What… is your quest?

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!

Quest Rewards

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.

  • I’m with you on just about every point. In order for any of that to happen, we’d need devs to start crafting worlds again instead of mapped quest tracks. Bring back the danger of venturing out alone.

    I absolutely love the idea of allowing players to level doing what their class entails. I’d also like to see a lot more group play but again that involves bringing back the expanded trinity which i’m all for as well. Limiting group play to dungeons and raids is so dull.

    While i never experienced the Jboots quest, i have many friends that did and from what they’ve told me, it sounds like the type of quest i absolutely adore. Really long and requiring lots of dedication. I’mm all over that as well.

  • This post feels like it should be common knowledge by now, but reality is barely any MMOs, and zero AAA ones, take this approach. WAKE UP DEVS!! Don’t spend 4+ years developing something people can’t stand to play past 1 month, if that…

  • I’d go about 50-50 on that. I actually loathed the “long” or “complicated” quest sequences in EQ and still do. I find them incredibly tedious and the absolute opposite of compelling or heroic. They’re just enormous long shopping lists of mostly irritating busy-work that give me no entertainment value at all. The few I did, I did grudgingly; most I never did at all. I believe I did JBoots once after it had been made much easier, and I did the Beastlord epic, at the time the easiest of all epics, after it had become close to trivial. I played a max-level cleric for two years without doing the Cleric epic, making me probbaly the only regularly-played max-level cleric on my server without one.

    Conversely, I like Kill 10 Rats quests, particularly if they come wrapped with amusing stories from the NPCs. I’d go along with not calling these “quests”, though, and indeed EQ doesn’t call them that – it calls them “Tasks” and uses a completely different interface for them which, if I recall correctly, was introduced with The Serpent’s Spine expansion. I’m quite happy with a format where NPCs have work and my characters undertake to do it for payment.

    Where I am completely with you is on the need for alternative paths for xp/leveling other than questing, for quests to reward valuable items and not (primarily) xp, and for quests to be integrated with the setting, milieu and lore of the world. The idea of tyojng quests to class/race/alignment or whatever is also a good one. And indeed, even though I like those Kill 10 Rats quests, I’d much prefer they were replaced with bounties like the crushbone belts, gnoll teeth or the rest of the myriad hand-ins that lent structure to my EQ leveling experiences. Bounties could replace a vast range of repetitive, unimaginative questing that no-one would miss and take a hell of a lot less developer time, too.

    There’s certainly room for improvement. That said, I don’t think WildStar’s quests are particularly heinous in terms of the writing and the actual things they’ve had me doing are quite intriguing – certainly more than just killing stuff. They are gimmicky and daft, sure, but they seem to be pitched about right for the tone of the game. I particularly enjoyed firing my potato cannon to lure the big bull back to the camp!

  • Yeah, this sounds like a recipe for everyone standing around wherever the quickest respawning/best look mobs are and grinding until level cap to me. By and large the majority of players are almost unbelievably bad at even minimally exploring the world without significant handholding (and that’s really what quests are, a way to unobtrusively guide players through content).

    The idea that quests should be reserved for big special things is a nice idea, but 70-80% of the game’s population will flounder instantly without some kind of guideposts. (I guess I’m assuming here that you don’t replace quests with some other way to encourage people to move through the world/content)

  • @bhag I find it hard at times to follow quest stories, particularly the boring kill or fetch quests for very basic items. This is compounded when I don’t really want to be doing the quests in the first place. I actually believe the voice over idea helped improve quests from a story perspective, but what SWTOR failed to realize was that after doing the same type of quests in different zones, even the stories became repetitive.

    To me, my favorite MMOs we devoid of stories, UO and EQ. Or at least, the story was only there for the most hardcore lore fans. In those games, we made our own stories. Hell UO was really the only game I ever RP’d and had an absolute blast doing it. Because we built a city, formed a militia, had training sessions, quests from leaders etc. Many of those things are impossible to do today.

    The main problem you highlighted and my biggest gripe is quests are essentially unavoidable and forced. I have no issue with trying to tie in a master story line quest, but that easily morphs into shitty side quests and you’re right back at the same problem.

    Story is great, but it should be primarily optional. Story through forced questing is ughhh.

  • Seems like there is enough demand for the whole questing themepark model to continue. I mean surely it will.

    But why does it also seem like every game is making questing the backbone of game play and progression. I’ll venture an answer and say its because most games are centered solely around combat and gear. Maybe a game focused equally on economy and crafting would break this cycle. Make gear more replaceable also. I believe strongly that having replaceable gear drives a demand for crafting and helps balance the whole game out.

  • Keen, that is hands down your best article here in years. If not ever!

    You are touching a serious problem in all mmos which were released the last years. Your idea about QUESTS is the first which I personally see as a progression worth trying from the current state we are in with mmo questing.

