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Bashiok on the lack of flight in Warlords of Draenor

Alex Ziebart

Ever since the first round of Warlords of Draenor interviews, the idea of flight being disabled indefinitely in the expansion has been floating around. Very little information on that concept has come out since then. Will it be like previous expansions, where you get flight back at max level? Will it come back in the first content patch? Will it ever come back? We still don't have the answers to that, but community manager Bashiok took to the forums yesterday (in addition to what he said earlier this month) to provide more insight into the developers' thought process. Some highlights:

  • The developers will try to ensure flight paths are more direct, not scenic loops
  • Being able to lift off and fly over all content compromises gameplay
  • There will be max-level questing content, not just daily quest hubs
  • The developers are not attempting to make the game laborious, but rather create a world that engages the player
You can read Bashiok's full post below and I've received my personal take on it until after the blue post.

Flight and Draenor
This probably should have been kept to the original thread, but caution to thee, wind, I say! (I say that.)

So everyone has seen various posts and comments around the World Wide Web about flying not being allowed in Draenor, why, and what that means. It'd probably be helpful to try to sum up some of those things, and potentially help build a foundation for anyone's discussions on the topic going forward. If everyone has the same info then it just helps conversations glide along, as you can expect everyone else knows what you know! Knowledge Parity! (Knarity?)

Anyway, it's important to first dissuade concerns that we're looking to slow down the game (I've recently posted about this in another thread, but it bears repeating). We're going to be making sure flight paths and other forms of travel are quick and efficient, with a goal of getting you to the places you want to go. The flight paths in Draenor are not going to be loop-de-loop sightseeing tours, and we're going to be looking to our beta testers to let us know if any are less than tip-top.

Our goal is not to make travel time consuming or painful, and with players on ground mounts we know we'll have to do more to try to ensure people can get to where they want to go quickly... BUT being able to lift off and fly over content compromises many of our goals in how the game world is approached, how it's played, how it's consumed, and how the content is designed to account for those factors.

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.

Being efficient is great, being clever is great, and using your cleverness to be efficient is great, but how many of us have done the Tillers dailies up on the cliffside where the Hozen are, and waited for packs to pass by before setting down right where you're supposed to, use whatever thingamabob you're supposed to, and then lift off ASAP hoping-hoping-hoping nothing aggros? How many of us have become furious when we actually have to fight something!? Is that clever gameplay? Is that being good at playing the game, or is it using a mechanic to avoid having to play it? Is that what the game should be, and what our expectations should be as gamers playing it?

I hope everyone can agree, regardless of personal opinion toward flight vs. non-flight, that flying fundamentally alters how content is approached in a world where the gameplay exists wholly on the ground.

In Draenor we're designing max-level content, portions of zones or zones in their entirety that will be dedicated to max-level gameplay-and not just the top of a cliffside, or some dailies in the Vale. There's a harsh change in how the game plays between leveling, and when you hit max level. Hitting 100 and instantly switching everything you do to raiding or Arenas is pretty abrupt, and we want to try to keep that questing experience available at max level with something more robust than daily quests. We don't think having all of that content inside buildings, or constantly challenged by sky cannons, or with magical no-flying smoke, or within some kind of dismount bubble is the most straightforward or best solution to the ultimate issue in that World of Warcraft is not a flight sim, and that's just not what the content of the game is about. Even at level 100 there will be no small portions of the game world intended to provide relevant content even to max-level players. These zones may even unlock over the course of the expansion, or the content in them will progress in story and scope throughout content patches. Content has to be designed with the expectation that there either is or is not flight, and approaching ground-level content from the ground offers more compelling gameplay. Raids, dungeons, and PvP continue to disallow flying for this same reason.

It's also important to think about not just what the content is, but how it's experienced. Not everyone that plays the game cares how quests and outdoor content are experienced, of course. Some may find it unnecessary; they don't feel it adds anything to their experience. Others play through it fairly quickly, enjoy it, but don't particularly want to put much thought into why. Some may begrudgingly trudge through the content just so they can get to the part of the game they do want to play, and any other number of situations and preferences.

I'm sure some of you see the fortress example with the flying mount and see nothing wrong, if that's how someone wants to play the game they should be allowed to. But a game is largely defined by its limitations, and the rules within which you must find or create a solution. We're not trying to create a slow and laborious game (hopefully people actually enjoy the content!), or expect people will be yelling "YIIIPPPEEEEE!" while fighting a mob that aggroed when they tried to pick an herb, but there's a big difference between a slow and laborious game and the expectation of instant gratification-not to mention the somewhat nebulous intention of creating and maintaining an engaging and immersive game world. World of Warcraft is a persistent online roleplaying game, and as much as we let players choose how they improve their characters within the world; leveling through dungeons, or PvP, or questing; choosing to do Arenas, or raids, or both; we're still always wanting to create a holistic experience that supports all of these things. That doesn't mean we think it's a good idea to force people to read all their quest text, or stare at and appreciate the pretty new models, or anything like that, but it's not unreasonable to see that combat and content exist on the ground, understand that, embrace that, and make decisions to support it.

In summary: It's important to us that we integrate max-level questing into the expansion more thoroughly than designated daily locations on mountain tops, or only have the option of releasing new max level content in magically appearing islands where flight has different rules because reasons. We also know that being able to approach content that's on the ground from up in the air compromises much of what creates the game world, how it's played, and how it's consumed. The game experience is fundamentally altered when you can lift off and set down wherever you want. And lastly, that we're not intending to slow anyone down, and we're going to make sure that players can get where they want to go efficiently through more direct flight points, and potentially alternate travel methods.

None of this is new philosophy; it's something we've maintained since Burning Crusade when flight was introduced, but it has evolved over the years, and I expect it to continue to be-like everything we do-an iterative process. And hopefully this has been at least marginally informative.

I've always been up front with my opinion on the subject: I think flying made World of Warcraft a worse game, largely due to the reasons Bashiok outlined. Flight actively discourages gameplay -- it's more efficient to fly over everything, and for many gamers, efficiency trumps engaging gameplay. Players will often do things detrimental to their enjoyment of a game if it means completing a task in that game much more quickly. Of course, if you're constantly asked to revisit the same places dozens of times, there's no novel or compelling gameplay to be had there and flying removes the tedium. In a questing experience done only once (per character), however, flying removes the gameplay.

Skyrim actually reinforced my stance on this, though I've held it long before that game ever released. When I started playing it, I defaulted to quick traveling everywhere. Pick a spot on my map closest to my destination and warp there, skipping all of the terrain in between. It was efficient, it saved me a lot of time. One day, someone suggested I stop doing that -- that I travel on foot (or horseback) where I needed to go, for a more immersive experience. I tried it. They were right. When I skipped over the entire gameworld every time I wanted to travel, I missed all of the sights, sounds, and random encounters I could have been seeing all along. There were quests I didn't know existed, great battles that I would have never seen by quick-traveling. When I didn't give myself the luxury of teleportation, I found a love of exploration I didn't know Skyrim could offer.

I recognize my opinion isn't the only one, though. Everyone plays the game for a different reason. For some, flight is the only thing that makes the game tolerable. Some spent real money on flying mounts with the expectation of being able to use them. And while I hold my negative opinion of flight, I also recognize that flight is something of a Pandora's Box. Blizzard opened that box when they added flight all of those years ago. Whatever came out of that box, it may be too late to put it back in. I think it's worth giving them a shot at it and waiting to see whether the result is better or worse, though. If it's an objectively bad outcome, they'll recognize it before long.

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