Mount collectors in WoW are an insatiable breed. I know because I’m one of them. Ever since TBC when Blizzard unleashed new mounts into the game – a lot of them – and mounts became learnable ‘spells’, I was hooked. In the early game, mounts took up bag space, and with this being precious enough as it is, most players would only take one mount out on the road with them (and one companion pet as well, if they were into those too). It was not the norm for people to collect mounts in the way we do now. First, there were far fewer of them about, second, reputation was far more difficult to earn with the home cities, third the aforementioned inventory/bank space was prohibitive to collecting anything really, and fourth, gold was harder to come by than it is now. You needed 1K for the level 60 riding skill (which at that time was only the 100% ground mount speed), and most players struggled badly enough getting the 100 gold together just for slow ground riding. The faster ground mounts were seen rarely in the game, and were in fact the prestige mounts of their day.
But TBC changed all that. The price of ground riding was slashed to a manageable amount, gold became more easily earned in the new expansion, inventory space was no longer a problem and oooh look at all these amazing new mounts!
The first were the talbuks you could get in Nagrand from your faction’s allies in the area. There was a choice of six different ones. You needed exalted reputation to buy them and at first they didn’t come cheap. Players would usually only buy one, or perhaps different coloured ones on alts. Some were more expensive than others, being armoured. This was the first bona fide rep grind in WoW for new mounts and most people I knew were happy to do it. We’d just not had exotic new mounts before, and the talbuks, or high goats as they were affectionately nicknamed, looked quite exotic to us at the time.
Later in the expansion we were given our first flying mounts, which were drakes – those from Netherwing ledge. Again, quite a grind, but we’d never imagined we’d be able to have drake mounts, so whatever it took we did it gladly. We were given another faction to earn rep with, the Shatari Skyguard, who also sold mounts – the nether rays. At the end of TBC, achievements were introduced in the pre-patch to WotLK. One of these was to acquire 50 mounts. It was doable, just, with all the new mounts in Outland, but it cost a packet. As you needed all available mounts, it was a bankrupting experience to attempt that achievement at the time. I managed it by clearing out the bank accounts of several alts, but I wanted the reward for the achievement so badly – the albino drake – that I didn’t care. This was the first ‘proper’ drake mount in WoW, since the nether drakes were a species unto themselves really. They didn’t look like any other dragons we saw in the game and had rather ‘sharklike’ faces. That said, I still love them.
TBC also brought in a few rare drop mounts, such as the Raven Lord from Sethekk Halls, the Ashes of Alar from the Tempest Keep raid, the Fiery Warhorse from the Karazhan raid and the White Hawkstrider from Magister’s Terrace. All of these were rare at the time, the Ashes of Alar phoenix particularly so, as the boss who dropped it, Kael’thas, was no pushover when he was current. I can remember the first time someone got that mount on our server – a Horde player – and they were riding it in Shattrath city. Everyone just clustered round him to gawp in wonder at this amazing looking mount. We’d seen nothing like it before. Silly rumours abounded, such as only one per server would be allowed. That was untrue, but it was still incredibly rare owing to the difficulty of downing that boss and the fact only a small percentage of players were actually attempting the 25 man raids back then.
WotLK brought in dozens more mounts and a new way to get some highly prestigious ones. These were the rewards from completing dungeon and raid meta-achievements. It gave guilds really good incentives to complete the achievements. Unfortunately, there was a hiccup with the raid achievement mounts. Two were awarded for completing all of the Naxxramas achievements (one for 10 man, one for 25 man), but Blizzard removed them from the game when they released Ulduar, the next tier of raiding. They now realise themselves it was a mistake, even though elitist players who’d got those mounts were pleased about it, because they felt that owning them showed everyone around them that they had completed Naxx when it was at its most challenging. People who outgeared the place later had – and have – no chance of getting those mounts.
