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Cyber Black Fronday

This past Thanksgiving break was actually the busiest I’ve had in years, so I have not had much time for anything other than commutes and carbs.

The Haul

Pretty much the only thing I’ve bought during the various sales was Battlefield 1 for about $30. It was the physical edition, because retailers collude with the game industry to keep digital sales nonexistent, so I won’t actually receive it until sometime this week.

Time will tell whether BF1 will keep my attention for as long as BF2/3/4 did. A lot of people talk about how much better it is when there aren’t 37 people with lock-on rocket launchers running around, but I liked being one of those guys with the niche loadouts to harass the pros who otherwise get 70-1 scores with the goddamn attack helicopters. So we’ll see where I fall in the BF1 department.

Perhaps more than what I bought, it’s interesting as to what I didn’t purchase. For example: Titanfall 2 for $28. One, I thought it a bit silly to buy both Titanfall 2 and BF1 at the same time. Two, I’ve kinda already learned my lesson from last time. It’s not so much the prognostication regarding the PC population as it is concerns about matchmaking in general, the fact that some game modes already struggle to pop, and the wirehead nature of the gameplay. I dunno. Perhaps the bottom line is that my breakpoint on this game is not $28. Maybe $20.

There were some particularly good deals on things like the PS4 (an Uncharted bundle for $212), but I passed for the same reason I always pass on consoles: I don’t end up playing them. I still have a backlog on the PS3, let alone getting a new console. I feel like if I get back into couch gaming, I’ll have to upgrade the TV to make it the same equivalent size to my current monitor, or bust out the projector again, but that’s way too much work. Much easier to do nothing.

WoW Projects

I officially unlocked Draenor flying.

WoW_DraenorFlying.jpg

Whew.

So, what now? Well… I dunno. I have been logging on, doing some of the more lucrative dailies, and most recently running some old raids for transmog gear. I’m pretty sure WoW is going to fall to the wayside once Battlefield 1 arrives, and then we’ll see. I mean, I can’t really level any other characters, and I want to see where this WoW Token Battle.net balance thing goes besides.

Arbitrary Projects

Have you ever just sort of watched yourself play games, Ouija Board-style? That is sort of where I am with WoW at the moment. I log in, and… just see what transpires. I have no express goal anymore, stuck as I am in a holding pattern for either the WoW Token –> Server Transfer change, or some other solo questing content that doesn’t require 80 quest items from heroic dungeons.

The results have been interesting. For example, I am apparently unlocking flying in Draenor.

Believe me, I don’t know either. But it’s a nice, relatively straight-forward project with discrete checkboxes and otherwise tangible progress towards a goal. The Reputation part would technically be the most annoying, but I have been checking the AH periodically for those Medallions of the Legion, and have accumulated quite a few. So, for now, I am focusing on one zone per play session, knocking it out, and then following up with 1-2 of the “Securing Draenor” areas. Depending on my mood and the arc of the stars, this should be completed in around a week or two.

The Draenor flying project occurred after I power-leveled my warlock alt through Draenor proper, and got stuck in the abject hell that is Legion on an imbalanced PvP server. The power-leveling part was actually fun setting up. With a Potion of the Rapid Mind, full heirlooms, Potion of Accelerated Learning, and Darkmoon Faire buff… each Bonus Objective in Gorgrond gave approximately half a level. If you complete them all aside from 1-2 required mobs, then complete all the quests in the area (without turning them in), you can snag the maximum amount of XP possible in Gorgrond within that 15-minute Rapid Mind window, which is basically enough to go from 93-100 in one go.

Provided, of course, you don’t get ganked along the way.

I have been somewhat lucky in the avoiding-the-gank department thus far. Almost all the pointless attempts on my life have been while on my paladin. Just yesterday, I was attacked by a 110 Balance druid in Spires of Arak at a quest hub on my 102 namesake paladin. I bubbled and hit a hearth button… which ended up being the extra hearth you get for having an Inn in Spires, so I was really just teleported 200 yards south. The druid knew this somehow, as it was 30 seconds later when I heard the guards starting to aggro. I tried to log off, but apparently the Inn doesn’t actually count as an Inn, so I had the long, 20-second log-off timer. Not sure what the base looks like from a Horde perspective, but the druid clipped through the wall, trailing 30+ guards, and was trying to take me out with Moonfire spam as my low health warning sirens blaring.

I logged into an alt for a few minutes, then back onto the paladin. I was alive with a 15-second Sunfire DoT still on me. Never have I felt more satisfaction logging into a character.

