Are our glasses tinted with rose?
At least part of me thinks that people who are nostalgic for having to ride on land and potentially deal with aggro from mobs are playing classes that have various means to avoid them. Rogues, mages, hunters, druids, for instance, can drop aggro in various ways in order to get past the obstacles on the ground, while paladins can always bubble and run until aggro drops, warlocks can use their pets to buy themselves time (as can death knights and hunters) and so on.
As a warrior, if I get aggro and dismounted, my options are to run and hope aggro drops before I do, or stand and fight in the middle of monster-infested territory and hope I don't end up with 10 more mobs adding. Thankfully, Victory Rush means I'm more capable of dealing with that kind of situation than I was back in 2007. Still, I have many memories of grinding my teeth in frustration while some fortunate, aggro-dropping class got to a node or quest mob while I battled for survival.
It's easy for a rogue to wax nostalgic about having to face the dangers of the map when they don't really have to, after all. Those of us who can't Vanish or Sprint can be excused for lacking such rosy memories. Still, as unsympathetic as I am to this argument, it deserved address, because for many people this is apparently a real issue. Maybe it's as simple as not getting to use all those abilities that let them skate the dangers of the world if they're just flying over it all anyway. They are class abilities, after all.
A more reasonable argument to my jaded eyes is that being able to just fly over everything robs you of any tangible connection to the world you're supposed to be inhabiting. If immersion is a design goal, then soaring over the clouds definitely can be seen as ruining that immersion. You're hardly part of the world of rampaging elementals and burning forests if you soar serenely over the chaos rather than wading through it, after all. The only time you on your flapping conveyance really interacts with the madness is when you deign to descend to it. It never reaches out to you, because it can't.
And have we lost the thrill of discovery?
Another cost of the ubiquity of flying mounts in Azeroth (and in Outland and Northrend, as well) is that not only do the meticulously designed zones turn into scenery beneath you as you flutter from quest hub to quest hub, only to airdrop yourself into the areas of the questing and back out again as fast, but they remove the possibility for hidden terrain. You can have a bird's-eye (or griffon's-eye, or dragon's-eye, or wyvern's-eye) view of major cities, flapping over the mountain ranges and great gaping trenches that separate areas from one another. Discovery is reduced to looking down and seeing what is plainly obvious to you from atop your mount.
I still remember an excursion my wife and I made to the Ironforge Airport back during the days of wall walking, when there was no other way to get up there. Even after that was removed as an exploit, we made our way up to the hills in the Wetlands, where a strange roadway to nowhere could be found and accessed. Now, you can just fly to the road, and the gateway is sealed off because anyone could get up there.
I think, personally, I like that there's flying in Azeroth, but I'm willing to agree with those who argue that you shouldn't have it while you level up, that being able to fly in a leveling zone just removes too much immersion and forces the zones to be designed to accommodate flight from the start, which can lead to feeling disconnected and disjointed. I personally think Hyjal lost a lot by being a zone I could fly around in from the start. Since I could simply bypass all of the Twilight's Hammer and Fire Elementals whenever I wished. The threat never really felt like it affected me. Similarly, Deepholm, while a gorgeous zone, is ultimately a series of locations I accessed via flying; therefore, it felt as if it lost some of the flow that comes from discovering places one after the next.
Twilight Highlands probably came the closest to utilizing flying properly, if only because it still managed to maintain an unfolding questing experience, channeling me along to specific locations. While it had some flaws, I did feel immersed in the story and traveled to new locations on the map in a relatively organic way. We know that Mists of Pandaria
is bringing back the Outland/Northrend model of making us wait to fly, and perhaps that's as far as we can expect this genie to go into its bottle.
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