Thursday 11 June 2015

Fear of Flying

I knew Blizzard was going to give in and let people go flying. I learned that Blizzard always give in, back in 2090, when they fixed a problem in how group disbandment worked. Before patch 3.1.0, people who left a group in the middle of an instance would be teleported to wherever their hearthstone was pointing. This so-called "ghetto hearthing" was identified as a potential problem for Blizzard's not-yet-released Dungeon Finder. People might queue for instances just to ghetto hearth out: hearthstones had a 60 minute cooldown at the time. When Blizzard announced that they were fixing the problem by teleporting instance-abandoners to the nearest graveyard, there was an outcry from the usual entitled sources, who felt it was their right to be able to ghetto-hearth. To use the other 4 people in their instance in order to hearth out.

And incredibly, instead of telling these entitled idiots that we all have to play nice with each other,  Blizzard gave in to them, and announced they would reduce the cooldown on hearthstones to 30 minutes. I knew then that Blizzard would always give in.

Flying has always been problematic, for reasons that I'll not go over here, as they've all been given a good airing recently! And because it's problematic Blizzard has tried to curtail flying in many ways (and I'm sure they're sorry they ever introduced it). I don't want to get into why it's been problematic, or what Blizzard could have done to  make it less problematic. I want to focus on how Blizzard attempts to curtail it.

Flying was introduced for level-capped adventurers in the Burning Crusade, and at that point Blizzard had a proper 3D layout for Outland, but not for Azeroth. So for ages, flying was not possible in Azeroth. No convincing in-game reason was ever given, it was purely an implementation problem.

But once you have level 70 players flying in Outland, there was a hidden problem left for Northrend. Why couldn't level 70 players fly their mounts in Northrend? The real reason was that it would have made quest design a whole lot harder. Blizzard introduced it in Outland only for level-capped players - so after they had already explored the whole of Outland on horseback, and done all their quests on the ground. Blizzard wanted the same freedom for their designers in Northrend. So they introduced the idea of "Cold Weather Flying", which was a neat way of sidestepping the problem. You needed to train a new skill to be able to fly in such cold conditions. That kinda got them over the hump for Northrend. But wait - if I can fly in Northrend, what magical property of Kalimdor prevents me from flying there? Again, no in-game reason, and this was one of the many reasons Blizzard decided that for their next expansion, they'd redesign the old world to allow them to support "Old Weather Flying".

 So the idea of a "Flight Master's License" was introduced for the old world.  Not a skill that was trained. A licence. We're used to the idea of levels as being proxies for our level of ability. So I am more skilled at level 70 than at level 1. But the problem for the Cataclysm was that I am already well-skilled in flying, having learned how to do it in Outland, and having perfected the cold-weather variant in Northrend. Blizzard couldn't keep inventing new skills that were particular to Azeroth but not Northrend, and it wasn't a viable long-term solution to their problem, which was that they wanted to keep us from flying until we'd done all the quests they'd designed to be done on the ground.

So they embraced the problem in the Cataclysm expansion. and designed their new quests with flying in mind right from the start. They allowed flying right from level 60. In fact, the stonecore dungeon entrance couldn't even be reached on foot, and the Vashj'ir zone was based on everyone swimming (i.e. flying) underwater.

That was a great solution, but for some reason Blizzard didn't extend it to Pandaria. I don't know what they saw that made them change tack (perhaps they deplored the "fly-in, kill, loot, fly-out" play pattern that Cataclysm brought), but change tack they did, and in Pandaria, flying was again only available at the level-cap.

This was a retrograde step for two reasons.
1. We already had the expectation that we would be able to fly in Pandaria from the start
2. There was no convincing in-game explanation for why we couldn't fly in Pandaria.

 Sadly no explanation was given as to why my existing flying skills don't work there. "Wisdom of the Four Winds" was the gate to flying in Pandaria.What is it anyway? A skill? I already have flying skills. A licence? Who is the licensing authority? I already have a "Flight Master's License". Something else? What? This was a lazy solution. There was no in-game reason. As a player, I understand the designers' design reasons, but a solution that made sense to Dàchéng would have been nice.

Now we have reached Outland again, and my well-honed flying skills yet again seem to have faltered. I'm sure Blizzard by this stage were ruing the day they ever allowed flying, but their attempts to put the genie back in the bottle were always doomed to failure. However their "compromise" is as ugly a solution as the Wisdom of the Four Winds. None of the preconditions for "unlocking the ability to fly in Draenor on all [your] level 90+ characters" make any in-game sense.

This is just a gamified solution, with not even the pretense of an in-world reason. Not even an inscrutable reason like Wisdom of the Four Winds. Instead we are asked to collect 100 "treasures". Explore all of Draenor on the ground. Complete all the quests that are part of the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements. Achieve three Tanaan Jungle Revered Reputations. These are hoops for the player to jump through that make no sense to their characters. What has any of this got to do with flying? It's another step away from a believable virtual world.


  1. I was thinking the same thing. What do rep grinds have to do with flying? It makes no sense whatsoever. Why do your alts automatically get it? Not only does that not make in game sense, it seems to contradict Blizzard's own reasoning (that the content is best done on foot), since now you won't have to do it on foot ever again.

    I get that Blizzard doesn't seem to give a damn about internal world consistency anymore, but geez. This seems more like they got backed into a corner and wanted to copy what Square is doing in Heavensward, but didn't have any time or budget to implement that. So instead, they used the tools they have available... and then threw a rep grind in out of spite.

  2. It works out to about 30 days of game time for the average player, just enough for an extra sub month! /cynicism off.

    They should just sell flying in their cash shop. Costs 1 wow/plex thingy /cynicism really off this time :)

  3. Tridus, what amazes me is how many commentators don't even expect it to make sense to our adventurers in Azeroth and its neighbourhood. The incongruity of it all is barely remarked upon.

    Isey, don't be giving them ideas!

    1. That doesn't surprise me anymore, sadly. The "world" in World of Warcraft isn't really a thing anymore. It's just the place you slog through to get back to level cap before you sit in your garrison until the dungeon finder pops.

      They've been willing to change the world and lore in absurd ways to suit whatever new thing they want to do for so long that it lost any kind of coherence long ago. Given that, it's not surprising that a lot of players also stopped giving a damn about the world making sense.

      I mean, practically speaking, once you're at endgame you could eliminate the world entirely and a lot of people wouldn't notice. You don't need any of that stuff to go from your garrison to wherever the dungeon finder puts you.

    2. @Tridis: I've argued before that WoW makes a better "lobby style" game than MMO much for the reasons you mention. And to give them credit, it would be one of the best lobby based multiplayer games. It is just a shadow of an MMO now.

      @Dacheng: they should hire me! :)

  4. Excellent post. Thank you :) I also agree with you that the days of the *World* of Warcraft are long gone and I don’t think we’ll ever see them again in the retail version. WoW has long abandoned what little simulation aspects it had in order to become increasingly more gamey.

    1. I'm afraid it is as you say. Blizzard rush us to the level cap, because that's where they think the fun is, and the world atrophies to just a garrison that acts as a lobby for the mini-games Blizzard has designed for us.