Well, other than on any of my characters on Sargeras, who have practically zero concern over whether there are Horde in the area.

So yeah, let’s hope that WoW Token thing comes sooner rather than later. Or, you know, perhaps Blizzard could merge more servers together with the focus on actually balancing them instead of letting shit get so lopsided.

Back in Draenor, Apparently

Don’t ask. I don’t know either.

… but apparently I had a wild hair the past day or two to pick up the Bind on Account Rings that you get from doing the Shipyard quests in Warlords. I think the train of thought was that even if I spent money transferring toons off of Auchindoun, a few were at, or even below level 90. Plus, you know, the future, man.

In any case, this triggered a cascade of research and dicking around to the point that my namesake paladin is now scouring Tanaan like it’s June 2015. I even took another look at unlocking Draenor flying, but 1) fuck Blizzard for that entire fiasco, and 2) getting the 20% bonus to reputations (e.g. Trading Post Rank 3) requires Exalted with any Draenor faction… and I’m not even Honored with any of them. I suppose I could just use Medallions of the Legion without the bonus, but I don’t actually think there are enough of them on the no-pop wasteland that is Auch.

In the meantime, I’m just lurking around rare spawn sites for Shipyard equipment and doing my best Jedi Mind Trick on the passing level-capped Horde. I was only “ganked” once, by a Blood Elf hunter that saw my attempts to hearth out as too irresistible to ignore. Too bad I have the auto-bubble talent, which led me to just hearthing again, this time at double speed.

All of this is quite silly, of course. I’m pretty sure whatever time I’m spending on this is more than I’d save with +5% XP gains. At the same time, my druid is basically in passive grinding mode for Legion Pathfinder and this side project gives me something to work towards a bit more actively. I haven’t yet stuck my foot in a BG or LFR or even a Mythic dungeon.

So, I’m doing it wrong, but I’m doing something. And that’s fine for now.

Investment Window

It’s been a few months since I stopped playing WoW, but the entire time I was I was psychoanalyzing the merits of purchasing the crafted gear to boost my characters further. That dilemma reminds me of a similar problem I have with many F2P games, or any game selling convenience items. Specifically: when, if ever, do you invest more money into the game?

I have mentioned it several times, but I am currently “playing” Clash of Clans. “Playing” gets the scare quotes because the actual amount of time I spend interacting with the UI versus waiting for bars to fill up has steadily decreased for months now. Indeed, I am solidly in the design trap that is Town Hall level 8, wherein you are losing more resources to raids than you could ever hope to replace with either raids of your own or passive resource gains. Being in a raiding clan might offset it some, but realistically, some actual cash exchanging hands will be necessary to progress further.

Of course, having played the game for so long, I have zero desire to do so.

All of us have been there before: you finally get annoyed or bored enough to throw money at a problem, only to stop playing the game entirely a few days later. Even if spending that money did improve your play experience, it was too late to make much of an accumulated impact. Had you dropped cash at the very beginning though? Then you could have gotten months of utility out of that purchase, and otherwise generating a return on fun.

The problem I have though, is actually timing the investment window correctly. In the case of CoC, no time actually felt “correct” because it was just a game I was playing as a diversion; I had no idea that I would still be playing it months later. In fact, that’s most games. Reminds me of those RPGs with the “+5% XP” talents you can select early on. While a dubious investment in the long-term (the talent is useless at max level), you can recognize that if you were going to take such a talent, you need to take it sooner rather than later.

While my dithering ends up resulting in more money in my pocket, it also in some cases results in a diminished experience. For example, not outfitting my alts with the crafted weapons in WoW. Did I save gold by not crafting them? Sure. I also lost gold by not crafting and selling them. I suppose having 8+ months of WoW Tokens makes this a bit moot in a practical sense, but old AH habits die hard.

So how about yourselves? How do you choose a time to make an optional purpose?

WoW Content Comparison

One of the relatively common criticisms of Warlords overall has been the lack of content in comparison to prior expansions. With 6.2 being confirmed as the last raiding tier and Blizzard rather adamantly opposed to creating new 5-man dungeons – despite them being “one of the greatest strengths of the genre” – I find it increasingly unlikely that a hypothetical 6.3 patch would include either. So what better time than now to offer some data to back up the claim?

