There is no denying that mechanics like having mounts changed video games. Rideable allies allow you to travel much faster than moving on foot. But was the inception of such mechanics based on convenience, or is there more to it?
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What Is a Mount?
In video games, a mount is an entity separate from the player that can be ridden. Being separate, but being able to work together, is a crucial point in what makes a mount in gaming.
You see, mounts cannot be normal NPCs, as you need to interact with them in a way that makes them controllable. As such, a mount needs to temporarily become part of the player’s character model in order for you to control them.
However, a true mount can’t stay permanently attached to the player, as that would just make them part of your character instead of a separate entity. This would feel wrong and unnatural.
Mounts aren’t simply things that make you go faster; they perform multiple functions that make them different than vehicles in video games. In addition to giving you a way to move around faster, mounts also need to feel alive. They need to be a stalwart companion to keep you company in a harsh and possibly lonely world.
To summarize: a mount in video gaming is a separate entity that combines the potential for faster movement, companionship, and other handy functions.
The First Mounts in Video Games
Although you may think of horses when you read the word “mount,” the first mounts in video games were not horses at all—in fact, they weren’t even mammals. They were flightless birds…that could fly.
Arguably the game with the first mount system is Joust, which was released in 1982. This arcade game features armored knights riding flying ostriches who, as you can guess, joust in mid-air. As such, this is the title where mounts changed video games in that it’s when they appeared.
While this initially looks like the riders and their winged mounts are fused together, this is not quite the case. Whenever either you or one of your rider enemies gets hit, they disappear but their mounts fly away unharmed.
You can’t move in Joust without your mount, however, since the ostriches can exist independently without their riders, they can be considered the first form of a true mount in video games. What’s more: after your rider gets hit and disappears, you can no longer control your mount.
The First Video Games With Changeable Mounts
Before going on, it should be mentioned that in Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest, the 1986 sequel to Joust, you can upgrade your flying ostrich mount into a pegasus. In addition to laughing in the face of evolution, this mechanic was meant to give you stronger offensive capabilities. Although, the pegasus was still very similar to the flying ostrich despite a few power-ups.
Another interesting note is that some enemy knights can walk around without their mounts, making Joust 2‘s mount system proven to be more complex than in the previous game.
With that said, the first game that truly had a defined mount system with multiple rideable creatures is likely Golden Axe, which was released in 1989. As opposed to the Joust series where mounts were crucial, most of the gameplay involved you walking around on foot. However, you were given lots of enemies riding mounts to fight.
You could dismount the astride foes and take their mounts for yourself. As such, you could ride around on firebreathing dinosaurs, bird monsters, and more in order to defeat your many adversaries. Each of these mounts had a different attack and different hitbox shapes, which made them truly distinct. For example, the dinosaur-like mount could shoot fireballs while the bird monster would whip foes with its tail.
This is where mounts changed video games forever due to the introduction of much more complex elements.
Mounted Combat Predated Traveling Convenience
As you can see from the above examples, mounts in video games started out not as allies to help you move faster, but as brave creatures who aided you to fight your foes.
This was due to the worlds and levels in older games being much smaller. There was no need to gallop across wide prairies or across barren deserts; everything you needed to encounter was always very close by. For this reason, mounts first appeared in games as a way to give you more options in combat that were fun and unique.
It wasn’t until gaming hardware became powerful enough to create larger worlds that mounts turned into primarily travel-based companions. A great example of this is 2005’s Shadow of the Colossus, which featured a vast world that you needed a mount to traverse if you wanted to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time.
In Shadow of the Colossus, although your horse (named Agro) cannot fight enemies directly like the mounts in Golden Axe, they are still crucial in combat. There are some fights in Shadow of the Colossus where you need the speed of your trusty steed. Otherwise, you’d never be able to line up a shot on the faster colossi or catch up to them.
Mounts in Modern Video Games
These days, mount mechanics have evolved to accompany many more useful functions to the player. You can summon and ride them with more ease than ever before. Plus, they’re being implemented in new and interesting ways.
Take Elden Ring for example. In-game, you can summon your steed from thin air. What’s more, you don’t even need to get on them; they just appear beneath you as you’re moving. Such modern conveniences are due to games getting more memory to allocate to non-vital features. However, in dedicating resources to such mechanics, developers have made these features very close to being vital.
Elden Ring‘s world is so vast that a mount system is almost mandatory for proper gaming quality of life. Although, the travel convenience is not the only important part of Torrent’s (your spirit steed) existence.
