The Soapbox: How Pathfinder killed World of Warcraft for me


World of Warcraft: Shadowlands launches today. I will not be playing. Once upon a time, a new WoW expansion would be a major event in my life, but this is the second expansion in a row I’m giving a pass to. There are many reasons for that, but perhaps the biggest is the Pathfinder system.

When I talk about leaving WoW, I usually talk about disliking the story direction of Battle for Azeroth and feeling like Legion was a good note to end on, and that’s largely true. However, Shadowlands does look to be taking the story in an interesting new direction, and in another time, that could have won me back.

But every time I consider it, I think about having to do another Pathfinder grind, and my heart just sinks. The story is what drove me away, but Pathfinder is what keeps me from coming back.

For those who may not have played in the last few years, let me explain: The Pathfinder system was introduced in Warlords of Draenor as a limiter on flying mounts. Originally the plan had been to disallow flying in WoD and all expansions going forward, but after massive backlash, Pathfinder was implemented as a “compromise.”

Flying mounts have existed most of WoW‘s history. They represent one of the primary offerings in the game’s cash shop, and they have generally been treated as the premier prestige reward in World of Warcraft. People have spent months or years grinding for rare flying mounts, they’ve killed the hardest bosses in the game for them, and they’ve spent significant amounts of real world cash on them. And Blizzard tried to make them effectively useless in all relevant content going forward.

Meeting in the middle always sounds virtuous and reasonable, but Pathfinder is a great example of how a compromise isn’t always fair if the original ask was completely outrageous. If someone demands he be allowed to store thousands of feral mice in your home, it’s not a “good compromise” if you argue him down to just a few hundred feral mice plus a brioche plate you can split with him.

The exact mechanics of how Pathfinder works varies from expansion to expansion, but the short version is you can’t fly in new content until you complete a meta-achievement that entails, at the least: Fully exploring every new zone, completing all new quest storylines, and several weeks of endgame reputation grinding. It’s also generally not even possible to complete the meta until several months into an expansion.

It’s an exhausting, tedious grind, and the worst thing about it is you don’t even get something new and awesome out of it. You just get to go back to using a feature that has been a pillar of the game for the large majority of its lifespan.

Don’t get me wrong: I do see the value in not being able to blitz through content immediately upon release with your 310% speed drake mount. I genuinely enjoy exploring the content from the ground first, which is why I support Wrath of the Lich King‘s take on the issue: You’re grounded until you hit the level cap on your first character, flying on that character and alts going forward. If you really want to make sure people are fully exploring the content, gating flying behind the Loremaster achievement for completing all the quests wouldn’t be unreasonable. Anything more than that is just grind for grind’s sake, though.

I firmly believe Pathfinder only exists as a way to artificially extend the length of content so as to earn more subscription dollars. It’s not as if Blizzard is above that sort of thing. Ever noticed how max-level quest chains these days always unlock one quest per week, and it always takes more than one month to unlock the whole story?

I choose to believe this because greed is quite frankly the more comforting interpretation. Pathfinder as a way to make more money is based on sound, if slimy, logic. If Blizzard actually believes this is good design… yikes.

There are arguments put forth to defend this decision, of course, one of the most common of which is that flying mounts remove the sense of danger from the open world. Putting aside the fact that WoW‘s open world content has never been dangerous, there are better ways to maintain a threatening world than arbitrarily gating flight. You could implement aerial mobs that attack you when you fly into dangerous areas, or anti-air cannons, or just let mobs shoot up.

These are all mechanics that already exist in various parts of the game world, by the way. Blizzard wouldn’t even have to make anything new.

But really the best counter-argument against any criticism of flying is that you simply don’t need to fly if you don’t want to. Only a handful of zones in the game have ever required flying mounts to navigate, and the last ones were implemented in 2010. If you don’t like it, just don’t do it. You’re not going to get kicked from your raiding guild because it took you seventy seconds longer to get to the next quest hub.

Therefore there is literally no downside to removing Pathfinder. No one loses, save perhaps Blizzard’s shareholders, and then likely only to a negligible extent.

All of this has been said before, by many others in many venues. Pathfinder has been a source of deep controversy since its inception. I want to put forth one more argument against it, though — or more accurately an argument for flying — because it’s a really important that often gets overlooked.

Flying is fun.

Yes, it’s convenient, and it’s a time-saver, and all that, but more than that it just feels good. I will never forget the sheer childlike glee I felt when I got my first flying mount and took to the skies over Hellfire Peninsula. Ever since, flying just for flying’s sake has been a staple of my WoW experience. It’s great for screenshots, and contrary to what some say, it does wonders to make the world feel bigger and more cohesive.

One of my absolute favorite memories of playing WoW was a day late in Cataclysm where I was bored and had pretty much run out of things to do, so I decided to fly all the way from the top of Kalimdor to the bottom. I flew to the very tip of the coast north of Winterspring, then flew south to the end of the Vir’naal Delta in Uldum.

Flying in a more or less straight line, with no stops save perhaps for the occasional pause to take a screenshot, it took me the better part of an hour. Nothing else before or since has quite impressed upon me the sheer scale of the game world, nor done so much to make it feel like a world, and not just a game.

Yes, you can ignore Pathfinder. You can play the game perfectly fine without flying, waddling around on the Nether Drake you spent a month grinding for like some kind of horrible purple penguin, but in so doing you miss out on one of the most special things about World of Warcraft. It’s not about efficiency, or competitiveness, or optimization. It’s not about what makes your character more powerful, or what you need to raid. It’s about fun and feeling like a part of a virtual world.

So I don’t want to play without flying, nor do I want to spend weeks doing an exhausting forced grind that doesn’t exist for any logical reason beyond greed.

