PC gamers have always an uneasy relationship with ladders, and in most games we approach them the same way we approach something on the lawn that might be a venomous snake or might just be a harmless stick. Having been burned too many times by ladders we can't get on properly when we want to, that we get stuck on when we want to get off, that we go sailing off the top of or fall to our death from, ladders are a remarkably unpredictable feature in games and have been since they started making game levels with more than one level.
In some ways, ladders are like loot boxes: they're everywhere, the outcome of using one is uncertain, and there's a pretty good chance you'll get screwed in the end. Here are the ladders of PC games ranked from the best to the worst.
Tom Clancy's The Division is a blend of beautiful visuals, cool futuristic weapons, boring-looking kneepads, and nondescript street criminals whose magic hoodies can absorb hundreds of rounds of ammo. Reactions to The Division were mixed and still largely are, but damn does it have some refreshingly climbable ladders.
You can get on them easily. You can get off them easily. You can slide down in that cool way they do in submarine movies but is probably really hard to do for real. I don't recall ever accidentally getting on one or off one, and they weren't sticky except when they needed to be. That's a fine ladder, Tom Clancy's The Division. With our hand clad in boring gloves, we salute you.
Gamers are used to a few harmless glitches in the Matrix, and while they may be remarked upon or laughed at, they're usually forgiven. We know in fantasy games the sword strapped to our backs is actually hovering a few inches off it, and that's OK. Trying to put an item on a shelf can cause it to react violently with another item it's not really touching and then go flying to the other side of the room. We know it: games aren't perfect, and things in games have a problem with touching other things.
So when things do touch other things properly it's satisfying. When climbing ladders, it's rare to see your hands properly connect with the rungs: there's usually just an animation that plays and your hands sorta go where they're supposed to. In SOMA, though, it looks great. Look at those hands really grabbing each rung and holding on. Look at the pace of the climb: it feels real. Good ladder. Damn good ladder.
Assassin's Creed: Origins
The best thing about ladders in Assassin's Creed games is that they're largely unnecessary. You're an assassin, which means the only difference between you and Spider-Man is that that J. Jonah Jameson isn't berating teenage freelancers to take better pictures of you. You can scale walls with your hands, and ladders really only exist so an enemy guard can climb up to investigate the sound of his co-worker being stabbed in the neck moments before you stab him in the neck and drop him on top of his dead co-worker. You don't even need ladders climb down, not if there's hay—and boy, is there hay. There are so many haystacks in AC you expect the world to be filled with obese horses.
I played Assassin's Creed Origins for over forty hours and I can't recall using a ladder even once, which is the mark of a great PC game ladder: one you can completely ignore. The closest I came was when I tried to climb down a ladder while carrying some unconscious dope over my shoulders, which didn't work, and I wound up dumping him onto the bricks while I took a graceful swan dive into an ever present pile of hay.
F.E.A.R. was a long time ago by gaming standards, and I don't particularly remember if its ladders were good to climb or not. I just remember that one ladder, you know, that one? That one where you get on and turn around to climb down and then that creepy ghost girl Alma is just standing there and you're like "BLARRRRGHHHH I don't like this game anymore even though it lets me kick dudes in the head in slow-motion!"
I know it doesn't look so scary in that gif, but trust me on this, it scared us so badly we immediately wanted to give up FPS horror games and just play Stardew Valley even though it wouldn't be invented for another 11 years. That's how scary it was.
Please don't scare us on ladders. We're already scared of ladders as it is. It's not fair.
Valve has approached ladders with the same indifference it has to game release schedules and community interaction. It's just sort of: eh, whatever. The Source Engine's ladders are fairly ridiculous. You can zip up and down them as if they're not ladders but instead just another section of floor that happens to be lying upright against a wall. Want to climb a ladder while holding a weapon in both hands? Sure! Want to climb down it at top speed face-first? OK! Want to run backwards up a ladder while you're facing the completely opposite direction and firing your gun at someone? We're not going to stop you. We're not even going to slow you down. We don't care.
In fact, ladders do so little to slow you down that when you reach the top you'll fly off it. Instead of climbing up something hard and metal that requires every single one of your hands and feet, it's like you've exited from the bottom of a water park slide. Which is a bit of a bummer, really, because your body pops up into the air and then falls back down, fully visible to your enemies. Plus, you tend to stick to CS ladders when you don't want to, and become unstuck when you do. However sticky you want a ladder to be at a given time, it will be the opposite amount of stickiness.
The Witcher 3
Considered by many to be one of the finest games of all time, The Witcher 3 has a few quirks when it comes to ladders. Sometimes Geralt can't climb them. Sometimes he can climb a rung or two before dropping back off. Sometimes when players hurry to climb down one they miss and fall, which isn't really the ladder's fault but is maddening anyway since Geralt takes fall damage like a porcelain Kobayahsi coffee mug on the floor of a customs interrogation room. Any drop more than four feet and he shatters.
Even cutscenes can't protect The Witcher from the dread curse of ladders. Begin some exposition while Geralt is mid-climb and he'll remain frozen like he took his morning bath in a tub full of carbonite.
There's already frustration and indignity from falling to your death while trying to use a shitty ladder, and it's made worse when a game puts the blame squarely on your dead, broken shoulders. With no investigation, no official inquiry, not even the visit from the coroner, a game will decide your sudden plunge into death's embrace was that you "killed yourself" or "committed suicide." And it'll loudly tell everyone else on the server that's what happened.
That's not fair, man! I'm an absurdly wealthy bank robber with a huge house and 47 fancy cars. My murderous rampages and piles of money really do make me happy. Maybe I entertain dark thoughts of ending it all occasionally (you've met my son?) but in this particular instance, no, I did not decide to end my life. I was trying to climb a ladder.
Try this: say the word 'ladder' to a DayZ player. The blood will drain out of their faces, they'll slowly crumple into a ball on the floor, hug their knees to their chest, and eventually emit a horrifying inhuman wail that can be registered by USGS earthquake detection equipment. Ladders in DayZ should be treated like downed power lines in real life: don't touch them, don't go near them, and even if you witness someone safely step on one it's not worth the risk of doing it yourself.
You can die getting onto a ladder, getting off a ladder, while you're currently on a ladder, after getting off a ladder. You can get stuck at the top or at the bottom, and even long seconds after what appears to be a safe ladder-climbing experience you may find yourself rubberbanded back to the ladder's cold, metal embrace just before it drops you into oblivion. If DayZ's ladders were just a dream you'd wake up screaming and sweating in your bed, take a few moments to calm yourself, then turn your head slowly and see the ladder under the covers with you. And then it would kill you again.