Critiquing quests is quickly becoming the norm around here. Every time a new MMO comes out the first thing I’ll say is how much the questing sucks. Killing ten rats has become completely cliche, but seriously the extent of questing innovation has been to change what monsters you kill or what they drop — that’s it! To this very day, even in the upcoming WildStar, my level 20 Engineer was killing 10 oozes. Why do I do it? Because the NPC in the camp with the ‘!’ over his head told me he would give me experience. Why do developers do it? I could insert a dozen critical remarks.
If I were to suddenly and miraculously have total control over the direction questing would go in all games, here are some of the changes I would make immediately.
Questing ≠ Leveling
I would remove all desire for players to complete quests in order to level up their characters. Questing would provide great items, epic adventures, and glorious tales to recount. Any one of those three things are worth more than a thousand levels. Leveling should be based on your character’s profession. I’m going to write an entire post on this soon. Here’s the quick of it: If I’m a warrior who kills things then I should level up by killing things. If I’m a thief then I should level by stealing. Worst case scenario, and there’s nothing wrong with this, everyone should level by simply killing monsters. It sounds simple, but it works.
Questing should be EPIC!
Yes, the overused word ‘epic’ is yet another cliche, but there was a time when this word meant something grand. The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and the quest for Jboots all share one thing in common: They were anything but easy, short, and unmemorable. Quests should require effort. Notice I haven’t made a single mention of ‘time’ as a mechanic. I think time is a dangerous beast unto itself and an easy pitfall. A long quest can still take a short amount of time. How involved something is that play into the perception that something is ‘bigger.’
Go on adventures. See the world. Truly have to accomplish something to complete that quest. Even the name ‘quest’ should evoke something. It’s a QUEST!
Quests should never reward a few coins and a sword you’ll use for 10 minutes. Who would go on a ‘QUEST!’ for such a meager offering? I demand a king’s ransom! I want that epic glowing mace with the ability to resurrect. I want the boots that provide me permanent near-spirit of the wolf speeds. I want the items that will radically alter the way I interact with and enjoy the game. Quest rewards should be character advancements.
Never Design Around Quests
The world in which we play our games should never be designed around quests. In today’s landscape we see the entire world shaped around hubs offering up dozens of quests. The world is shaped in order to offer a pathway from one quest hub to the next. Loot, character advancement, balance, heck — everything is centered around them! It has become so extreme that once a player reaches max level it’s almost like they have unlocked a completely new game.
Quests should be added after you have a fully-realized world designed to incorporate your lore and goals. Quests should offer opportunities for players to go places and see things, not lead them by the nose and tell them how to progress through a world.