Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flying... Was it really a good idea?

Everyone loves dragons, right? Back while I leveled in BC, I used to sit in Shattrath and gaze longingly on the few people who had Netherdrakes. They were GORGEOUS, the only dragon mounts you could really get at the time; and on top of that one had to have epic flying. It seemed an impossible goal.

Now there's dragons all over the place. Everywhere. (Actually, there are 34 dragon type mounts in total, although some are no longer attainable!) In fact, flying mounts are everywhere- all over the roofs, in trees, sitting in the middle of streets, on top of mail boxes... Anywhere you can think to look, there's some winged or rocket powered beastie on top of something.

How long has it been since you've seen a max level character sporting a land mount? If the picture above is the  most recent one you can think of, you're not alone. I can't really remember seeing any character above level 60, the earliest at which one can get the Flight Master's Liscense, on a land mount recently. The only exception to this is when there is a new 'rare' mount released- When the camels were brand new, I occasionally saw people sitting on them in Stormwind to show them off, but as soon as they were relatively common, even the Camel Hoarder's disappeared.

The ability to fly has relegated the land mount to the realm of toons under level 60 and PVP'ers, who are unable to use flying mounts in battlegrounds of any sort. Just as the convenience of the portal hubs in Stormwind and Orgrimmar have killed the other cities in the game (Read my thought's on that here: Dead Cities), the players want/need for convenience and speed have also killed the land mount.

This makes me sad. It's simply so much faster and more convenient to use nothing but flying mounts that Land Mounts have virtually disappeared. Even I, whom use all of my mounts equally (I.E. I don't pick the most popular mount of the time and use it exclusively) rarely find myself using a land mount anymore.

This is a real shame, as there are a lot of gorgeous and interesting land mounts out there, especially now that even the regular mounts will run at epic speeds! But what else are we really losing by almost always being in the air?

There are some truly spectacular locations out there! From the ghostly, haunted forests of Duskwood, the windy, snowbound paths of Dun Morogh, the eerie and fantastical glades in Ashenvale.... There's a lot of world out there that most people never even get to see anymore. Sure we saw them when we leveled, but there's a whole land out there that's never used now, and now never even witnessed for most of the time. 

It's even worse for new players. Level up to 60, get the Flight Master's Liscense. Now you can fly in both Eastern Kingdoms, kalimdor, and right off the bat in Outland. Whichever continent you didn't level 1-60 in, your likely not going to really experience. Outland is a joke of flying from one location to another, never really seeing an of it. Northrend as well, as you'll be flying the moment you get there too! Sure, you'll see it all from above, but you don't really get to experience the majesty of the landscape from above; and much of the terrain in EK and Kal is covered in very dense trees so any above ground view is obscured.

One of the strongest memories I have from Wrath of the Lich king is the first time I entered Howling Fjord. You couldn't fly until level 78; I experienced most of Northrend from the ground up, riding my land mounts on the paths through caves and over mountaintops. As the boat from Menethil Harbor crosses on it's way toward the dock, it takes a small side trip through a gorge. If you actually sit on the boat for the whole little trip, here's what yous see:

These are some spectacular views! Combined with the dramatic and earthy music the perfectly compliments the landscape, it makes a pretty powerful experience if you sit back and enjoy it. Very few players ever notice this kind if thing anymore I think.

Now, Blizzard has done much to make the landscapes more friendly toward flying mounts- Instead of generally flat areas covered in thick trees and brush, we have more open areas with larger height differences, twisting canyons and massive waterfalls, even huge and elaborate architecture. This serves to make the game more visually appealing to people who are experiencing it mostly from above. It's much better then the boring cover of treetops one sees while flying over most of the old world. Yet it also seems somewhat unbelievable- some buildings seem ridiculously oversized, or the vast changes in height to give the land visual appeal come off as artificial.

The lowering of the levels at which one gets the different types of flying mounts, and the release of flying mounts into the older content of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms, has in my opinion marred the overall experience of the game. Attaining all my mounts, from my first mount at level 40, to the epic mount at level 60, first flying at level 70, then being able to fly in Northrend at level 78... to me these things were major milestones in my experience. Things I was proud to have achieved. Do new players get this same experience? It's not the 'dumbing down' of the game, or 'making it easier' that bothers me. It's how much we as a community lose through some of these changes; how much of the lore and wonder of this world that we inhabit for so much of our time that we simply bypass and do not notice.

Now, would I give up the speed and convenience of being able to use a flying mount at most of the locations in game? Ultimately no. I have mostly max level toons, which are engaged in other activities for which the convenience of being able to fly is too much of a draw. 

But then too, I also feel that perhaps I've earned these conveniences.

Brunnstag struggled through leveling up to level 40 on foot. He doggedly ran through a lot of the zones in Eastern Kingdoms. I was so thankful for my first ram, I could have cried. It was glorious when at 60 I could enter the new content on my new Swift Rams, going so much faster! Earning that first flying mount at 70 was such a huge milestone for me; struggling through on foot up to level 78, so I could then conquer the twisted crags and mountainous heights of the Storm Peaks and Icecrown... I'm thankful everyday for the ease for which my new toons have it leveling.

A lot of people seem to think that raiding and dungeoning is 'all that' of World of Warcraft. But it's not. The leveling experience should be just as interesting, fun and powerful an experience as downing those bosses. 

That's why I think that for the first toon on every new account for a new player, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to revert it to the original levels for mounts. Let them experience the game a little slower so they can develop an appreciation for the lore or wonder of the world they're in. With how much experience quests give nowadays, it takes hardly any time to get to level 40. After they've gotten their first toon up to level level 80 at least, unlock the now normal levels for mounts (20, 40, etc). Then perhaps we'd also have fewer 'selfish' and egotistical players.

As for the problem of our disappearing land mounts? Perhaps make cities no fly zones once again? Give more areas where characters tend to congregate where land mounts only are allowed? It seems such a shame for this menagerie of beasties to fall into near total disuse but for pvp and low level characters!

So what do you think about the lack of horses, rams and wolves? Do you miss seeing these hoofed and pawed earth-goers? Do you ever miss riding through the trees and seeing the land from the ground up, despite it's lack of speed?


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