Journeys In Games: Let’s Talk About Fast Travel

I first noticed the feeling when I stopped at an inn. They had a roaring fire, plenty of food and wine, and there was a dog lying at my feet. Skyrim had never felt more welcoming. I was replaying the game with some mods installed. One mod took away all the dragonborn stuff and left me starting as a simple bandit schmuck. Another mod made the world of Skyrim cold and harsh to survive in, so I had to light fires to keep myself warm and make sure I didn’t fall into any water lest I catch my literal hypothermic death. But one of these mods had a side option, which was to turn fast travel off. On a whim, I did. It was only days later, in the warm glow of this inn that the feeling began to come over me. And I realised something. Something that all my gaming life I’d never even thought about.

I HATE fast travel. Let me tell you why.

My goal for this playthrough of Skyrim (you can find the resultant article here) was to do a grand tour of the four Orc strongholds on foot. And if you did something like this yourself, here is the route you might take.

Partway through, it dawned on me that I was having a much better time playing Skyrim a second time because this time I actually felt like I was going on a journey. There are a few reasons for this (and some I’ll go into later) but mainly, the lack of a fast travel option seemed to make every trip between towns that bit more intimidating.

There’s a word used in games all the time: quest. It’s a word that has become undervalued and misused. Look at your quest log in so many games and you’ll see basically a big To Do list. Memoranda virtualis, to use a famous latin phrase I just made up. Many of these entries are petty things. Find a missing doll, deliver a talisman to the guards, deal with a wolf that’s been bothering the villagers (and here I always imagine the wolf, doorstepping peasants, asking to talk to them about Jesus).

To my mind these odd-jobs are not what a quest is. A quest is a huge sprawling journey that takes you from one place to another and spans months, years or even decades. I looked up the definition for quest on a few websites and I think I liked Google’s the best. It reads: a “long and arduous search for something”. To me, that qualifier – “long or arduous” – is important.

In all literary quests, for example, distance is the main thing. Fast travel, removes all sense of real distance. After all, you can instantly warp to wherever you want (within whatever rulesets the game allows, usually it deems you need to have visited at least once before). This immediacy of transport leads to the weird phenomenon of players treating the map of Skyrim like a map of the London Underground. You pop your head up at Whiterun, do a few errands about town, get back on the Fast Travel Line and disembark at rural Falkreath. You do a few tasks, earn some coin, and then get back on your commute bound for Markarth, scanning your eye over the Tool Tips Evening Standard between stops.

Like living in London or any major city with a metro system, living in Skyrim becomes about heading to hubs and never really exploring the distances between very thoroughly or knowing your way from stop to stop “above ground”. And I think that’s a shame. Because a trip on the underground might be ‘journey’ in the dictionary sense of the word, but it is never a ‘quest’ in Google’s sense, and certainly not in a literary sense.

Before I go into the benefits of fast travel, let’s look at another example. In the first Dark Souls you push and die your way through the world of Lordran. Because it is an essentially repetitive game, and because every opened shortcut is a huge relief to your efforts, you get to learn the geography and architecture of the game ludicrously well. If I told veterans of Dark Souls 1 to draw a map from memory of the world leading out from Firelink Shrine, the main starting area, I would get scarily accurate maps. Except if you’re me. In which case, this is as far as I got before I needed to look things up.

But even this is kind of accurate. There is Firelink Shrine, there’s Undead Burg, there’s Ash Lake. There is… I don’t know, what is that, a dragon? Anyway, It all makes sense in my head, even if it looks like garbage to you. I remember my way around, more or less. (Here is what a proper map looks like, for the sake of fairness).

So far, so good, you’ve heard this all a dozen times before. Frankly, you’re SICK of journos harping on about Dark Souls. But just humour me for now.

When you make your way from place to place in Dark Souls 1, there’s a curious atmospheric side effect. The further you get from the beginning – from Firelink Shrine – the more fearful and oppressive things become. Sooner or later you realise you are miles deep underground and it is dark and lonely and you have never felt further from home. That’s because it isn’t just a quick hop back through a map on a menu. You’d have to actually walk back. You can think back and imagine all the places you’ve passed through. You can visualise the slog.

This is exactly what I had to do once. I needed some poison arrows and as far as I knew only one lady, very near the start sold them. But I was miles away. All the enemies I had killed had regenerated and I would have to wallow back through them all, like a crab through treacle. I undertook the trip anyway and I remember, as I finally approached the woman after more than an hour of fighting and pushing my way back, being so relieved and rewarded at having made it back without dying (often). I approached that creepy old crone like she was my own mother, waiting for me behind that slimy grate in that wretched sewer passage. Welcome home, son. Good to be back, mum.

My point is that it actually felt like a journey. About two-thirds of the way through the game, you get the ability to fast travel. Okay, so whatever. It feels like that is a reward for your patience. For the most part in the first Dark Souls, you are confined to where your own legs and courage can take you. Not so, Dark Souls 2 (as Marsh Davies pointed in his recent Fail Forward video). In the sequel, you get fast travel from the first moments and, in my view, it entirely spoils the game.

In fact, if you look at the links between areas in the first game and the second game you’ll notice the first is a much more finely crafted, in geographical terms, than the second. There is far more “interconnectedness” more “verticality” to use some slightly wanky words. A lot less folk are going to be able to draw a map of Dark Souls 2 from memory, in any case. I suspect this lapse in the sequel is because developers, once they know fast travel is to be included, automatically have to assume players are going to use it. So they concentrate less on the in-between spaces. Wouldn’t you?

Think about it. Not many people are going to see those spaces, or they are only going to see them once. So focus on the hubs. And leave the rest of the world alone after getting it OK. What’s the point in putting in all these amazingly clever shortcuts – lifts and pits and staircases and pulleys – if people already have a super efficient shortcut: going to a bonfire and selecting their destination on a dropdown menu. But this does not necessarily make for a better game. And it definitely detracts from any sense of journeying.

You can see why game developers make these decisions though. Videogame players, we’re impatient people. As a demographic, to use another wanky term, we are after instant gratification and power fantasies. We want to do mad things and we want to do it now. Fast travel, in these terms, make sense.

But that’s not everybody. That isn’t me, for example. For the right game, I can be very patient.

DayZ is a game with a reputation. In the post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested land of Chernarus, when you die, you die. You lose everything you’ve scavenged and will never find it again. You start again, in t-shirt and jeans, and not much else.

The bad news is that other human players are around and they might want all your shit. The good news is that the game world is very large. You can go onto a half-full server and play for four or five hours, going from town to town, and never see a single other person. A lot of people think this sounds pretty boring.

But this lack of human interaction means that when you do meet somebody the intensity of the encounter is sky-high. It’s stressful to run into somebody on the road. You meet someone, you both freeze and a cacophony of thoughts rushes through your head. Do they have a gun? Do they have food? Do they want food? Do they want my food? Do they have friends out there? Where are their friends? Where are MY friends? Shit, I don’t have any friends.

It’s unpredictable and it’s scary. Which is exactly what encounters on a really good journey ought to be. You remember them because of their rarity. And this is why I would entreat developers to cast off fast travel, even if it makes the player impatient sometimes. You cannot have a true journey, a real quest, without some boredom. Quests need to be tough. Or, to put it another way, they need to be “long and arduous”.

Now, let’s consider some counter-arguments.

Okay, the argument against scrapping fast travel still stands. People will get bored of walking. You might say that. But I would simply ask, why are they getting bored? It is the developer’s job to fix that boredom, not by giving you this quick and easy way out, but by making the journey interesting, even if it isn’t always eventful.

There’s a truism in games criticism, which is that you can have the biggest, most open, most expansive world, but if there is nothing interesting inhabiting it, your game is not going to be any good. A lot of the time, this is really good advice. Personally, I would sooner have smaller, tighter, shorter games if it meant keeping the ratio of Cool Stuff To See relatively high. But big worlds are big business and “filling the world” has become a rock hard pillar of good game design. Sadly, this sentiment sometimes leads game franchises down wacky paths.

Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is, by all accounts (including my own), one of the better AssCreed games. But it still suffers from Ubisoft’s undying formula, which includes fast travel but also takes the “fill the world” mantra to uncivilised levels. Sail the sea anywhere in the world and 90 days out of a hundred there will be nothing on the horizon but water. Sail the sea in Assassin’s Creed and there will be approximately 6-7 ships within mortar range at any given moment.

It’s a fun game. The storms are great. But sailing from Nassau to Havana to Tortuga to Kingston does not feel like crossing a wide sea channel, like a journey across the waves toward an inevitable end. Or a journey through the years or months of history, as AssCreed games so often attempt to convey. No. It feels like navigating a busy highway. Always in sight of something and always with something to do. And it’s the same variety of things all the time: fight a ship, board a ship, spear a whale, pick up loot, climb a tower and reveal the bloody map.

That’s Ubi’s formula: variegated repetition. Once you’ve seen the menu, no new meals are going to come along. Nothing unexpected is going to happen on the high seas, no long or arduous searches, no albatross moment where the sky and sea and the sea and the sky lays like a load on your weary eye.

So, of course, even people like me will go back to using fast travel, not because it is an excellent tenet of game design, but because the alternative is not just simple boredom – a lack of events – it’s tedium, which is a lack of motive. Why, you ask yourself, am I even doing these same things, over and over again?

A better argument in favour of fast travel is a much more practical one. Time. Obviously, not everyone can devote five hours to walking through Chernarus only to have nothing much occur. Some people have children and, you know, tamagotchis and stuff. When you have a busy life, using shortcuts like fast travel are less about taking the easy way out, or avoiding boredom, and more about squeezing in as much of the best parts of the game as possible before you have to go and print those other 50 fucking wedding invitations.

That argument makes a lot of sense to me. But this means that the best approach, from a designers point of view, is to compromise. Put in fast travel as an ‘option’. Something you can even disable if you want. It worked for Skyrim. You don’t have to use it, right?