    I’m sure developers of mmo games are aware of the fundamental problems of todays mmo games, but I doubt we’ll see any significant changes in the near future. Developing a mmo game costs too much currently to risk anything fundamentally.

  • @Shutter: The rest of the game would have to make up for it. You can’t just remove quests and have today’s MMO world be all that’s left.

    @JJ Robinson: There is definitely demand for it. The problem now is that every game uses it and fails to innovate upon it. That’s a dangerous direction for an industry to go.

    @Marco: Thanks 🙂

  • @May – I couldn’t agree more. I played AC back in 1999-2001 and loved the quests…Shadow Armor, Atlan Weapons, Composite Bow are just a few off the top of my head.

    I miss the old days of MMO’s when they were much more like Dungeons and Dragons. These days there is nothing Multiplayer anyone about MMO’s due to quest hubs and easy to do single player quests.

    Haven’t played an MMO in a while and doubt I’ll be playing any new one soon.

  • @Damage Think you hit on another keep point. Today’s MMOs are not very multiplayer centric. Outside of running a dungeon, raid or battleground, there is little need and usually a deterrent to grouping. And those three activities I mentioned are most prevalent at the level cap. You could level all the way to the cap in most MMOs today and never even group. It is almost encouraged that way.

    I remember always grouping in original MMOs. Even if it was just to spar for skill gain, or grouping for safety in numbers. Again, I’d stress then key role an economy plays in driving player interaction. Make the economy and gear primarily player dependent and you will have the foundation of strong player interaction.

    The initial idea of MMOs were vibrant player worlds where everyone’s actions impacted everyone else. Sure there need to be rules, but we’ve taken this to such an extreme direction that MMOs are glorified single player RPGs now.

    Got a slight amount of hope that Shroud of the Avatar could bring the sense of world and community interaction I’ve seeking. But it’s likely a year or so away.

  • @JJ Robinson: Sadly Shroud of the Avatar isn’t truly a MMO. It’s a weird multiplayer/single-player hybrid.

    @Damage/JJ Robinson (RE: multiplayer-centric MMOs): I agree. Once upon a time people had to rely on each other for just about everything. Now people have to rely on themselves and what they want to do. More on this in a post coming soon.

  • Just let us grind stuff..

    About exploration. DAOC had a decent idea of having a bonus experience for killing mobs that have not been killed recently. If that idea is expanded then grinding in little known places will be more profitable

  • @Keen Shroud does have a single player component, but looks like the real meat of the game will be multiplayer. From some of the videos I watched, looks like they are incorporating a UO crafting system, one of the best ever, and a twist on modern combat. I also think the player housing being in designated house lots could be interesting. Def not completely sold, but keeping an eye on it. Like all games, especially MMOs, you never know till you really test it yourself.

  • I *Like* quests, a reason to be doing something is nice
    I do want them to be much improved on, the ‘go kill x for me cus I hate em’ is fine if its not the only thing, have epic quests to be working on whilst your doing the smaller modern quests, make use of phasing so that quests actually change the world (you killed 20 bears for that woman, but now the bear population is so low something else has taken over)
    I definitely would want to see more quests REQUIRE a group, I regularly complain about modern MMO’s lacking any form of social side and forced grouping for extended periods of time is not a bad thing, currently only instances do this and they are too action focused to allow for a social side

  • Interestingly though Skyrim does exactly the opposite you are suggesting and totally succeeds. Mobs are just a way to get crafting mats and some gear, with only quests and crafting gaining your toon levels. And it both works and makes sense, as character level increases with worldly experience (quests) but skills level up with use alone.

  • I know! But it works so well mechanically. Seems it would warrant a crossover into the MMO world. Just brought it up because I’ve been playing skyrim again and am enjoying the fact that blindly mob grinding doesn’t automatically make you more powerful. Skills may level up from use, but their true power is only unlocked as you gain worldly experience (levels).

  • @Keen: +1

    @Marco: the irony is that Keen’s proposal is a regression and not a progression. That it appeals to people (well maybe excluding Mr Sour..err I mean bhagpuss :P) only adds to the irony

    @thelg: GW2 has a +XP to kill mobs that have been alive for some (unknown to me) time

    @Eva: isnt ‘requires a group’ what public quests try to cover? getting the mentality changed is probably a lost cause though, going by the gripes in /zone from people who — to their great surprise — had failed to kill the zone boss

    Personally I dont mind kill10rats, as long as there is something to chuckle about in the questgiver’s dialogue. I know, I know, actually reading quest text is anathema to 90%+ of the people here but hey, I’m weird kthxbai

    What DOES get my goat however is the ‘kill 10 rats’, ‘now kill another 10, now another 20, now another 100’ — going back to the same place for yet more of the same is .. just .. eurgh

  • @b, The mob xp gaining over time they are not killed has been in since beta, its why we often stopped to harass random yellows out of the way yet ran past most agressive mobs

    and yea, public quests made a good attempt, but it needs to go further than that and not just be static areas you run in and out off