And that’s why I’m not playing Shadowlands today. That’s how Pathfinder killed World of Warcraft for me.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

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Couldn’t agree more. Pathfinder was the beginning of very blatant time gates for me. Sure, there were always grinds in the game, but taking something worth so much agency, like flying or new races, and locking it behind repetitive daily chores over the course of six months was just too much.

I get that the company wants to keep players logging in every day, but this was the wrong way to do it. I’m the type of player that doesn’t skip over content and loves to smell the roses, but on my own time, and not as part of some manipulative time-sink.

Maybe it’d be different if there was some agency in the types of things required, like farming or selling stuff on the AH, killing certain amounts of mobs; things I actually enjoy and would happily spend time doing if I was able to fly over the purposely horrid terrain, or as a new race.

I understand that some players like the sense of accomplishment, but to me it’s more like playing with my hand tied behind my back. It’s fine; there are plenty of great games to play. No reason to spend my time or money on cheap, lazy producers.

Patreon Donor

You’re not alone. I’m not playing because of Pathfinder and some of the odd gating for allied races. Especially Kul Tirans. Pissed me off bad that I completed just about all the achievements to unlock to find I had to do a Heroic Mission. But I couldn’t because I had missed the Heart of Azeroth quest.

That’s when I realized I should have stayed away.

John Artemus
John Artemus

I was just going to mention FFXIV, my main game, but didn’t want to because that always triggers everyone. Especially on Reddit. But since others have brought it up, FFXIV has the best way to unlock flying in an MMO, in my opinion. You truly do unlock flying through playing the game normally, i.e. through questing and exploration. And by the time you get to the end of the expansion and to max level, you’ve unlocked flying for all zones.

Chosenxeno .

If you played FFXIV at any point and you see how they manage flight you can pretty much tell this system is trash. Thank God I was long gone before this got in the game. I don’t get it. All the work they spent keeping you out of the Air could have been put into giving you stuff to do or places to go in the Air.

It won’t be the worst though. Why don’t you all take a gander at what Ashes of Creation is planning to do with Flight:) At least a regular joe can get it in WoW.

Brandon Lewis

You’re literally just complaining cause blizzard aren’t letting you get what you want immediately at release lol everything is gated, get over it.

Chosenxeno .

Nah. It’s a bad system. I haven’t played WoW since MOP. When compared to FFXIV’s way of obtaining flight it sounds terrible.


Players like you are the reason mmos suck. Flying was a mistake, and finally a dev who wants to fix one of their bad mechanics (one of thousands but hey), and what do we get? Whining from instant the gratification crowd … Buhuh they want to take away trivializing of content (more than it already was), buhuh they want me to make an effort and have a feeling of accomplishment, I want it all and I want it now for zero effort or from the shop, and it must not take up any of my precious time, I think mmos are for me but I really don’t like anything that makes mmos mmos, buhuh.

Not that I have cared one bit about WoW for many years.
Now get of my lawn!

John Artemus
John Artemus

Pathfinder is just a symptom of a much larger problem in WoW, but it’s a pretty on-the-nose example of what’s wrong with the game, in my opinion.

I, too, am skipping Shadowlands just like I also skipped BFA. My reasons were the Allied Race rep grind. Once I saw that officially announced back in Legion, I cancelled my sub. I went back briefly once they dropped the rep grind and to check out the pre-patch stuff, and I even unlocked the races I wanted and leveled a void elf to 50, but it wasn’t enough to get me to renew my sub, or to buy the expansion.

Simply put, I don’t like the direction of the game, and Pathfinder sums up that direction perfectly. Blizzard is all about the time-played metric. They make you jump through so many hoops and suffer through arbitrary gates just to artificially extend the amount of time it takes you to do stuff, which makes you stay logged in longer. That’s the reason for Pathfinder, that was the reason for the Allied Race grind.

And it’s the reason why some of the new features are punishing if you don’t log in regularly.

And ultimately, it’s the reason why I don’t play WoW anymore.

Michael Agin

“Your mount does not respond you in the maw” made the opening even more epic. Limited travel has a place. That being said, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Flight is an integral part of the game at this point and it seems that the development of the games has shifted back towards making it reasonable to unlock flight in the newest expansion.

Bruno Brito

Normally i don’t agree with Tyler, but i do here.

I’m also going to make a question to everyone who says Pathfinder allows WoW leveling to stay relevant:

Where in the endgame is leveling content relevant? Because WoW’s leveling hasn’t been relevant since Cata. The last time it was, was on Wrath because of Sons of Hodir rep with Storm Peaks chains.

WoW leveling is not relevant anymore, and this discussion is honestly moot. The game is developed for raid content.


And for the people talking about World PvP: The best hunter videos ever made were made in Wrath, Cata and MOP. Both Danaik and Return had their best videos in a time where flying was an all time high. Danaik literally killed people sub-level 80, and Return made use of flying as an asset to his hunting.

Anyone who wanted to find fights in Emerald Dream, or Tichondrius, could do so. The majority of players don’t, they just wanna complain. Flying is part of the game since TBC, and it’ll stay part of the game. This pathfinder crap is stupid, and highly disliked.


I haven’t flown since Pandaria for this exact reason. Gating content behind reputation has always been the biggest turn off for me in WoW, and once they added flying to it i simply refused to dance to that tune. As a result, i’ve been driving on the ground on my drakes for 3 expansions like a chump, but at least i felt like i was in control of my own fun, as opposed to partaking in the grind for the grind’s sake.

I hear that SL is going to remove this as a requirement. I agree with you that Loremaster (or something similar) should still be a requirement, but at least the ridiculous reputation content gating will not be a thing when it comes to flying.