Giant Skeletons as Art


You might think to look at this screenshot that you were looking at a simple, everyday, giant skeleton of the sort you might find anywhere in a MMO.

Here it stands in its natural habitat, on eternal watch, waiting for an adventurer to come past and pull it to its inevitable death animation.

But there is something different about this particular type of mob in WoW. It’s a new breed.

Placed in Icecrown, one of the end zones in Wrath where it is assumed that the player will have a flying mount, this mob is designed to be flown over rather than killed.

It’s true. There is no quest in the game that requires anyone to kill one of these giant skeletons, yet they are common mobs in Icecrown. They patrol battlements. They stand on guard at strategic locations. They look tough and they are (relatively) tough, being elites. Not only is there no quest for them, but the drop tables don’t attract people, they aren’t part of anyone’s optimal xp gathering schemes, they don’t give rep. There isn’t even any xp for them (that’s quite damning in a MMO!)

The very first comment in the Bone Sentinel entry in wowhead says, forlornly:

I killed one and it didn’t drop anything and it also did not provide any experience.

Ladies and Gentlement, I present to you … the decorative mob. Be nice to it, it may be the herald of a new (aka old) immersive era of zone design, in which mobs are placed because they look right or they should logically be there, and not just to drive quests.

Joking aside, that’s quite an old school approach. Older MMOs often placed mobs without any intention that players would kill them. But it’s uncommon in WoW.

15 thoughts on “Giant Skeletons as Art

  1. Remember monsters in Blade’s Edge plateaus? They had no associated drops or quests – until 2.1 arrived.

    It is quite possible that Blizzard planned to make the giant skeleton relevant at a later point, and then had a change of plans.

  2. There are tons of mobs like this in Icecrown. The whole zone is teeming with elite undead on the battlements of the Citadel. Liches, giant skeletons, frostwyrms. It always makes me feel weird when I mine or herb in Icecrown, barely dodging some of those elites that look so lethal and important.

  3. There where whole decorative zones in vanilla WoW. The old Silitus, Azshara, Deadwind Pass, Winterspring (The Whispering Gorge), southern The Blasted Lands (deamon area).

    And often mobs were mixed with mobs that were not required for a quest.

    I really hate what they did, starting with TBC. Go to the hub, take 5 quests and slaughter everything because everything must be slaughtered for one of your quests. You don’t have to read the quest, when it moves you have a quest to kill it.

    And, related to your topic, there are many zones who only have quests for one faction and are therefore decorative for the other faction (Badlands anyone).

    And, don’t forget the partying troll camp you can’t even reach but fly over with the gryphon in Kalimdor. and the mobs at the Ironforge airport.

  4. Problem though is that discourages immersion. What if you want to actually walk and explore that area? You will be bothered by tough mobs which give no reason to kill them, and people will just as you say flyover the entire territory.

    What’s the point of a mob “looking right” if the end result is to make large chunks of a zone not worth anything except to be bypassed?

    • The thing is that the zones were made for people with flying mounts, so they knew you’d be flying over most of it.

      And it would look silly to have all these fortifications and none of them manned.

      So I think having mobs there makes it more immersive, not less.

      • Until you decide to land, I guess. I think the purpose of mobs is to be fought, and zones to be explored. If you create both with large sections of decorative and useless content, I wonder what purpose is served.

        I’d love to actually be forced to storm that location and either fight or evade those mobs. Even if it boils down to managing sneak/invisible or something similar, if they are going to guard an approach, people should approach it. Otherwise why not just make them NPCs?

    • I agree with Dblade. Seems to me that Blizzard could have put a little bit of thought and effort into these mobs and given them some purpose beyond serving as eye candy.

      They could have at least put some good loot on them, made them for a quest or have them give good rep if you kill them. It’s a bit of a waste.

      • I think this comes down to taste.

        Do you prefer an immersive simulationist world in which mobs have some in-game purpose (such as patrolling the parapets of a powerful necromancer’s citadel to discourage full frontal ground attacks) or do you think all mobs should be quest targets and loot dispensers?

        There is no right answer, they lead to different types of games. I don’t mind some simulationist mob placing. All I ask is that if mobs are supposed to be tough then they are touch, which these are (relatively at least).

  5. Rare mobs are another example. WoW, every expansion, has added dozens of rare spawns that aren’t related to any quests or grinds or lore. They simply are there for you to kill and possibly acquire some fat lewt.

  6. In a way these decorative mobs are a metaphor for the Blizzard culture that puts polish and eye candy ahead of substance. It’s much the same as many of the “Hollywood false front” houses and structures found in most WoW cities that don’t even function.

    For me this is an extension of the “NPCs as props” philosophy that WoW really helped to usher into the MMO vocabulary. At least in older MMO’s like EverQuest you could attack guards and NPCs of your own faction.

    • I don’t honestly feel that being able to attack NPCs of your own faction does anything to either improve or worsen gameplay in MMOs. It’s rather random, and prone to people attacking guards by mistake when they thought they were showing off their new weapon to some friends but had the wrong thing targetted.

      What I do think is that theme park style MMOs like WoW tend to have such a structured approach to zoning that every little thing is attached to a quest. I personally like the shift towards things being in zones because it’s where they logically ought to be (ie. giant skeletons patrolling the ramparts of the lich king’s castle) rather than because quest #3765 says you have to kill them.

      It is more old school, I think. But it’s a shift in logic towards something a bit more immersive.

      I did laugh when I saw that they don’t give xp though. That’s rather telling.

  7. The point of being able to attack guards and NPCs of your own faction is that even though it’s “not intended” by the devs it’s that the player *can* if they so choose. It’s a matter of giving the player the choice and freedom to do so. When you take this ability away from players they end up sanitizing the MMO.

    Combat, violence and choosing to attack should consequences. If the newbie attacks the guard and gets his ass whooped then they learn a very important lesson from the outset.

    Interesting that in your latest article you wish that vendors had more of a point then just being Pez dispensers. I agree and I feel the same toward guards and other NPCs that exist as props. 🙂

    • Hang on, surely there are more productive ways to interact with your own faction’s guards than randomly attacking them? I mean, even if you COULD kill them for loot, they’re still loot dispensers. When I wanted vendors to have more of a point, I meant I kind of wanted to be able talk to them and build up some kind of relationship.

      And honestly, every single time I ever attacked an own faction guard in a game that allowed it, it was because of a misclick.

      I understand that you don’t want to be prevented from doing it but really, I don’t think that is the answer to my wanting more immersive games. Or rather, it’s not enough. If I can attack my own faction guards, I also want to be able to have a reason to do it. Am I able to become an actual criminal? What’s the story behind my attacking some guards? And I need more help from the game than just setting the attackable flag. I know in the old ultima games you could get flagged as a criminal for thieving in towns. Even that is better than nothing.

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