What’s cool about Backtracking?

What do you think of backtracking in videogames?

I like planning routes across a large map. It’s not a direct gameplay challenge with discrete success or failure, but it’s an amusing side-element. I’ve been playing Nier Automata and had to backtrack so much I got practically sick of it. I wish you had a faster max run speed. I wish you could fast travel from anywhere. I wish the checkpoints were more conveniently placed, especially the amusement park one. Still rather enjoyed planning routes, just wish a lot of it wasn’t dead time running across the huge environment. Wish you could at least run 200-300% faster when no enemies are around.

Backtracking is neat when you give people things to do along the way that feel purposeful and not just time-filler-y, like collecting things or investigating things. So they can naturally string together a lot of tasks across the map rather than just running from one end to the other.

If the game is oriented around backtracking, it’s nice to give main missions that at least partially facilitate this, have you trekking across areas you’ve covered before, so you have an excuse to pick up all the side mission collectibles as you pass through. Ori and the Blind Forest notably does not do this, segmenting every main mission off into its own self-contained linear area, and it lacks fast travel, so picking up all the collectibles all across the map once you finally have the abilities to grab them at the end of the game is kind of a pain. Definitive edition added fast travel, fixing this. Ori had all of its mission critical areas kind of tied up in themselves, and you didn’t spend a lot of time going back and forth across the areas inbetween, where all the collectibles were hidden. Not the best metroidvania style design.

Dark Souls did a clever thing having fast travel only available in the latter half of the game, when all the goals were spread across the map and the world became unreasonably large to traverse on foot.

Symphony of the Night has a great nonlinear structure, even if I have misgivings about its level design. Castlevania games post-sotn usually do very well with this. It feels like mini-expeditions from savepoint to savepoint. You have challenges along the way, and it’s kind of tricky to figure out how you’ll fit together trips between points of interest.

Nier Automata drove me kind of nuts with the backtracking though for side quests. You needed to run across the world a LOT, without a lot to do on the way, and you didn’t move particularly fast relative to the scale of the world. Having you speed up more as you run further seems like a good solution to this type of thing. It means you can’t move super fast in battles, but also reduces travel time across long distances by a lot.

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