“Special Snowflake” Mounts
I realize I’m a little late to the party, but it’s been a busy two weeks. Apparently though, at some point near the end of February there was a moderate hoopla on the official forums about whether Blizzard should reinstate the Amani War Bear. Respondents wedged themselves firmly into two camps (as they are wont to do), with one side saying that the Amani War Bear should remain retired since it’s a reward for something that’s no longer relevant, and the other arguing that everyone should have a shot at such a cool-looking bear pumpkin thing. As also tends to happen, these camps slowly began throwing around the “elitist” and “casual” terms within just a few posts. Let the flamewar begin.
Things got a little more complicated when blue-poster Zarhym made an extremely vague comment that fueled the speculative fire. The blue haze lifted just a few days later when Blizzard’s 4.1 patch notes officially announced the return of Zul’Aman as a 5-man heroic dungeon, complete with brand new rare mount drops. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier about this compromise.
While I was someone who was pretty firmly entrenched in the “leave the war bear be” camp, creating new mounts that require new challenges to acquire is a change I can get behind. I certainly wasn’t a hardcore raider, or a raider of any kind during BC, but even a scrub like me knew about the war bear. My little gnome warlock over on the Elune server saw them pretty regularly, and I distinctly remember the week before Wrath launched a particular paladin was advertising in trade chat that he could guarantee a Zul’Aman bear mount run – for the low price of 10,000 gold. That the war bear ended up being at the center of a larger controversy hit home for me because it was the first really rare mount I can remember seeing.
My own first experience with a “rare” mount is something I’ve already reminisced about at length. That same gnome warlock completed the questline to get her Dreadsteed (then available at level 60) just days before the change that made it trainable for all warlocks. For a week or so afterward I proudly ran my Dreadsteed around Shattrath, thrilled to know that I had managed to do something that some warlocks never even bothered with. For a relatively new player who only had one or two friends on the server, it had taken a lot of networking to get together the groups that I needed to run Dire Maul and Scholomance. Along the way, I’d even found a friendly 70 warlock who had done the quest herself and was willing to come along with me so that we could use her Bell, Wheel, and Candle for the ritual – which saved me quite a bit of gold that I probably didn’t have.
That, you see, would be an example of a rare mount that felt like it was something special to its owner. The Dreadsteed may have been available to every warlock in the game, but not all went through the trouble of a long and expensive questline to get it. Regardless, it wasn’t the rarity of the mount that made it so special for me, but rather the challenges that I went through to acquire it that made it special – and memorable.
Think of the ICC drakes as a more current example. I can’t say that the 10-man group I ran with during Wrath was competitively cutting edge, but we did manage to get our drakes several months before the end of WotLK, and (most importantly to us) well before Patch 4.0′s class changes. One of my proudest moments was the night that our group finally completed Glory of the Icecrown Raider. After finishing the last achievement we all hearthed to Dalaran, quickly checked our mailboxes so that we could learn our new mounts, and then headed straight for Kraus’ Landing for a screenshot:
Of course, the funny bit about this is that I really never use this mount. I can think of few things less druidy than an enormous skeletal dragon, and it’s also pretty difficult to tear myself away from the awesomeness that is flight form. Yes, the Frostbrood Vanquishers were some of the most prestigious mounts available during the game during Tier 10 raiding, and several of my guildmates still use these drakes as their primary mount today. Since I knew I was unlikely to spend much time on it, though, my real sense of accomplishment was in doing all the achievements and heroic modes required for the meta, and especially in doing them while the content was still current. I know that many raiders have gone back to ICC since they hit 85 to finish up any remaining achievements that they had, and I’ll admit that I’m a little irked that Blizzard decided that the mount could still be attainable even after the new raid tier was released. I’ve not set foot in ICC since Cataclysm launched – you couldn’t pay me to do so – and so I can’t speak to exactly how the difficulty level has changed. Surely, though, there must be a noticeable difference in how hard those achievements were with level 80 health pools and T10 gear, versus with the 346+ gear raiders would now have.
That’s really the crux of the problem for me. My main objection to bringing back mounts as rare drops, or leaving them in place once the content is obsolete, is that it makes the acquisition of the mount trivial (at best) and chore-like (at worst). I have a very hard time believing that a group of level 85 raiders who stomped their way through a series of old hard modes and achievements in a raid that’s roughly 100 iLevels behind could possibly have the same appreciation for what they just did as people who slammed their heads against the content when it was current. What’s so wrong about allowing an extra reward for those raiders who are willing to put in the time and practice to be able to clear the hardest fights in the game? Leave the achievements and metas in the game for those who wish to go back, but why should the mounts still be there? Rewards like mounts, non-combat pets, and titles aren’t game-changing – they’re in the game for added fun and personalization. If you want a Sparkle Pony, you need to give Blizzard $25; if you want an Amani War Bear, you needed to be a damn good raider during BC.
Larísa wrote about this issue when the thread in question was first posted, and then spoke about it again in an interview over at MMO Melting Pot. She managed to precisely sum up my feelings on the subject during that interview:
Special rewards to me aren’t actually so much about their grade of exclusivity and the amount of bragging rights they come with. The special rewards I care most about are those that have some kind of story from my own gaming experiences connected to them. They remind me of something that was tough, fun or special in some other way.
It’s not that I want myself and the other nine people I raided with during WotLK to be the only people on my server worthy of flying around on Frostbrood Vanquishers. It’s that I wonder whether any raiders who get that mount now really understand what they’re getting and why it’s special. The example of the Dreadsteed is even more applicable here. If you’re a player who’s only just rolled a warlock for the first time and don’t even have the option to complete the questline, you’ve lost out on an extremely fun, special, and unique experience that used to be available in WoW. Do you still get a pretty cool-looking fiery demon horse? Yes. But I can’t be the only person out there who thinks something has been lost in translation.
So I’m happy that Blizzard found a way to include rare mounts in the new version of the Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman instances without compromising the distinction of the original mounts. If the new incarnations of ZG and ZA prove to be as challenging as the PTR reports look, then it will take a significant amount of learning and cooperation to defeat those 5 mans. That, to me, is a great way to incorporate a new reward for a new challenge into the game. Hopefully, the players who win these new mounts will have an exciting story and memory to go along with them – just like those raiders who were lucky enough to get one of the Amani War Bears.