Jonathan Steinhauer's MMO ColumnSteinhauer's Opinion: The Long RoadJonathan Steinhauer's MMO Column - RSS 2.0
Looking at LOTRO, we see that it (and all MMOs) follow the same basic format as BG. If you want to get from Point A to Point B, you have to hoof it. The base reason is that, obviously, MMOs involve complete geographical areas and so usually can't incorporate the jumps of BG II (although LOTRO does make you jump all the way from the Grey Mountains to the Shire, skipping everything in between). But even so, why must the primary travel method throughout the game involve wearing out the soles of shoes? I know that the panoramic scenery of modern games are incredible, and have no doubt that the designers are justifiably very proud of the worlds they've created, but do we have to slag through it every time we want to run to and from a town?
In a broad sense, the methodology of BG II is unfeasible in MMOs and is undesirable because players want to be able to travel anywhere. However, BG II does imply a methodology that was much more heavily incorporated in Turbine's earlier MMO, Asheron's Call, than is used in LOTRO, the ability to jump easily from one part of the world to another. The AC world had an extensive portal network that tied regions together. Knowledge of portal routes made travel quick, easy and relatively painless (except for the dead bodies of newbies who couldn't survive the Subway jump). Recent MMOs like LOTRO and WoW have Stable and Flight Masters that allow for faster travel between settlements. While graphically and stylistically appealing, this innovation has actually made travel more time consuming and tedious. Unlike AC's instantaneous portals, travel by mount is only marginally faster than travel on foot, the only benefit being that you don't have to steer. I don't know how many times I've set my character on auto-pilot then left the computer for five to 10 minutes while the journey takes place. Players can purchase mounts, of course, but are slower and have to be directed. There also is a quick travel mechanism that takes you instantly between locations, usually at increased cost or with level restrictions. But why is the very tool that removes this tedium so rare?
Ironically, LOTRO and WoW both saved one class much of the monotony of its travel system. The Hunter and Mage classes, respectively, can instantly jump to a large number of towns without a cooldown timer and without a prolonged delay. This is a great idea, but why give it to only one class? With the exception of the hunter's Desperate Flight, these skills don't give the class any tactical ability that would directly affect a combat situation. So, since it's only purpose is to make gameplay easier, it is incomprehensible to me why this should be limited only to a fraction of players.
Ultimately, the solution to the Long Road question is quite simple: Make quick trip travel readily available and practical to use. The possible ways to implement this are multifaceted, whether it be the classic portal routes of AC, purchased trips from stable masters like in WoW and LOTRO, or the quick trips available to the mage and hunter classes. The recall ability that WoW and LOTRO provide back to inns and milestones are handy, but the hour timer serves no valuable purpose (especially when the Mage and Hunter classes suffer no such penalty).
The only place where quick travel becomes a tactical problem is in the case of PvP play and certain epic quests where a quick retreat can drastically change the combat situation or disrupt the nature of the quest. But the solutions here are also simple. Any or all of the below would resolve the issue:
1) Provide a lengthy and easily interrupted wind-up time of 20-30 seconds for all quick travel.
2) Prohibit quick travel if you are within a certain distance of an enemy (be they NCP or PC).
3) Tag certain dungeons, caves, fortresses (or even regions) where quick travel is not possible.
Ultimately, the limited travel systems in most MMOs force players to spend a frustratingly large amount of time running to and from locations with no other ambition but to get as quickly as possible from point A to point B. There is no reason games can't institute systems to minimize this tedium in ways that won't damage the value of the wildernesses they've created or the combat systems that the games use.