Well, it may have worked for Skyrim (the modded time I played, anyway). But for most other games, it still feels like a half-measure. As soon as the developers, as a group, know that fast travel is going to be a part of their game, it is already too late. Because they won’t design the game first and then strap fast travel to it afterwards, like a jury-rigged bicycle pump (which is sometimes, how the first Dark Souls feels). They build the game knowing players will probably use it as much as necessary from the outset. That’s why, even in Skyrim, nobody ever seems to comment on the distance you would have to go to complete some of their petty questicles. At least, I can’t remember any NPCs who said: “Gee, listen, I know it is like 40 kilometres away, but would you mind checking on granny? Haha, yes, it’s super far.” No. They don’t care. They all seem to know you have fast travel. And why in God’s name do they live so far from Granny in the first place? Geography, within these tiny narratives, seldom makes sense.

There are some smaller things a game can do to make travelling through their worlds more like a bona fide journey. Surprisingly infrequently, for example, designers hit upon this idea of recording the player’s trip. If you remember, I said I enjoyed Skyrim much better the second time. But switching off fast travel was only one part of that. The simple fact of my recording the journey in a diary of notes, for the purposes of my article, made it more enjoyable.

Clearly I don’t expect everyone to keep a notepad by their desk when they play. But games sometimes include this idea by themselves, almost as an afterthought. RPG games probably do it more than any others. At the end of Dragon Age: Origins, for example, you get a rundown of all the decisions you’ve made – a kind of record of your life as it occurred. It’s small but it’s something.

In Crusader Kings II they recently added a feature that posts a post-game chronicle of your entire dynasty when your game ends – a brilliant move. (It’s only sad that some of the most meaningful things to you are not the same as those the game itself considers significant. But it’s a good start.)

But even if open world games like Bethesda’s behemoths incorporated this kind of feature – say, a recorded map of your travels, and a visible chronicle of your meaningful encounters and decisions – that sense of having been on a journey, although increased, will still be hobbled by fast travel. It is one of those parts of videogame language that we have come to accept. Like stuffing your face with chocolate bars in the middle of a gunfight to restore your health, or punching a tree to attain perfectly serviceable pieces of wood, without ever considering the effect this language has on the overarching tone of the game.

After all I have said, I’m not totally dogmatic about it. Obviously, I don’t expect games like Far Cry 5 to cut out fast travel. But that’s likely to be a game about blowing things up, not a game about questing or journeying. If people want to blow things up faster and more often than before, who am I to argue? I enjoy blowing things up in quick succession. It calms me.

But I do feel like fast travel, as a mechanic, should be more thoughtfully considered before including it. Maybe then, if designers stopped to think just a little bit longer about the places they create, instead of always giving players the magic power of spontaneous teleportation, they would focus on making the world itself worth walking through.

This article was adapted from a talk for Q-Con, Belfast.

177 Comments

  1. PancakeWizard says:

    I don’t dislike fast travel, but it’s sort of wierd we’ve come to the point where it’s more function over form. Remember the fast travel systems in the Zelda games? Specifically Ocarina of Time? It was built into the world, rather than just a time-saver.

    • Scalzorj says:

      Yeah, Windwaker made you earn that fast travel and it was completely optional. You had to shoot that demigod on his little cloud inside a hurricane before the hurricane pulled you in and sent you somewhere else on the map.

      • drinniol says:

        It wasn’t optional in Wind Waker, you needed it to finish the game.

        • TobleroneRoloCombo says:

          That one warp point you refer to is one of the most frustrating elements of the game. Outside of the single use, it serves as a trap for anyone attempting to actually access the island’s exterior (or neighbouring islands.)

    • Superpat says:

      I always preferred fast travel in Morrowind to fast travel in the newer bethesda games, there where only two ways to fast travel, specials scrolls that allowed you to teleport to the nearest temple and static start-exit nodes (Silk threaders and what I can only call the magicians transporter room 3).

      • Scumbag says:

        I think the Bunnyhop youtube guy highlighted how neat the way travel progressed in Morrowind. Something along the lines of “at the start of the game you had to take the bus like everyone else, by the end of the game you could fly”

      • skittles says:

        It is like they started designing a better travel system in skyrim (the carriages). Then they just stopped and gave up. I think I used the carriages like once.

        But in skyrim and similar types of games, fast travel is essential. Because there is simply far too much repetitive movement from the missions it gives (and yeah they are missions not quests). If the game was about quests I would do away with fast travel. But with its mission structure I never would have played they game as much without fast travel. That said I hate fast travel too. But yeah unfortunately due to the generic and procedural design of so many games these days, it is an essential feature.

        • HopeHubris says:

          I used the carriages to get to each city for the first time, then just fast-travelled after that

        • mukuste says:

          I haven’t played Skyrim, but I played Oblivion without using fast travel. I never understood why people want “open world” games if they’re just going to treat the world as a series of hubs connected by fast travel tubes anyway. It completely destroys any sense of place.

      • Geebs says:

        The fast travel in Morrowind was perfect – it acted like a real transportation system, it wasn’t too convenient, and once you arrived you still had to rely on the directions the quest giver had provided. Morrowind was THE BEST game for making the decision to go out and wander in the wilderness significant and intimidating.

        • Kala says:

          Oh god, yes, I forgot about that. It’s the fast travel integrated into the game world (convenient but not TOO convenient) – but in conjunction with a lack of map markers or compass points to where you need to go.

          I remember getting directions to place in Morrowind, following them carefully and ending up in the correct destination, and feeling very pleased with myself. (Not least because I am not good at following directions in real life. I wrote down directions to a house recently that says “red phone box left, row of terraces, blue mondeo” but I hadn’t bothered to jott down how those things relate to eachother or where they are in the journey >.<)

          Most games nowadays do that whole process for you (or hold your hand through it), assuming you don't want to "waste time" following directions and finding where you're going. Which is kind of a shame, because it not only removes accomplishment but agency…?

          • Kala says:

            So I was thinking as a counter to removing agency/accomplishment by map markers and compass pointers – so do GPS’, essentially. But I’m not especially wanting to explore the M6 corridor; the journey may not be the reward in this case, as all I will learn about myself is that I get annoyed in traffic jams, which I already knew. Also a GPS type device makes little sense in a medieval fantasy-esque setting, unless you handwave and say “magic!”

            But it kind of does in a post-apocalyptic or steampunk settings…and I was thinking what would be a cool mechanic is a GPS was retconned out of bits and pieces and…occasionally went on the blink? So most of the time it tells you were to go on the map, but occasionally it conks out and forces the player to rely on initiative or NPC directions and just head out into the wider world trying to find something rather than being led.

            I think going from dependence on the game holding your hand, to having to sort it out yourself occasionally, could be effective and/or scary as a mechanic.

      • drewski says:

        Also Mark/Recall.

        I love Mark/Recall. So bummed the later games didn’t have it.

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      gritz says:

      Fast Travel was in the very first Legend of Zelda!

    • TobleroneRoloCombo says:

      Yeah.

      Could have been cool to see teleportation spells in Skyrim, as well…

  2. Murf says:

    Excellent read!

    I would love an open world with a simpler narrative but a more focused quest, overall. For example, in The Odyssey, the quest is to get home, but a lot of stuff happens along the way. If a game were doing that same narrative, the quest wouldn’t be just one, it would be potentially thousands of quests as you make your way from one adventure to the next, potentially helping others in the surrounding area for loot/other gains.

    I think the big picture quest often gets lost in the way games hold your hand and guide you through the minutia it takes to get to the end of your journey.

    • Vin_Howard says:

      What you described reminds me a lot of Fallout: New Vegas

  3. kalirion says:

    A huge game world without Fast Travel even as an option? No thanks! Sure it may not make sense to be able to fast travel to a doctor on 2 broken legs in Fallout: New Vegas, but you can feel free to avoid doing that if you want, while I’ll take full advantage of it. Plus loot. In any game with loot – I love loading myself to carrying capacity, and fast travelling to a merchant / safe house / whatever to unload and come back for more. Call it Town Portal if you will.

    • kalirion says:

      And I dare you to play La-Mulana without the fast travel item!

    • Marclev says:

      Pretty sure fast travel isn’t available in Fallout: New Vegas if you’re carrying too much, at least if you’ve got hard core mode enabled.

  4. montorsi says:

    I limit myself to one fast travel per session, typically reserved for when I want to save and quit. This is particularly important in Bethesda games where consumable items are trivialized if you can just skip over everything between point A, B and C.

    • oafish-oaf says:

      I like this. I usually only fast travel when it “feels” right. As if in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “yeah, at this point in the movie/show there’d be a cut and the hero would just be back home.”

  5. Xzi says:

    Welcome to the club. Fast travel is one of a number of things that made every newer TES game worse than Morrowind. Without a lot of modding, anyway.

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      Wisq says:

      In my experience: Yes and no.

      So, I started an Oblivion game using a bunch of mods. One of them had me start out on the west coast port town, Anvil, and not even start with the main tutorial mission. Another not only took away fast travel, but even took away the map cursor and landmarks — that is, landmarks would appear, but only once I had either retreated to another landmark I already knew (and could thus feasibly dead-reckon where the things I’d passed must be), or if I talked to any guard and paid them for map info.

      The effect was pretty amazing. I started out dirt poor, so buying a horse was out of the question. My first trips were strictly along the roads, picking every flower I found as I went — I got really really good at herbalism. Occasionally, I’d find bandits or monsters, and that’s where things got really interesting, because going off-road and sneaking past meant a lot of careful orienteering to be able to find the road again (in addition to the danger of being ambushed by unseen off-road enemies). Buying a horse was an early priority; I believe I may have also had a (mod?) spell to summon one, eventually. And yes, I got a very good sense of where every road went, and how to safely avoid the “staple” bandits that appeared at certain intersections.

      I never did finish that game. (But then, I’ve never finished any Bethesda game ever.) I may not have even started the main quest line; I forget. It never really seemed important next to all the fun I was having. And I think most of it was self-directed exploration or guild-related tasks rather than completing quests for people. Ah well.

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        Wisq says:

        Oh, and I also vividly recall my most adventurous trip, when I needed to get from somewhere up north (Chorrol?) to somewhere down south (Skingrad? Kvatch?) and decided that, rather than take the roads, I would just head south-ish until I got to a road. How hard could it be?

        Cue a very long, very tense rush through the wilderness with monsters and giants and whatnot all chasing me, and me having no idea where I was or how much further it would be. Fun times!

        • Guzzleguts says:

          My strongest memory of Oblivion was getting lost in the southern swamps at night, desperately trying to find a road.
          This was back on the XBOX 360, and I had selotaped a bit of a box of smarties onto the part of my monitor where the stupid compass was. Thank goodness I now have a PC where we don’t need to rely on devs giving us basic options.

