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Should Quests Exist in Modern MMOs?

Should quests exist in today's MMORPG landscape? If so, then how many are too many? This is the question I saw on the Pantheon Twitter today. These questions always strike up a good discussion, so let's jump in.

The question itself simply cannot be answered with a number. We're looking more toward what type of role quests play in the overall design of the game -- what are they a vehicle for, and do they dominate or support gameplay?

Here's my take on the subject.

Quests are often the vehicle for story. In today's modern MMOs we rarely, if ever, see dialogue or story outside of them. If you google "what is a quest" you'll see a very simple definition from Google: "a long or arduous search for something." Quests used to be long adventures where the player would have to truly seek out and, unless they used a guide, figure out riddles, locations, or go on an adventure and see the world to accomplish them.

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The Journeyman's Boots quest  from EverQuest is a great example. Players were sent across the world and back in search of a shadowed rapier and a ring of the ancients. The shadowed rapier came from shadowed men and the only clue you had was, "Many lands do they walk. Invisible are they, but for the items they wield. Seek them out and return to me a shadowed rapier. Return it with haste before 'poof' goes the rapier!! No time to camp have you." For the ring your clue was, "Seek the plains, seek the island in tears and search the dunes for there is one who is last. His clan was blown from the sands."

EverQuest Seafury Cyclops Jboots Ring Quest

Not the Ancient Cyclops but I remember his ugly face from the Bard Epic and the fact that if you were a caster he would drain all your mana.

Shadowmen were fairly common across zones, but the Ancient Cyclops could only be found as a rare spawn in one of a few locations. The main location I camped him was on the Island of Tears where his spawn ranged from 24 hours to weeks at a time since he was a rare spawn shared across multiple zones. 'Arduous' is an understatement. When finally all of the pieces of the quest were obtained, and the money gathered, turning in the quest yielded a pair of boots that, when clicked, would grant a speed boost almost as good as Spirit of the Wolf -- awesome!

This long, long QUEST -- in every sense of the word -- created a story. The fact that I remember this quest 18 or so years later, and I could tell you easily 2-3 hours of stories about how I helped others complete it, is a testament to the powerful stories and adventures a true quest can tell without having to lead you anywhere.

Quests can be simpler. Much simpler. In my adventure hunting orcs as a young player I could collect belts from orcs and turn them in for a reward. This was a repeatable quest that allowed you to collect as many belts as you please. These belts yielded amazing faction (reputation) and decent rewards for low level players. The faction was huge for everyone, and since players wanted to kill the orcs anyway it was a great asset to the economy and interaction between higher and lower level players. While little story is being told from a lore perspective, the world is having life breathed into it through player interaction.

The moral of the story here is that quests can and should exist. They should be long, epic adventures where players end up creating memories they later share around the virtual campfire. Quests should be rewarding and momentous occasions, and truly rewarding without having to be something players must follow in order to 'play the game' or 'consume' content. Simpler quests, when woven into the game's economy or assisting in giving a purpose for going out and slaying monsters, can be just as effective.

So to answer the original question of how many quests are too many, I'd say as soon as you lose the spirit of adventure you've gone too far. When quests become something you simply 'do to progress' or must complete before moving to the next area, you've lost the true spirit of what I believe to be a quest.

P.S. Bonus points if you know what my character in LotRO back from 2007 is doing in the image at the top. Clue: It may look like an adventure, but is by no means an epic quest.

  • bhagpuss says:

    “In today’s modern MMOs we rarely, if ever, see dialogue or story outside of them” is factually incorrect. Many modern MMOs tell story by incidental dialog between NPCs and by non-quest dialog (straightforward conversation) between players and NPCs. GW2, for example, has a whole team of people whose job it is to create this content, which is frequently praised for being some of the best narrative in the game. If you want to understand the world in which the main, linear narrative takes place you absolutely need to engage fully with the non-linear, distributed narrative which permeates the entire world.

    Other than that, you’re conflating “quests” with tasks. The orc belts example isn’t any kind of “quest”, even if that’s what the game developers lazily or inaccurately labelled it at the time. Anything where an NPC says “if you get me this thing I’ll pay you” and all you have to do to get the thing is kill something in the immediate neighborhood, that’s a task. Quests require either a number of steps or a lengthy journey, as the definition you quote correctly implies.

    Personally, I love tasks and I can’t stand quests. I don’t want to go on any long or arduous searches in my own leisure time. I want to be entertained or amused or at least be set some satisfying and easily-completed goals so I can enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done without having to do a job well. I avoided all the long and tedious quests in EQ, including things like J-Boots and all the Epic Weapons stuff like the plague. If other people enjoy it, good luck to them. It annoys the heck out of me.

  • audioshaman says:

    It’s been a while, but if I remember correctly there were a series of quests in the Shire where you had to deliver items on a timer. Eggs (like above), but I also seem to remember other items like pies? You picked up the item and immediately started running, and the timer was like a channeled spell that could be cancelled by a mob attacking you and you’d fail the quest. It forced you to take roads or the long way around any enemies.

    I actually really liked the Shire in LOTRO overall but those quests, uh, were not the highlight.

  • Misaligned says:

    I’m someone who doesn’t mind “questing” as it exists in modern WoW, for example, but I would like to see future games break the mold of look-for-exclamation-mark, do task, look-for-question-mark.

    I’ve seen some games try to mask this a bit like GW2 with hearts but it’s basically the same thing.

    I like the idea of fewer but more meaningful quests sort of like EQ minus the horrifically long spawns and very rare mobs. I like the idea of quests that take a long while to complete and require the help of others. Doing epic quests on Agnarr really brought people together and it was always cool to see someone get their epic.

    On a side note I’ve been considering trying LOTRO again. I tend to go back to it about once a year but never stick around long. I find myself already bored with BFA and have run out of things to do outside of logging-in 2 nights a week for a raid that will soon become rote. I wish I could find a solid group to do mythic+ with but that hasn’t happened in the last couple years.

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