On Argus and Flying

Flying.

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.

10 thoughts on “On Argus and Flying

  1. I respect that some people want to stick to the ground, but even if flying were to be added to Argus, Blizzard is not forcing anybody to fly. The Z-axis navigation is very poor, in my opinion. It often forces the player to take roundabout routes and constantly peek at his or her map. Additionally, most players tend to not “think on their feet,” and instead run past all the mobs packed into the zone. Contrary to Blizzard’s position, the lack of flying actually discourages exploration since ground navigation is incredibly tedious. And while some may enjoy viewing the landscape, most people will find it tiresome after several months, if not sooner. At that point, why not allow flying? I myself find the zones much more impressive when taken in from the sky anyway. It’s not until I take to the sky that I can truly appreciate the landscape Blizzard has crafted. Plus, this zone that Blizzard has created is a hodgepodge of grey, brown, and glowing green stuff. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, particularly in this expansion, and is not Blizzard’s most inspired work. Coupled with the multitude of invisible walls and crags to get stuck in (which has happened to me several times), I think Blizzard has outlawed flying in Argus for two reasons:

    1) The zone can’t handle it yet, what with invisible walls and treasure chests that are designed to be platforming puzzles.
    2) It’s in Blizzard’s best interest to keep people playing the game as long as possible.

    While I do respect your opinion, and it is admittedly refreshing to see a WordPress article written with proper grammar for a change, I can’t agree with a game developer dictating to me how to have fun in their game, particularly in an MMO. I find that flying makes the entire game much more enjoyable, and I’d be very disappointed if flying wasn’t implemented in Argus eventually. Nothing will be worse than finally obtaining that Lightforged Warframe, only to NOT be able to fly it in the zone I’ll be spending most of my time in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You bring up a valid point too, Michael. There is no harm in options. Those who wanted to run around, could do so. I think it is a good idea, to first not allow flying, and then we gain it later. That way, we have been doing what Blizzard apparently wants us to do; explore on foot, but after that, we are free to fly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s definitely a compromise to be had, which is why I like Pathfinder acheivements as a rule – do the ground gameplay and eventually you get to fly. At least as long as it’s like Legion was in that regard, with a clear path towards it you can start on immediately. I do like the convenience of flying, but I don’t really mind losing it so much on Argus, at least not yet. If we have a content draught again and get stuck doing Argus for a year, that will be a problem – but if they can have new content, especially an expansion, out before that timeframe, I don’t think it’ll sting as much.

        I do also think that Blizzard could have enabled flying in Argus – the new skyboxes that could be a barrier are better built than the weird ones they used for Spine of Deathwing, as an example, where it was clouds smashed onto a wall that looked really weird. They just chose not to put flight on Argus – I hope it’s in part because they don’t expect we’ll be doing it as current content for as long as we are conditioned to expect. The quest chain unlocks and gameplay flow there suggest to me that they don’t actually really want you there all that often – dip in, do the weekly unlocks, a few world quests, then do your emissaries elsewhere on Broken Isles. Pure speculation on my part, but in general, there aren’t quite as many things to do on Argus as I’d expect – maybe a 7.3.5 or some future Legion patch will add more, but it seems like the focus is on the story, after which it’s used somewhat sparingly.

        Appreciate the comments – always good to hear a different viewpoint!

        Liked by 1 person

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