There are many gameplay mechanics that I am glad have carried over to modern titles. Twin stick shooting, cover based mechanics, swapping shoulders in third person games, the ability to choose your own dialogue, and many other mechanics have been in games for years now and will most likely stay around for years to come. Most gameplay mechanics are enjoyable and can be taken for granted because of how well they are executed or for how common they have become. However, there are several mechanics that appear in games that need to die off.
One mechanic that I hope will be buried is the infamous follow an NPC to a certain spot mechanic (as I am calling it). This was a huge aspect to older Call of Duty titles to the point where it was a sort of running joke, but it is also a feature found in other titles. Two games that I have been playing lately (The Witcher 2 and Red Dead Redemption) feature this mechanic as well, and I hate it.
Let me start with The Witcher 2 as it was this game that made me realize just how much I hate having to follow and escort an NPC.
SPOILER WARNING FOR THE END OF CHAPTER 1 IN THE WITCHER 2
The Witcher 2 is a great RPG. The characters, the world, the combat, the enemies, and everything in between was crafted with great care and attention by CD Projekt Red. I recently finished The Witcher 2 and enjoyed the majority of the game. But, toward the end of chapter 1, I had a moment where I was completely taken out of the game as the pacing and mechanics fell flat.
After certain events unfold, you find out that Triss may have been kidnapped. In my play through, Vernon Roche met up with me and was going to head back to town with me in order to save Triss. Triss was a few minutes away from where I currently was, and I was prepared to run back to town as fast as possible in order to find out what happened. Going back to town would also be a logical place for Geralt to check, and Roche would not be needed for this part of the story. But, the objective told me to follow Roche back into town. I knew where Triss would most likely be and I knew how to get back to town, but I had to follow Roche. I began making my way to town, but I realized that Roche was nowhere near me. I turned around only to find him standing still. He apparently was not going to move unless I was right behind him and kissing his cheeks all the way back to town. I rushed back to him as I was obviously in a hurry to stop a life or death situation. Roche began to move, but very slowly. I had to just watch him meander slowly through the forest like a beautiful unicorn running through the mist in Blade Runner. It felt as if he were toying with me; provoking me into a state of panic and anxiety. He even stopped multiple times to fight monsters that could easily be bypassed which I had to fight as well in order to get him back on track. We finally made it back to town, and the story continued which quickly swapped Roche out for Dandelion as my companion who had been in town the entire time.
I couldn’t help but wonder why I even had to follow Roche if he didn’t even play an important role in the next sections of the story. The reason, I assume, was for story purposes as it was a way to have Roche get back to the town at the same time as Geralt. My main problem with this, though, is that the follow mechanic was not refined well enough to match how I played the game or the current tone. This was a part in the story that required haste, but the mechanics in place for Roche had him moving around like a drunken oaf. It was extremely annoying and broke the pace of the story and gameplay. I would have preferred if the game had given me the option to talk to Roche and him ask if I were ready to go back to town. Then the game could just transport us there once I had finished looting the nearby area. Having to follow him all the way back to town was a silly moment in the game that I still have trouble wrapping my head around. Maybe I could have gone to town by myself, but the objective marker was placed directly on Roche. I assumed that without him I could not progress.
Spoiler Warning for a Side Quest at the beginning of The Witcher 3
Speaking of drunken oafs, I recently began The Witcher 3 and came to a part in a mission where I had to escort someone that I had influenced using the Axii sign. This turns the character into a (purposefully) stumbling wreck. At first I feared that I had to literally hold his hand all the way to point B, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I just had to go to point B by myself. The influenced villager would get there on his own. This was a great mechanic that could have easily been achieved in The Witcher 2. At least CD Projekt Red improved on this feature in their sequel.
Another game that features similar follow mechanics is Red Dead Redemption. I began replaying this game recently as I had never finished the game before. To my surprise, however, I found multiple mechanics that do not hold up well that I had a hard time overlooking with one of them being the constant need to ride with a certain character. You constantly have to ride alongside, behind, or beside some character and listen to some exchange of dialogue before reaching your destination. I understand that this may be the only interesting way to get from point A to point B, but I feel a bit fatigued with the cycle of ride to a mission location, watch a cutscene, ride for a few minutes with an NPC while listening to dialogue, shoot people or do other mission parameters, then watch another cutscene (or, in some cases, ride and listen again). This may be going off on a tangent with Red Dead rather than just the follow NPC mechanic, but it is a mechanic that is featured prominently in this game. Having to hold a button in order to follow an NPC and listen to an uninvolving conversation in an open world game is like owning a sports car but only being able to travel in it by parking it on a ferry. It feels underwhelming and takes away from me the sense of freedom and discovery that open world games should supply.
Obviously, there are places for quests in open world games which force you along a linear path, but not all of the time. That is what I enjoy about The Witcher 2. The follow mechanic that I dislike so much only came into play around five times in my twenty plus hours of game time. In Red Dead, it has happened in almost every mission. Unlike with The Witcher 2, this is less of a technical problem but more of a problem with pacing and game design (in my opinion).
Having to follow an NPC is a sometimes boring or frustrating mechanic that I hope has died off by now. As games have continued to progress, more and more titles have introduced new ways to present the story or objectives of a game. Games such as The Witcher 3 are helping to eliminate mechanics that have become outdated and stale. Rather than reliving the past, CD Projekt Red has innovated for the future. Hopefully all developers will try to see what can be improved in their games. Mechanics that need to die will continue to be weeded out by those creating games who seek to be truly creative and innovative.