Like with Agro in Shadow of the Colossus, you need Torrent’s speed to fight certain enemies. But there’s more. You also need Torrent’s spectral legs to take advantage of the many Spiritspring jumps around The Lands Between. These locations are important for accessing otherwise nearly unreachable parts of the game.
All Terrain Travel
Speaking of reaching otherwise locked-off areas of a game, let’s take a look at flying mounts. In Horizon: Forbidden West, in the later parts of the game, you’ll get the ability to override and mount a Sunwing. Sunwings are large robotic pterosaurs that can alloy Aloy to soar across the landscape indefinitely.
On the far western parts of the map, there are some places that are only reachable by air. As such, you’ll need a Sunwing’s help to get certain missable bits of loot.
In addition to Sunwings, there are also many land-based mounts that vary in shape and function. Some are great for combat, but are slow, like the Clawstriders which resemble raptor-like dinosaurs.
Conversely, there are relatively frail but fast machines like Chargers which are built for speed instead of power. Overall, Horizon: Forbidden West boasts a robust mount system that few games can match.
Mounts Are for More Than Travel and Combat
Minecraft is one of those titles in which mounts changed video games for a different kind of convenience. There are still combat and traveling benefits—but there’s more.
They can be used to transport and store goods. In addition to there being Horses, there are also Donkeys and Mules. The latter two species are great for holding spare items, as you can place a Chest on them for some storage-related convenience.
This gives you many options since there is a ton of inventory management in Minecraft. You can use mount storage to help you transport goods from one place to another. This can mean ferrying important items between your separate bases or as added inventory space while you’re out exploring the cubic world for resources.
You can even tame multiple animals and have a whole convoy of pack Mules. What’s more, you can attach Leads to multiple mobs so as to guide them all at the same time.
Memorable Companions on Remarkable Adventures
Mounts changed video games to be jankier as well. There are many times in video games where mounts are given traits that allow them to be more relatable and realistic, although, sometimes the opposite happens.
Horse mounts are usually programmed to graze on nearby patches of grass or wander around idly. However, there are times when unintended glitches make things turn out differently. And this can add a whole new level of memorability to your adventures.
In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the player’s horse (named Roach) can sometimes glitch out and end up on a roof instead of on the ground. A lot of the time, this occurs because the player summons them close to a house or other structure. Due to a programming oversight, Roach is able to spawn on rooftops instead of next to you.
While clearly a bug, this has become infamous among fans of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The comedic value of this occurrence was great enough that it became a well-loved meme. Players don’t even consider this bug to be a bad thing, despite it being inconvenient.
It’s now just something at which you can laugh. Such glitches add charm to the gameplay of certain titles. Moreover, there are some games where unexpected mount glitches can actually be a benefit to the gameplay.
The Mountain-Climbing Mounts of Skyrim
The horses in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim take defying gravity to a whole new level. They’re able to perform feats that would make even the roof-hopping Roach jealous.
For some reason, horses in Skyrim can walk up mountains at almost a completely vertical angle. There’s no reason this should be possible and is clearly an oversight on the part of the developers. However, players have been using this to their advantage since this unintended function was discovered.
Instead of arduously climbing up mountains the long way, players instead have used their trusty steeds to make shortcuts to the tops of various peaks in the game. This cuts down on traveling time and allows you to circumnavigate threats that appear when you’re climbing a mountain—like dealing with enemies.
The downside is that horses are not designed to fall off mountains. If you misstep, both you and your noble steed will plummet to your doom. Though, that hasn’t deterred many players. Especially since save-slot abuse can easily rewrite history in your favor.
The Future of Mounts in Video Games
With titles becoming more complex thanks to the wonders of new gaming hardware, the future of mount systems in upcoming games is bright. More intricate coding will allow developers to give mounts additional functions that were never seen before.
For example, in Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, it has been revealed that the mounts given to players will have a few different forms. This will allow you to travel across all types of terrain by using the same mount.
In a recent trailer for these games, the world was shown how the legendary Pokémon Koraidon and Miraidon can shift from their normal forms into motorcycles, jet skis, and even some sort of flying vehicle.
This is the evolution of convenience. The developers have taken the multiple mount system in Pokémon Legends: Arceus and have streamlined it. Instead of summoning a variety of different Pokémon to ride, you’ll now only need one.
Furthermore, there’s no reason why the future Pokémon games will be the only titles with such intricate mount systems. Modern-day consoles have crazy amounts of computing power compared to those of older generations.
As such, you can expect to see more and more interesting mounts in games to come. Who knows how players of the future will look back at how mounts changed video games.