There is an entire genre of blogpost these days grousing about how Blizzard is dumbing down and trivializing World of Warcraft, removing all difficulty from the game to cater to those stupid casuals who won't get off of the poster's digital lawn, etc. Well, Cheerydeth hit level 38 last night working on the old classic quest Mudrock Soup and Bugs, a basic kill 15 or so turtles quest located just outside Theramore. I first did this quest on my Pally sometime circa January 2005, again on my mage back in August 2005, and yet again on my hunter sometime in early 2006, so I'm relatively familiar with the then and now comparison.
- 2005 (The Good Old Days)
- A level 38 character would not have a ground mount at all. They also may or may not have all of their spell upgrades currently trained, as 100G was a lot of money back in those days, and I definitely remember passing on upgrades for spells I wasn't using as I tried to save up. Once you got the mount at level 40, it would kick you off and force you to spend 3 seconds (and a non-trivial chunk of mana for Pallies and Warlocks) remounting if you set hoof in shallow water.
The best way to reach Theramore was to fly from Ironforge (the likely home of your 1-hour cooldown hearthstone) to Menethil Harbor and await the boat. If you were coming from Booty Bay anyway, you could take the boat to Ratchet and physically run south on foot - there was no neutral flight path in Ratchet at the time, and I'd guesstimate that the un-mounted run took about 10 minutes, assuming you didn't try to go through the middle of the easily avoidable Murloc camp. In principle, you could also spend some massively long time on the auto-bird from Auberdine. However, the only way you would have gotten there would have been by taking the wrong boat from Menethil, unless you were for some reason fond of grinding Centaurs in out-of-the-way Desolace.
- Present (WoW Patch 3.1)
- The basic ground mount became available at level 30 about a year ago, and learned to tread water (same swim speed as an unmounted character, but you don't have to wait to remount when you emerge). The advent of the minor glyph means that my rogue can now sprint across the surface of the water at mounted speed for 15 seconds at a time, which significantly decreases the time it takes to get out to the rock where Nat Pagle lives.
Getting to Theramore is substantially easier. Mages have a direct portal. There is a flight path from Ratchet. Anyone can bind their 30-minute cooldown hearthstone to Dalaran (extra teleportation for Cheerydeth courtesy of the Inscription profession), take the portal to the Caverns of Time, and make a brief ride through the Tanaris desert to fly to Theramore.
- Soon (Patch 3.2)
- The originally level 40 mount will drop from level 30 to level 20, and the faster epic ground mount will be available at level 40. The casting time will also be reduced to 1.5 seconds, which adds up if you're mounting and dismounting frequently enough.
The thing is, I don't see the supposed challenge that has been taken away from the next generation. What was harder about spending more time watching your character auto-run? The one additional mob that you might decide to stop and fight after it dazed you? Does that outweigh the dozen additional mobs you will be able to fight during the time you will save in transit by being on a 100% ground mount at level 40? What was more challenging about a 10-minute quasi-AFK autorun from Ratchet? The chance that you'd be distracted by the baseball game you were watching and forget about the one camp of murlocs? (Ironically, Blizzard actually added some aggressive mobs amongst the non-aggro turtles, extending the portion of the beach where the player needs to pay at least some minimal attention.)
Access to content
The fact is that the actual content in old world Azeroth isn't as bad as people think it is. The old quests lack the custom scripted eye candy events of Northrend, but the underlying gameplay is the same as anywhere else in WoW. The difference is that the developers didn't think twice about putting the followup to the quest I did last night in Dustwallow Marsh all the way on the other side of the world in the Swamp of Sorrows. There isn't really any added challenge in taking a boat, no fewer than three flight paths (you couldn't queue these up either, so you had to dismount and talk to the flightmaster at each stop to take the next leg), and a run across a zone patrolled by aggressive, PVP-flagged orc guards to kill a dozen spiders either. However, old school WoW's exp curve required that players clear out a much larger proportion of the game's total content, and the hope was no doubt that players would stumble across some of the handful of Alliance quests in the Swamp.
Personally, I think the move to level 20 ground mounts is a good change (try running across Ashenvale without one sometime), and the move to level 40 epic ground mounts is unnecessary but largely harmless. I would have instead added more of an emphasis on regional teleport hubs (e.g. adding Theramore and Stonard portals to Dalaran) with players using local travel by flight paths and mounts to reach their final destination. I would also add a requirement, present in EQ2, that players actually visit a given location before being allowed to teleport there in the future.
Some bloggers, often ones who proudly declare that they don't like WoW anymore (sometimes backing that statement up by actually not playing WoW anymore), argue that players need to be forced to spend time watching their characters travel places, even though that time is largely non-interactive, in order to see how big the world is. I would argue that it's the content of the world, rather than its sheer size, that is really impressive. Cutting down on travel - not eliminating it entirely, but streamlining the process of returning to locations players have already reached - allows players to retain a sense of the scale and layout of the world while putting more of the content front and center.