To Distant Shores: RPGs and Travel

Another week starts and another RPG Scrollbars Rock, Paper, Shotgun comes our way, courtesy of Richard Cobbett's indefatigable pen. This time, the English games writer investigates the relationship between role-playing games and journeys. Here's an excerpt:

It's not simply about being somewhere new. The journey is crucial it has to feel like one. That's why I like Warcraft's ships, which take you out to sea before cutting away to the new zone, and then bring you in a little way on the other side for good measure. Final Fantasy XIV also does it well. You spend most of your initial levelling in your home country The Sand One, The Grass One or The Water One, before the story has you become an ambassador to your side and you're allowed to go further afield via airship, complete with lots of dramatic cut-scenes and epic music. There's no question that after doing this, you won't just save shoe-leather and warp everywhere using magic. What matters is that your character's first trip into the unknown feels impressive, and that you as the player can share in a degree of that excitement.

That's a very scripted experience though, and I don't mean to rule out the fun of going somewhere on a whim. It's often hard to wander in RPGs because of levelled content in short, sure, you can have a friend teleport you to the gates of the Dark One's Fortress O'Evil at Level 1, but it's going to be a short visit. Rarely is there any actual point in directly ignoring the levelling structure and going somewhere before you're ready, even though that sort of off-the-cuff adventure can be pretty good fun.

I was very sad when World of Warcraft dropped its class-specific quests for instance, because running as an underlevelled Druid to pick up new forms was one of the few quests in that game that I can outright call an Adventure. A dangerous trek through foreign, hostile realms in search of power and knowledge? Well, huzzah! Sign me up and don't subsequently dumb things down like you slipped lead paint in their gruel. I liked the concept of the Warlock quests too.