This post by Aspendawn got me thinking about travel times in MMOs. There is a definite trade-off between world immersion, which realistic (i.e., long) travel times tend to enhance, and excitement. When it takes ages to get someplace, it makes the world feel larger and more "real." However, the downside is that time spent travelling is time spent doing essentially nothing.
MMOs have always had mechanisms to cut down on travel time. Even launch EQ had a "return to home" ability as I recall. Dark Age of Camelot was the first MMO to introduce horse routes, which have now become fairly standard (e.g., flight routes in WoW). Lord of the Rings Online improves over this basic model a bit by making some horse routes instant travel, and by essentially giving every character four different "return to home" abilities. One is the normal bind-point ability that's been around since launch EQ. Each race also has the ability to learn how to return to their racial capital. Three of the racial capitols have instant travel available between them for one silver, making the racial travel abilities very handy. In addition to these, when you buy a home you get the ability to instantly travel to that neighborhood. And finally, when you join a Kinship (i.e., guild) you gain the ability to instantly travel to the neighborhood the KS house is in (if your KS owns one), which is awesome or useless depending on whether your personal house is in the same area. However, when you get right down to it LoTRO is only a modest improvement over WoW or DAoC.
Everquest Online Adventures pioneered a system that I have yet to see used anywhere else. Like most MMOs, before you can use a particular stable route hub you have to run to it and talk to the stable master. However, once a stable route is learned, it becomes instant travel. In this way you can instantly (or in two or three hops) get back to any zone that you have been. Quests sometimes teleport you to distant locations that would be very hard to reach on foot, and then back home. Getting one of these distant stable routes for free is as much of a reward as the XP from the quests.
You might imagine that being able to teleport everywhere would hurt your immersion. However, in my experience it really doesn't. The fact that you have to "earn" stable master hubs by running to them or getting a quest for them helps a lot. In addition, to cross a continent you need to go through three or four hubs, so you still have a sense of scale. And honestly, how much is your immersion really enhanced by doing a given travel route for the tenth or hundredth time? When I play WoW or LoTRO, I usually go afk rather than sit there and stare at my character when I'm travelling. My immersion is exactly zero if I'm AFK making a sandwich. I honestly believe the system in EQOA should be used by more MMOs.
As a bit of an aside, EQOA is an MMO that has a lot of very good ideas buried in a mediocre, grindy game. However, I'll leave it at that because I'm sensing a future blog post on it.