          • notonfire says:

            You should play Miasmata. The whole game is exploring through the day and returning to familiar territory before dark, so you can sleep through the night. Getting lost in a swamp or atop a mountain at night is fantastic and terrifying; you can’t see anything without a torch, and even then not very far, and can easily walk off a cliff if you aren’t careful. It is a punishment for overreaching that is actually fun to endure, and fast travel would ruin the suspense completely.

            Also, every game should require you to triangulate your position like Miasmata IMHO.

          • K_Sezegedin says:

            Terrified of being lost in the southern swamps? What were you afraid of? Running into a creature tastefully scaled for ease of chopping?

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’m not sure why you need “a lot of modding” to not click something.

      Compared to the aspects of TES games that do need a lot of modding (Hello, SkyUI! Hello, big unofficial patches!), this one is just willpower.

      • Xzi says:

        Thus “one of a number of things.”

      • jrodman says:

        If only the rejoinder of optionality had been sufficiently discussed in the article, we wouldn’t have to do the hard work of dissecting it in the comments.

        • LionsPhil says:

          If only. Sadly, bredan is DUM.

          Seriously, of the “optional things that ruin game design”, fast travel is way down the list. Quests that criss-cross the world for miles predate it, for example back in the original Fallouts (unless we’re calling the overworld map fast travel—and remember FO1 puts you on a deadline, so you need to really think hard about if you can afford to visit granny). Save that argument for the likes of quest markers that mean you don’t get enough clues to find a thing short of turning on the magic “OVER HERE” neon sign.

          • jrodman says:

            I can easily imagine a number of counterarguments but I don’t feel this one stands up to scrutiny.

            Fallout 1 & 2 have a lot of stuff to do that might involve wandering around on a map. They don’t have a world that you physically walk around in as you travel from A to B, so the topic of fast travel seems kind of unrelated to the game design (I think your point was there’s no fast travel here.) However, that also means that the tasks involving going around the map aren’t annoying or bad, so there’s no problem with the quests having directionality to them. Fallout 1 gives you more things to do than you can reasonably do in your available time.

            That’s part of the game design, and it works well, in my opinion. You have to make difficult decisions about whether it’s a good idea to undertake a particular goal because of the time limit hanging over your head. It also lends itself to replayability, as you can take on different goals on a subsequent playthrough, or you can try to optimize to do the goals as efficiently as possible if that’s the sort of thing that floats your boat.

            Fallout 2 works differently. There’s no hard time limit and there’s much more to do, and you may find yourself wandering here and there and back again, but in that particular game design, travel is not expensive to the player, so if you’re looking to find a game where there is a bad consequence of bad fetch quests, it’s not a good example of that. World of Warcraft, especially in the early days, is a much stronger example.

      • tur1n says:

        Yeah, if you dislike a game’s systems, just experiment until you find a subset of systems that work for you and then use willpower to stick to those.
        And if the story sucks, just don’t read anything, listen to anything and make up a better story in your mind.

        Or just forget about all that and buy good game, I guess.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Because “Skyrim without fast travel” is right over there in the Steam sale, obviously.

          There is no perfect world. Even Deus Ex has flaws to overlook. (Don’t put points in swimming.)

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Hm, I think Skyrim is *better* than Morrowind in a lot of ways but I agree that the mapping/quest/journal system is a disappointment and has got worse since Oblivion. Turn off quest helping arrows and never open the map and the problem is only partially solved because with Skyrim’s quests is that without the map and quest helpers you often have no idea where to go. The text description of the quest is minimal and doesn’t refer to the location.

      So to fix this in Skyrim you really would have to extensively mod the quests. Like my other post suggests, too often features like automaps and quest helpers are made essential, because gameplay just isn’t designed to work without them.

    • Archonsod says:

      Morrowind is probably the best argument for fast travel the TES games ever presented. Trudge through endless grey landscapes with nothing but the occasional bird attack to break the monotony? If I wanted to do that I’d just walk to work.

      • gorkomatic says:

        Actually, once you got the hang of it, Morrowind was a great “fantasy commute simulator”. You don’t just walk from A to B. You take a silt strider, then a boat, then divine intervention to the nearest fort and THEN walk to your destination (killing five billion cliffracers along the way).

        As for the whole idea of fast travel, sometimes it gives this sense of achievement. “Ok, I managed to reach this spot; now I’ll be able to explore from here”.
        All the other times, of course, it just makes the world feel small.

      • Kala says:

        Couldn’t disagree more :)

        Though you had fast travel in Morrowind (Silt striders, divine/almsivi intervention, mark/recall) it felt wedged into the overall tapestry of the game’s lore, i.e more appropriate, than just hitting up the map and clicking a location and BING you’ve arrived!

        It also makes the areas which are NOT traversable or revisit-able by silt striders and divine/almsivi intervention (though of course, you can use mark/recall if you’ve found it already) seem more daunting, dangerous, further away from civilization. As Brendan articulates: like you’re going on a journey with a purpose, rather than pinging back and forth to do chores.

        (I also found the landscapes quite varied and distinct – and sometimes alien and otherworldly. I actually liked that some areas were very bleak and barren, the whole thing worked a bit like a moodscape somehow)

    • Nixitur says:

      But Morrowind does have fast travel. Plenty of it, in fact.
      Silt striders? That’s fast travel.
      The boats? That’s also fast travel.
      Mage guild teleportation? Fast travel.

      Just because it’s built into the world doesn’t mean that it’s not fast travel. It still retains the same “treating it like the London Underground” feel that Brendan bemoaned in this article. Having to get from A to C via B is very much a “metro system”-y decision and it’s rampant in Morrowind.

      • malkav11 says:

        Exactly. Fast travel, per se, isn’t the problem – it’s been in the series since at least Daggerfall. (Never played Arena but I bet it’s in there too.) Morrowind’s got the silt strider network, the teleportation spells, the propylon chambers, etc. Daggerfall just assumes you’ll do it everywhere you’re going because there’s way too much world there to spend any time in the boring bits in between significant locations (although you can!). The thing is, Morrowind’s fast travel is diegetic – it exists in the setting and feels immersive – and limited to some major destinations aside from the one Mark you can put down yourself. And it costs money or mana. Daggerfall doesn’t really bother to create an immersive world and doesn’t expect you to ever wander around in the bits between. But Oblivion and Skyrim abstract it to buttons on a map, remove any resource expenditure, remove any major limitations, present these huge and theoretically immersive worlds (which don’t feel that way if you’re fast travelling), and then kind of tacitly assume you’ll still skip most of it in the quest design, which sends you back and forth across huge distances all the damn time.

        • malkav11 says:

          Incidentally, it’s hilarious that they added horses to the game just at the point in the series where fast travel largely obsoleted them.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Interestingly, Skyrim horses have one crucial function even if you literally fast travel any time you get the opportunity: they let you do so even if you’re overencumbered with delicious loot.

            (Also on the subject of world-built incremental fast-travel, that reminds me of a game of Minetest we had at work over lunchbreaks: the biggest megaprojects we had outside our respective homesteads built around a lake were ways to get between them. First narrow, precarious bridges between the high clifftops; then a powered and switched underground railway system; and finally and expensive MESE-powered teleport-pad network that went via a central Half-Life-y chamber with glowing lava power conduits.)

          • Noam Beefheart says:

            Horses are also great for getting over the mountains. Just be sure to save a lot.

  6. Eight Rooks says:

    Good article, Mr. C, though I’ll just ignore most of the minor nitpicks that caught my eye in favour of two things:

    1) I think there’s something to be said, which doesn’t get said very often, for the world being its own reward to encourage you not to fast travel. I’d still be playing Eidolon, or at least I’d have racked up a good deal more Steam hours, if it had been made up of more than a handful of polygons and the same ten or fifteen 3D models everywhere. The level of detail, in my estimation, simply doesn’t support the atmosphere the game is trying to evoke. It almost gets there, it tries mightily, but it just can’t do it. It’s not a case of there not being enough unique little vignettes all over the place, it’s just that you can’t stare at a flat, slightly undulating green blanket and convince yourself it’s a rolling hillside for several hours straight – whereas if the game had The Witcher 3’s engine I’d be loading it up right now.

    2) While the gist of the article is all well and good I do worry that putting the emphasis on “quest, as in long, as in, like, really long” also risks pandering to the silly people who’ve got it into their heads that “epic” automatically means “goes on forever”. It shouldn’t just mean physical distance. Dragon Age: Origins isn’t epic to my way of thinking because I didn’t care about any of it and nothing truly meaningful ever happened while I was playing. The time it took to finish was irrelevant.

    Other than that, great. Hope the original version went down well as a talk.

    • jere says:

      I really thought Eidolon was going to be the game that satisfied this desire for exploration, but it was too buggy, simplistic, and boring for me. I wandered around for several hours and enjoyed piecing together the story, but there wasn’t enough meat on the bones. The final straw was when I got on a small island filled with what looked like red electrical pylons. I decided to swim off the island, must have misjudged the distance (since everything is so flat looking and you move at a glacial pace), and died from exposure 20 ft from the next shore.

      The Long Dark is closer to what I’m after but way too small and thus repetitive.

  7. SlimShanks says:

    I’m surprised this hasn’t been discussed before, and I agree that it is a mechanic that needs to be used a lot more carefully, if at all. I’m always going on about how so many games cheapen the “adventure” in various ways. My main reason for loving Stalker is how pure the exploration is, in that it trusts you to find the fun stuff. And a journey into the zone is both demanding and intimidating, full of wonder, confusion, and genuinely not knowing what you are going to find. And you still have to get out.
    If such a game had fast travel, it would completely ruin it. It is certainly harder to design a world to be functional without fast travel, but the rewards in term of immersiveness are potentially huge. Also, if your world isn’t interesting enough to walk around in, why should I explore it at all?
    Basically, we need a more grassroots approach to experiences in gaming. The interest has to start at the smallest level, like enjoying an environment, navigating it’s challenges and seeing it’s sights. Whereas a game like Skyrim tells me that the world is interesting and fun because of the story of the Dragonborn and a bunch of historical drivel that has nothing to do with me exploring. Does that make any sense?

