Now, I rag on Blizzard a lot– more than is really fair– for the sake of a joke, so let me be serious for a moment.
I’m actually fairly neutral on the Warlords flying issue. I think it makes sense for us to start a new expansion on the ground. The ground is where the action is and where quests happen. It makes sense to me that part of the challenge of fighting our way into a new and hostile land is going to be navigating the terrain and dealing with wandering monsters. I think flying from the beginning in Cataclysm was one of the many things (along with the disconnected questing zones, the railroaded plot, the cutscenes, and the quests that had us follow NPCs around and watch them do cool stuff instead of doing the cool stuff ourselves) that made us feel like we weren’t really part of the action. I don’t mind that we’re going to start the new expansion with our feet on the ground.
What worries me is the possibility that we might not get to fly at all in this upcoming expansion, because I like flying. Flying is fun. Flying is one of the visceral pleasures of World of Warcraft. As satisfying as it may be to get the ding and the swirl and the fanfare for your last level, there is nothing that quite conveys the sense of having arrived like soaring into the air and seeing the zones you’ve been questing through from a whole new perspective. There is a joy in simply seeing the sights from the air and it gives new life to old content. I would hate to see Blizzard deny us that primal pleasure out of a misguided design philosophy.
As an example, let us consider a quest to assassinate an enemy leader. From the ground you approach a fort with guards at the gate. You charge and are able to dispatch them and sneak in a side hallway. You methodically take out packs of roaming sentries, and some of them shout at you as they run toward you. You notice they’re in the middle of practicing dark and forbidden magics, and you take a moment to disrupt their ritual. Dashing into the main courtyard you spot your target, sneaking and fighting your way to him–and with a forceful slash–the fort’s captain is vanquished, and as guards are alerted you fight your way out, glorious and triumphant in your success.
Alternatively, from a flying mount, you fly over the gate, see some guy whose name is highlighted, land on top of him, kill him, and then fly away.
You can see what he’s getting at, and he has a point. There is a basic formula in game design which states that challenge + reward = fun. As a basic principle, it works. But you can’t just increase the fun by simply increasing the challenge. We all have a lot of experience with the kind of “penetrate the enemy base and kill the leader” kind of quest he’s describing. It’s been a staple of WoW since the beginning. I bet that, like me, as you were reading that description, you pictured some building somewhere in Azeroth you once fought your way into. (For the record, mine was the orc camp in northern Desolace.) Here’s the thing, though: killing all those wandering guards on your way in and out of the building is not actually fun. It’s a part of the challenge that makes the quest as a whole fun, but you don’t make a quest more fun by turning up the dial on the stuff you have to do just to get to the thing you actually came here to do. If trash-killing were actually fun, no one would skip the trash. The fact that people do is not a sign that they’re missing out on an important part of the game, but that that part of the game just isn’t enjoyable in itself, and the game won’t be made better just by having more of it.
Now, there’s a place for trash. It’s part of the flow and rhythm of the game; without the valleys, you don’t notice the peaks, but let’s not mistake it for something it isn’t. Like I said, I think it’s fine that we’re going to start without flying, but to never give us flying at all would be to confuse the things that make the game fun with the things that make the game challenging. They’re not the same.