There’s a Daily Grind on Massively today about instant travel in MMOs. The question is whether it “trivializes” MMO worlds. My answer is a more or less a yes. I remember complaining about this in the Bethesda forums after Oblivion was released. The ability to teleport anywhere turned the entire Oblivion map of Cyrodiil into a little amusement park.
The game actually felt smaller than Morrowind. Bethesda could cite the numerical facts that Oblivion was bigger than Morrowind, but it didn’t play bigger, and that’s all that mattered. I loved exploring Morrowind and running down those dangerous roads, exploring, and admiring the scenery around every bend. I guess players don’t have time for that any more.
LotRO recently removed rep restrictions from Lothlorien, which caused a big debate in the forums. Turbine said it was necessary so players could get to Great River and later zones, while players countered that the game was being EZ-moded and dumbed down because you no longer have to grind any rep to get to a zone. Maybe Turbine had some exit interviews from newbie players that gave up playing because they got shot by elves (rightfully) and didn’t know why. I certainly don’t know.
The frustrating part is this shouldn’t even be an issue if only MMO designers would dare to add immersive, interesting travel modes to their game instead of cheating–because it’s easy to let the player open a panel, click something, and teleport using a few lines of code. I liked the short-travel speeders in what I played of SWTOR. In LotRO they could have done the same thing with Lothlorien by adding a guide NPC.
I first saw the idea of a guide NPC in Neverwinter Nights a long time ago. The idea is simply a teleport that doesn’t break immersion. What a concept! You walk up to a caravan driver outside of town, pay a fee, and he takes you to a place. The same could have occurred in Dimrill Dale outside of LotRO’s Moria east gate. You speak with a scruffy, renegade elf and he ferries you down the river to the next zone. The boat mechanic is already in place in Evendim. One more NPC, done. There was no need for Turbine to toss off the last crumbs of their integrity if they’d used a little creativity.
Dungeons don’t have to be miles away from any town, either. The Stockades in WoW are a beautiful little favorite, while there is simply no reason why Deepstrike Mines in Rift had to be located all the way on the far side of a field full of things that drag along to attack you. There is no reason a legitimate fast travel method can’t take you to a dungeon entrance, either.
If it would truly be impossible based on the layout of the enemy, then a summoning stone or class can be called in. If there were one MMO job that might interest me, it might well be level design. My NWN2 toolset-made levels were highly complemented, but that project never left the planning stages due to the barriers posed by Obsidian’s game design.
Anyway, environmental immersion seems like an endangered species these days in a cash marketplace that values fast entry to lots of killing and action. It’s always nice when great game design shows up, and clicking a button to teleport wherever you want in the game just isn’t great for an RPG that adheres to the traditional values of creating a living, breathing fantasy world.