For this part, I am taking all info from Blizzard’s own webpage:

Raids (Boss) Dungeons BGs (Arena) Other
Warlords of Draenor 3 (30) 8 0 (0) Garrisons?
Mists of Pandaria 5 (43) 9 3 (2) 18 Scenarios
1 Race/1 Class
Cataclysm 6 (31) 14 2 (0) 2 Races
World Revamp
Wrath of the Lich King 9 (54) 16 2 (2) 1 Class
The Burning Crusade 8 (44) 16 1 (3) 2 Races

If you found that I made a mistake somewhere in the calculations, let me know.

Otherwise… well, the results kind of speak for themselves, yeah? Cataclysm, hitherto the worst expansion in the game, was the closest to Warlords in terms of raid bosses. And yet it had six more dungeons, introduced two new Battlegrounds, two new races with entirely novel starting areas, and a complete revamp of the entire world. Perhaps not everyone necessarily wanted the old world revamp, but that still represented a rather insane amount of designer attention. The same sort of attention that has seemingly clocked out starting from Day 2 in Warlords.

Indeed, when you start thinking about it a bit deeper, the Warlords situation is even worse than first glance. The devs might have built eight dungeons, for example, but the dungeons were designed for no one to actually use them. I invite you to watch that mea culpa video from Ion Hazzicostas again, or perhaps for the first time. The TL;DR version is this reckoning:

Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.

I wanted to bring the above up again, just to point out that even if Warlords had a comparable amount of content to other expansions (it doesn’t), the base structure of the game denigrates the content that does exist. For example, suppose you want to include the ten Timerwalker Dungeons into the Warlords count for whatever reason, even though they are only actually available for a limited timeframe and aren’t even revamps of the originals. In that situation, I would argue that Warlords only has ten dungeons overall, since those ten Timewalker Dungeons are the only ones still relevant to anyone in the game (by dropping high-level gear). In contrast, even when you were progressing through ICC in Wrath, running Gundrak was useful in getting you Frost Badges and that much closer to a tier piece.

In a bizarre sense, Warlords is the result of Blizzard’s design working as intended. The devs have said for years that they wanted to get to a place where they could pump out faster expansions. And as players, we all agreed… but not to this. By “faster expansions,” we meant not waiting 12-14 months with zero content. Which, by the way, is still a very real possibility with Warlords.

6.2 is It

So the latest WoW news, delivered once again in a random-ass interview no one saw coming, dropped the following bomb: Patch 6.2 is the last raiding tier. It may very well be the last content patch in Warlords of Draenor too.

I… don’t really know what to say. I pretty much agree with Asmiroth’s points and concerns though. Especially the part about lack of content:

WoD will clearly be marked as the expansion with the least amount of content since launch.  2.5 raid tiers, 8 dungeons, no races, no classes, Garrisons, which killed cities, Ashran which put the final nail in open world PvP, a near-complete destruction of crafting.  But we got selfies.

Items that were supposed to be in this expansion (from their Blizzcon): Shattrah raid, Bloodspire and Karabor (cities), Farahlon (zone/pvp).  You’d think that would be at least 1 more content patch worth.

Warlords is both the most expensive expansion Blizzard has released and the one with the least amount of content. Even if Blizzard actually delivers on the promises they made in terms of faster expansions, the best case scenario here is… what? BlizzCon is in four months. Will the beta for the next expansion be released at that point? So are we looking at 10 months from now at the earliest?

Here is a more relevant question: is an expansion even what we want at this point? I didn’t even pay full price for Warlords and I’ll be damned if I’m buying another expansion box within a year after this absolute clown show. I say this as a person otherwise sitting on nine (9!) months worth of WoW Tokens and enough gold to buy a dozen more. 

By the way, one of the items frequently omitted when talking about all the ways Blizzard fucked up this expansion is arguably one of the most important for casual players: PvP faction balance. This video by Asmongold sums it up. Or perhaps this single picture:

Whoa.

Current as of 7/2/15.

What you’re looking at is the 3v3 Arena leaderboard for Horde. In other words, while Asmongold was slightly off in his video, the very top Horde players in the US are sitting beneath 188 Alliance players. Is it just a complete coincidence that the best PvP players in WoW have all up and faction transferred to Alliance after a decade of Horde dominating basically everything? The answer is clearly no. And at this point, even if Blizzard went forward with a “radical” change like disabling all racials in rated PvP, there is no real reason those top players would pay the blood price Blizzard asks to transfer back.

If you think 3v3 Arena doesn’t have much of an effect on overall balance – and admittedly, the 5v5 numbers are a lot closer – then take a look at this:

How the tables have turned.

How the tables have turned.