  8. Mr_Blastman says:

    Well said. I dislike fast travel, too. I play all the Bethesda games without using it. However, there’s another problem many overlook that works in conjunction with fast travel–putting your goals on a map.

    Why is this a problem? Well, because when someone says, “Oh, there’s this ancient artifact that gives untold powers like such and such, if you could ever find it…” And then it shows up on the map–go here for loot!

    There’s something seriously wrong with that! If the artifact was so ancient, and so powerful, wouldn’t it have been found already if it is simply a matter of going to a spot marked on your map to get it?!

    Doing this kills immersion completely.

    So not only is fast travel bad, marking objectives on a map is bad, too. Look back to Morrowind. Or go even further back to Ultima 6. They didn’t mark objectives on a map. Morrowind was pretty cute in how they’d give verbal directions using road signs and geographic descriptions to tell you where to go. That was great. But even that is immersion breaking.

    Want to know what would be immersive?

    So NPC A tells you of some artifact. A few other might talk of it too here and there–but different tidbits. You journey the land in search of it amongst other things. Here and there, you discover bits and pieces of information. Scribble in a book or a journal, a offhand mention from someone else. Nobody or anything ever directly tells you where it might be but from the information alone you can build a picture of places it might be. And then, when you find it… the reward is huge! You did it! But it took you time. Weeks, maybe a month of journey. You might of even forgot about it. But there it is… and it is yours.

    The same concept could apply to a multitude of things such as hunting down a person, or questing for an animal. Ultima 6 did this very well. You set off into the world and it was damn hard to figure the game out without hints. But there were people to talk to, books to read, crystal balls to use, dungeons to explore–it was a grand adventure that could take months to complete.

    That is what games are missing. Fix the markers on maps–remove them, implement richer plot devices, even subtle ones that allow quest completion without markers and remove fast travel… and you’ve created gold.

    Dark Souls 1 was wonderful.

    I also play Elite Dangerous online in Open mode exclusively for similar reasons. The adventure, the exploration and the unexpected… they are great things.

    • WHS says:

      Very much yes.

      I’m exactly the kind of pressed-for-time gamer that quest markers and fast travel seems to have been designed for, but I’d rather complete one lengthy task requiring some deduction and legwork than a dozen quests by playing whack-a-mole with map markers. I don’t care how good the loot is or what you’re doing, after a little while, the latter feels like a job.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Yes, yes, yes.

      It applies even to the more mundane things. When I did my no-map playthrough (see comments above), one of the earliest tricky bits was finding out where everything was in a town. They truly do expect you to just look at the map, with everything filled in, and know instantly where to go. The guards might have dialogue options like “where is the nearest inn?” or whatnot, but they’d all just me like, “it’s here in this town!” Gee, thanks. And so I’d have to go look around for signs manually, even in the largest towns with multiple districts, and nobody willing to give me even the simplest directional pointer to get me there.

      • Christo4 says:

        Well, to be honest, if i was the player i’d probably make a local map to remember everything, so i just find that kind of an ease of acces tbh.
        Though it would be nice to have an item or something for when you find something on the map, and only then after checking the position of the stars or whatever you’ll mark it on your map.

        • HopeHubris says:

          I don’t see how maps and quest markers break immersion. I have Google Maps on my phone, maps and quest markers are how I get around

    • Christo4 says:

      I agree, but there’s one problem.
      In Skyrim and other games like it, that artefact is one artefact out of hundreds. I think there are more artefacts than npc’s in all the cities. Not to mention that probably it won’t be that powerful either, or in Skyrim it’ll probably be leveled for your character, so after 10 levels it’ll be useless or better stuff will come up.
      Now, if they only made like 12 artefacts, really powerful ones? Then yes, i completely agree. Also give me labyrinths and other stuff that i have to survive to get it. Kinda like Magi: The kingdom of magic, anime, they have an interesting take on it.
      That would be a fun game. Maybe the whole purpose of the game could be just gathering all the artefacts.
      But as it is in Skyrim, there isn’t really any point to doing all that complicated stuff if you’re just going to use something else later on. And that’s another problem for skyrim.

      • Awesomeclaw says:

        TES does tend to have the Daedric Artifacts, which are essentially what you’re describing. They tend to be either very powerful or have unique effects (and have some great quests attached to them), rather than the e.g. Steel Longsword of Frost that many of the quests tend to reward you with.

    • K_Sezegedin says:

      For me fast travel yea or nay is a matter of context. In latter day TES the game-worlds are so small geographically speaking, that the only way to get any sense of travel IMO is to walk everywhere. Even then with towns pretty much a <10 minute jog from each other and many points of interest in between, the world can feel pretty claustrophobic and theme-park esque.

      Meanwhile you're reading in-game books about battles involving thousands of soldiers, and I'm here wondering how they even fit thousands of soldiers into a landscape functionally the size of a few football pitches, where the biggest cities might barely claim 100 citizens if we count the dogs.

      Now imagine if instead of going for the handcrafted approach as Bethsoft has done since Morrowind, they'd refined their procedural generation techniques and continued to make real-world scale landscapes like Daggerfall's. In this context fast travel is absolutely a necessity, but there's nothing to really stop you from walking from point A-B in real time if you choose.

      Coupled with a survival/supply system where you had to be properly provisioned before setting out on foot or hitting that fast travel button and watching the days and weeks tick by, you could have something very interesting emerge.

      A fantasy RPG version of Elite Dangerous crossed with a survival game, something with the balls to have a lot of empty space.

      • Mr_Blastman says:

        Procedural landscapes would be really neat. Having scale of that size would be awesome. But, as you point out, fast travel really would be necessary but, if they had the graphical fidelity of Morrowind Overhaul or even Skyrim, I bet people would go out there and explore. You certainly could in Arena–and sometimes would find neat stuff, but it wasn’t needed.

        The hand-made dungeons haven’t really been all that good since Morrowind. Most of the time they are very linear with no switchbacks and alternate routes. You go through them like a carnival funhouse which after a few, gets to be very boring and immersion breaking. In a way, I almost prefer the random nightmares of Daggerfall that had dungeons you literally could get lost in and perhaps never find your way out of. Those places were horrifying–but it gave the game charm and and challenge, something missing in everything since Morrowind.

        • K_Sezegedin says:

          Agreed.

          While I can’t say I had fun exactly in Daggerfall’s dungeons, the fact that they weren’t made for the express convenience of the player, but were rather places where getting lost was a real possibility….well, it was kinda like life in this weird way.

          As you say, they were nightmares, – I wish that spirit had been refined instead of neutered in latter TES.

    • K_Sezegedin says:

      See in the context of areal world scale landscape you could plausibly discover something that no one else in-fiction has discovered/rediscovered.

      Blastman’s right in a place like Skyrim, its bonkers that not every site hasn’t been picked over, how exactly do you lose track of artifacts and locations when you practically stumble over their thresholds on your trip to the market.

  9. WHS says:

    This is great and I agree 100%.

    I’d love to see a game with no fast travel and really only one quest of import, that you could theoretically complete in an hour if only you knew where and how, and everything else you do is in pursuit of that quest. One of the most thrilling game moments I can recall was the very opening of Far Cry 2, where you arrive in a war-torn country and simply told to “Kill the Jackal.” Obviously, the game doesn’t really play out like that, but for a while I really thought that the whole game was effectively a single elaborate mission, and somewhere hiding out in the world was my target, just waiting for me to figure out where to go.

  10. Guzzleguts says:

    I needed a mod to train me not to fast travel in Skyrim. But once that behaviour became natural I found that I could have fast travel on and not abuse it.
    Fast travel is essential for one thing (especially in Bethesda games) which is that you can skip repeating a journey when the game inevitably crashes and you lose progress.

    I found that not fast travelling, the cold from Frostfall and a few other realism mods such as Realistic needs filled in a few of the jigsaw pieces in Skyrim’s patchy picture of reality. Just as with a jigsaw, I find that the more of these pieces are in place the easier it is to fill in the gaps with imagination, so I now find it easier to make up other roleplaying rules – and stick to them!

    Fast travel makes the game just a game, not a roleplaying game. You can’t roleplay without some degree of immersion.

    • Archonsod says:

      I’ve never had Skyrim crash on me. On the other hand if I had to walk between the same two locations for the 900th sodding fetch quest I’d probably be baying for Bethesda’s blood. It’s the counter argument that isn’t addressed; I’m more than happy to spend time in TES games simply heading to the horizon to see what’s there, but at the same time when I’m engaged in one of the quest lines I just want to get through that quest line, not spend two hours traipsing from one side of the world to the other. It’s nothing to do with the space being empty or the content etc, if I’m supposed to be bringing doctor wizard the magical doohickey, then all I’m actually interested in is bringing doctor wizard the magical doohickey. If I wanted to spend two hours having wonderful random encounter adventures on the path to his house, I’d have been on the path to his house rather than accepting the quest to fetch the magical doohickey.
      It’s kinda the big problem I usually have with open world games (admittedly Ubi tend to do it far more than Bethesda) – they brag about having a big, open world to explore as you see fit, then insist on shoving stuff in your face like some kind of obnoxious drill sergeant instead of actually letting you go explore as you see fit.

  11. zind says:

    I am a steadfast defender of fast travel as an available option, simply because games that get the “in-between” right are so few and far between. However, I never thought about that being the case simply because fast travel was in the game. Personally the sweet spot for me would be an in-fiction fast travel (Skyrim’s carriages, Morrowind’s silt striders, WoW’s flight paths) plus a(n also in-fiction) “town portal” type thing (Diablo’s Town Portal, WoW’s hearthstone) for loot stowing/selling or shopping runs, or saving and quitting in a safe place for the night.

    I also enjoyed Fallout 1/2’s version of overland travel which I think would be a good option to provide “traditional” teleporty fast travel variants. Throw in the occasional (fun, not tedious) random encounter. Still, the key word is OPTION – there are games where I’d be irritated to no end if I was trying to fast travel home with a full bag of loot and came upon a whole new treasure trove of booty.

    • Distec says:

      Agreed. I used fast travel in Skyrim because it was pretty much there. Yeah, I have my gripes with how it damages the questing and immersion in the world. But it’s strongly countered by my urge to stuff my boxers with hundreds of valuable gems and other treasure… even though money in Skyrim is piss easy to acquire and there’s no practical point to it after you get a good amount. Still, gotta scratch that itch.

