The Simple Joy of Walking Through a Video Game World

Ghost of Tsushima

I’m walking here, I’m walking here — literally.

As much as I love driving high-end sports cars in open-world games like Grand Theft Auto and Sleeping Dogs, sometimes I simply prefer to walk.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Walk.

The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim? Walk.

Red Dead Redemption 2? Walk.

And even now, with Ghost of Tsushima, I still rather prefer hoofing it (pun intended? I’ll get back to you on that). 

I do enjoy seeing the camaraderie between Jin and his faithful steed Sora, like when it playfully nudges Jin whenever we are just standing idly. Or the way it allows me to rest up against it when relaxing, or responds to my beckoning calls. Still, at the end of the day, I’d still much rather walk. Sora is a great horse and a great companion, as were all of my horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 (I don’t know how I ended up with so many). The Striders in Horizon Zero Dawn are also very cool — aesthetically if not functionally. But no matter how you slice it, I just never find riding on horseback to be all that fulfilling in video games.

There are several reasons for this, and, if it pleases the court, I will now present my case.

Breath of the Wild

First and foremost, I have yet to ride on a horse — from Epona to Argo to that dumb moto-horse in Breath of the Wild — that controls all that well. In fact, I would go on record to say most video-game horses will either control like absolute shit, or lose their minds when confronted with obstacles that overload their scripted parameters.

Red Dead Redemption 2 tried to develop a way around this, with beasts that sort of have a mind of their own (much like that abomination in The Last Guardian, I might add). What this basically means is that the animal is designed to ignore some of your button inputs, to wander off when not directly controlled, and to just be a fuckabout in order to simulate the animal having agency.

Perfect. Cool. Brilliant. Except that just adds to the frustration of an already-horseshit mode of transportation (and don’t get me started on the torrential outpourings of literal horseshit you’ll have to deal with in Red Dead Redemption 2).

Red Dead Online - Riding a Horse

Additionally, the rate at which you travel on horseback while avoiding obstacles and cliff faces isn’t always much faster than simply riding the old shoe leather. In fact, to quote Cosmo Kramer, “The difference is negligible.” So why bother with the aforementioned frustrations if the payoff isn’t a much, much faster form of conveyance?

It’s not all about mobility though. I simply feel as if I am better capable of taking in the game world — more keen to spot points of interest or hidden secrets — when I am on foot. Some of this, I think, is that I am more focused on the world around me when not distracted by my horse tripping over a broken fence that I don’t even have to use the jump button to clamber over on foot. 

Plus, far too many games won’t allow you to pick up resources from horseback (since I’ve already mentioned Red Dead Redemption 2 and Ghost of Tsushima, I should also point out that both games are exceptions to this, though Red Dead’s horseback-gathering is limited to online mode and only after earning the perk for it). This means you constantly have to dismount to gather resources. And that is yet another straw piled on the camel’s back. (And camels, as I understand it, are not unlike horses in some ways, so…) 

Now, I can only imagine that I’m in the minority on this. I mean, I must be, why else would developers keep (horse-)shoehorning equines in their games with the intention for them to be ridden?

If you do enjoy riding horses in games — or if you find them to be a better way to traverse game worlds — then by all means, don’t let my ravings stop you. You’re entitled to horse around all you’d like.

But for me and my video game characters, I will always prefer a good ol’ walkabout to saddle sores any day.

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