What do you see in the map above? If you answered, “the province of Cyrodiil”, yay, you can read. But take a second look. What you really see is a vast, open world. Looking closer, you see the nine cities of Cyrodiil. Upon further inspection, you notice that you can fast travel to any of these cities on will simply by clicking on them. This is quite possibly the worst feature of modern Elder Scrolls games, and it needs to go now!
I have said this many times before. The defining feature of an Elder Scrolls game, the defining feature, is the complete freedom you get when you’re dropped into the world after your character creation. You marvel at the fact that you can go anywhere, anytime, and not be punished by your curiosity to explore every single nook and cranny, despite being a low-level character. In fact, if, like me, you were speechless when you were presented with your first view of the world, you’re fulfilling Bethesda’s design choice of giving you that feeling of limitless possibilities.
It seems rather contradictory and, dare I say, insulting to the player that Bethesda goes to great lengths to provide the deepest sense of immersion, only to show you exactly where the cities lie on the map. Cue disappointment.
In order to look at the destructive nature of fast travel as well as alternatives to the system, I will divide this article into clear sections to hash out the argument. Here goes.
Why Fast Travel is Bad
It is at this point in the article where I may divide some readers, but nonetheless, hear me out. Bethesda strives for immersion. They succeed in this endeavor on so many fronts. Excellent graphics, beautiful sound design, amazing voice work, the list goes on and on. However, where they fail miserably is in their fast travel system.
Imagine if Lewis and Clark, they of great explorers fame, could see every single Native American village from the east coast of America to the west coast. It would kind of defeat the purpose of an epic, grand adventure to traverse the continental United States, forge relationships with the locals, and just straight up explore new land.
See what I mean? That’s not to say all the fast travel systems in recent Elder Scrolls games are the same, however.
Oblivion’s System vs Skyrim’s System
Morrowind fans, sit tight. I haven’t forgotten you. Let’s look at Oblivion’s system first. In Oblivion, when you, the player, pull up your map for the first time, you notice that it isn’t truly blank. You notice that you can see all nine cities, neatly laid out and named, along with the roads to get to each. If you want, you can literally click on any of the cities and instantly travel to them, without having discovered it first, bypassing the miles of virgin wilderness between you and it. There is absolutely zero surprise, zero wonderment of “Oh man, I wonder if there’s a civilization around this next hill”. Incredibly disappointing.
Next: Skyrim’s system. Now, to Bethesda’s credit, they seemed to have heard push-back from their fans regarding the fast travel system in Oblivion and refined the system a bit for Skyrim. But still, even here, in my favorite game, it is an absolute travesty. Imagine my sense of expectation when I pulled out my map for the first time in Skyrim. Would it be totally blank? Would I be able to just walk in a direction without knowing if a city or town lay ahead?
Nope. I saw myself staring at a sweet looking GPS-style map with all the villages and towns clearly marked. Granted, when I did my test to see if I could simply click on them and travel there, the game informed me that I hadn’t discovered that location yet. Also, Bethesda had placed carriages at certain locales so that if you wanted to travel to a settlement you hadn’t discovered yet, you could pay some Septims and catch a ride. I feel like Bethesda almost got the right idea, but didn’t fully flesh it out so as not to segregate players’ play style. Big mistake.
The Realistic Solution
Remember Morrowind? Now this was an excellent system. Unlike in Oblivion and Skyrim, there was no map-based fast travel. The only way to get around the map in Morrowind (bar walking around) was to use silt striders, boats, the intervention spells, Mark & Recall, and the Propylon Chambers. What all this means is that you cannot simply pull up your map, point to an undiscovered city, and magically warp there.
Morrowind’s system encouraged exploration. It rewarded the player for walking around, taking in the sights, and finally coming across civilization. ”So there, Shank,” you might say, “Morrowind’s system is best and that’s the end of it. Right?”
Wrong. True, Morrowind’s system was more immersive and less spoon-feedy than Oblivion and Skyrim. But, even Morrowind’s system is too much for me. Before I go further, I will state that I fully understand that there are a very small number of players like me who hate fast travel. In fact, as I’m sure all of you know by now, I never use it. It kills my immersion and ruins the fun of exploration. I’m aware that most players are a hybrid of extreme exploration (me) and quest hopping like one of my best friends.
My solution, albeit considered extreme by many, is to completely remove any possible system involving quickly traveling from one place to another. It is two fold – for starters, DON’T ALLOW CITIES AND TOWNS TO SHOW UP ON YOUR BLANK MAP! This is a very, very easy fix that Bethesda absolutely must do. If I haven’t discovered it yet, just don’t show it on my map. Period. I want a completely blank map and experience the joy of exploring a new land on my own terms. Don’t show me anything. Just don’t.
Second: maintain immersion by tweaking the carriage system. What does this mean? Like I said above, Bethesda almost had the right idea by allowing the player to catch a carriage in Skyrim. But, it was implemented incredibly poorly. Why not make it so that the carriage ride doesn’t instantly take you to your destination the second you climb aboard? The new carriage system should be immersive. The player should climb aboard the carriage and the driver should actually take you to your destination in real-time. In fact, there are mods that do exactly this. Props to the modding community on this one.
Again, I realize that people don’t play like I do. They may not have hours to sit down and explore Tamriel. And to those players, a fast travel system is necessary to get anything done in the game.
But to me? It’s utterly useless and completely destroys the immersion that these games strive to create. Perfect example: Oh, so my quest marker is telling me to go to Phillip G’s Barrow which I haven’t discovered yet. But wait, I have discovered this shrine right next to the barrow. Sweet, so I’ll just travel to the shrine and walk to the barrow.
Fast travel reduces the game to chasing down quest markers and simply hopping from one objective to the next. This is wrong. This is not what Elder Scrolls is really about.
You want to improve Elder Scrolls? Eliminate fast travel. It ruins everything.
Shadow hide you