I don’t trust waypoints anymore. You know, those little icons on video game maps that show you where your goal is? They’re filthy liars, and I wouldn’t trust them with my coffee money.
It happens all the time: A character will tell me that I need to get to a certain location to get a specific whatsit, and upon getting there, behold: The whatsit is missing. Or broken. Or the bridge is out, or the door is locked, or a monster flings me down a ravine. No matter the means, the result is the same: I now have to go the long way around, or seek out an alternate means of finding the plot gun that lets me finally zap the final boss for good.
I don’t know why this is endemic to video games, but detours like this are a trope that baffles me. Most games that send you on a big adventure are more about the journey than the destination anyway—why not just make the journey interesting in and of itself, without any paths so obvious and easy that they necessitate a huge impenetrable roadblock, or frequent setbacks in an already-long journey? It happens in games of all genres, be they Japanese role-playing games like Final Fantasy X or shooters like Halo.
Sometimes games like Destiny, or the just-released Borderlands 3, do this with a nonsensical regularity. They repeatedly send you one place and then whoops, actually, you have to go somewhere else! When broken down like that, I can at least see one reason video games do this: The creators want you to explore and see so many things, thus it’s probably useful to discourage players from ignoring the world around them in favor of the straightest, most direct approach.
Trouble is, this happens so much that I would like nothing more than to just go to a place and do a thing for once in my damn life. Video games are not real life, but absolutely no one likes signing up for what they think is a direct flight only to find out they actually have tickets to a cross-country bus ride. I cannot help feeling absolutely furious on behalf of my characters, who are often silent and quite lousy at sticking up for themselves.
I realize that stories need conflict, but I am begging video games to please come up with a better complication than “oh no, the bridge is out.” Every medium has its clichés that are generally understood to be so shopworn they have lost all meaning, and I would love for silly detours like this—often made even more silly by the fact that games usually cast players as unstoppable demigods who can summon actual deities or raze entire armies—to become one of them.
Oh, the princess is in another castle, you say? Cool, I’ll wait here.