Players are angry, but they don't really have the right to be. Blizzard's decision to restrict free-flight in high-level areas benefits players.

No Flying? No Problem! How Blizzard’s Controversial Draenor Decision Benefits WoW Players

Players are angry, but they don't really have the right to be. Blizzard's decision to restrict free-flight in high-level areas benefits players.

Since 2007, higher-level World of Warcraft players have been able to freely fly around Azeroth’s continents, forgoing the in-game taxi services used by lower-level characters. The rules for flying in new zones were simple: hit the level cap for their associated expansion, and you can take to the skies. However, with the MMO’s latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, developer Blizzard began limiting players’ freedom of airborne movement. 

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Tanaan Jungle is Draenor‘s newest addition. Flying – even for level-100 toons – is forbidden here, as it is in all other Draenor zones. Although Blizzard initially indicated that flying might come to the expansion in a later patch, in a recent interview with Polygon, lead designer Ion Hazzikostas stated that the developer has no intention of bringing free flight to Draenor.

The majority opinion seems to be that this is a bad move on Blizzard’s part. World of Warcraft‘s subscriptions are down nearly 30%, according to their first quarterly report this year, though some attribute this to recent price hikes. While the outcry could be attributed to a vocal minority at work, recent tweets include threats to leave the game if Blizzard doesn’t reverse its decision.

While the initial restriction of flying in Draenor was experimental, Hazzikostas confirmed that the World of Warcraft team liked the flightless version of the game more. Despite the backlash, Blizzard’s rationalization is sound: flying makes the world smaller, less dangerous, and less mysterious. It also makes players more likely to avoid confrontation, as in this example from the Polygon interview:

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 the camp, land on top of the hut where the prisoner is, free him and fly out.

The belief that WoW is better without free-flight, he said, will direct future development. For players, this means that whatever high-level realms Blizzard adds in the future probably won’t give them the option of free air travel, though Hazzikostas “doesn’t discount the possibility of adding flight options in to specific expansion ideas or zones that would benefit from it.”

The question still remains: is all the player backlash really warranted? The answer: no, not really. Here are three ways the Draenor decision will actually benefit WoW players.

1. It Doesn’t Allow High-Level Players to Rest on Their Laurels

After spending countless hours grinding through various challenges to max out your toon’s level, you might feel that you deserve a break from PvE play. This is your retirement period, your free time to relax and enjoy the game at your own pace.

Blizzard wants players to interact with Draenor, to the extent that they’re forcing them to.

If this is true, then what was the point of Blizzard creating new zones at all? Developers of any game, WoW included, don’t log their own grinding hours just to bring players a product they can fly right over, without ever actually experiencing it.

Tanaan Jungle is a high-level zone filled with challenging enemies. The former WoW players who cancelled their subscriptions because of the Draenor controversy have done so specifically because they have no interest in coming into contact with the new environment; they’d prefer a leisurely, risk-free experience.

But Blizzard wants players to interact with Draenor, to the extent that they’re forcing them to. That they have to force them in the first place says a lot more about the WoW community than it does about the game itself.

2. It Could Significantly Improve Lag Problems

One of the worst things about playing WoW on a highly populated server is the sudden, severe drop in frame-rate that comes with entering social areas like Orgrimmar and Stormwind. Even on low-population servers, a group of flying mounts hovering over an area is certain to rain down lag upon players grounded below.

Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never had this problem, chances are pretty good that you’re playing WoW on a high-end, maybe even custom-built, PC. Congratulations on having the money to fork over for such a project, but that isn’t feasible for most of us.

Restricting free-flight in Draenor means more players can explore its new zones uninterrupted by lag. Although this may not be any issue for the many players who view WoW as an investment, it’s a welcome change for those who aren’t financially able to upgrade their hardware.

3. It Isn’t Rolling Back Players’ Rights

In reading the collective outcry on Twitter and the Blizzard forums, one argument is all too common: “We’ve had flying since 2007, so why take it away now?”

We’ve already addressed Blizzard’s reasons for choosing to make Draenor a no-fly zone, but the sheer prevalence of the question above warrants a direct, third-party answer. And here it is: Blizzard isn’t rolling back your right to fly. Yes, you’ve had the freedom to fly where you pleased since Burning Crusade. You’ve used it in all the areas released prior to Draenor, and guess what? You can still fly freely in all of those areas.

Blizzard didn’t allow flying in Draenor and then revoke the privilege, and the developer isn’t taking away players’ freedom of flight in pre-Draenor zones. Tanaan Jungle and similar areas don’t allow flying, and never have, while other zones continue to provide players with the opportunity to glide through the skies at their leisure.

Ultimately, the facts won’t matter in this case. The players who have abandoned the game in recent months are offended for no reason, and will probably continue to be. Despite mounting evidence that the decision is good for WoW, it doesn’t appear to have been good for Blizzard, and may even have leave the company foundering.


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K.W. Colyard
I'm a freelance writer and editor from the rural American South. I write. I read. I play video games. I also sleep sometimes. Talk to me about ampersands, blankets, and the Oxford comma.