With all of the looming discussion about fast travel, and the recent EverQuest Next round table discussion, I thought I would talk a little about MMO fast travel today.
Fast Travel is Born
Fast travel in MMO’s, at its earliest and most significant point, started in 2002 in the Planes of Power expansion in the first EverQuest. This was the fourth expansion of the game, and the world had grown significantly since it’s launch in 1999. Kunark, Velious and Luclin were added to the roster of continents, and a growing world demanded a method of connection.
One could argue that fast travel originated in the Shadows of Luclin expansion with spire teleportation, which would transfer anyone standing in the spire to the nexus on Luclin at a set interval. However, I am not going to count that, as it was not instant travel from virtually anywhere in the game. The spires were spread out to such an extent that one would often have to travel quite a distance to reach one , and they didn’t instantly port you. One would have to wait until the spire was ready.
Regardless, with Planes of Power, fast travel was born. This was met with some controversy. Druids and Wizards lost some of their necessity in the social realm, as they were no longer depended on for fast transportation. There were some instances where they were still optimal (Wakening Lands), but ultimately “PoK books” dominated transportation. Many felt this was a disconnect from the previous feeling of player interdependence, and they would be correct in that assumption.
But was this really a bad change? Keep in mind that the EverQuest’s landscape was growing at an alarming rate. Without fast travel, for one to get from one place to another to meet up with a group or a guild, it may take hours if they were unable to find other players of the correct class to transport them.
Removing fast travel virtually limits the amount that an MMO’s landscape can grow. If players are too frustrated just trying to get around in a world, they won’t play. If they don’t play, subscriptions wane, and most MMO veterans are well aware of how it feels to be in an MMORPG ghost town.
There are examples of fast travel being beyond ridiculous. Guild Wars 2 painted a picture of how fast travel can essentially destroy immersion. You can point and click and get almost anywhere you have been before, many of which places are insignificant in your memory. Too much fast travel can make most of the world a “flyover zone”. Sure, you went there once, killed some gnolls, but then never again will you revisit that place, or at least the surrounding areas. If you have the ability to bounce from place to place, you are erasing the world in between the hubs that you port yourself to.
World of Warcraft had a fairly decent system of transportation in such a way that there were major city hub transportation, but after zone revamps and flight, the community drifted all into one zone per faction, and all others were left abandoned. In a system of hardcore vertical progression, this is almost inevitable.
Tera also followed a very similar style as Guild Wars 2, and left me with kind of hollow feeling. This was rather disappointing, as I felt that as an action combat styled MMO, it had so much potential to allow you to cleave through lower enemies as you traveled from location to location, making each gorgeously designed zone a memorable one. Instead I quickly forgot my earlier battles, as I never had to revisit the places I had once conquered.
There is a way to combat this trend. There is a way to have a very large world that could actually be ever-increasing in size as the game develops, not abandon social interdependence, and not force players to arbitrarily run hours across miles of virtual terrain just to play with their friends. There is a hybrid option.
I propose that major hub cities be accessible by fast travel. Accessible only after completing a series of quests increasing your reputation with the city to a certain point. This would allow a natural progression system be catering to the style of “horizontal progression”. One would become very familiar with the city, as attaining fast travel status with a city may take a large amount of work. This would allow for players to experience the adjacent area in a significant way, and allow them to travel there quickly after completion which would not induce burnout.
The major hub cities are likely quite far apart across the map however. Meaning, even if one could effectively fast travel from one to another after completing each quest line, they would still have quite a distance between them to travel. This is where player interdependence comes into play.
Some zones in between hub cities could only be accessed via fast travel by porting classes. Your druids and wizards, and whatever other hybrid they may be able to concoct. This would necessitate the existence of the dedicated port class and allow social interactivity to flourish.
Within this system you could cut down on excessive travel, but still require relatively long distance travel without the help of another player of the appropriate experience in a class. You could have your social benefits and remove a lot of the tediousness that comes with running twenty miles through harsh wilderness just to reach a friend, but not water down the game so much as to ignore the areas in between cities.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns, comment below and let me know what you think