The ability to skip sections of a video game has been around for a long time. Think about this mechanical feature for a moment. The creators of a game have poured their sweat and tears (I hope there’s very little blood involved) and spent a considerable amount of time writing and coding, only to give the player an exit. Take cut-scenes for example. Lots of love went into a visual spectacle that drives story and inspires excitement for the gameplay to come. And then the creators add a “press _ to skip” feature.
In one respect, fast travel feels a lot like this. An entire gaming world has been forged for your entertainment, but with built-in a feature that lets you teleport. “We made this to entertain you.” The developers say, “But we put in a button that lets you skip it in case you don’t find it entertaining”. If it can be passed by, why is it in the game?
The answer of course, is choice. A player can explore every inch of an open world map or they can jump from point to point only caring about the next big set piece. I personally try to avoid Fast Travel for as long as I possibly can, but I confess that I’ve never played a game and not Fast Travelled.
There are lots of different reasons to Fast Travel, which say a great deal about the player and the game:
When gamers talk about the value of a game, the amount of hours of content is a central talking point. I’ve often read reviews that state that ‘the main storyline can be completed in 25-30 hours’. That’s such an alien concept to me, the idea that you would only play a game for its core missions and rush by all extraneous content. The very notion that anyone would game this way is baffling to me. Why would you only play the main story?
I’m sure there are sensible reasons for only tackling the central substance of a game. You only have a passing interest in the game, you want the story and none of the tangents, you’ve got a backlog of games to play, etc. Whatever the reason, players that want the bare bones of a game don’t want to waste time shambling from A to B when they can shift to B in seconds. It’s not my way of thinking, especially when I’m enjoying a game. I could understand using Fast Travel in the last act of a game you’ve lost interest in: “I want to at least finish this thing to see how it ends, let’s get this over with.”
Before teaching and other grown up ventures, I was that university student who was drawn in by a 2-for-1 offer or a good Steam Sale, regardless of the amount of games I already owned. I would find the time to play them, obviously.
Nowadays, since evolving unwillingly into a grown-up gamer, I tend to pick up one open world game and play it for a very long time. I may have a shorter game on the laptop in reserve for the odd occasion where my wife has control of the TV or I’m travelling.
Yet there was a time where I was trying to get through games I wanted to play. In that era of transition between ‘game whenever I want’ and fully-fledged grown-up gamer, I literally wrote a list of games I had in my inventory that I still needed to play. It was a reminder that I definitely did not need that game that was on offer. If I was going to play something new, I would have to tick games off the list first. If a game on the list was open world, or required the player to back-track, it got the Fast Travel treatment.
During a novel, film or any other medium of storytelling, new locations are described in detail. We visualise this situation with newfound understanding. We also get a sense of how we should feel about that place, and perhaps appreciate its importance in the story.
The second time the story brings us to this place, we don’t get the same treatment. The storyteller gives you a brief “we’re back here now” nod to the location, then moves on with the story. As the audience, we don’t repeatedly want to be reminded of the scenery; we want to story.
It’s the same with the journey. If the protagonists experience something eventful on the way to where they are going, it is included in the narrative. If not, the story skips the travel time and spurs the viewer on to the destination.
It makes sense then, to play games this way. Games arranged into levels or stages do this for us. A cut scene bridges the gaps via dialogue or action set piece, and drops us off at the next level. Unless the open world game has something interesting to say every time you make that A-to-B trip, it makes total sense to skip to the next proper part of the story.
This is where I start Fast Travelling. These days, I play games either to their fullest extent or until I’m ready to play the final missions and move on. When you get everything out of an open world game – completing every side quest, hunting every collectible – there comes a time when things are just too far apart.
I’m not a massive advocate of immersion, but I do appreciate how avoiding teleportation makes me feel more a part of the world I’m traversing. I’m also more likely to find hidden gems, additional lore or useful trinket if I make my own journeys. I’m also more include to take new routes on return journeys, ticking off new checkpoints on the map, or looking for caves on the other side of a mountain.
Yet there comes a time in every play through when you are deadly certain that you aren’t going to find anything on your fifth trip through that particular part of the wilderness. For me that’s when Fast Travel is best used. In my mind, the longer I hold off using this feature, the more a game has justified the gigantic map it boasts. If I’m using Fast Travel on my second visit to a location, there’s something lacking in the world.
When do you Fast Travel? Do you have a particular rule like me, or does it depend on the game in front of you? Do you think Fast Travel should be a commonly used mechanic, or should games put more thought into the size, scale and scenery of the world you are playing in? Leave a comment below.
By Rufus Scott