The ever-controversial, ever-desired, constantly-complained about addition to the game.
I’m going to take an unpopular position here.
I think the game is okay without it.
Argus has, for all of its successes, had one glaring “flaw” pointed out by many a commenter on forums – it’s packed extra-dense with mobs and yet doesn’t allow you to fly right over them. What?!
Okay, let me set aside the snark – I actually think having flying in new places blows and makes them less memorable and feel lesser than they are. My basis for this is in a comparison of expansions.
Wrath of the Lich King, the second expansion to the game and also the second with flying mounts loosed upon the world, made you stay to the ground until level 77, at which point you could buy cold-weather flying and take to the skies. Zones in Wrath were well-designed such that they did not need flying, until that level mark, at which point you were expected to be airborne. Pretty much all of Wrath is well-designed to be tackled from the ground, until Storm Peaks and Icecrown, at which point you, more or less, need to fly in order to progress at a reasonable rate.
Then came Cataclysm. Cataclysm is something of a black mark in WoW’s history for many players, but if you ask the people that believe that, you’ll get a variety of answers. I already addressed the content volume idea in my Legion 1-Year Retrospective, so let’s address why I think people believe that Cataclysm didn’t offer much end-game progression content – it did, you just flew over all of it.
Think about it – in terms of zones added, actual, playable content – Cataclysm offered quite a bit, and not just in the low-level revamp. However, it was designed differently than any expansion to date, in that you could fly in those zones right away. Nothing made you stay on the ground to admire the zones, the work in them – which is a shame, because Cataclysm is when the art team for WoW started really shifting into form. The zones in that expansion are greatly detailed and well laid out – even for grounded players. However, most of us, myself included, couldn’t really tell you much about the zone layouts outside of big landmarks, dungeon and raid portals, and main quest hubs. Why? Well, I didn’t have to know how to get back and forth across Hyjal, just auto-run on my flying mount, pitched up or down as appropriate, and wait until the minimap has the golden exclamation point or question mark I need.
This is a problem for Cataclysm – it’ll likely never get the props it deserves from the overall playerbase for that, and other reasons. It was actually, in my opinion, a well-designed, gameplay focused expansion – but even with that opinion, I can’t recall as much about the zones as I could tell you about Borean Tundra, or Hellfire Peninsula.
Mists of Pandaria reverted to the endgame-only flight model, but it added a few new pieces to the puzzle of the game’s level design – it added the treasures that have formed a foundation of our world gameplay ever since, and with that, it added new, different terrain navigation.
I won’t say that Blizzard have always designed zones with basic, 2D layouts that then end up being fairly easy to navigate, but if you look at zone-layout pre-Mists, you start to notice that elevation and Z-axis navigation are fairly absent. The zones back then were mostly flat 2D areas with walls or elevation used sparingly. To mask this, the zones are often pitched to a slope, or use props quite carefully to create the illusion of a varied landscape – but barring the exceptions of puzzle navigation like TBC Auchindoun, or Shattrath, the zones are mostly flat planes with props and obfuscation added. Mists changed that into what we’ve had ever since – zones with a flow through them, where small chunks of a zone are doled out at a time, and navigation is a gameplay feature. It has made the world feel more alive, but it also increased people’s desire to fly.
Mists, for its part, gave us flight early on. No patches, no waiting – just hit level cap and get to your faction capital in Pandaria, then pay for the unlock and get on the flying mount of your choice.
Warlords of Draenor took a sharp reversal from this, and was reviled for it, in part because Blizzard were very wishy-washy about flying during the early phases of talking about the expansion. Was it coming? Who knew – we all thought so until much closer to release, when the announcement happened – flying wasn’t going to happen in Draenor. At first, it sounded definite – never, and that made people very angry. Then, the position softened to “eventually.” Eventually turned into patch 6.2.2, when Draenor Pathfinder was added.
Legion cribbed this model, but intended it from the beginning. The Pathfinder acheivement had two parts, the first of which was live right from the start, and gave you a ground mount speed boost in Legion zones, which was helpful. Then 7.2 opened part two, which was flight. This was where we deviate again, though – Argus came out after and flight is not allowed there at all, nor will it likely ever be.
Argus, to many, is not only designed to not be flown in, but it is also designed with probably the largest number of Z-axis navigation challenges the game has ever packed into a zone, and to that point, most of these challenges are packed into just one of Argus’ three zones – the Antoran Wastes. The place where our new raid portal is, the one we’re probably going to spend most of our time once we get Antorus.
