Backtracking Can Create Disconnect in Gameplay
Forcing a player to backtrack through a level for little or no reward is poor design. Dungeon designs in games, for example, can be a big dead end which forces the player to backtrack through the labyrinth they’ve just cleared. This issue isn’t seen commonly in modern games. However, some games still give the player a chance to backtrack for a reward. This can be acceptable, but the designer is still forcing the player to make a journey to cash in on a detail they remembered from earlier. Perhaps creating a new interaction (such as an opportunity to use a new power, or fighting newly spawned enemies), or creating a loop back to the area they retrieved the “key” in would be more efficient. In any case, if the player is given incentive or forced to backtrack, make it worth their while.
Admittedly my favorite game of all time uses exactly the type of dead-end dungeon I spoke of. Backtracking through looted areas of dead enemies is a waste of the player’s time in most cases. There are also instances where a player needs to go deeper into a dungeon to retrieve a key in order to unlock a chest, before a new area which they will need to load. This is inconveniencing the player, as they tread the same ground at least 3 times and may even have to load an area as many times.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
In this game, after completing a dungeon or temple, the player must return to the original dungeon in the game and traverse it once again. With each dungeon or temple that has been completed the player must traverse an additional floor in the original temple when they return to it. There are no new mechanics added with each return to this original dungeon, merely a repetition of floors and mechanics (the original dungeon is based purely on stealth) the player has previously visited. This seemingly pointless repetition can quickly become boring for the player as it is not only repetitive, but the compulsory nature of returning to this dungeon delays story progression.
Darksiders 2 has multiple areas which contain certain areas that cannot be reached the first time you visit them. Later in the game the protagonist gains new powers which allows him to access some of these areas. This process of gaining abilities and backtracking to the same places again and again is the most frustrating aspects of the game. The player has to abandon moving forward in the story and go back to these places just so that they can access the previously inaccessible areas to get loot. This seems like a counter intuitive design: why would you want the player to break story and revisit old areas instead of pushing forward in the story.