If you were disappointed to learn that you wouldn't be able to take your flying mount for a ride in the new World of Warcraft zones introduced in the Warlords of Draenor expansion, Polygon's recent interview with lead designer Ion Hazzikostas will do nothing to improve your mood. He said Blizzard had initially planned to enable flying in the expansion, but eventually decided that it played better without it.
"Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways," Hazzikostas said. "While there was certainly convenience in being able to completely explore the world in three dimensions, that also came at the expense of gameplay like targeted exploration, like trying to figure out what's in that cave on top of a hill and how do I get up there."
He cited the example of a quest to break a prisoner out of an enemy camp. Normally, players would have to fight their way through it, but with flight they could simply drop in, grab their guy, and split. Hazzikostas said it made the world feel "much smaller" in many ways, which is obviously the opposite of what Blizzard is trying to accomplish. And while it's possible that flight could return in future expansions, it doesn't sound likely.
"At this point, we feel that outdoor gameplay in World of Warcraft is ultimately better without flying," Hazzikostas said. "We're not going to be reintroducing the ability to fly in Draenor, and that's kind of where we're at going forward."
It's an unfortunate decision—flying is cool—but understandable from a design point of view. Bethesda elected to do the same thing with its Elder Scrolls RPG series following Morrowind, which contained a levitation spell that let players fly unaided. "[Levitate] was removed so we could design better gameplay spaces and scenarios," Game Director Todd Howard explained in a 2011 Skyrim fan interview. "We were really limited in Morrowind because the player could recall or levitate out of many situations and break them. There was a lot of good gameplay and level design work that we just couldn’t do and now we can. Back then it seemed like many good ideas we had were shot down when another designer would say, 'Oh yeah, I just levitate or recall away.' So we got rid of them."