      Fallout 1 & 2’s travel system always struck me as a no-brainer compromise, although I’m sure some would resent potential interruptions. You can “teleport” anywhere one the map, but there’s always the potential of random encounters. It was also something you had to weigh a bit before embarking because time was a resource, at least in the first game. The player basically got most of the convenience of a fast travel system (no slogging through areas you’ve already been through a dozen times) while still giving the impression that the world was still moving during your travels. At the very least, I would like that feeling to be brought back into more modern games that use fast travel.

  12. Nyctef says:

    I think games like GTA V / Morrowind / Witcher 3 have a good compromise – fast travel, but only between certain waypoints. Bonus points if you have to pay a bit to access it as well. Skyrim actually has this as well with carts that go between cities, although they’re much less used since you have your own personal teleport.

    In these games you always have to do a bit of running around to get to a waypoint, so the world retains its size, but you don’t get the tedium of having to do the same paths over and over again once you get bored of travelling the normal way. The games I mentioned are also all wide-open and flat, so navigating the in-between spaces yourself is pretty easy.

  13. jon_hill987 says:

    I have not put on a mod to disable it, but I don’t use Fast Travel in Skyrim, (apart from Wuld Nah Kest) I actually played most of FO3 before I even realised you could click on the icons on your map. It really does make the game more fun, you feel more part of the world and you find things you would otherwise miss, a random horse kicking the shit out of some vampires (and winning) after it’s owner was slain for example. These things make Skyrim what it is so playing it with FT takes away part of the game.

    Can it get boring? Yes, but it is peaceful, and I play games to relax. Besides, you can always install a mod or two for some extra random encounters. link to nexusmods.com

  14. Montavious says:

    Fast Travel, the thing that killed EQ1 with the PoP expansion. Turned a MASSIVE world into a couple of zones. I do want to try Skyrim without fast travel though, have never done it and i feel i missed out on a lot.

  15. Kollega says:

    A great example of a game that both benefits and suffers from having fast travel is Just Cause 2. It benefits from fast travel because the game’s world is flippin’ enormous (someone recently made a timelapse of a walk and swim across the JC2 map that lasted five real-world hours), and sometimes, you just want to get over to the mission marker faster than even a fighter jet will allow. And it suffers from fast travel because if you actually take the slow route, be it paragliding over the islands, or ordering a speedboat to rush through rivers and across the oceanic expanse, or stealing a sports car and organizing a road trip to your destination, you can see some amazing sights and visit places that you never would’ve gone to otherwise. So while I’m grateful that JC2 gives me that option, very often I choose to ignore it.

    • Nyctef says:

      The biggest problem with ignoring fast travel in JC2, at least for me, is that within 30 seconds I would be distracted by something interesting and suddenly start blowing up entirely unrelated objects :D

  16. Guzzleguts says:

    PS: I feel that the problem with Skyrim’s quests is that they throw around long distance travel too easily. The game can make you travel across the whole country just to deliver a letter or something equally dull. This is because they want to show off the game world.
    I think it would be better if the Frodo & Sam style travels were reserved for special quests worthy of the name. If the player was aware that the quest would involve a long journey, with the promise of some sort of climax, then they could prepare for it psychologically.
    When it is more like ‘go to Windhelm and speak to a guy then go to Solitude and speak to a guy then come back,’ then it feels like what it is: a pain in the backside well worthy of skipping.

  17. Guzzleguts says:

    PPS: They should implement a new auto-stroll feature. You can set a destination for your character and they head off there automatically.
    As the player you can look around at the scenery, manage your inventory or skills, or read an in-game book.
    The mode disables when there’s danger etc.

    • onodera says:

      I think Witcher 3 has something you will like: if you’re on a road, your horse will follow it, no need to steer him.

    • Nyctef says:

      GTA V kind of has this with the taxis, and I think there’s a mod or two for the Skyrim inter-city carts that does something similar. It can definitely be a nice experience, I agree

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, honestly, when I’m not fast-travelling in Skyrim because I’ve felt like re-establishing the scale of the world or taking in some nice virtual scenery, I want fewer encounters. My play experience is not improved by having to dismount, shout “OI! Knock it off!”* at two wolves, and resume my journey.

      * Kyne’s Peace: saving random wildlife from suiciding against heavily-armed adventuring dragonborn since 4E 201.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        I Agree with this too, travel sections shouldn’t just be a way to facilitate random low level encounters. Let it be a challenge to take certain paths or discover certain locations and let there be a reward for doing so. The few times you actually have to do this in Skyrim remind me fondly of older games such as Ultima 6, Ishar and of course Morrowind where you often have to follow vague directions and/or piece the location of something together from distributed clues.

  18. Zenicetus says:

    Among all the other things it gets right, I think Witcher 3 does a good job of allowing fast travel, while still requiring some work to reach those signposts where you can do it. Many quests and points of interest just aren’t conveniently near a travel point, even once you’ve unlocked them. This is betterthan games that have fast travel on-demand, from anywhere your character is standing at the moment. The designers can force interaction with the scenery, simply by deciding how far apart the fast-travel points are.

    They also added cruise control for your horse, so he’ll auto-follow roads and paths at a gallop, It’s not too tedious to get to a fast-travel signpost that way, so it’s a sort of intermediate fast travel mode that still fits the gameworld and doesn’t break immersion. You couldn’t have that in every game, but it works in his one. The Mass Effect equivalent would be the Mako vehicle, which could serve a similar function if the next Mass Effect game is more open world and less linear.

    If Witcher 3 didn’t have fast travel, it would have taken me a year to finish the darned thing. And I wouldn’t have wanted the game world to be any smaller, just to “balance” lack of fast travel.

    • Geebs says:

      I’ve read some complaints about Roach, with people annoyed that she kept randomly stopping/shying at things/haring off in the wrong direction. Thing is, anybody who has ever actually ridden a horse will find all of that stuff oddly realistic.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Yes, exactly! For anyone who knows horses, Roach is one of the more realistic depictions I’ve seen in most videogames. Often kinda dumb, doesn’t always do what you want, but everything Roach does is pretty much what a real horse is like.

        The behavior when you dismount is sometimes amazing too…. like in a town, Roach will find his way to the nearest watering trough if there is one, and start drinking. Or wandering away to munch on some grass. Doesn’t just stand there like a taxi, he’s got his own agenda.

  19. v21v21v21 says:

    Thank you.

  20. jere says:

    Yes!!! I understand why fast travel is in games, but personally it ruins something at a fundamental level for me. I’ll use it if it’s in a game of course, but it feels somewhat like entering a cheat code (I lose all motivation to play if I can just cheat).

    This is where I have to talk about Asheron’s Call. It was my first MMORPG. The game had a HUGE world. I’m not kidding. People like to talk about huge Skyrim is (15 sq miles) or how big WoW is (60 sq miles), but the world of Dereth is 500 sq miles. Like… half the size of Rhode Island. It took many, many hours to run across at normal run speeds (“Run” being a skill which characters eventually raised to cheetah-like speeds).

    The game was mainly one large continent, had no zones, and there was nothing stopping you making the cross continent trip on foot (besides high level mobs). One interesting design central to the mechanics and backstory was a portal system. The towns were networked through this portal system, which might seem like it would ruin the whole thing but it was rather limited. Each town only branched off to one or two others. So if you wanted to go from city A to city B, you might have to travel A->C->G->B. Besides, most of the continent was pure wilderness, far removed from any of the major towns. The thing I loved about AC was that I could just pick a direction and run off; I was bound to find interesting things along the way: packs of roaming monsters, ruins, dungeons, etc. It was similar to what you described with DayZ in that you could travel for hours without seeing a person, but when you did find someone, that interaction was actually quite meaningful (or terrifying if you were on the one PvP server). And I had to *survive* along the way on my own without the help of nearby spawn points, shops, and allies. I tried to do this a few times with World of Warcraft. My journey always ended in about 45 seconds when I realized I was surrounded by vertical cliffs. Meh.

    I miss these kinds of experiences and I spend a lot of time thinking of new game ideas that involve traveling for hours on, say, the open ocean desperate to find land. Or in a tundra (I wrote one game in this setting, but I think often about writing a *much longer* game). The Long Dark scratches this itch for just a moment before the small maps and the inevitable death-by-wolf happens. I think there’s room for more than that though.

    I’m glad to hear there are others out there that enjoy, as cliche as it is to say, the journey more than the destination.

  21. arhaine says:

    Witcher 3 fast travel. I think it is an awesome model. The posts for it are placed not too close to each other, so when you explore one some woods and then you need to go somewhere, you really think what’s faster, to ride to the post and ride from the next one, or just ride straight to the objective.

    • Dicehuge says:

      Yeah I thought Witcher 3 and even Morrowing offered the best form of fast travel. There’s so much re-treading old territory that no fast travel at all would be unbearably tedious, so having it in towns and specific landmarks is almost necessary. But exploring and getting lost in the wilderness for both of those games could be a really intimidating experience, as it should be; it’s hard to build an atmospheric setting in a world when every foreboding forest, desert and swamp has a skyrim-esque ‘instant escape’ button.

  22. BrickedKeyboard says:

    A best of both worlds solution exists. It’s really simple. Time warping.

    In Kerbal Space program, it can take months to years for a spacecraft to reach it’s destination. However, there’s no “fast travel”. Once you’ve been to Duna, you can’t just click on the planet from a fast travel map and your spacecraft is there instantly. You have to build a spacecraft capable of making the trip (much harder than it sounds because there are complex interactions so even if you start with a working spacecraft that you “just” upgrade the engines, it may not work) and do the key steps of the flight.

    But you don’t have to wait for IRL months. You speed up time thousands of times and get there in seconds. It doesn’t cheapen the immensity of it. Seeing the blackness of space around, the sun rotating over your solar panels as in-game days pass, the destination planetary system finally growing from a tiny dot to the planetary bodies that are actually there. It’s amazing. It feels like a real world.

    If Kerbal were written more efficiently and with better algorithms, you’d be able to warp time while under engine thrust and even during the boost phases of launch. Then you would only actually have to run in 1x time when it matters and there is stuff happening – exactly what a game should be like.