So if you have been pleasantly surprised with your Alliance BG experiences lately, the above is why. It can certainly feel good to finely have the shoe on the other foot, but Alliance has taken the Horde’s shoes, socks, and pants, and are now a mile away. Racials likely don’t have much effect in the aggregate when it comes to random BG outcome, but as always, perception is reality. And the reality is that the top Horde players have left the faction, which is discouraging, which then depresses the remainder, which causes further PvP losses, which culminates in a death spiral.

I have no idea how Blizzard can even begin to fix this. Not that I have much faith in their ability to fix anything at this point.

All the World a Dungeon

In his collated recap of the recent flying controversy, Wilhelm casually asks a question that completely redefines the debate for me and explains Blizzard’s behavior up to now:

For me, the great unanswered question in all of this remains how much control over their game should a developer be allowed, whether or not the dev’s view of how their game should be played should trump the player’s view, whether MMO studios be dictating a “right way” to play and should players accept that or not?

Mind. Blown. If you aren’t already having the same epiphany as me, buckle up.

See, I realize now that this entire flying debate hasn’t been able flying per se, it has been about the tension between the content creators and the content consumers. The Blizzard team doesn’t just want a curated experience anymore, they want a directed experience. Your questing on Draenor isn’t just grounded, it’s on rails. When was the last time you actually found a shortcut up to that cave in the mountains? For me this expansion, it was never – I was stymied by invisible walls and frictionless slopes at every turn. Clearly, the desire is a linear path between A & B, no deviation or skipping game mechanics allowed.

In fact, Ion Hazzicostas said exactly this when talking about introducing more Flight Paths as a flight consolation prize:

The goal is to maximize convenience in getting from point a to point [b] but retaining as much of the gameplay and depth as possible once you do get to that point.

Something kept bothering me about this reasoning though. Flying apparently breaks immersion, but Ion doesn’t seem to give two shits about adding more and more Flight Paths to the world to maximize convenience, despite them being the most immersion-breaking thing imaginable. Seriously, who doesn’t Alt-Tab out of the game on a Flight Path? Getting on one might as well be a 1-2 minute loading screen for a dungeon.

Wait a second. Dungeon. Dungeon. Ion Hazzikostas. It all makes sense!

Cue the flashback montage.

Cue the flashback montage.

Ion Hazzikostas is designing the world (of Warcraft) as a series of instanced dungeons. Not literally, of course. But as a lead designer who specifically worked on all the dungeons and raids introduced since Wrath, his reasoning up to this point makes total and complete sense in this context.

Dungeons are extremely directed experiences. You have to kill these mobs in this way in this order to face the boss. Dungeon mobs are dangerous and patrols can wipe the group, unlike any outdoor mob since, say, the Fel Reaver. You cannot mount in most dungeons, and even in the ones you can, there isn’t any flying (Oculus notwithstanding). Hell, even ground mounts can’t save you because dungeon mobs don’t leash.

Dungeons are everything that Ion wants outdoor questing in Draenor to be, because that is all that Ion knows how to design.

So there it is. We don’t have Scenarios in Draenor because quests are our Scenarios. Apexis dailies are our dungeons. And the actual dungeons? Unrewarding afterthoughts thrown in out of habit. Or perhaps more simply, the result of a drained lead designer who had just finished crafting a dungeon the size of the world.

It is hard to even be mad at Ion. Creating instanced, on-rails experiences is his whole job, and one that he is good at. When you hammer stuff all day, it makes perfect sense that every problem starts looking nail-like. The struggle comes from the unanswered questions Wilhelm presented earlier. Should outdoor questing content be treated like instanced, directed content?

I believe the answer is clearly “No.” Instanced content has its place, as do the limitations that make it more challenging. Outdoor content, by it’s very nature, resists and rejects those limitations. Enemy encampments aren’t “more dangerous” when grounded, by any stretch of the imagination. I could run through any one of them a dozen times while mounted and be fine. Preventing an aerial assault just makes the task of killing trivial mobs take a minute or two longer.

It is for these reasons that I believe Ion and whomever else is taking his side on the development team are going about this the wrong way. I enjoy story quests as much as the next guy, but the direction should come from the tasks, not the manner in which I complete them. If you want players sticking around an enemy encampment instead of clicking on a cage and flying away, how about making the quest more involved than clicking on a cage? Or, hell, maybe they could implement a system in which it would matter how I completed it. There is already bonus quest objective tech in place, so add something in there like “completed without flying.” More carrot and less stick.

Especially given how I can already mount and ride past the stick at any time.

