I hate fast travel.
It certainly serves a useful function, butit’s a feature that's power is easy to overlook and abuse.
Fast travel has practically become a givenin open-world games, which seems a little backwards because companies market their titleson massive worlds that they then let players move across in an instant with little to nocost or consequence.
At its worst, it disconnects players fromeverything between point A and point B, shrinking worlds down to menu interaction and distractingplayers from the vision that developers most likely intended.
It takes an expansive, non-linear experienceand squeezes it into a tiny hallway where players are no longer on a journey, but rathera quick path to being “done” with a game.
The obvious counter to everything I just saidis to not use it, but that actually leads me to what I hate most aboutfast travelling: in too many titles, it feels unavoidable.
And that’s mostly because the act of manuallytravelling to a specific location is pretty boring.
The way I see it, there are two major factorsthat play into this; The first is that a lot of open-world games have dull movement mechanics, and the second is that there isn’t enough to do when travelling to a specific location.
Starting with movement, it’s often verybasic, and while some games try to throw in free-running or vehicles, heading to a destinationoften just feels like pressing forward and sometimes watching a stamina bar deplete andthen replenish.
Hell, the Witcher 3 even went as far as makingmovement partially automated.
There should be more to it than that.
In my experience, third-person titles typicallyhandle movement in more interesting ways than first-person ones.
This is most likely because they tend to beless focused on realism, allowing for more possibilities.
For example, Prototype, while lacking in manyother areas, excelled in having free and fluid movement when travelling around the city.
Stringing together different powers to avoidtouching the ground was satisfying, and it took a hell of a lot more effort than justpressing forward.
Movement in this and other games like Infamous, Arkham City, and Sunset Overdrive, become challenges in seeing how long one can go withouttouching the ground, which adds an entire new layer to traversal.
Giving characters more things around a mapto interact with and more ways to interact with them is important in making movementless tedious.
I also really like when games give playersa reason to manually travel.
A great example of this can be found in Oblivion, where running and jumping are both tied to skills that level up the more they are used.
This makes travel feel like it progressesa character by acting as a reward for not just skipping over everything.
In general, it seems pointless to have giantworlds if moving across them is both joyless and unrewarding.
And this brings me to my second point: thereisn’t enough to do when moving toward a specific destination.
I wanna be clear.
I’m not saying that there aren’t a lotof things to do in most open-world games, because there certainly are.
However, I have two very different mindsetsfor when I am exploring versus when I am travelling.
When I’m exploring, things like checkingout caves, chilling with the locals, and battling forts of enemies are all great times, butwhen I am traveling to complete a quest, I have very little interest in doing thingsthat aren’t directly going to help me complete that quest.
So, for players like me, all of those coolthings become non-factors.
In open-world games, the conventional wisdomin making heading to an objective be interesting is to have quick interactions that keep playersentertained without slowing them down too much, which plenty of games try to do butoften struggle to pull off.
Mad Max does a decent job with this by havingdifferent outposts that players can take out from their car, along with random events likedust storms that they need to avoid.
The same idea can be seen in pretty much everyJRPG ever in the form of random encounters.
What winds up being the issue with these examplesis, like anything else, they start to feel very samey over time.
Having a mercenary say, “pay a toll or die, ”might be interesting when it first happens, but experiencing it for a second and thirdtime lessens its effectiveness.
To avoid players burning out, these eventsneed to be frequent and diverse.
This is extremely important to do in gamesthat consistently have players travel back and forth to the same locations.
Some quests intentionally have players goto out-of-the-way or difficult-to-reach places that they have to revisit multiple times.
In Skyrim, the main quest has players travelto High Hrothgar on more than one occasion, which stops being fun after the first trip.
Places that need to be returned to frequentlyshould be centralized and easy to get to.
In theory, Fallout 4 does a pretty good jobwith this by having Diamond City be located in the center of the map, but in practice, I found myself returning to my homebase far more often, which was in the starting locationat the top-left of the map.
It all really comes down to improving howgames approach world and quest design.
With open-worlds often being so huge, playersspend a lot of time travelling from quest marker to quest marker.
In a lot of cases, the act of travelling toone doesn’t have anything to do with the quest itself.
I would like to see quests put a bigger focuson how to get somewhere rather than simply just getting there.
The Witcher 3 does some interesting thingswith its implementation of the Witcher sense, which is used for tracking in various quests.
In the end, it is just another thing thatpops on screen to follow, but it’s contextual and focuses on a smaller scale, making themoment to moment travel more interesting than chasing a dot in the distance.
But this isn’t something that can be solvedsolely by character abilities; worlds would need to change as well.
Although it would slightly impede on players’freedom, a good way to do this would be by making certain areas only accessible by varioustravel-based quests.
Instead of being told to “Talk to this personin this place, ” I’d find it more interesting if quest descriptions were closer to: “Figureout how to get to this place.
Here are some reliable options.
” Maybe there is a ferry that leads to a town, and the player would be given a free ride on it if they help protect it.
Or maybe there is a cave that is the mostdirect path to the same town, but it is the home of a big old monster.
For this to work and still give the playeragency, there would need to be multiple paths like this to every location, and, ideally, new options would replace old ones.
This would break up travel so it isn’t justone long, boring trek and make worlds feel more than just cities surrounded by big, openempty spaces that reuse the same assets over and over.
In the end, there isn’t a fixed solutionfor making travel less boring in open-world titles.
It depends heavily on the type of game, socertain ideas I’ve suggested might work great in one, but make little to no sensein another.
I really don’t think that fast travellingshould be completely eliminated from games, because it gives players the option to playhow they want to.
With that said, I do think it needs to havestricter limitations.
First and foremost, there should really bean in-game reason that explains why fast travel is possible.
It could be magic, it could be a train—justanything other than it being a spot that has been visited already.
Secondly, there needs to be a consequence.
A lot of games will have time pass, but playersdon’t actually lose anything.
It needs to either cost money or have theplayer miss out on an opportunity or put the player in a potentially dangerous situation.
If there is no reason to not use it, why wouldplayers waste their time trudging along the slow way? Lastly, there need to be set spots that aplayer can fast travel to and from.
Being able to fast travel from anywhere toanywhere is a bit ridiculous and it also can render other systems, like encumbrance, nearlyuseless.
Fast travel is not inherently bad, and intheory, it lets players approach a game at their own pace and in their own way.
It makes games accessible to more types ofplayers; which is a good thing.
I just wish that it didn’t come at the costof making other parts of the game tedious and trivial.