    • studenteternal says:

      An interesting point, and it works fairly well in kerbal. Not quite sure that it would map well onto the traditional open world game though. I think that is the sort of role mounts (be they animal or mechanical) are meant to fill, but only rarely feel they work well.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        It kind of already does. These games discussed often continue the day night cycle and continue any mission timers.

        “Fast travel” is often just “skip the blank 2 hour walking bit” if you/we have no time to walk to the destination that play session.

        The let down is, these options do not allow random spawns/interruptions. The examples of games that avoid this mistake is KSP as it’s still simulating (though accelerated and simplified) and DF as it does do the random encounters (during “fast travel” on the map screen).

      • AriochRN says:

        Once in a mission in ArmA3 I accidentally mashed the speed up time key a few times while hunting for the zeroing keys. Suddenly everyone was bombing around like they were in a Benny Hill sketch (minus the ladies of course, it being ArmA3).
        The footsteps alone were chortle inducing.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      I’m absolutely down with a time-compression fast-travel mechanic, even in fantasy games. Fast travel, when you’re not out-and-out quantum teleporting or whatever, is just an abstraction of going somewhere under your own steam, so having your character autopilot through the world to the destination at 10x speed seems fine to me. Do it right, so it looks like a cool time-lapse footage, with clouds sweeping across the sky and shadows whooshing and stuff, and let it be interruptible if you see something interesting off the path.

      The important thing would be to have the world carry on in the background, so the time it takes to travel matters. Much like the fast travel in Daggerfall, as I recall, actually.

      I’d stick with the idea that you can only FT to places you’ve visited in normal time, though.

  23. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I guess in a game without fast travel travelling should be dangerous (like in Skyrim Frostfall, Labyrinthian was esp. a problem) and feature interesting landscapes and random encounters. But I usually spam fast travel a lot in games I confess.
    Back in Morrowind there was only mage teleport and recall spell (set to Creeper) also silt striders and boats but they didn’t link dungeons or wilderness. Travelling was tiresome and quest directions were like south to the second river. then east and the second crossroad left, no quest arrows pointing to the target. Also ash storms and darkess. Pre second add-on the journal was a mess and I got lost all the time… glorious times. Last elder scroll where you could kill any NPC.

  24. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Wow great timing, I started my own survival playthrough of Skyrim last week. And I completely agree, great article. I have similar feelings about auto mapping features too. The survival aspect of RPGs is one of those things that fell by the wayside since the early 90s. Obviously there are a lot of games in which removing the fast travel or the automap would just lead to frustration – a game has to be designed with travel and survival in mind for travel sections to be enjoyable. But without survival mechanics, the exploration and adventure side of RPGs suffers as locations become little more than nicely rendered backdrops to combat sequences. Bethesda already toy with travel and exploration as risk/reward systems in the way they design their maps to be discovered piece by piece. I’d love to see what they’d do with their own survival mechanics but worry that we’ll never see it because with every iteration the common denominator they seem to have to cater for gets lower and lower.

  25. studenteternal says:

    I quite like fast travel, when its integrated into the world. I am quite happy to “climb on back and be off” with the wagons of Skyrim leading to a black screen and then arrival at my destination. I took a nap obviously. Or the silt striders of morrowind come to mind. I can get quickly to the general area I need quickly, but I still have to travel and explore to get to a specific objective.

  26. snowgim says:

    Yep I hate fast travel. I played all of Fallout3 without fast traveling once, and I’m doing the same in Skyrim.
    The only exception I have in Skyrim is if I’m loaded down with equipment I allow myself to fast travel to Whiterun to deposit stuff in my house, and fast travel back again. Essentially I’m mailing parcels of junk to myself, but since there’s no mail mod in Skyrim (as far as I know), I just have to use my imagination for that part, and pretend I haven’t really gone anywhere, just slept for a day.
    I’ve also started trying to only do it if I can find a carriage to travel by.

    I find it so much more interesting to look up my map to see where the next main story quest is, then walk there stopping off at all the other sidequests on the way.
    Although, that might be why steam currently says I’ve played 363 hours, and I’m not even halfway through.

    I also tried playing without using the map for a while, which was fun, but it didn’t stick. I did play through Assassin’s Creed 1 without using the map though.

  27. Rumpelstilskin says:

    Without fast travel every game would be like playing The Path over and over and over. What I’m trying to say – not a great thing at all. Generally, when I hear the word “immersion”, I reach for my gun, since it’s used to justify some of the most heinous crimes in game design way too often.

  28. MrUnimport says:

    >It is one of those parts of videogame language that we have come to accept. Like stuffing your face with chocolate bars in the middle of a gunfight to restore your health, or punching a tree to attain perfectly serviceable pieces of wood, without ever considering the effect this language has on the overarching tone of the game.

    Hold on now, what’s wrong with medpacks in inventories? Surely being made to keep stock of their health supplies makes players more engaged?

    • king0zymandias says:

      Yeah, but why should a fatally wounded person be munching on food in the middle of a lethal battle?

      • MrUnimport says:

        Because the alternative, doing nothing and dying, isn’t very mechanically complex or interesting?

  29. onodera says:

    I have to agree that fast travel isn’t that great, but I tried removing it from Skyrim, and the game’s a chore. It’s built around fast travel, and removing fast travel hobbles you. I wanted to get that cool armor from a rival thief guild, so I had to go from Riften to Windhelm and back four times: get out of the Flagon, get out of the crypt, run to the city gates, talk to the carriage driver, run across the bridge to the city gates, run to your mark, retrace your steps, repeat.

    A game without fast travel should be less open, with most quests located around the more or less linear chain of hubs: you get to Whiterun and do quests around Whiterun, then you go to whatever and do quests there. There should be some quests that send you on a journey, but there shouldn’t be many of them with conflicting routes.

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, that’s the thing. Sure, you -can- mod out fast travel and quest markers, but the game is designed with the omnipresent assumption you have those things. Fixing it so that the game works without them is a much, much taller order.

  30. SuicideKing says:

    So, Pokemon games. They had “Fly” after a certain point (usually about 1/3rd of the game?), but it was necessary because walking through any grassy area (or water) meant stopping every 5 seconds because another “wild pokemon appeared”. So while there [i]was[/i] a great deal of traveling and discovering new things (mostly unmarked on the map), “Fly” was a godsend.

    Then, Sleeping Dogs. No fast travel iirc. Used to be awesome, driving around virtual Hong Kong doing random stuff, but it did suffer (especially late/post game) from the “clear the icons” mentality.

    I had tremendous fun with FC3 as well, driving, boating or gliding around the place. Of course, overtly aggressive animals made it a bit tedious, but it was fun overall. I don’t remember using fast travel too much.

    Borderlands 2 – not too much fun to walk around, because while there are interesting places to stumble on to (the “Double Rainbow” camp overlooking Overlook), it was just too slow, uninteresting and boring to walk through places most of the time. And of course, you’d get attacked by everything. Less of an issue to drive through, though.

    Finally, Arma 3. I have spent a lot of time just flying or driving through the place, though it would be much better with a bunch of friends (especially memorable was the “Routine” mission we played on Folk ARPS last Sunday) and with a dynamic world to wade through (there are mods but my system craps out).

  31. Gordon Shock says:

    How does Witcher 3 handles the fast travel since it is now an open world?

    • Zenicetus says:

      It’s a great system. There are signposts in the game world at places you’d expect them to be, like crossroads and towns. A few are in quest related places like caves and ruins, but not every quest location has one. You travel to these places in the course of the game and they unlock, appearing as green signposts on the main map. You can then fast-travel to any unlocked signpost, but you have to do it from another signpost location.

      It means you still have to do a lot of traveling between signposts, but it never feels tedious. Especially since your horse has a feature that can auto-follow paths and roads.

      • king0zymandias says:

        Additionally the game also rewards those who decide to travel manually. I have found a number of quests that I would’ve missed had I fast traveled. There are also a number of things in the world that don’t have question markers on them but have something of importance going on in them.

        • Zenicetus says:

          Yes, that too. I’ve found a lot of cool little vignettes just walking or slow-riding to a destination. One of my favorites was stumbling across a house that looked deserted until I saw smoke rising from the chimney. I went inside, and surprised a (human) cannibal feasting on body parts. He attacked, I killed him. It wasn’t a question mark on the map, just a little detail to discover.

          The only trouble with this idea of there being “something interesting everywhere” in an open world, is that it must have taken a staggering amount of work to create a world this rich in content. I was constantly amazed at the attention to detail and content in the game. There won’t be many game studios that could both pull it off on a technical level, and also have the budget to fund it.

  32. AriochRN says:

    I’m still enjoying the journey I started in Skyrim back when it got released, with a few little jaunts to such places as Wyrmstooth, Falskaar and Solstheim. It still makes me coo on occasion, it’s a lovely looking place for a yomp.
    Only fast travelled when the odd hapless death would mean re-treading the 10 minutes since the last auto-save. My save says I’m 300-odd hours in and I’ve still got gubbins like the Thieves Guild questline and fan-stuff like Beyond Reach to be cracking on with. I’m happy plodding along.

    Should / when Daggerfall For Unity (link to dfworkshop.net) come to fruition then I think my resolve against fast travel might be tested somewhat, 65,000km2 or so? Mind you, if the wilderness gets populated with creatures and the like, hmmm…

  33. Vandelay says:

    Finally someone has said it! In total agreement with this article and I always avoid fast travel. If I am using it, then that is a sign the game is not working with me.

    I don’t mind so much if there is an in universe explanation for the fast travel, such as Morrowind’s big travelling creatures or God’s taxis, but to be able to instantly jump from one place to another seems to negate half the point of an open world game.

    One alternative I’ve often thought would work is to include penalties for using fast travel. For example, it may cost you certain amount of money, food and/or drink, in order to acknowledge that time has passed and you have physically travelled. You could include random encounters, so you could have a message occasionally appearing saying something like “You were ambushed by a group of bandits and had to use a health kit.” It could be taken even further and treated like the auto-resolve battle option in Total War and its ilk, where taking the fast travel is the quick and easy option, but never going to be as efficient as doing it yourself.

  34. DrollRemark says:

    Funnily enough, I don’t think I ever used fast travel in Far Cry 3 (haven’t played the fourth). There just didn’t feel like much point when vehicles were plentiful, driving was fun, places were fairly close together, and you could breeze past the random encounters*. I did use it on Oblivion though, and I found it really put me off the game.