#WarlordsQA

I have low expectations for the upcoming “Live QA” Blizzard is hosting a good two weeks after Flightgate took off walked up to the cave on a hill (?). Maybe not as low as Grumpy Elf, but I share the sentiment that Ion “Watch the world burn” Hazzikostas is likely set to field a lot of softballs this June 6th. While I appreciate Grumpy Elf’s… enthusiasm in the questions to be answered, I wanted to offer a few that have a slightly larger (if still remote) chance of being asked and answered.

…and then the announcement post was released yesterday, which indicates questions need to either be 140-character Tweets or 40-word forum posts. So they “can get to as many questions as possible.” Because quantity of answers is exactly what everyone is looking forward to.

But, whatever. Sisyphus is a personal hero of mine, so let me remove all context and edit all my questions down to the raw nubs. Note: these questions are less than 140 characters even with #WarlordsQA (and a space) included in the Tweet. Feel free to appropriate them yourself.

1) WTF are you smoking?

1) How do you feel that more non-interactive flight paths, during which players Alt-Tab out of the game, increases immersion?

2) How is Draenor more dangerous sans flying, when players are immune to being dazed off their ground mount with garrison stables?

3) Why the push for exploration by level-capped characters when majority of exploration rewards targeted at leveling players?

4) Do you feel your treatment of professions this expansion have met your design goals? And what were those goals, exactly?

5) Ion said “group dungeons are one of the greatest strengths in the MMO genre.” And yet smallest amount of dungeons ever. Why?

6) Why remove Justice/Valor points when you just add back in currency like Apexis Crystals?

7) Why does Season 11 PvP gear still cost Honor? And not just a little Honor, but equal to current gear amounts?

8) Was there ever a thought about designing the Garrison to be Account-wide? If not, why?

9) Will the Water Stider mounts continue to be the de facto mounts everyone should use in this, and all future expansions?

10) Are there any other fun parts of the game we can look forward to you removing on a whim in the future?

…well, I tried.

In case you get a chance to watch the Q&A Live, someone has helpfully printed out some Bingo cards you can use to play along at home. My favorite part is that “Immersion” is the Free Space.

I’m picking Card # 2.

A Flight Too Far

I wasn’t going to write two posts about the lack of flying in Draenor, but the flurry of interviews and blue posts regarding it has taken me by surprise. After some thought though, I have decided to enumerate my feelings on the matter as dispassionately as possible, to hopefully serve as a more useful vehicle for feedback. I am mainly doing this for Russ Peterson:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” or similar is often attributed to Henry Ford.
And the point of that statement is that there are often solutions to a problem that are not always a direct continuation of what you expect
So when you think about flying/not flying today, try to think about what you like or miss in specifics rather than the blanket feature
Like: I miss flying because I enjoy looking at the world from a high vantage point, or I don’t miss flying because the world feels dangerous
It helps us when you can give feedback about the feelings and emotion you have or don’t have, and how that affects your behavior.
Yelling at us and telling us we’re dumb for making a decision doesn’t help.
For example, it could be argued that the command table is a stronger tether to keeping you in the garrison than lack of flight.
Try to dig past the initial feeling and reaction and tell us why you feel the way you do. That’s the feedback that makes the game better.
I’m heading out early for the holiday weekend. Keep sending feedback. I will always read it.

WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU TRYING …ahem. Let’s begin.

1) Flying gives players agency.

When I am on a flying mount, I am in control of my character. I am interacting with the world on my own time, in my own manner, and at my own discretion. While I might not always be paying attention while flying around, the fact is something could attract my eye at any moment and change my plans. Maybe I see a rare spawn, maybe I see some resource nodes, maybe I see some players in need of assistance. Flying gives me power, and yes, convenience.

2) Flying exposes poor quest design, not create it.

In the interview with Ion Hazzikostas, he states the following:

Hazzikostas gives an example: Before flying was introduced to World of Warcraft, if you got a quest to rescue a prisoner from an enemy encampment, it would play out a certain way. Players would need to fight their way through the camp. After flying, players could just fly into the center of camp, land on top of the hut where the prisoner is, free him and fly out.

“It made the world feel in many ways much smaller,” he says.

In a world without flying, the quest Ion is using as an example is still bad. If all I have to do is click on the cage, that means there is no reason to interact with the rest of the enemy encampment. Which means I will go out of my way to not interact with it. Stealth past the mobs, run through on a ground mount and use one of the handful of combat-stopping items (Treessassin’s Guise, etc), and otherwise try not to have my time sunk fighting useless mobs that only drop vendor trash.

