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Flameseeker Chronicles: The case for mounts in Guild Wars 2

Anatoli Ingram
10.14.14
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I love my new rug. It's a little on the thin side, but it's got a nice pattern and gets great gas mileage. It floats high enough off the ground that my cats can't get hair all over it, although it also probably helps that it exists only inside the world of Guild Wars 2.

The only drawback is that, like the very similar riding broom, the magic carpet isn't a true travel mount. It's just a bundle toy you can ride around on at normal speed, although the difference is small enough that it's ignited the cyclical discussion about whether or not real mounts belong in GW2 again. It's a topic near to my heart, so jump past the cut and I'll address some of the common arguments against mounts -- as well as explore the peculiarities of ArenaNet's stopping just short of adding them.


Prepare yourselves for the rug show.
We have waypoints, so we don't need them!

Probably the most baffling argument to me against mounts in GW2 is that we already have a fast travel system, so they'd be redundant. This is predicated on the assumption that the people asking for mounts consider them a necessity, but if that were the case, I don't think the debate would even exist: Everyone would be tremendously happy with waypoints and the quality of life improvements they offer over ground travel. Unfortunately, waypoints are not everywhere you want to be, and on top of that they're frequently camped and contested by rude monsters and brigands who want to make sure you have to run from the second nearest waypoint and possibly miss their dynamic event altogether (but I'm not bitter). This is to say nothing of Elder Dragons trying to eat waypoints.

Some players have also criticized the lack of travel options in Edge of the Mists and standard World vs. World maps, but in a competitive format it's not as easy as simply adding more waypoints; this is highlighted by requests on the opposite end for the removal of waypoints in large-scale PvP in order to combat zerg roaming. Still, if you're at the spawn point and the commander is all the way on the other side of the map it can be a chore to try to catch up to where the fights are happening, especially if you're a profession without reliable speed boosts. Mounts aren't necessarily the answer to that problem, but I think it makes sense for every character to have access to a half-step between "brisk jog" and "instaport" for those situations, and preferably one that doesn't rely on setting up your character's build a certain way or playing a specific profession. Speed boosts are so convenient and common that it's hard to view them as an element of class differentiation in any case.

Mounts will make the world feel small!

I have bad news: Waypoints have already accomplished this on a much greater scale than mounts ever could. On a character with full map completion, the continent of Tyria is equivalent in size to the local mall. I can go from Frostgorge Sound to Cursed Shore in a matter of seconds, and world boss farming is just an exercise in zone hopping all across the world.

One of the end results of the waypoint system is that there's really no incentive to spend a lot of time in a zone unless you're in the process of completing it for the first time. In many of the lower level zones it's easy to just hop to the waypoint nearest to the thing you want, run over to get it, and then warp away again when you're done. I'm not advocating a return to the days when MMO players were forced to wait for boats in real time and toodle along at a snail's pace along looping flight paths while their raid groups grew increasingly murderous, but when I lower myself to traditional means of travel, I tend to find cool things to stop and do, or I run across people doing events I can help with, or I go out of my way to harvest a node (and then I see another one. And another. Wait, there's one over there. Where the heck am I?).

Waypoints are the answer to the idea that players shouldn't be forced into that behavior, which I tend to agree with. Sometimes you do just want to get what you came for and leave, and it's pretty cool that we have the option of doing that. But if you want the world to feel more expansive and populated, it's a good idea to encourage people to run around in it. I can only speak for myself, but when I have a mount I really like in other games, I will absolutely choose to run from Point A to Point B rather than use fast travel when I'm not pressed for time. Movement is a major aspect of the entertainment value I get from gameplay; I'm not going to attempt to explain why I find it more fun to stand on yonder rock when I'm on a mount, but I do. All I'd like is the option to have a visual indicator of speed that's cooler than the little "whoosh" effect characters get when under the effect of a speed buff.

They put me in jail. They put my dog in jail. They put my rug in jail.
ArenaNet will never implement mounts because they don't fit GW2!

We already have mounts, functionally speaking.