One thing I will never understand is certain players’ desire to keep prestige mounts away from others. This is because a prestige mount is only prestigious until the next slew of difficult to obtain mounts is released. All those players smugly preening because no one else could get the black proto-drake or plagued proto-drake any more probably wouldn’t be seen dead on theirs once they’d got their paws on one of the Ulduar reward protos. Really, why should they care what players who take longer to complete things do with content and mounts they’ve left behind? How many of them now ever get their black/plagued proto out of the stable? I can’t remember the last time I saw one; probably not since way before Cata. And yet we still see the complaints, and the demands from a certain type of player, that some mounts should remain inaccessible to the majority. I wouldn’t dispute that maybe some of these people are better players than those who follow in their footsteps, but again, why should they get riled about people getting rewards they no longer even care about? It’s just dog in the manger to me; selfish and puerile. Thankfully, Blizzard appears to feel the same way about it; they’ve not removed any meta achievement mounts since the Naxxramas ones. I still really hope they’ll put them back one day; I’m quite sure players would flock to do those achievements then, and most wouldn’t care who else got the mounts. They’d simply enjoy them themselves until they got a newer one they’d prefer to ride about on.
As a serious mount collector, I know that some mounts will be beyond me until I vastly outgear the content they’re found in. This is simply because few people share my passion, so getting a team together when the mounts are current is difficult, once our progression team has moved on to a new raid, leaving the mounts from metas and rare boss drops behind. That’s OK. The friends I have who share my collector’s gene know as well I do we’ll have to wait until just the few of us can tackle the content. It’s annoying but that’s just the way things are. But I don’t think that any mount in the game (with the exception of the Arena reward mounts, which are a thing apart) should ever be utterly inaccessible to players, or should be removed to keep selfish elitists happy. No true mount collector minds hard work. While that lovely goddess Arenjee might cause us to lament and gnash our teeth occasionally, mostly we’re happy with what we do. We are not so much into the concept of prestige mounts – just… mounts. But for some, exclusivity is the only thing that makes a mount worth having. As far as they’re concerned, mounts are for showing off to other people in cities, in the hope everyone is green with envy, rather than to be enjoyed by the person lucky enough to get them. This is amply demonstrated by the reaction to the Blizzard store mounts (which the majority of collectors would have bought the moment they came out). Few would deny that the store mounts are pretty gorgeous, and if they were rare drops from raids or difficult metas you’d never hear a bad word against them. But simply because they can be bought, they are heaped with scorn by certain players. This is particularly the case with Heart of the Aspects. When that shiny gold drake/serpent showed up in the game data, and no one knew how it would be attained, you saw comments on forums from players virtually slavering over it. Most assumed it would be a drop or a meta reward from the Dragon Soul raid. Then we found out people could simply nip to the shop and buy it. Suddenly, as these mounts started to appear in Stormwind and Orgrimmar, it was a target for verbal abuse. Personally, I don’t care a bit. I’ll ride my Winged Guardian or Heart of the Aspects, or even the poor old reviled Sparkle Pony, whenever I want to, and am glad I can do so.
Mounts really do inspire some quite incandescent feelings among the player base; rage from those who want them kept exclusive, resentment from those who want a chance at them when they’re able to do the content, and wistfulness from the collectors who simply wish it was a case of nose to the grindstone to get mounts, not just down to the whims of Arenjee or insurmountable content pinnacles we have to wait years (in some cases) to climb. But it’s not all negative. Nothing can compare to finishing a meta achievement and getting the mount reward in the mail, or winning a roll on a rare drop, or even soloing content for years and then finally seeing that longed-for mount turn up in the loot. It’s also a great feeling when you get to the end of a rep grind and can go and buy the mount you’ve worked so hard to get. They’re only pixels, and yet they can invoke such emotions – crazy really.
I’m fully expecting that the beautiful new phoenix mounts in Mists will be the privilege of the hardcores for a couple of years, and they’ll no doubt be gratified by that, but I’ll be happy if I can get one eventually. It was quite a tease by Blizzard to give everyone in the Beta one of these mounts in their collection. I could hardly bear riding it, because I just knew it would most likely be a long long time before I could get one for real. Or maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Whatever happens, there are again dozens of new mounts in Mists and many of them involve only rep grinds. That, I can handle. I’m a hardcore rep grinder!