I’ve seen a variety of topics and takes on this, but most internet commentators seem to agree – flying would make this easier.
Here’s my take, going back to my stance from earlier – I think that Argus as a whole is fine as-is, and while yes, flying would make it more relaxing and simple, I don’t think flying would make it better. More convenient? Absolutely! But I don’t think that is an improvement, strictly speaking. Let me break down why I believe that.
-It’s a scary zone, isn’t it? Argus makes you think on your feet, packed with not only the Z-axis movement needed, but also a mob density that can be downright oppressive. Bellular and other folks have commented that this is poor game design, but I think a bit differently – in terms of communicating what Argus is, why it is a threat – this design feels less like a game level and more like a world. I understand that this does make it slightly annoying to play in, yes – but it is what lends Argus its credibility. I couldn’t break down these zones to the 2D vector graphic maps they frequently showcase for content at Blizzcons past, and that makes it feel more alive and real than much of the game’s other zones. To top it off, it makes the world feel scary that you wouldn’t even try to fly here – an illusion that no other end-game zone has had. Sure, Quel’Danas and Timeless Isle didn’t let you fly, but they also didn’t really have strong lore explanations for why, so it felt more like a game mechanic. Argus is scary, threatening, and so it feels less like a game mechanic that you don’t take to the skies. I get that this is not everyone’s cup of tea – and that’s fine. For me, this increases immersion.
-Despite that scariness, there are still ways around if you’re clever. From ridges that allow you to jump over ravines, to stone pathways that allow you to platform through rivers of fel fire, the new zones offer a fairly decent number of alternatives to running around a ridge to get to the ramp up it. Maybe not on every point which you’d want, but I do find that I’m often able to circumvent the more annoying loops with careful gameplay. On my main, sure, Demon Hunters are super-mobile, but alts too – I’ve done all three zones now on a Priest and Monk as well and I’ve only once or twice gotten annoyed with my navigation.
-I feel more interested in Argus and what is happening. By being low to the ground, everything has a scale that flying would have betrayed. I look back on Broken Isles, on how interesting and large Highmountain felt, or the scale of the main Suramar City – and how these things started feeling less awesome when you could just zip over them. They’re still impressive, don’t get me wrong – but from the ground, in the trenches – they just felt more awesome. Argus will always feel that awesome, especially since there are so few spots where you can look down on the zones – you basically get a sliver of each zone aerially from the main window of the Vindicaar, and that view, you can tell, was very carefully selected to give the correct sense of scale. I don’t feel tricked by this, not like a Disneyland castle – the zones look, feel, and are just huge, with massive Demon monuments and remnants of Draenei civilization – but I never will have the chance to spoil myself on it by whizzing over all of it. It makes the setpieces, like Kil’Jaeden’s ship, the spire of Antorus, and the Seat of the Triumvirate, all look very impressive, and they will stay that way for much longer than they would have otherwise.
To be fair, sure – if you just now unlocked flying, it feels weirdly counter-intuitive to be ground straight after. I get that, and I agree. I’ve had the benefit of having flying unlocked since around April, so it’s been fine for me, but someone who just unlocked it in August might not have had the same chance to soar around that I’ve had. It’s a rough edge that no other such zone has had – Timeless Isle gave you nearly a year of exploring Pandaria, and even then, it didn’t contain a raid of its own – just the two tier-equivalent world bosses. Tanaan had a raid, but it also had flying once unlocked, so yeah. There was Flamebreach in Cataclysm, but it was only used in limited fashion for the Hyjal dailies added in 4.2, and had no other content outside of that.
To circle back to my original point, I do like flying. I do enjoy being able to use it, and I have both Pathfinder flying unlocks so all my characters can fly through Draenor and Broken Isles – it’s great for convenience, and especially so when you’ve done the zones 10 or more times. Having said that, I do think that the game loses something in the air – back in the day, when zone designs were relatively simple, not as much, but as the game’s design has trended towards more interesting, exploration-based gameplay, flying does take something away from that. I feel like the Pathfinder approach is the best compromise – do everything on the ground at least once, experience a majority of the content available, and then sure, fly over it afterwards. But as for Argus? I feel like no-fly is just right – the zones there are best experienced from the ground, with all of the gameplay and yes, all of the annoyances that can bring.
Argus is always going to feel at least a little dangerous and deadly. To me, that is just how it should be.