Flight is a Double Edged Sword

Skipping Content

WoWScrnShot_061712_000053 Over the last few weeks a topic has sprung back up that I thought was long put to bed.  I guess the lack of flight in World of Warcraft for the Warlords of Draenor expansion is still a divisive topic.  I’ve said before that I support their decision to keep flight out of the expansion.  My current malaise with Warcraft has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I can fly.  So this morning I thought I would talk for a bit about the inclusion of flight in games and the strange ramifications it has on game play.  Ultimately when you include flight players skip your content as simple as that.  I can say this coming from a perspective of someone who has played several games with and without flight.  Ultimately the first game I played with flight was City of Heroes, and it was both the most powerful “travel power” and also the most frustrating.  Sure you could soar above the battlefield and move around relatively unscathed, but you did so at often times half the speed of any other travel power.  The players that could fly however were able to terrain hack content, and often times find ways to level with absolutely impunity, but they did so giving up the ability to move about “quickly”.

When World of Warcraft first introduced flight it felt very similar.  While you were technically going at 150% speed it felt like you were moving more slowly because in the air you lost your point of reference for how fast you were going.  Additionally the flight masters still moved significantly faster than you were able to go.  Even with the introduction of artisan flying at 280% flight speed you were still slightly slower than a flight master which I believe is roughly 300% speed.  The problem is in both cases it changed the way I played the game.  While I struggled to make the money to fly in  Burning Crusade, by the time Wrath of the Lich King rolled around I had enough cash to spare to be able to outfit all of my alts with even Cold Weather Flying giving me the ability to fly while leveling.  I found myself using the same sort of terrain hacking tricks that players did in City of Heroes.  Instead of fighting my way to the entrance of something I simply swooped down from above and quickly poked into entrance tunnels to avoid fighting any adds.  If I needed to kill a single quest mob, I would zoom straight into the hut they were located in with surgical precision avoiding the experience of clearing my way through a camp.

Flight is a Double Edged Sword

EQ2_000043 While you might be fine with this style of play it does not change the fact that you are ultimately playing the game in a way that was not intended by the developers.  Someone spent a serious amount of time and resources designing the layout of the content you just leapt over the top of with your trust flying mount.  Sure there are ways for developers to put counter measures in place that block you from terrain hacking the content using a flying mount, but that just adds to the problem.  Instead of making new areas of the game they would be reworking areas to make sure that you cannot skip the important bits.  This also destroys the ability to add content along the way like side quests and collectibles because if you are skipping directly to the end you will never actually see it.  By having flight you are really handcuffing the tools that the content providers have to add to the mix, and changing the way they have to approach the content.  The end result is likely a far less vibrant world.

If it were just Worlds of Warcraft I would think that maybe they simply integrated flight in a bad way.  The problem being that I went through the same experience with Everquest II.  Once I got the ability to fly I stopped experiencing content “as intended”.  I started flying up to exactly the spot on my mini-map I needed to be at in order to complete the quests as quick as humanly possible.  I pulled myself out of the game experience and essentially was robbed of the living and breathing world around me.  With flight questing becomes about clearing dots off of your map as quickly as possible without spending any time really engaged in the content itself.  I think in many ways this was why I enjoyed the questing experience of Warlords of Draenor so much more than I did the previous expansions.  It actually forced me to spend time getting to know the layout of the zones, rather than zipping over the top of them.  It is better to see the crags and crevices of the world…  than a monstrosity of super pixilated trees that never quite mesh correctly.

Heavensward and Flight

final_fantasy_14_heavensward_dragon.0 As I look forwards at Heavensward I have to admit I am more than a little concerned that we are seeing the introduction of flying into Final Fantasy XIV.  Firstly I hope they stand firm on the statement that there will be no flight in the original areas of the game.  Secondly I hope they have thought through all of the ramifications that come with introducing a system that lets you skip over content.  There has been a lot of talk about having to explore a region and learn how to harness the winds in that area before being able to fly there, and I am hoping this is actually a fairly drawn out process.  This would mean that the player would need to have spent a significant amount of time in a given region before learning how to fly there.  At one point Yoshi P in an earlier statement said something to the effect of having to completely explore an area before being able to learn flight.  In both cases this sounds like maybe they understand the danger that integrating this system really is to a game.  The problem is that flight is a Pandora’s box that cannot be easily shut after it has been opened.

