prancing ponies at the other. Looking at the big picture, there isn't perhaps quite as much distance between Twin Saga and Lord of the Rings Online or FFXIV as you might imagine.
They all have central storylines revolving around momentous power struggles among godlike entities for a start. They also have tab targeting and hotbars, dungeons and boss mobs. All the good stuff.
One stark difference, though, is the extent to which the developers appear to give consideration to the value of time. The player's time, that is.
Twin Saga follows the common practice of Eastern MMOs: you can click on a quest in the tracker and have the game auto-run you to where you need to be. It's a particularly flexible version that delivers you not just to the general area but right to the precise creature you need to kill or to the object with which you need to interact to complete the quest.
When you're finished, another click takes you wherever you need to go to sign off on what you've done. Oftenyou need to see the same person who gave you the job in the first place but equally often they aren't where they were when they gave it to you.
It allows for a very relaxed, smooth questing experience that keeps you moving through the landscape without a lot of doubling back (although taking side-quests messes with the flow somewhat). It also means that you can sit back and enjoy the view as you travel.
Neither LotRO nor FFXIV, at the equivalent levels, seem interested in running package tours for armchair adventurers. Although they both have equally dominant central storylines, (in FFXIV's case, like Twin Saga's, unavoidable if you want to open up certain options for your character) how you get from where you are to where you need to be is your responsibility.
To be fair, neither game follows the full, old school practice of giving you a vague description in the quest dialog and then leaving you to run around until you trip over whatever it is you're looking for by sheer luck or stubbornness. They both have some form of quest tracker that allows you to select whatever you want to work on and have the general location highlighted for you on the map.
After that, though, you're left to your own devices as to how to get there. This, I think, is supposed to be immersive. Or maybe it's meant to be morally instructive, inculcating some kind of protestant work ethic or boy scout sense of self-reliance.
Having played all three games in sequence several times recently I'm in two minds. I did find an odd sense of satisfaction in traveling from Rivendell to Forochel but it took so long I ran out of time the first night and had to camp half way, coming back to finish the journey the next morning. That's the next real morning, not game day, by the way.
What's more, what I was doing wasn't actually all that different from the auto-pathing in Twin Saga. I was going to a Stable Master, looking to see what routes he serviced, opening the map and choosing the best option, then mounting up and letting the game auto-run me to the next staging post. At which point I'd do it all over again.
LotRO has instant travel of a kind but there's some arcane rule over what you can and can't use as a Premium player and in any case by no means all routes have an instant option. Mostly I just sat on the horse and let the countryside flow by. Actually, mostly I tabbed out and web-browsed. So much for immersion.
LotRO's maps are vast. Incredibly huge. I don't think I ever realized while I was playing the first time just how sprawling the game-world is. I happened into Angmar the other night and after a full five minutes of riding on my reasonably fast pony I looked at the map and saw I was - maybe - five percent of the distance across the map. West Karana is like walking across the room compared to this.
Eorzea feels quite big but that's mainly because it's awkward, I think. It, too, has an automated travel option via the Chocobo Porter system and like LotRO it's one that leaves a lot to be desired. There aren't too many stops and most of the questing seems to happen in the wilderness where the only option is to travel on foot.
FFXIV famously made a huge concession with tradition when it allowed jumping. It was an innovation made grudgingly. While it's true that you can't be blockaded by a six inch rut in the road as you could in FFXI, there are still a lot of impassable slopes. Just because you can see your quest destination marked clearly on the map doesn't mean you can get there - or not the way you think.
All of this leads to some very different gaming experiences. Whether or not I prefer one over another comes down more to mood than any innate superiority in one design over the other, I think. The trip across Middle Earth was okay the once but I surely wouldn't want to make a habit of it. By the time I reached the snowlands I was very happy to have it over with.
Once there, though, I was entirely absorbed exploring the bleak, forbidding landscape, I'd never been past the first village before but with a couple more levels notched on the hilt of my sword I felt confident enough to press ahead and see what lay over each next hill. It made for an immersive and exciting session but that's because it was all new.
In FFXIV, where I'm criss-crossing the Central Shroud and occasionally running back to Gridania for a hand-in, I would kill for an auto-run button. It's a beautiful forest but I've seen it so many times now and when it comes right down to it there's not really all that much there, is there?
Against that you have to set my lack of interaction with the environment in Twin Saga (whose world is called - hang on, let me look it up...nope, can't find it...I'm sure they mentioned it once, somewhere). I have no idea how anywhere connects to anywhere else let alone what's in any part of any zone where I didn't have a quest to do. Maybe there isn't anything!
In the end any automated movement option, be it GW2's waypoints, LotRO's pony express or Twin Saga's UI driver, is only an option. No-one has to use it. I could just ride my giant ginger guinea pig around until I happen to spot the cluster of crocodiles I need to club to death. Like all easy options, though, if you know they're there it's hard to resist.
If I had to choose I think I'd come down on the side of automation. It doesn't detract as much as you might imagine from my involvement in the world - not as much as getting really annoyed about yet another ten or fifteen minute run just to get to somewhere I've been countless times before. Then again, if you always know where you're going you never run into anything you weren't expecting.
There's no easy or right answer to this one. I do think that weak compromises like staged rides and limited instant travel are prone to create more problems than they solve, though. And once you start highlighting quest locations on the map you really might as well make it straightforward to get to them.
Or maybe I'm just spoiled after two days of click 'n' run.
Switch Player Wrap-Up (Week of April 24th)
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