I’ve dabbled in the subject a bit in some of my previous posts, but I’ve never done one directly addressing just one of the things that I’ve gotten tired of in today’s games: waypoints. It’s a commonly-heard complaint now — how much a lot of people hate how much video games today hold the player’s hand, but the way they now usually guide players through worlds is one of the more egregious hand-holding methods in my opinion.
Most recently, I devoted a couple paragraphs in my attempt to sell people on System Shock 2 to listing waypoints as one of the crucial differences between it and BioShock. Where BioShock will give you a quest arrow, a highlighted position on a map, an objective description in the HUD, and a highlighted object when you get there all in addition to the original radio message giving you the objective, SS2 just gives you the radio message, and it’s enough.
All you really have to do in SS2 is pay attention to the information in the radio messages and know how to read a map. That’s it. The same actually is true of BioShock, but that game doesn’t trust the player to really be able to navigate the world on their own. Sure you can turn off the quest arrow and highlights, but they still expect you to need a highlighted position on the map that says “GOAL” in order to get around instead of in-game signs and descriptions on the map itself.
I just feel like way too many games do this now and don’t give you an alternative. The problem is that it damages immersion. Sure just setting a waypoint accomplishes the same thing more quickly than making the player actually read the HUD and a map, but doing the latter actually let’s players apply their brains for once and does more to sell them on a game’s environment.
One franchise that switched completely to waypoints to my disappointment this generation has been Dead Space. I miss the map from the original Dead Space. Not only did it look cool, but it gave you the impression you were navigating a ship that used to be a livable place under your own power (even if you progressed through the game in a linear fashion). Most importantly, you still had the option to use the game’s highlighted path mechanic. When I’m forced to use the highlighted path system in the subsequent games I feel like I’m going exactly where the game tells me to instead of where I’ve figured out I need to go.
When I first tried out Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one of the things that immediately blew me away was the fact that the game even had a map screen in the first place. Other than Fallout and BioShock, I don’t think I’d seen another first person action game with a map this entire console generation. That’s how much we rely on waypoints now.
Apparently people complain about this in Skyrim too. I never noticed it because Skyrim is my first Elder Scrolls game, but apparently it’s worst here because so many quest objectives in the game are described so poorly that you can’t complete them without using waypoints. To me that just sounds extremely disrespectful of the in-game universe. Some people have even made a mod that rewrites hundreds of quest descriptions in the game to be detailed enough so that you can make it through the game with waypoints turned off.
One game that fortunately already does this is Ni No Kuni. By default the game has waypoints but I almost immediately turned them off and found that you can still almost always figure out where you need to go by paying attention to the map, reading the in-game book, and making some educated guesses. Ni No Kuni utterly owns the concept of being designed around a book the main character carries with him, and reading it to get important information makes me feel more involved in the game. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to briefly turn waypoints back on in order to progress.
I’m not saying ban waypoints from games. They’re probably there for more casual gamers who just want to jump straight to the action. I’m just saying that there should also be options for people who actually know how to find their way around places.