available at level 40 instead of the endgame perk that it used to be.
Imagine the complaints, if you can. What if the game developers removed the ability to ride mounts at all in the game? Riding is a perk, after all. You have to earn your mounts, all of them, with each expansion of the game. How many people would willingly keep paying for and playing that game? Not too many, in my estimation.
Then came Mists of Pandaria, and it was the reverse of Cataclysm. The rest of the game was engaging, but the fact that none of my characters could fly until the repetition of endgame made the entire game into a grinding endurance slog that I repeated 22 times through some crazy goals I had set myself 5 years previously. Not to mention the hair-brained idea of gating cloud serpent flying and requiring every single character you leveled in the game to have to grind that reputation in order to use those mounts; only to have that reputation grind removed as a requirement for the current expansion. Imagine the frustration of those players who spent days working on that reputation for all their characters, only to have the work rendered pointless later.
I almost didn’t purchase Warlords of Draenor because of the announcement that flight wouldn’t be included. After I thought about it for awhile I figured that they would add flight at some point, otherwise the inclusion of a flying mount in the collector’s edition becomes false advertising. Bait and switch.
Now it is revealed that through game developers misjudging what the player base would put up with, they’re going to gate flight (if it is ever introduced at all, they still aren’t promising anything) with a long, long grind requiring you to play through all the content of Warlords of Draenor and the soon to be released patch 6.2 in order to qualify to use basic mechanics of the game that should have been included with the first release.
I say should have been included with the full understanding of what that means. Flight is a travel mechanic, just like a riding mount is a travel mechanic. Before earning riding mounts in the game, you never understood what a time savings was involved in being allowed to ride. Once you have riding mounts, you’ll ride them right into buildings if allowed to, never dismounting unless the headers of the doors keep you from getting through them while mounted. In a similar fashion, a player never thought about why they had to navigate the terrain (alive or in spirit form) you just did that.
Now that flight is being withheld arbitrarily from players who are used to flying, the fact that a developer stuck an impasse between where you are and where you need to be becomes a major frustration specifically because you know that they keep you from flying just to slow down progress in the game. No other reason, they just want you to spend more time working on game progress.
The idea that this increases immersion in the game, or makes the game more challenging are just excuses presented to mollify complaints. They could include flight and make it more challenging. In Burning Crusade you could be knocked off your flying mount. While this was frustrating it was no more frustrating than currently being knocked off your riding mount by a frog or a flower (Which happens. Flowers can kill you in World of Warcraft) in Mists of Pandaria there was one area that allowed flight, but that flight could be canceled by crashing into an insect swarm. It is only unimpeded flight, the status of flight as an endgame perk, invisible to everything but other players, that breaks immersion; makes the game too easy.
Gating flight is not giving the players what they want. It is holding the last remaining carrot out as bait to get us to continue playing (and paying for) the game. The manipulation is so transparent as to be insulting. Taking a stance that flight should be removed permanently from the game so many years after it was introduced is so foreign a concept as to make me question the honesty of people who say they don’t want to fly.
What game have you been playing these past 7 years? Not the same one I have, apparently.