I Have Had It With Games That Always Send Me On Detours

I Have Had It With Games That Always Send Me On Detours
Image: 2K Games

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 favour 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 realise 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.


  • I don’t mind the “oh no the bridge is out” concept. It can work in the story, whoever gave you the quest didn’t know the bridge was out so it’s logical. It also adds extra complications that you need to resolve. I think adding logical complications or detours when they fit the story is fine. I’d prefer to see more dynamic options though. So in a “cross the bridge” scenario, maybe one time to bridge is out, another play-through there are enemies guarding it.

    I also think that there should be multiple possible solutions. Again, if we use the bridge scenario, you should be able to say, use a grappling hook to get across, or climb down and swim the river, or kill the guards, or hike along the bank looking for another crossing. Having only *one* right solution is where games tend to fall down.

    But the biggest gripe I have with quests in games are the ones where you get sent from location A to location B which sends you back to location A because you need some random doodad. Then you go back to location B… You get it in WoW * a lot, kill 6 small goblins. You do that then you get a quest to loot 5 keys from goblins. So you have to go back and kill more of the same damn goblins. Then you get a quest to use the key to free a prisoner who is held… by the same damn goblins. Quests need to all be given together or chain logically without having to go back to the original quest-giver and retrace your steps multiple times.

    * Admittedly “modern” WoW is better about chaining quests than it used to be in classic.

    The other big gripe I have is that there seems to be two types of quest waypointing in games. It’s either super “hand-holdy” where you are steered exactly where you need to go, which makes the game feel like it’s on rails. Or it’s super vague and you have no idea what you need to do. At which point everyone stops playing and starts googling.

    If you’re going to have a quest like “get Bob’s Sword of Stabbing” I don’t really want to be told “go to these map coordinates and kill Bob” (at least not on every quest). I’d rather have the quest tell you “Bob was last seen in this town”. So you start there and pick up clues about Bob’s current location from NPCs or environmental clues.

  • I like it when you rock up to the front door/gate… and find out you have to take this long as hell winding path to through the side, out the back, break into the back door and make your way back to the front door through the hordes of enemy. Only for the boss to open that door with ease and run-away the second you get there and his new location EXACTLY THE SAME.

    Control has this, you get to a new floor… first door you see is always the exit to one half of the map.

    I carry weapons of mass destruction… the power of god at my hands… I am an unstoppable juggernaut…
    beaten every-time by a stupid immovable door.

    Also Borderlands, future technology, a high quality map that covers 99% of the planet inside and outside (except the secrets), a star ship in orbit with scanner looking down on the planet and the GPS can’t give up to date traffic information *facepalm*

  • You’re right. Games should say “Go here” and then you go there and the game is over. No overcoming obstacles, no side exploration, no character development through overcoming adversity or having to take side routes that force them to overcome fears or learn something. No learning the game as you go, no powering up your characters, just straight up stroll down the road to the Big Bad’s place and give them what for.

    There are actually games that let you do this, go straight to the boss area, but they compensate for the lack of player progression by making it significantly more of a challenge than if you took the intended route. Basically it’s all just game design techniques and they can be used poorly or they can be used well. Not having enough to the journey is just as bad as having too much.

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