Blizzard has learned this lesson and is trying to hold shut that lid with all their might.  Other games like Rift have been carefully guarding their own box to make sure that no one opens it.  It is with great reservation that I watch as Square Enix prepares to open their own box and see what happens.  I say reservation, because this is the same development group that has managed to outthink its player base on a regular basis.  They have essentially social engineered a community into treating each other with a modicum of civil decency rather than a race to the bottom to see who can behave the most horrifically.  I have hope that they will be able to solve the problems that no company has to date with flight.  I have hope that they will figure out a way to keep it from cheapening their content experiences.  My hope is that they will make it so we are not completely alone in the sky.  This is an expansion about doing battle with dragons…  and dragons notoriously can fly.  Maybe we will have to avoid encounters in the air just like we try and avoid encounters on the land  as we traverse the world.  We have roughly twenty four days before we find out, but I still stand by my stance that I am fine playing games without flying.  I am even fine when a game decides that flight was a mistake and claws it back out of our grips.

17 thoughts on “Flight is a Double Edged Sword

  1. When BC was current, slow flying was 60% speed. That’s right, epic land mount riders would pass you on the ground, fun times.
    When Wrath was current, You had to buy Cold Weather Flying with a level 80 character, who could then mail it to an alt, who had to be level 77+ to learn it.
    So you never skipped content, you could learn flying just before hitting Wrath zones that required flying to navigate them. If you lacked it, a crude temp flying mount was provided by flight masters.

  2. I was considering buying the expansion and picking up the sub again, but not after Blizzard came out with their no-more-flight decision. I loved to explore the world, flying made it extra-enjoyable.
    Blizzard is cutting corners, and tries to put the blame on the players.

  3. @Murf
    I personally wouldn’t blame the players for “playing the game wrong.” They were given the tools to do so, and hats on the devs. But it doesn’t change the fact that given the tools, players will circumvent your content if it means expediency/efficiency.

  4. I would love to see trash in the countryside used effectively, rather than as yet another mechanism to slow me down. Random trash is one of the laziest forms of MMO content in my opinion. Unless it is deliberately placed to indicate that something is important and worth investigating, it is just one more speedbump. If trash mobs were placed to guard specific areas, or a dead body you could loot, or outside a den with a treasure pile, that would make more sense. Scattered randomly across the countryside to get in the way, make you kill them for small trinkets and XP, that is just lazy and grindy content.

  5. When it comes to FFXIV, I don’t think there’s much to worry about. FFXIV is one of the games that has things to do in the overworld – FATEs, gathering, hunting logues, etc.

    Not only that, but they like to put things closer together. Someone who gathers will probably find it easier to run to the next node than, wait for a mount to appear, lose things like their invisibility, jump in the air, and fly.

    Same thing with FATE grinding, it would only happen if they are looking for specific FATEs and in the old world, the only real danger of it is getting the heavy status for your mounts.

    The thing that makes me fine the most is that the game has a teleport system and yet we still see people running all over the place. If they are going to have flying, then I bet they’ll take advantage of it.

    One thing to remember is that Square is also known for their flyable airships in the other Final Fantasys – you never used it to skip content in those games but to unlock MORE. You get it after you’ve explored a certain amount and seen the world which leads me to believe that flight will not be fully unlocked in area until you’ve seen all of the ground.

    The way they talked about the aircurrents actually makes me think of the Aetherytes in the cities though – you have to attune to all of the little ones and when you do, only then can you teleport to the gates. Same concept I think, you’ll see the whole city first.

  6. I agree on most counts, Bel, especially that flight can really damage a world not designed for it. World of Warcraft is a great example. Flight is far from why I left, but I’m not a fan, as it turns out.

    With regards to City of Heroes I disagree somewhat. Flight was one of a few travel powers with significant vertical ability (Teleportation and Super Jump come to mind), and in that case the world was built from the ground-up to include flight. I actually picked Super Speed on my main and didn’t mind the lack of vertical travel at all. I got VERY good at scooting up fire escapes with Super Speed turned on…

  7. “While you might be fine with this style of play it does not change the fact that you are ultimately playing the game in a way that was not intended by the developers. Someone spent a serious amount of time and resources designing the layout of the content you just leapt over the top of with your trust flying mount.”

    I don’t like this argument in the slightest. Blizzard has had nearly a decade to design their game differently, but they have continued with each expansion to maintain the status quo. Putting all responsibility on the players for not playing “properly” suggests that Blizzard has zero say in any of this. That is simply not true. By designing the game as they have, that constitutes tacit consent to each and every player to play the game as they see fit, including skipping content with flying mounts.

    Blizzard owns 100% of the blame and I feel it is unreasonable to argue that players have been playing the game wrong for nearly a decade.

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