We can instead imagine an alternate quest in which you can only release the prisoner after killing X mobs. Perhaps one of the many guards is holding the key to the cage. Maybe the prisoner won’t be able to escape the encampment until you thin the enemy ranks. Or whatever. Adding just a single extra step completely obviates the concern about flying directly to the prisoner and flying away.

3) A world’s size is dictated by volume of content, not speed in which it’s traversed.

One of the points often raised in regards to flying is that it makes the world feel smaller. I could not possibly disagree more. There has not been a single location on Azeroth or beyond that I could fly across that felt small because I could traverse it quickly. In fact, the very argument implies that one can make a world bigger simply by reducing player speed by 50%. If it takes you twice as long to run across Goldshire, does that mean Goldshire is now twice as large? Of course not.

The size of any game world is a function of what you can do in it. Which is bigger: Dragonblight or Jade Forest? Take a moment and just feel your answer.

Now, look at this:

*Jeopardy music*

*Jeopardy music*

It could very well be that Jade Forest has more quests and square footage; I don’t know how big each is off-hand, although I’m tempted to say Dragonblight. But as I leveled my druid alt through Pandaria recently, I could not help but be struck by the feeling of enormity in Jade Forest despite having purchased the BoA flight book. After spending two hours questing and gathering, I realized that I was still in the bottom third of the map. That’s how you get a big world.

Empty space doesn’t make anything bigger. If you smash Silithus, Un’Goro Crater, and Tanaris together into one zone, you’ll have a big map, but still fall short of Jade Forest’s real size by 10 quests. Three entire zones.

4) Flight Paths, no matter how quick, break immersion.

I’m going to quote Ion again here:

“The world feels larger, feels more dangerous,” he says. “There’s more room for exploration, for secrets, for discovery and overall immersion in the world.

Two paragraphs later:

He also promises that Blizzard will continue working to improve its network of taxi flight paths in the game to prevent any major frustration from this change: “The goal is to maximize convenience in getting from point a to point [b] but retaining as much of the gameplay and depth as possible once you do get to that point.”

Faster, more numerous, and more direct Flight Paths seems to be the “compensation” for removing player flight, but it is a poor one. Do you know what I do the moment I click on a Flight Path? I Alt-Tab out of the game and go browse websites. Blizzard has to know how common a phenomenon this is, as they introduced a loading screen into WoW for players who Alt-Tab back into the game after their character finishes a taxi ride.

Immersion is about a consistent experience. For me, there isn’t anything that breaks me out of “the zone” more than a long, non-interactive loading screen from which I cannot escape. I mean, thank you for the Exit Taxi button, I guess, but there’s such a huge delay between seeing something interesting while on the FP and actually getting back there, that there’s no reason to bother. I will Alt-Tab out of even a 60-second flight because that is 60 seconds of me not actually getting to play the game.

I have no doubt there are players who get on their flying mounts and just auto-fly forward while AFK in the same way I do on Flight Paths. But again, immersion is about a consistent gaming experience. There is 100% immersion from me questing one moment, to flying back home the next. There is zero immersion while I browse CNN.com while the game arbitrarily dictates how quickly I get to my destination.

5) Exploration is discouraged with lack of mobility.

Ion and others mention how flying diminishes exploration, but it is the exact opposite in my experience.

“While there was certainly convenience in being able to completely explore the world in three dimensions, that also came at the expense of gameplay like targeted exploration, like trying to figure out what’s in that cave on top of a hill and how do I get up there.”

There is a threshold to how inconvenient an activity can be and still feel rewarding to pursue. An example of this is Archaeology: I have all but abandoned trying to obtain Zin’rokh (troll sword) and the Ultramarine Qiraji Battle Tank (Tol’vir mount). When I look at my Archaeology map and I see dig sites scattered across continents and focused on races I am not even pursuing, I feel like giving up on the entire profession. If it were even slightly less insane an undertaking however, I would continue happily farming away.

In the example of “what’s in that cave at the top of the hill,” I have to ask a few questions. How do I even know there is a cave at the top of the hill? Does a quest send me up there? Is there a rare spawn? Does it contain anything of any relevance to a level-capped player (as leveling characters never traditionally have flight anyway)? I ask these questions because the world is riddled with empty set pieces and half-finished content. If I navigate my way to the top of the hill and the bottom of the cave and there is nothing there, I will be hugely disappointed and far less likely to risk my time in the future.