    *If anything, the heavy emphasis on random encounters in most open-world games actually makes travelling by foot much less interesting. It becomes a dangerous slog, rather than actual travel.

  35. fish99 says:

    I’ve done 2 playthroughs of Skyrim, one with and one without fast travel (no carts either). I think it’s a better experience without fast travel, but the game has to be designed with that in mind. If Skyrim didn’t have horses it wouldn’t have been fun, and there is an awful lot of traveling the same routes over and over.

    The quests definitely weren’t design for no-fast-travel – they’ll often send you huge distances or from A to B then back to A and then B again. Yes you can plan your route, so you go into an area and do 5 objectives for different quests in that area, but that’s not enough to stop it getting tedious at times.

    If a game has fast travel, it was probably designed so you should use it.

  36. MrNash says:

    I personally don’t mind fast travel as a time saver. It makes life so much easier after loading up on loot and just wanting to find a place to sell it fast. If I had to run back to town every time I was topped up in Skyrim, I’d go insane. Even in old 8-bit RPGs growing up, it was a relief to have escape and return to town spells to cover ground quickly.

    My major complaint is the heavy-handed nature that some folks have when it comes to fast travel, shouting about how we need a game without it included. Why? To use or not use the function is a personal choice. If you don’t like fast travel, yet succumb to it, if even on only the rare occasion, that’s on you. Just because that person lacks in self-control, I see no reason why others must suffer for it. If it’s such a big deal, have a mode available when starting the game that turns off fast travel from the get-go (some games already have mods that allow just that). Problem solved. Don’t go cramming it down other people’s throats just because you cannot control yourself.

    I do agree with the poster above about removing map markers, or at least having an option to turn them off. I enjoy stuff like the old Might and Magic games where I had to figure out where things were on my own and then go find them. The most I’d like on a map is where major cities and landmarks and the ability to add notes as I gather information. Heck, even bring back cartography as a skill. The markers feature takes away a certain degree of discovery from the game, unfortunately.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      It isn’t just the case that developers are adding in fast travel as convenience though, RPGs are being designed with fast travel in mind and this affects everything in quest design.

      If a journey between two towns is identical and boring every time, has to be done multiple times, and there are no consequences or rewards (of any sort) associated with the journey itself, then I completely agree with fast travel. A game like that sounds like it would be a nightmare without it.

      So the argument against fast travel isn’t so much that it should be removed as a convenience mechanism in games where it’s justified, but that it would be nice to have some games that weren’t designed to require it in the first place.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      I agree totally with your comments about maps and map markers though. Exploration was always my favorite part of the M&M games.

      One of the things I lament about Skyrim is that a lot of quests are just not doable if you turn the map markers off.

      Would it have killed them to put some of the effort that went into all those bloody books into writing decent quest descriptions and journal entries? Grrr

  37. Orix says:

    Shout out to Miasmata, where lack of fast travel made the world truly terrifying. Being sick and barely able to ascend slopes, without potentially falling over, rolling down a hill into a lake and drowning made just traversing the land a fraught experience, intensified even more by the pitch blackness of night, and the stalking cat-like monster that appears at the most inopportune times. Just walking and mapping out the islands felt like a quest for survival.

    Eidolon, like others have said was majestically expansive and pretty, but its minimalism could only carry it so far (much like Proteus), and boredom sets in after a few hours. My own quest in that game, once I found a map, was to find the town in the south west of the map, navigating by landmarks alone was rather difficult, but I made it. At this point I felt my journey had been fulfilling enough and stopped playing the game.

    On a side note. I did not know that Assassin’s Creed games before IV had fast travel. Although I only played AC1, 2 and Brotherhood before Black Flag, did they have fast travel? I don’t remember them having it. Blag Flag’s fast travel is quite a big cheat. There’s no massive need for it, the islands/towns aren’t big enough to really warrant it, and the sea can be traversed quite quickly. FarCry2, the little that I remember, had a reasonable fast travel system, there were only maybe 5 points you could FT to on the whole map, which was rather large. That seemed appropriate.

    I’m also currently playing Sleeping Dogs, where you can fast travel by taxis, but the function is a little borked, in that often you just end up jacking the taxi while trying to catch a ride :/ Although travelling from place to place is usually met by the most gorgeous neon-lit Hong Kong, especially atmospheric during a rain-whipped night. Hong Kong one reasonably sized and detailed island, the too numerous islands staple of open world games (e.g. Infamous, GTAIII and IV, etc.) can go feck themselves.

    FUEL also had great reason for having fast travel. That world was expansive and gorgeous, but big, far far too big to be reasonable. I saw an article on RPS where someone travelled around the world map for 8 hours solid. That’s just crazy. Being able to port to spots on the world map is fast travel, but by god is it necessary, it also means you can be driving around for a long time to reach your goal anyhow despite having fast travelled.

    Them X games (e.g. X2: The Threat, and X3: Reunion) made you work for fast travel. You had to find the requisite component (the jump drive) and have enough energy cells to travel to where you wanted to be. After exploring the whole galaxy via jump gates, the jump drive was a welcome reward, but still one I used sparingly.

    Overall, I use fast travel when it suits me. If I’m bored with the current locale and want to undertake something more directed elsewhere, I may fast travel. If I want to have a long journey to the centre of the galaxy and out the other side, or traverse around the perimeter of the whole world, I may. Depends on my mood. Fast travel is a nice option, but like you’ve pointed out, not always a meaningful or necessary one.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ben King says:

      Thanks for the Miasmata mention- I was scrolling through comments JUST looking for that title buried somewhere. I’d describe miasmata as a game designed around making fast travel unnecessary, but at the same time it’s exclusion definitely added a challenge and necessitated planning for any journey between camps with a good stock of water and access to a torch. Beyond dehydration and The Beast, the dark of night was the biggest obstacle to getting around. Heaven forbid you get caught away from camp at sunset as the nights in Miasmata are VERY dark and even with a torch and a well rendered map it can be easy to get utterly lost. Someone mentioned time-dilation as a travel mechanic, and in Miasmata losing access to a bed meant losing access to any kind of “Wait” function, so if you were out at night you were caught in a disorienting darkness for a substantial length of time. The lack of fast travel and the approach of night in that game led to some of my most memorably tense gaming experiences in recent years.
      Skyrim quests early on before substantially revealing the world map and getting crazy money and gear actually do feel like great journeys even if there’s a lot of “follow the arrow” HUD navigating going on. I feel like it is easy to OD on fast travel the further you open the world map, and I definitely long for the earliest levels in the game when following the river to whiterun after your daring escape from Helgen felt like meaningful walk.

  38. liquidsoap89 says:

    Now that I’m actually thinking about this, I might be against fast travel also. Well… In some cases maybe. I don’t think I would be able to keep my sanity if I had to run everywhere in the Hinterlands doing middling quests for people in Dragon Age Inquisition. Fast travel is nice for the filler I think. But it absolutely makes sense to avoid using it when doing a literal “quest”. Maybe we just have to RP and stick to a no fast travel rule when following the main quests in games?

    Although, what would Diablo 2 be like without TP’s? Hell, any of those games?

  39. Christo4 says:

    Well, interesting read. I mostly agree, though tbh sometimes skyrim is rather boring without mods, because al you’ll mostly meet are enemies and not that many interesting encounters, unless you have something like interesting npcs or immersive patrols.
    One of the reasons i mostly use fast travel is exactly that, those fetch quests that make you go for 10 km just for a trinket and then back again. So annoying. At least if they were meaningful.
    Also, there is an option to have some kind of fast travel for mods in skyrim that is “immersive”.
    I don’t remember the exact name, but it was something like carriages in skyrim, which would take you to all the big holds for a fee. I think it has options for smaller cities as well. I thought it was interesting when i used it for my short time of playing skyrim modded (cus i mod the game too much, play the game too little and then i got bored).

    • malkav11 says:

      Carriages are in Skyrim by default. There’s just hardly any reason to use them when you could just fast travel.

  40. Ejia says:

    If you do not like fast travel, do not use it. Don’t make the developer take out features other people use because you don’t.

    There is a certain string of fetch/deliver quests in Skyrim that I still love doing even after starting the nth new character, and it involves a trip from Riften to Windhelm and back, passing through Shor’s Stone and Darkwater Crossing in between. Conveniently, this also gives me the fast travel markers to those towns.

    The TES games are much too large to completely eschew fast travel – in Morrowind I stockpiled windform/windwalker scrolls because the island is too boring to trudge through if I need to go to an out-of-the-way town.

  41. Ernesto says:

    Thank you for this article!

    I think one problem might be this 1-0-approach to it. You either do or you don’t fast-travel. Why not add some steps in between?

    Let the players conquer the map piece by piece. Let them ‘work’ for the right to use an increasingly faster method of transportation. Let them clear and prepare an area, then build paths, roads, streets, railways,… A degradation mechanic could keep it interesting in already explored areas. Let them hire NPCs to maintain all that infrastructure.

  42. v21v21v21 says:

    //What// do you mean, “comment is too long”?! How //dare// you!

    Anyways, I have //ways// to make me talk.

    Here goes:

    • v21v21v21 says:

      I remember first seeing fastravel, I don’t recall where, and wondering why. Haven’t used. There might even
      be some transcendal cut-scene which gives awesome insight into the meaning of Liff an’ everything for all I
      know (although I suspect not).

      Let’s see now…

      Ok. Hardcore Time. It goes like this:

      Having installed some mods, I decided to roleplay. Take my time. Enjoy the sights, sniff the stench, that
      sort of thing. Gruff and strapping Nord, stuborn and dim, gives a rat’s bottom for most. And in the game.
      Ale, mead and cooked venison is what I escaped the chopping block for. And shagging, of course, but
      since I wanted to spare me the hassle of installing AP (for those in the know), that had to be imagined.

      So, at some point I was tired of beating the track all by my lonesome and decided to invite someone to join
      me in a walkabout. As I recall, I was feeling pretty down at the time, appalled at the turn things had taken
      with the Companions, whom up to that point I had regarded as my best friends, before they had tried to
      force their choices upon me. And to think I had had dreams about me and her… Anyway, I finally dragged
      my pieces to the pub and proposed to the damsel you have to beat at fisticuffs to join me on adventure.

