Saturday, October 26, 2019

All The Tired Horses

Shintar posted this week on her World of Warcraft Blog, Priest With A Cause, that she was Level 40 with a mount. She'd posted a while earlier about how she planned to raise the cash, which is considerable, to make that happen.

I found myself commenting somewhat testily on both posts. There's something about mounts in MMORPGs that gets my goat these days. Not that I have a goat. Although I could, seeing as how I play a dwarf in both WoW Classic and Lord of the Rings Online. Theoretically, that is. I don't have the money in the first or the levels in the second but it could happen.

Do I really see myself astride a goat, though? It's fantastical, sure, but it's not a fantasy I've ever entertained. Not that I've never fantasized about riding.

When I was a child I went through a peculiar pony phase. I made my mother promise that if she won the Football Pools (the 1960s version of a lottery that would require a lot more explanation for the uninitiated than I'm prepared to get into here - just think Terry Pratchett and you're half way there...) she'd buy me a pony. I even knew what it would look like - black with a white blaze on its brow.

Motorbikin', motorbikin', motorbikin'

I grew up surrounded by horses. There were a couple stabled in the field above my house and several more running loose in the field next to our orchard. Yes, I had that kind of childhood. I liked them but I was wary. Horses have a wicked sense of humor. They're not to be trusted.

I sat on a horse exactly once. It was loose on the common outside my school, just standing there. I was with some friends. There were girls there. I ran at the horse and vaulted onto it. It let me. It barely moved, just carried on standing there. Once I was up I had nothing. I slid off and that was that.

Lucky it didn't bolt or turn around and bite me or throw me and kick me I guess, but that was how we rolled back then. Eight years old and no adults between breakfast and tea. Half Huck Finn, half Just William with a smidgeon of Lord of the Flies to keep us honest. The past isn't just a different country, it's a different universe.

Other beasts I have bestrode include donkeys at the seaside when I was tiny(ish) and a camel when I was full grown. I can't say any were expreiences I wanted to repeat. I've been on the back of a motorbike a few times. Never wanted to own one.

If you gotta go, go, gotta go motorbike ridin'
When it comes to games my views on mounts have changed. Are changing even now.

The first I remember were in EverQuest. Norrath didn't have any mounts when I arrived nor for some while afterwards. If you wanted to travel you got on Shanks's Pony as my grandfather used to say.

I don't remember when horses were introduced but it must have been fairly late on. I know they came before the Legends of Ykesha expansion in 2003 because that was when we got Drogs. Drogs (real name Drogmor) are large, lizardy creatures you can buy at the Lighthouse in The Gulf of Gunthak, a place where I've spent many hours and a good deal of platinum across the years. I wanted one for my Ogre Shadowknight because an ogre looks silly on a horse.

By the time LoY appeared my Gnome Cleric had been riding his own, tiny, horse for a while. For him, at the time, having a horse was far more important than having his "Epic", something all clerics were supposedly obligated to own but which he never bothered with and never missed.

The thing about having a mount in EQ was this: it wasn't primarily a means of transport. In most MMORPGs mounts are visually aggressive run speed buffs. In EverQuest their primary function, particularly for casters, was as mana batteries and aggro reducers. Still is, at least when I play.

A bug briefly brings Fallen Earth to EverQuest

In those days both mana and aggro management were key gameplay components. Casters had to sit to meditate to regain mana at an increased rate but the very act of sitting radically increased mob aggro. A healer who sat down mid-fight to regain enough mana to cast a vital heal would often find the mob peeling off the tank to come beat on an apparently helpless target.

If you had a horse, all that went away. On a horse, the game treated you as though you were simultaneously standing and sitting. You could cast freely but you regained mana at the seated rate. Mobs perceived you as standing so your aggro stayed low.

Also, as an added bonus, if I'm remembering correctly, you didn't suffer from encumbrance while mounted. Yes, you did go a bit faster as well - there were different grades of horse to improve your travel speed -  but that was the least of it.

In other MMORPGs, Fallen Earth springs immediately to mind, mounts operate as mobile inventory. They have saddlebags. That's a more interesting proposition to me than just going faster.

The real thing

Fallen Earth, of course, had the best implementation of mounts that I've experienced. There, your horse was an individual entity in the world. You couldn't fold it up and put it in your backpack or wish it away to some nether-dimensional no-space.

If you wanted to get off your horse in Fallen Earth you had to dismount and there it would be, standing next to you. If you wandered off and forgot about your mount, predators could attack and kill it. I left my horse by the side of the road once and came back to find it half-eaten by giant ants. If you wanted to leave it safely you had to find a stable and arrange for room and board.

Over the years I've seen a huge variety of mounts, from the quasi-realistic versions in Fallen Earth and Lord of the Rings Online to the extremes of whimsy in Riders of Icarus. The trend over the last decade or so has definitely been towards the spectacular and the ludicrous.