In fact, the majority of the time you are punished for exploring. When we talk about navigating up that hill, or any hill, there is typically only one path that’s intended. I can’t count the number of times I saw what appeared to be a shortcut or “hidden path” in Shadowmoon Valley that ended up being a decorative piece of impassible terrain. So now I get to take falling damage and walk clear around the base of the hill to find where the designers wanted to “target” my “exploration.”

These days, if a quest asks me to go to the top of any hill or down inside any cave, I skip that quest and move on.

6) The world has never been less dangerous, even without flying.

I honestly do not get what people are talking about when they suggest lack of flying “makes the world more dangerous.” The danger of the world is completely independent of your method of travel (unless you are a druid). What is going to kill you? Pulling too many mobs? Having a patrol run into you while fighting something else? Guess what, you are already on the ground. Unless your health was so low that the 1-2 hits you might receive after you escape on your ground mount would kill you, the danger is identical.

I suppose there is an increased risk from falling damage, but many classes have means of negating it with simply class abilities. Or the Goblin Gliders. Nevermind just hearthing out.

There has been some talk about how removing flying mounts encourages more world PvP. If it does, I haven’t seen it. Sure, you are stuck on the ground, surrounded by impassible 5-foot slopes and such. But so is the other faction. If someone wants to go around hunting for trouble, they literally have to hunt – being stuck on the ground limits your sight horizons. So in many scenarios, I feel like there is less world PvP simply because those who want to be engaging in it can’t find targets who might just be over the next ridge or behind that tree.

7) Flight is a tremendous reward for reaching endgame.

Has there ever been a bigger carrot than unlocking flying again at the endgame? I haven’t seen one.

The only thing I got at the end of Draenor was a Level 3 Garrison which, considering how useless many of my professions became, did not actually help me much in terms of increased buildings. I suppose there are raids and heroics dungeons and such, but I get instantly teleported to those so… yeah. Compared to fundamentally changing how I interact with the expansion’s world (i.e. flying), there isn’t a whole lot to look forward to for that last ding.

8) Flying mounts look terrible on the ground.

Some of the most rare, most prestigious mounts in the game look absolutely terrible on the ground. While I do not normally advocate for past achievements dictating future design, I think it’s worth acknowledging that people spent hundreds of hours farming, say, the Pandarian dragons, and are now stuck watching them writhe on the ground like a wounded snake. I have the Ashes of A’lar, and I pretty much will never get to use that mount again, as it looks dumb hovering over the ground.

9) The Water Strider Problem.

Indeed, for all intents and purposes, I only have one mount this expansion: the Azure Water Strider. The ability to traverse rivers, lakes, and oceans makes all other mounts (aside from the Crimson Water Strider) functionally useless. Why would I use the Raven Lord – a mount I finally got after five years of farming – when it would limit my mobility and ability to navigate terrain? Even flying mounts apparently sink like stones.

If we really are going to be glued to the surface from now on, you are going to have to address the Water Strider problem for the nine classes that can’t just ignore it. I unlocked that mount back in Mists on a lark, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made for this, and potentially all future expansions.

10) Suspicious of the future.

This last point is kinda out there, but just stick with me for a second.

I think it is pretty clear that Draenor wasn’t intended to be a permanent no-fly zone. I say this not only because of the various statements from Ion and other Blizzard designers – who made it clear that no flying was an experiment that “could go either way” – but out of the basic design of the world itself. For example, the vast tracks of empty, quest-less terrain throughout Shadowmoon Valley recall the design of similar future-flight zones like Dragonblight. The biggest clue however, comes from the fact that we can fly a little bit here and there with items like Aviana’s Feather and the Goblin Gliders. We would not have had that ability if Blizzard didn’t fully generate 3D terrain throughout Draenor.

So here’s my theory: Blizzard is removing flying to cut future production costs.

In a world without flying, or restricting flying to specific areas, Blizzard is free to replace large swaths of the map with 2D sprites and skyboxes. This is the exact reason why you still cannot fly in Silvermoon City: the city outside the narrow roads simply doesn’t exist. Stormwind had the same issue prior to Cataclysm, if you’ll recall, but they did spend the manpower to construct a fully 3D space. They had to, because otherwise every character with a flying mount would immediately see the seams of the gameworld.

On one hand, there’s nothing necessarily “bad” about this sort decision in of itself. If you can’t physically get to somewhere, there is no reason why you should be upset that it was a clever skybox instead of fully functional rendered terrain.

