Over the past couple of years, I’ve been more and more fond of Open World Games and I noticed that a mechanic that a lot of games seem to share is… fast travel. It seems nearly essential to the genre at this point since a lot of players need the option to travel long distances very fast in games that are this expansive… at the same time, though, I feel like there are better ways of handling things than to just create vast empty worlds for the sake of the player’s “freedom” only to then chug in fast travel points.
Once you’ve been somewhere in Skyrim, for instance, you can fast travel there quickly via the map… for free… Before that, you’ll need to either use carriages stationed near the main gate or you’ll have to ride/walk there by yourself. It’s a bit of an issue in my opinion when you have such an interesting world full of side quests and adventures on its road… and then you just make travelling by foot obsolete because there’s a faster way of doing things. It’s not like you’re forced to use the feature, either, it’s just that it feels wrong to have it there in the first place. I mean, once you unlock it, you’re more inclined to use it… especially with annoying systems like stamina and whatever in-place. If you’ve played Skyrim before, you’ll know that there are plenty of assassin’s, side quests and other encounters along the paths of the game. You’ll fight against trolls, bandits and even witches if you’re not careful about the territory you’re heading into… Similarly, you can also find allies, merchants and quest lines that may reward you. You see NPCs strolling the world, travelling from one place to another… and the world feels less vast and empty but actually just big and somewhat lively… Skyrim isn’t perfect but in that regard, I actually really liked it as an Open World game since not using fast travel seems to almost reward you… or you’re less inclined to use it frequently since you’ll miss a big part of the game… the Sidequests.
Just recently, I started playing Yakuza 0 and again, Side Quests are a huge part of the game. The main storyline is great but the side quests are what’s selling the game to me, really, with these “substories” being either hilarious or just crazy… to the point where they enhance the whole experience by a lot. Hence, you get rewarded for not using the taxi stations that are scattered around the city… and while they are available to you, they don’t take you everywhere either, so I feel like there’s a good balance between things. Now, in the end game, I’ve been using the fast travel option a lot more though since I’ve noticed that the game is sending me more often to areas like Sotenbori’s Grand and another place (no spoilers)… two spots that are rather far away. I’d assume that the long travel between these two spots is probably supposed to make the playtime get extended a bit more… You may find substories or special encounters during the travel to and from the Grand… but those aren’t limited to the time and you may get to them later on, too, which is why I’ve been using fast travel more often when it’s really just the whole “get there, grab this, come back, go there again, come back again” routine.
Now, what’s really annoying fast-travel wise is when the world is actually really beautiful and travelling on the back of a boar or deer is fun… jumping from roof to roof is also amazing and the little encounters on your journey are amazing but since the world doesn’t feature many allies or neutral NPCs… or just people that would make the journey more interesting, the world feels less alive, which makes sense… but it gives you less reason to actually sit back and enjoy travelling by foot or by ride. Instead, you’ll fast-travel once you’ve unlocked the feature, which is a bit of an issue, in my opinion. I may have complained about there being no fast travel back then… but I also complained about there being fast travel once it got unlocked and I would have prefered to not have the option at all instead of having it shoved into my face, in a way… if that makes sense.
And well, there are also games like Sleeping Dogs that are just super beautiful and even if the world isn’t full of many encounters and even if the game is a tad older at this point, the beautiful lights and the amazing soundtrack really are reason enough to hijack a car or motorbike to drive to your destination instead of actually just teleporting there.
All in all, I feel like fast travel can take away a lot of the game. Sure, you don’t have to use it, and I’ve more recently started to abstain from the feature completely for the sake of exploration and the immersive feeling of the games I’ve been playing… but when games rely on fast travel in the first place, you end up with problems arising, like the storylines feeling tedious, the world feeling empty, and a lot of the in-game mechanics like rides, stamina, or even enemy encounters potentially feeling rather annoying. I think games should use fast travel rather infrequently with maybe a teleport function or whatever for super long distances… or they tie fast travel to a fee or something like that. The Assassin’s Creed Games, Skyrim, as well as Yakuza 0 have that in their games where you pay a fee to use the carriages or, in Yakuza’s case, a taxi to bring you to a different place… and you can’t just go everywhere… at least not in Yakuza. Instead, you have to go to select points or wager if it is worth the fee.
Rules like that limit the use you get out of fast travel. There surely are a lot better examples for good fast travel mechanics or limiters… or ways of implementing it without harming the experience. Do you know any of those or maybe even games that make fast travel annoying and feel bad because the actual journey to certain points is just better? Do you ever skip out on fast travel? Let me know!
This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken. If you like what you see here and want to see more, you can check me out on Twitch and YouTube as well. If you find this post on a website other than Indiecator.org, please write an e-mail to me. Thank you!
The problem, in my opinion, is not that fast travel exists and therefore players won’t see as much of the world. The problem is that virtually all open worlds are emtpy and meaningless, and not using fast travel does not improve the experience at all. You gave Skyrim as an example, yet if you run around for 10 minute, about 2 interesting things will happen.
In the last two years, I have started to disregard fast travel options in the first playthrough of games. It is true, sometimes it leads to new discoveries and lends some weight to your decisions (like, if you need to travel across the entire map, just to get a tiny upgrade, you’ll think twice about doing it). However, most of the time it just means that I run around unnecessarily through empty environments. It is not something I’d recommend doing :-)