Retail World of Warcraft offers a mindbending melange of creatures and vehicles, some of which seat several players and come equipped with NPC services. EverQuest II long abandoned even a hat-tip to sanity, seating its characters on everything from distorted cats to full-size dragons, flying discs and leaping lizards.

As the decades pass, the frog of my suspended disbelief has slowly boiled dry. The last drops of my patience turned to steam with the introduction of mounts to Guild Wars 2 (and here I am running very much against the herd because there are many who feel ArenaNet's implementation of mounts represents some kind of gold standard for the genre).

I loathe them. I detest the hypersaturated bling they bring to what was once one of the best-visualised fantasy worlds in the genre. I condemn the unapologetic, unashamed, crass commerciality of the skin market, something that smacks of both desperation and the abandonment of principle.

More even than their appalling appearance, I abhorr their practical implementation. I detest the way they lurch and jolt and skid and stutter, every nausea-inducing plunge and check. The way each mount comes with a specific movement function turns fantasy role-play into a game of creature-feature mini-golf as you stop, assess the obstacle ahead of you and select the most appropriate "club".

What mounts have done to GW2, other than turning every public gathering into a six-year old's sugar nightmare, is to weaponize one of the most annoying of its original features - jumping puzzles. With mounts there's now no content that can't be reduced to a test of hand-eye co-ordination and keyboard dexterity. Accessibility can go drown in a bucket.

I think it's almost entirely down to GW2's doubling-down on all the worst aspects of the concept that has soured me on mounts everywhere else. I used to quite like the silliness and the showing off. I still do in games like Riders of Icarus, where crazy rides are the whole point of the game.

In anything that still feels like it might just have a chance of passing for a virtual world in a dim light, though, I'm not feeling the love for mounts any more. I may have become inured to the merry-go-round in EQ2, where population density at least renders visual pollution no more than a sporadic problem, but it's notable that even there my own choice of mounts tends towards a discreet set of wings that leave my characters looking much the same as if they were on foot, except when they're actually in flight.

That's why I'm not at all bothered that I don't yet have a mount in Classic as I bear down on Level 50. I can't afford one and I don't intend to make any effort to change that. I'd rather spend my gold on things that matter, like better weapons or more inventory space.

I'll get a mount eventually. Probably that goat. Maybe a horse. Nothing flashy. When I have it, I'll use it sparingly. Long before my current discomfort with the concept I already found the constant on-and-off nature of mount implenmentation in many MMORPGs annoying.

One of the main reasons I don't have the same degree of dislike for mounts in EQ2 and Riders of Icarus that I do in other games is that they allow your character to do much the same mounted as dismounted. Either that, or they handle the mounting and dismounting automatically so I don't have to bother with it.

If and when I finally get a mount in Classic I plan on using it for long trips on auto-run and not much else. And I won't be buying one until I have enough money that the initial cost leaves me with at least as much left in the bank as I just spent.

If I'm mounted before I hit sixty I'll be surprised.


  1. As you're probably aware Black Desert handles mounts just the same as Fallen Earth did according to your description.

    To be honest, when I'm playing ArcheAge I don't miss that bit of realism at all. The convenience of being able to summon and unsummon my horse at will improves my quality of life quite a lot and, maybe a bit surprisingly, doesn't lessen the virtual-world-feel for me in the slightest.

    It IS just a plain old horse though, nothing flashy or ridiculous. When it comes to that kind of stuff I agree with you 100%.

    1. I had forgotten that about Black Desert. I remember having to train the horse though. Can it actually be attacked by mobs? That I don't recall at all. Certainly never happened to mine.

    2. It can be attacked and die, yeah. If it does you're on your own until you get to the nearest stable guy too, so your trip might take much longer than anticipated. :-)

  2. The last time I was playing EQ II, I was crafting in Neriak and some guy on a giant mount came along and started using the same bench that I was. Rather than move or say anything, I promptly on on a rhinoceros so that he couldn't see anything either. I can't remembr if he dismounted after that or moved to a different bench, but he did seem to get the message . . .

    On topic, I love collecting mounts. However, when it comes to using them the smaller the better. Wings are nice if they are an option.

    1. I'm increasingly ambivalent about the whole thing. I like collecting mounts too and I posted only a couple of weeks ago about how excited I was that EQ2 had added a witch's broom mount. On the other hand, the visual pollution from other peoples' mounts is really getting out of hand. The self-centered twerp on the giant mount at the crafting tables or in the bank has been a problem for years but in GW2 these days it's often hard to see the mob you're fighting for people hanging above the combat on pulsating skyscales.

      What would fix the whole problem is a toggle that lets players choose to see all mounts/party only/character only. I bet there's an MMO out there that already has that feature.

  3. Maybe it is because I'm easily distracted, but I generally find mounts more trouble than they're worth. Summon mount, ride 10 feet, see an herb I want to collect, get down, collect herb, summon mount, ride 10 feet, see an orc I want to bash, get down, bash orc... you get the idea. Constantly getting on and off the mount annoys me more than just running on my GM-given legs.


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