On the other hand, if true, it would make Blizzard disingenuous to the extreme. And, you know, this particular explanation (e.g. cut costs) makes more sense than the ones we have been presented thus far. Flying has been spun as this big “problem” that there needs to be a “solution” for, but where is the actual problem? When did it start occurring? Did anyone honestly think Northrend was “too small” because of flying? Was there anything more impressive than Icecrown Citadel in terms of set pieces seen from a flying mount? If Northrend was a no-fly zone, I guarantee that 95% of ICC would have been sprites.

World of Warcraft is the most successful MMO ever made and has maintained that title for over ten years now. Despite that fact, and the sheer volume of cash flow, Blizzard has never been able to release expansions faster. How long was the last raid tier in Pandaria active again? So Blizzard has every incentive to cut as many corners as they can to push content out the door faster. We have seen that time and time again in Draenor, and I suspect we’ll see more of it in future no-flight expansions.

If this is the real reason, I wish Blizzard would just come out and say it. Because if it is the case, we already lost the debate, and nothing we say matters; we are no longer debating design philosophy, we are debating dollars. And that is one argument players are never going to win.

Not Garrisons

One of the recurring themes across various forums concerning WoW’s shocking 2.9 million sub loss is “Garrisons did it.”

Garrisons offer too much convenience. So much that Draenor went from populated to empty in a few short months. Nerf garrisons. (+239)

On the surface level, it’s easy to agree. Everything in this expansion pivots around the Garrison, from the 2nd Hearthstone to its more centralized location, to the mission system, and beyond. And as many people have pointed out, Blizzard went from being worried about player housing siphoning people from the capital cities and sequestering them into instances to… encouraging players to stay in their instanced Garrisons. Why leave? There are no daily quest hubs or relevant reputation factions to farm, and grounded travel limits your vision to the immediate horizon.

But then Grumpy Elf made me realize what was actually missing:

5) Valor / Justice:

This is the biggest, single most missed thing in the game right now.  So much is connected to it that I imagine that you do not even realize it.  Valor was a carrot, one we kept chasing each and every week.  It was a motivator, something this game is lacking at the moment.

For any game of this type the key to success is to keep up running the wheel and points did that.  Be it valor to get the weekly cap or justice when you wanted to convert it to honor or buy heirlooms.  Collecting points was a good motivator.  It gave content repeatability.  At the moment you can hit 100 and really have absolutely no reason to do dungeons except to start the ring quest line but with valor, and associated valor gear, for a fresh dinged character it would once again be worth doing them, ring or not.

What’s the first thing you think about, in terms of casual content in MMOs? Raids? World PvP?

Or, you know, dungeons?

Grumpy Elf is absolutely correct here in pointing out that dungeons in this expansion are a joke. Why would you ever run them? You can bypass the gear check for LFR with crafted gear and questing, the former of which you can craft with… wait for it… Garrisons. And that’s what is going on: Garrisons replaced Dungeons. Where do you get raid-level gear this expansion, without having to raid? From your Garrison. Where did you get raid-level gear without raiding in every other expansion thus far? Dungeons. QED.

I can even see where Blizzard might have thought they were doing casuals a favor. Casual players are most likely DPS who were stuck with 40+ minute queues to do the one activity that allowed them character progression at the level cap. LFR certainly gave them a bigger target to aim for, but that’s only once a week. Dungeons were every day. The current system is also really good for alts, as who has time for multiple 40+ minute queues, right?

Well… it was a bridge too far.

The other possibility, which is really more alarming, is simply the lack of content, period:

  • No new races
  • No new classes
  • No new battlegrounds
  • No new capital cities
  • No new profession
  • Remaining professions gutted
  • Farahlon cut
  • Tannan pushed back to 6.2
  • BRF pushed back from launch
  • Ashran is a complete failure
  • No daily hubs
  • No reputation factions to work for rewards
  • Only five new leveling zones (Shadowmoon and Frostfire are basically faction specific)

The original post is too large to quote in its entirety here, but “TiredOfYourShit21” makes an unassailable argument that WoD quite literally has less content than any other expansion ever released. And this time Blizzard doesn’t even have the moral excuse of Cataclysm, where people kinda forgot about the all the new 1-60 content when doing their calculations. For Warlords, expansion price went up, content went down. Maybe, maybe you can argue that the new character models represented a lot of “effort capital” that would have otherwise gone into the game elsewhere. But the truth is more likely that all that effort went into the Garrison instead of dungeons or anything else.

I dunno. I’m still playing for now, but it’s definitely more in the sense of completing a Bucket List than anything else.