When Guild Wars 2 announced that the central mechanic of its Path of Fire expansion was going to be mounts, a lot of people rolled their eyes. Ater all, it’s hard to find another MMO that doesn’t have mounts, why would you make this one of your selling points?ArenaNet told us more about its novel approach to its four distinct mounts, each having its own unique toolset to help players navigate the world, it became obvious that these were not just your run-of-the-mill speed boosts with horse armor. The four mounts the studio announced seemed to cover all of the movement tools you could want.
But as it turns out, there was a fifth true mount in the game that ANet had been hiding from us.
I’ll never forget the day I first saw the griffon. It was maybe a week after the launch of Path of Fire, and I had just finished the heart at the Temple of Kormir, when I heard a weird screeching sound, and swung my camera around to see someone soaring through the air on a flying mount. My jaw dropped. In the days that followed, ArenaNet explained that it had intentionally hidden information about the griffon to give the players something to discover. They even trolled us by showing off some griffon concept art prior to launch, mixed in with some other rejected mount designs. Well played, ArenaNet. Well played.
Then, with the most recent Living World chapter, War Eternal, we got a second flying mount: the skyscale. I talked last time about its precision maneuverability and its ability to hover and cling to walls and launch off of them. At first I wasn’t sure it was going to feel different enough from the griffon to justify its existence, but after some hands-on time with it, it has really grown on me.
If you’ve been around this genre for a while, you’ve probably heard about a certain other MMO whose flying mounts have caused a lot of debate and division over the years. I’ve never been a World of Warcraft player (shocking, I know, but we do exist!), but I had a lot of friends who played when flying mounts were first introduced in Burning Crusade. They were ecstatic about how cool it was zipping around on their drakes and hippogryphs, but as time went on, many players started to realize that they were flying over everything they liked about the game – namely, exploring the world and killing things.
I’m not a World of Warcraft fan, but I’m not interested in trashing the game. I bring up its flying mounts to contrast them with Guild Wars 2’s two flavors of flying mount, the griffon and the skyscale, and how they avoid the pitfalls of other games’ implementations of flying mounts.
Both the griffon and the skyscale are pseudo-flying mounts – that is, you can’t just go anywhere with six degrees of freedom like you can in WoW. In a way, they’re really more like upgraded versions of Heart of Thorns’ gliders, except that they can gain a little bit of height, but as they travel they lose altitude. You can’t just hop on your griffon or skyscale, fly over Mount Maelstrom, and land on the other side. You can claw your way up to the top by finding places to land every so often, but you spend almost as much time on the ground as in the air. The only way you can actually spend more than a few seconds in the air is if you jump off of something really tall and glide down.
This hybrid of flying and gliding gives players the thrill of flying without removing them too much from the world. It is truly a joy to swoop down from the top of a tall building at high speed on a griffon or launch your skyscale up the side of a sheer cliff face, but you still have to touch down sooner or later. I think it’s a great compromise and leaves me with little to complain about.
I also think Guild Wars 2 was brilliant for involving your mount in combat with engage skills. It makes getting off of your mount feel like an opening attack rather than something you do prior to combat. And the engage skills for both the griffon and the skyscale fit their theme perfectly. The griffon’s engage skill is a nearly vertical dive that drops you right into the center of the action. With the skyscale, your character jumps to the ground, but rather than simply disappearing like other mounts, your skyscale breathes a ring of fire just in front of you as it flies off.
I also want to point out the amazing job the team at ArenaNet did with the animations for these mounts. It’s not easy to animate weird, six-limbed mythological creatures and make their movements look realistic and fluid, but the studio did a beautiful job. I love the way the wind ruffles the griffon’s feathers as it flies, and the way the skyscale’s wings stretch and fold as they beat powerfully while it hovers in place. These mounts have so much personality too, from the griffon’s cat-like stretch to the player throwing a fish treat to the skyscale. (Don’t dragons eat magic? Do they also need to eat meat? Unanswered lore questions!)
Guild Wars 2’s flying mounts are by no means perfect. In my opinion, the skyscale grabs onto the wall too easily, which can make it hard to land on the exact spot you want, and the turning radius of the griffon sometimes makes maneuvering in tight spaces frustrating. Between the griffon, the skyscale, and the springer, most of the difficulty is taken out of most of the vistas and such that formerly required complex mini jumping puzzles (though that’s less of a complaint and more of a relief in many cases). It also takes a lot of time to get both of these mounts, which to some gamers will seem as if the studio is unreasonably gating content behind a grind.
But overall, I think ArenaNet has done a fantastic job designing flying mounts in a way that gives us the joy of flying around the world without breaking your connection to it.