Travelling in games

During the winter holidays I played through Witcher 1. When it was first released it felt like one of the greatest games ever. This time though, most of my patience was lost in the eternal running back and forth, back and forth and back and forth. And thus the topic of my next blogpost was born. Witcher had a lot of great story, interesting conversations, mediocre combat and lots and lots of loading screen. Every house was a loading screen and the same goes for zone changes. And only in the third chapter some limited fast travel was introduced. This got me thinking of how other games have handled travel.

Let’s start with World of Warcraft. At start there was running, riding and flight points. The early flight points were fairly primitive, you had to travel to a connected one, then pick the next one and next. These days you can just pick your destination from the whole continent map and the system will handle transfers automatically. And when The Burning Crusade introduced flying and Cataclysm brought it back to the “old world” that made travel a lot easier. Still, for a horde char reaching blackrock mountain (something I tried recently to run some old raids) you take a portal to Undercity and from there jump onto a gryphon and fly for 20ish minutes. It’s not as bad as in vanilla WoW where I had to fly from Ironforge to Menethil Harbour, then take a ship to Theramore and run to Onyxia’s cave each and every raid night (getting all people in place could take closer to an hour), but it’s not good either.

Some other MMOs are even worse in this regard, at least in that WoW is the only one I know of which allows flying. On the other hand GW2 allows you to quicktravel to points on the map you’ve already explored, which does save a lot of time (though it does come at a rather hefty price in ingame currency). Sometimes I think WoW keeps all this stupid slow travel as a way to keep people occupied in the game…

Other games that come to mind are the Bethesda Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. Both have quicktravel to already known locations, which makes the game much more pleasant. They are however plagued by loading screens each and every time you enter a building, something I really wish games would find a way around by now…

Some games like the Just Cause series actually make travel more fun than reaching the destination, with crazy grappling hooks, wing-suites and so on. Others, like GTA5, have you run across the huge map back and forth til you’re about to go nuts. Still others are more linear (most shooters), which when it comes to travel is a bit of a blessing, at least you’re always going forward. However then you lose the freedom of a truly open world.

I think the Assassin’s Creed series is a good example of a game that gives you a suitably sized open world with some fast travel points, but still leaves them sparse enough that you do have to do some travelling and that travel is actually quite fun. I remember the first game in that series, running on the rooftops and up the sides of buildings… sure, the controls were clumsy back then, but boy was it fun :D. And these days you get all kinds of crazy gadgets in those games (not to mention incredibly fun naval travel). Another game with suitably spaced waypoints is Diablo 3, a game that at times get monotonous, but which I still enjoy returning to season after season. Guess that game deserves an article of it’s own at some point…

Well, I think I’ve started rambling too much by now, which is a good sign that I should stop writing; but please tell me about your experiences with travel in games in the comments.

3 Responses to “Travelling in games”

  1. Fast traveling in open world games is a funny thing in the way it both detracts and adds to the experience. When I had to use flight paths or ride to dungeons in MMO, I was often impatient and wishing for a teleportation ability to get to the place and start questing immediately. I cursed at having cooldowns on my teleportation spells.

    Then games appeared with fast travel to cities and I applauded it and of course completely abused it. But something funny happened in the process. The world shrunk. Considerably. There’s something to be said for having to travel with slower means. They said that the world in Oblivion and Skyrim were both way larger than the one in Morrowind, but the latter still felt much larger to me because of the way it forced me to move around (the diversity and novelty probably also made a difference).

    I’ve read in forums that some gamers ignore fast travel in Bethesda games pretending it doesn’t exist, but I could never do that. At the end of the day I’m probably too lazy and I also want to use the tools offered by the game. Especially if they start counting on people using it with a quest that goes A to B to A to B to C to A to B to A to C delivering messages.

    Probably one of the best compromises so far is enabling fast travel only after having arrived to the spot by slower means, but sometimes it feels like this idea could also be improved somehow…

    • Aunion

      Yeah, explore and then fast travel to explored places is probably one of the better solutions. Though I also enjoy it when some games actually make travel fun (like Assassin’s Creed and Just Cause, as mentioned in the post). But I guess the reality of travel is that it generally should be rather uneventful. Try travelling along the roads of Skyrim, you’ll have a long, long ride with not much happening (or do as I did and sneak instead, to level up stealth skill :p). In Fallout 4 on the other hand travel was really annoying with constant attacks by super mutants & stuff; how are all these caravans between places supposed to work if any traveller who goes 20 meters has to kill 10 super mutants? 😛

      • Yes, the frequency of combat in Fallout 4 was a bit too much of a good thing. Several times I was wondering if New Year’s eve had arrived in Boston. Sometimes I also stopped by a tilted motorbike lying almost unscathed in the dirt and thought, “If only…”

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