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
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
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.