Queue the 24 theme tune. I’ve got 10 minutes to write this post. Why? That’s because it takes almost exactly 10 minutes to fly from Booty Bay in Stranglethorn Vale to Aerie Peak in the Hinterlands. 10. Freaking. Minutes. That’s 10 minutes less in my evening that I actually get to play and have fun. And no, I don’t consider riding a griffon to be fun. Unless ‘griffon’ is a girl’s name. And ‘riding’ is a long romantic walk in the moonlight along a beach.
Tobold had a good article about travel in MMOs as did Keen and Graev although it was a by-product of his Darkfall recap. I’d suggest you check them out the next time your griffon ride takes 10 minutes. Wink.
Travel in MMOs is a tricky thing to get right. It’s more than just a way to get a player from A to B, it’s a way to immerse them in the online world and let them experience the natural flow of it. It’s also a very hard thing to balance. If it’s too easy for a player to travel from one place to another then there is no opportunity for them to experience the world or feel a part of it. Too difficult, on the other hand, and the player is left frustrated, bored or, at the worst, unable to easily join his companions.
World of Warcraft has a pretty good travel system though I do wish the griffins would fly a little quicker (I always sigh when I see my flight countdown clock read 9 minutes after I’ve picked my destination). I’d like the flying speed to be about double what it is now because spending 9 minutes doing nothing as my character is flown to a new destination is pretty tedious. Quite frankly, I can think of better things to do with that time. Saying all of that though, WoW certainly does grant a powerful feeling of immersion and being part of a vibrant world as you fly seamlessly through the differing areas and zones. The mount system is also good with a huge variety on offer and, at higher levels, the ability to get a flying mount. Finally, the ability to summon group members to dungeon entrances is also fantastic as it helps get people together quickly.
Everquest 2 also has a good travel system, although if WoW’s is a too long and tedious at times, this one is probably too easy in comparison. Sure, it’s nice to be able to use the travel bells on the docks to move to zones quickly but it does destroy the sense of immersion a bit. I think SoE have realised this though as there later expansions have included large, interlinked zones which you can’t easily teleport too but have to ride or fly through instead. I like this approach at it really helps make you feel like you’re existing in a living online world. I also like the fact that Druids and Sorcerers can open up travel portals to Druid Rings and teleport group members respectively – it really adds to their lore and power within the game world. Much like WoW, EQ2 also offers a fantastic selection of mounts to ride around on.
Warhammer Online, on the other hand, has one of the worst travel systems I’ve ever used and it’s certainly one of the contributing factors as to why I didn’t play the game long. The whole game has no sense of immersion and it’s only enhanced by the fact that you can’t fly overland inbetween zones but instead ‘teleport’ (you climb the flying mount, see a small animation and then appear in the new zone) between them. Combine this with an obious zone tiering system and it totally ruins any sense of immersion. Final, riding anywhere is also an utter pain in the arse as even the smallest bite from a mob will dismount you! Ultimately the travel system is neither immersive nor convinient and it really irks me.
I could write about the travel systems in other games but most have some sort of combination of what I’ve mentioned above. To me, the method and style of travel in MMOs is very important as it can be a massive influence on how engaged I am with the virtual world or how annoying it is to move around and actually do anything. I certain don’t envy game developers trying to come up with the ‘correct’ approach.