      I was bitten by rats at some point, although I normally don’t allow it. Got a nasty infection, some kind of
      fever. Later on we were set upon by ruffians, you know the place. I was slow, under the weather, and failed
      to save the fair lady from having a twohanded sword wedged in her forehead (sad but true; I have
      screenshots. Corrupt, ’cause 1333×766, but didn’t know it at the time). Honoured her by placing her
      broken, naked body ceremoniously on a table at one of those lookout points, she would have loved the
      view. Arranged her limbs, broke a bottle of her favorite wine over her, in tribute. Left her there, cooling, ye
      Black Sword still sticking up, vertically.

      • v21v21v21 says:

        We are now nearing the point of this slightly long intervention.)

        Shortly afterwards, things got slow. I was dragging my feet, although not because of the grief and anguish of having led this trusting angel to her demise (we had gotten rather close in the meantime, having realised we were both outcasts from the Companions. Alas, our relationship had not been given time to blossom beyond the platonic.) I had been given two more crippling diseases from my encounters, rockjoint in particular sticks to mind. I was weak, my encumberance did not allow running, the evil coursing through my body reduced me to shuffling along in excruciating pain, in zombie-like delirium (mods, remember?). It reached the point where anything bigger than a pebble was an insurmountable obstacle in my path. I had no Cure potion on my sorry, plague riddled person, because, really, who bothers with //those// in unmodded Skyrim – which had been my only previous experience.

        I now had the option of reloading to where none of this foolishness had happened, or trudging on; to that underhang where the bucolic statue of Talos stands proud, holding the promise of Salvation. Well, it was not really an option, was it? What had happened had happened and could not be unhappened, now could it? So I pressed on.

        To cut a long story short (ha, don’t you wish!), I first tried crawling to Ivorstead (or whatever the name is), it was closer, at the foot of the stairway up the Mountain, in the hope they where selling Cure potions. They were not. Poring over the map, I decided to follow the river to Talos Under the Rock. Trying to move downhill whenever possible. Had the bright idea at some point to fall in the river, hoping to be carried downstream by the current. Didn’t work because I quickly got pushed against some rocks mid-stream, too weak to fight the current to get unstuck. Walked. It was a nightmare. Took me ages. Actually played some podcasts in the background to listen to as I trundled along. Witnessed many glorious sunsets in the woods.

        Attacked by a freaking frostdrake one night, my back against a cliff, hurling javelins and throwing axes at it (mods, cool things they), casting heal and quaffing mana potions as it circled round behind me. Until no more left of anything and decided to make a run for it (HA!), pushing away from the rock, leaving behind my custard-stenciled frost outline on the cliff face, making my escape shambling along, not looking back, and, miraculously, it did not follow.

        • v21v21v21 says:

          At one point, on a ridge overlooking the river, I realised I had nothing to lose anymore so could as well consume my first, superexpensive psilocybin shroom I had been holding onto for a special occasion. Who knew, perhaps it would spirit me away to some better place. Everything became so bright and colourful! And, although I shouldn’t really speak about it, met my Daedra. But then, it all slowly faded back to painful reality.

          I made it to Talos, eventually. My now patron saint. And none shall speak bad of him. He removed all my afflictions and I slept and slept and slept. Went to Whiterun afterwards. Ate and slept and drank and ate. And now I don’t want to ever leave again. I have to give life back to that tree, though; it is only fitting for Talos’ Hold to be restored to its former splendor, no? Firstly though, one more plate of venison, if you be so kind. And, pray tell me, does this establishment still serve that exquisite mead brew I have so fond memories of?

          Bottom line, mods can be //vicious//. And stuborness painful. Oh and always, always stock on Cure Disease potions before going on a stroll in Modded Skyrim.

  43. Premium User Badge

    zigguratvertigo says:

    I never fast travel. It detracts from the sense of scale. A game with a world, possibly open world possibly otherwise presumably has some reason for that world and the chance for me to see it. Fast travel turns a game into a synopsis of a game. I don’t need a slideshow of highlights. I want to experience the universe that the game designers have put there for me.

    • Premium User Badge

      zigguratvertigo says:

      More broadly I want to say that the standard of Mr Caldwell’s writing is consistently high and keeps begging the question why is this person not writing here all the time? Well, there’s the question.

  44. shaaaaaake says:

    I agree massively with this article, and the examples used are very close to my heart. My two favourite games ever are Morrowind and Dark Souls. I didn’t finish either Oblivion or DaS II, with the fast travel systems being the main reason, and still haven’t played Skyrim or Bloodborne because those systems just turned me off the franchise. This article has at least made me think about playing through Oblivion and Skyrim with a no fast travel mod.

  45. vahnn says:

    I’ve never really had a problem with fast travel until I started playing games with huge, open worlds but didn’t allow fast travel. Namely, DayZ. I still don’t really have a problem with it, since a lot of people don’t have time to spend 80% of their time traveling between objectives and just want to get as much progress in as they can in their limited time. Sometimes that’s even me. But I’m finding myself loving games without fast travel more and more and actually using it less and less in games that do allow it.

    Most recent example to come to mind is Witcher 3. It was starting to get boring. Open quest log, select quest, fast travel to general area, walk to marker, complete objective, rinse, repeat. That was no fun. I have since disabled the minimap and almost every other HUD feature (except my own status bars, buffs/debuffs, and “additonal items.” No quest display on my screen, either. Even removed enemy HP bars and damage/critical effect numbers/messages!

    And most importantly: 1) stopped going to bulletin boards and talking to everyone with a quest in a town and then going on quest runs, and 2) stopped using fast travel. Let me tell you, the gameplay experience is phenomenal by comparison! I just wander around and look for interesting things in the distance, or follow coastlines/rivers, and look/listen for interesting things in the environment. Often investigation a broken cart or dead horse or corpse with your Witcher Sense will find clues, even if you don’t already have a quest for them, and you can follow the trail that leads to a treasure or an object or find a person, which will eventually give you a quest to go to nearby town(s) and ask if anyone was looking for what/who you found. Same goes for Witcher Contracts. If you stumble into a creature’s den and track it down and kill it on your own, you’ll get a quest to check notice boards in nearby towns to see if anyone has been asking for help with that monster, which will lead to a reward.

    I find it to be a much more immersive, exciting, and rewarding way of experiencing the game. Try it out for yourself!

  46. baozi says:

    Gothic did it right, too. You can only fast-travel to a few points in the world, and they’re all unlocked late and separately, as discoveries, or as rewards.

    The world, at the beginning, is very dangerous, especially if you stray off the paths, and you often need to run away because you can’t defeat a monster type or pack of it yet. Early quick travel would have ruined this.

    Resting places, in urban areas and the wild, are points where you travel from and back to again, and you’ll become familiar with their surroundings as you explore the world. Again, early quick travel would have ruined this.

    And because the world is hand-built and not generated, you’ll like exploring it. You’ll probably find things you overlooked. Maybe a plant of King’s Sorrel.

    If getting from A to B isn’t fun, something’s not right with the game. Quick travel destroys that intimacy with the world you gain from traveling. It makes you a tourist.

    • The King K says:

      Was about to post something about Gothic. Can’t really much to what you said, aside from maybe that you also learned a lot of the map by frantically running away from it’s wildlife (or running around the castle to scoop up all the orcs to kill from the ramp).

  47. Lionmaruu says:

    I love fast travel, at least on bethesda games like skyrim and fallout you only use it after you discovered a place wich means you already wandered to that place. the best part of fast travel is that you dont need to use it… you know…

    I like the big maps, there is only so much combat or random situations to make a big travel interesting (Solitude or Markath to Riften/Windhelm for example).

    I like colecting things and exploring everything and after you already know most of the world, I think fast travel enables you to explore further by avoiding useless work to get to a specific starting point again. if fast travel didnt existed I woudnt explore the full map of fallout 3 or skyrim for example. my journeys are big and long and if there wasn’t fast travel it would just make it absurdly big and I play my games till the 220+ hours.

    I will agree with the fact that on a hardcore game with hunger/temperature markers and stuff a NO fast travel should be mandatory, no fast travel on fallout 3 for example would mean you running around naked and dying with no ammo pretty often and that’s of course awesome on the point of view of a “hardcore game” experience.

    so I think no fast travel makes for bigger game time but not better quality of game time, unless on a hardcore game, then that is one of the points.

    • Continuity says:

      I explored the full map of Fallout 3 without fast travel, actually I think its a great game to play without fast travel as the map is pretty barren and the game has relatively few quests, so you can afford to trek all over the map without too much fear of having to double back on yourself. Compare that to new vegas, where there are a million quests that send you back and forth over the same areas literally dozens of times… I think I would have gone mad, even with fast travel that game took me over 300 hours.

  48. Continuity says:

    I agree to some extent, My first playthough of Fallout 3 was without fast travel and it was great, however I don’t think I could stomach new vegas without fast travel. Skyrim without fast travel, yeah that would be great… if I have 1000 hours to kill. I don’t.

  49. Frye2k11 says:

    Nice article, I like the underground analogy, well spotted.

    The way World of Warcraft did traveling is a nice compromise. Both the flightpath / zeppelin method and the flying mount works for me.

  50. SKapsniak says:

    I got Skyrim on the day of release, and I’ve always played it — 359 hours according to Steam — Morrowind style. No fast travel other than the carts (with a rule I have to have to have walked to the place the cart goes at least once on that character) , no horses, companion always stay home.

    I’m not sure what the game would even be like, using fast travel extensively. The pacing alone would make it an entirely different sort of game. Constant back to back dungeons runs, maybe? Quest-lines you go through all in one shot? Dragon attacks concentrated on the towns, rather than on you out in wilderness?

    Very different.

    Possibly I’m extra strange, in that I actually *like* the points of interest markers (‘ooh, something over there, I’ll come back and take a look next time I’m passing by’) and I guess the NPC directions in Morrowind, where the NPCs have absolutely no sense of direction, or knowledge of the local landmarks, when trying to tell you where something is, make me rather more thankful for quest markers than real purists.

    Then again the only mods I use are the unofficial patches, and offiicial hi res texture packs. Not even the famed SkyUI, so I’m already in the complete weirdo bucket :)

    TES Opinion Disclaimer: Morrowind >> Skyrim >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Oblivion.