I'm only half referring to the riding broom and magic carpet. GW2 has always had a use for the same mechanical role mounts fill in other games in the form of swiftness and movement speed, which are important to gameplay and highly valued by players. Chances are good that there's a passive speed boost signet on your bar right now if you play a profession in open world content that has access to one. If your profession doesn't have access to one of those signets, chances are also pretty good that you've chosen traits or weapons to provide yourself with temporary travel speed buffs. There are over 50 skills, traits, and effects in the game that modify character speed, without counting those available through food, gear, and special object skills. It's entirely possible for some professions to maintain a permanent speed buff of at least 25% even when in combat.

This makes any argument that mounts would significantly impact gameplay hard for me to swallow. On my fastest characters, I already zoom past enemies and hop lightfooted over difficult jumps. The character in the screenshots I've used for this article is my Ranger, and she's a little speed demon more likely to die from overshooting and careening off a cliff than from being caught by enemies. Because she does have access to passive speed boosts, flying around on the magic carpet in the open world with her isn't a whole lot different from using a mount in any other game. The only difference is that ArenaNet hasn't combined a full 25% or 33% passive speed boost with a cosmetic character movement change into one package yet.

Of course, some players do object specifically to the cosmetic part: They don't want to see mounts used as status symbols, or they're afraid that they'll block vendors and NPCs, or they just don't like the way mounted characters look. The latter issue is subjective, and the first seems out of place for a game where much of the fun comes from collecting stuff to make your characters look cool. The second problem is a legitimate one, and some other games have solved it by dismounting players automatically on interacting with NPCs and objects as well as disallowing mounts in cities.

I've also heard some debate about whether or not the lore supports the use of mounts, but it's a pretty conspicuous absence. Plenty of NPCs have access to mounts and even flight, from Charr helicopters and tanks to Pact airships, but we rarely see them in use outside of Orr. It ends up with the lore serving the lack of mounts in mostly ridiculous ways: NPCs clearly know what horses are and that they're for riding, and Equus ferus caballus occasionally appears in concept art to confuse players, but they simply don't exist in game. Even if they're all extinct, it's pretty absurd that Tyrians regularly choose to walk instead of domesticating other animals for riding: Not everyone can afford gate and waypoint travel, and the roads are demonstrably very dangerous. Dolyaks know how to draw carriages, and they can haul tail when they want to. We've seen all manner of pack animals. The more technologically and magically advanced races have certainly created things more startling and complex than basic ground transportation. It's sort of the elephant in the room, except the reason nobody's willing to mention the elephant is because players might then want to know why we can't ride it.

If ArenaNet isn't planning on giving us mounts, I suspect it's rather because the developers didn't want to implement them as a simple cosmetic speed boost and were instead hoping to do something new and unique with them that hasn't been figured out yet. Speaking for myself, though, I would be happy just having the option to free up a signet slot when playing in the world, or to have the passive speed boost available to my slower characters. I want to collect cool things to ride on and match them to my characters' themes the way I do with armor, weapons, and miniatures. I would be disappointed if we got something that had a lot of conditions for use that needed to be carefully restricted in order to prevent unbalancing the rest of the game, although I'd love a visual customization aspect along the lines of WildStar or Final Fantasy XIV. Mostly, though, I'd rather have the speed boost and cosmetic features of mounts than nothing at all.

For all of the arguments I've heard against mounts in GW2 that amount to, "This isn't World of Warcraft," my experience with mounts in WoW -- and in other games with mounts -- has been that they make exploring a game more fun. One of my favorite WoW memories involves a ground mount: I had a motorcycle on my Paladin. I don't know exactly how many hours I wasted in Hellfire Peninsula doing trick jumps and midair spins off the cliffs and ruins like a pointy-eared Evel Knievel, but let's just say it was a not-insignificant amount of time and leave it at that. That's a lot of individual creative gameplay and time spent in the game world and fun for what amounted to a cosmetic speed boost that went "vroom."

Do you want to see mounts in GW2? Are you happy with riding around on common household objects, or would you rather have the opportunity to ride mythical beasts such as horses? Let us know in the comments, and I'll see you in the Mists!

Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's biweekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every other Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at anatoli@massively.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.

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