Some say flying is an ability we never should have had. It narrowed our view of the world, made surviving in the world too easy. It reduced player connection to Azeroth. In the interview, a typical quest goal was mentioned in which the player must rescue some trapped NPC. That player was once forced to “interact” with the world by killing his or her way to the NPC and back out again*. Flying enabled that same player to drop in on top of the NPC, free it, then fly out again.
Yes, flying made it easier and more convenient to get from Point A to Point B – and that very convenience, though apparently detrimental to game enjoyment, was part of why I was so involved in the game even when I didn’t necessarily care for the content. Being involved was a large part of why I enjoyed the game – but it’s important to note that for me, this meant being involved with goals of my own choosing, which usually wasn’t slowly grinding my way through masses of mobs to have a “conversation” with an NPC I’d probably never see again.
Flying seems like the low-hanging fruit that’s easier to get rid of than it is to figure out why, exactly, I don’t give a flip about the NPC as a character, and instead see the NPC solely as a required step towards completing an objective. Or, perhaps, why we’ve chosen and kept certain behaviors for mobs – they can look square at me while I’m landing on top of the NPC’s cage, but they do nothing about it if I’m beyond a certain distance.
Frankly, I haven’t been interested in WoW’s plot for a very long time, and I dropped raiding because the time required was more than my schedule could handle. Running LFR and acquiring transmog gear became my primary activities in Azeroth, and as a result, I was traveling between multiple locations in different expansions quite frequently. Flying and portals made that level of activity doable for me.
Without flying, I tend to lose steam. I don’t care that much about this patch objective or that one, but I know I should probably go do it. So let’s see, which is the closest flight path again? Okay, if I go there (wait, do I have that one? Yes, thank goodness, I do), it’s going to take me [insert amount of time here] to get from here to there, and then I’m gonna have to run around [insert problem like level 100 elite mobs or mountains here] … yeah, you know what? I’d rather sit in my garrison. I’m going to alt tab and read blogs while I’m stuck on the flight path anyway.**
But I keep getting drawn back to how the designers seem to think the world should feel more dangerous, and how they think flying is one of the primary culprits behind a staid experience. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need the world to feel that way, because it hasn’t for ages. I’d rather somebody figure out how to give Aggra a better role instead of just dumping her in Nagrand rather unexpectedly, like, “Oh hey, you THOUGHT we forgot her but YOU’RE WRONG. Just ignore the fact she doesn’t do much.” I’d personally bake cakes or something if I could have a plot line devoted to a topic other than more manly orcs. Hell, I’d totally go for a goblin-themed patch! (I know I’m in the minority with that one.)
I don’t think flying was the criminal responsible for sapping my ability to “immerse” myself in a fictional environment, either. For me, the problem lies in how I have become a jaded old fart. Time has passed and my skill level with games in general has increased as a result. I’ve been running from killer monsters in MMOs and other games for years now, and I’m long past the point where mobs actually evoke terror. Giant killer murdersheep in FFXI used to scare the bejeesus out of me and I would sprint from zone portal to zone portal – if I survived the initial encounter. Now, meh. Giant killer murder-anythings are old news (unless the ToT snails make a comeback). Even crap that I know to be dangerous to my character’s well-being (thanks to my poor gear or low DPS ability on an alt) doesn’t frighten me like “the world” in games did when I first got my N64 and was freaking out about a whole extra dimension. It’s just too familiar.
No, “dangerous” isn’t the feeling I get when I’m out and about trying to navigate a world without flying. An MMORPG which keeps me on the ground with the aim of making things more realistic, dangerous, immersive, or what have you, feels mostly tedious. I’ve done my duty, so to speak, walking from one end of the world to another in other games, years past. I’ve waited for airships and zeppelins, taken slow boats across seas, and ridden chocobos and hawkstriders, and of course, all uphill in the snow both ways back in vanilla blah blah blah.
True, a lack of flying in and of itself isn’t necessarily stopping me from where I want to go. Okay, so I run into some mountain cliff and I can find no obvious path to descend – I’ve got no problem throwing myself off the edge. I run back to my corpse, then continue onward. Or let’s say I run into elite mobs, get my ass kicked, and I die. While I would prefer to make it alive, rinse-and-repeat corpse runs will do trick in a pinch.
Because I am jaded by time and familiar with how environment mechanics typically work in MMORPGs, there are usually two things that will stop me from getting somewhere – the amount of time taken by a particular activity, and the balance between effort spent and the reward for that effort.
Time I spend on the ground running like hell is fine in and of itself, but it’s time spent. Time I spend fighting or dying to stuff that’s knocked me from my mount is also fine in and of itself, but again, it’s time spent. After a point, I’m simply out of time to play the game, whether I’ve gotten to my destination or not. I’d rather spend more time at my destination than getting there.
And if I’m running towards something I really really want, that’s one thing. If I’m running towards something that I know I kinda sorta should do, but don’t really give a crap about, then that’s something else. I’m simply going to have less tolerance for using my time on running like hell/dying/difficult terrain because the point at which it’s no longer worth it comes along much sooner.
So of course I’m going to fly to rescue that NPC. Take flying away, and I’ll still find a way to minimize the effort I must put in. If I’m on a rogue, I’m going to stealth. I might use an invis pot if I have one available. I might try to make a run for it, or I might creep around the entire questing area if it will reduce the number of mobs I must fight. Being human and being stupid, I may even spend more effort trying to do it my way than I would’ve spent if I’d just done it the way it was designed.
* So if they want this to be a thing again, it seems to me like it would be awfully nice if they removed that EXP penalty they added a while back for killing a bunch of the same mobs in a row. It was intended to stop bots from grinding, or something like that.
** If you want to talk about immersion and interaction with the game, I’d give players control by giving them flight and remove boring flight paths!