Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The nature of quests

In spite of what you might have seen on South Park, it is not possible to level up to the level cap in World of Warcraft by killing 65,340,285 level 1 boars. It is however totally possible to level up to the level cap in WoW or Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, or most other level-based MMORPGs, by killing monsters of your level all day long, without doing a single quest. But although quests are thus not strictly necessary, they have become a more and more important part of the genre. Ultima Online only had a few escort quests when I played it, Everquest (in spite of the name) had a gameplay where killing the same mob repeatedly was a much bigger part of gameplay than doing the occasional quest. Anarchy Online and Star Wars Galaxies experimented with random quest generators, which wasn't a huge success. It was World of Warcraft where the quest system had its breakthrough, and questing became the main occupation of players. But after a few years the fizz seems to have gone out of the model, with increasing complaints about "kill ten foozles" quests being boring. So what is the function of quests, and how could we make it more fun?

If you tried to level up without quests in WoW, you would most likely go somewhere where there are mobs of your level and start killing them. If you found a large enough group, and not too many other players are around, the first mob will have respawned by the time you kill the last mob, and so you can go around in circles until you level up. At some point your level is so high that moving to a higher level mob would be the optimum strategy. But before that there isn't really a reason why you would travel around and look for other mobs than those eternal respawns. Of course killing always the same mob over and over isn't much fun, but there is some sort of activation barrier which you must overcome to motivate you to move on and kill some other mobs. And in a game with quests, the quests provide exactly that motivation. By handing out an additional quest reward in xp, gold, or items, it becomes more efficient to hunt one specific mob only until you fulfil the quest for that mob, and then move on to the next quest. The player does it because including the quest reward he receives more xp per kill. But the ultimate consequence is that he ends up traveling all over the zone a lot more than if he wouldn't do quests. That helps distributing players over the zone better, and is more fun, because you see more different areas, and fight more different mobs.

The other core function of quests is to answer the eternal "now what?" question. Especially at the start of a game it is easy to become a bit lost in a MMORPG, not knowing where to go and what to do. Place a very obvious quest giver with some floating symbol over his head in front of the player, and the problem is solved. Players quickly fill their quest log with lots of small goals, and so they always have a good idea what to do next. If well done, like in WoW or WAR, the quests even lead you to the next higher region once you've outleveled the zone you're currently in.

The only problem is that quest might not be the best name for that. Merriam-Webster defines "quest" as being "a chivalrous enterprise in medieval romance usually involving an adventurous journey", so the quest for the holy grail would be a good example. Going around farmer browns shed to kill 10 wolves there somehow falls short, and feels more like an errand than a quest. There are a few good quest lines, or destiny quests, or book quests, whatever the game might call them, that rise to the level of a real "quest", but they tend to get lost between the many errands in your quest log. What is most often missing is the personal involvement of the character in the story (honorable exception being the AoC destiny quest until level 20); most often the quest story is somebody else's problem, with the hero just being involved by accepting to help. Even supposedly evil characters are incredibly helpful to total strangers in MMORPGs.

I think quests would be more fun if there weren't quite as many of them, but they'd be more involved. Why not have one big quest line per zone, sending you here and there, but always keeping up one story line? The disadvantage of such a model would be finding a group for some step of a quest line, with everyone else being at some other step. But most people quest alone anyway, and other game activities like the WAR "public quests" (not a quest either, more like an event), or PvP scenarios, are more suited for players to play together. Stories are better told on an individual level, because in a group nobody has the time to read a story text or wait for a cutscene. Besides the big quest there could still be other motivations to not stay in one place too long, for example by introducing diminishing returns when killing the same mob too long. Instead of a a huge collection of short stories quests could become longer novels, with the player in the center as the hero of the story, with some personal involvement beyond just a reward. The starting quest line of the Death Knight in Wrath of the Lich King shows how that could be done.

In summary, quests serve a useful purpose right now, but I don't think this is already the end of the development. Running errands for some minor reward doesn't make the player feel like a hero, and it doesn't contribute much to the development of the personality. I don't know into what exactly this will evolve, but I'm sure there will be some improvement towards more involvement in the future.
the main reason destiny mode worked so well in AoC was because during the time you partook in it, you were shut off from the rest of the game, and it was "intimately personal" to you specifically.... well, the same for everyone, but the timing of it was on your own terms.

"I'm tired of regular questing for now, time to jump into destiny mode for a bit before i log off for the evening" etc etc.

in the end, it was just a thinly veiled questline, but with talking dialogs, really... imagine the Fordring questline out in the plaguelands of wow, but talking cutscenes instead of the regular pages of quest window text. It would be heralded as one of the most immersive questlines in all of wow, but in the end it's just more of the same.

Destiny Mode is similar (go here, kill this guy on the volcano, steal this note and replace it with this, infiltrate this building, etc etc), it just FELT different because of the higher production values, and the fact that it tailored itself based on your $CLASS : /
Having questlines is a nice idea, but one would have to plan it very carefully or it would be very limited and maybe even frustrating like many of the quests in LOTRO.

If it's to be done then there should be different questlines for groups and solo players, or be possible to scale to the group size. Never mix solo and group parts like LOTRO did back and forth a lot. Also it should be possible to level up all the way just with solo questing just as with group questing. Switching between the two should be up to the player.
There is as you say still the problem to find a group on the same step if you want to group. I'm not entirely sure how to fix that, unless it as I mentioned above scales.
The big quest line is what I thought was going to happen the first time around playing WoW, I hit westfall and got the big defias quest chain that ended up killing VC, and it was (and still is) the best quest line in the game.

But it was downhill from there on, with random kill/delivery quests from there.

I really think the one-quest line per 5 levels deal would be best suited, taking you from zone to zone, possibly to the higher tier of the 5 level limit straight off so you see those nasty monsters that would give you a severe beating if you tried tangling with them, only to returns in a few levels to take them on.
Well, I noticed just the other day while levelling my ally warrior that there are longer and more concise quest lines for ally than for the horde. Why is that beats me, but I find them extremely enjoyable.

My personal favorite has been so far the Missing Diplomat and the ones in the Duskwood: the stories, even though they are walls of text, show the quality of the writing and storytelling talent of the team.

I simply would vote for YES for even longer storylines, which could even include strictly class or level based parts to individualise them.

For me as a very group oriented player, Lotro has the best of both worlds (single vs. group quests) combined in a way very well done.

You can quest all day long alone when you feel like it, moving from one quest hub to the next while leveling up. And it is no problem at all to reach the cap like this. But at the same time there many optional group quests of various sizes as well to keep players like me happy. In the 2 highest level zones (Angmar, Forochel) there are so many quests I still haven't done yet and I am capped since a few weeks and completed the last Book the other day.

In my opinion epic quests lines in MMOs should be indeed epic and thus need more than only one player to "beat". In Lotro nearly 2 years since release I had no troubles at all to find people for the various group chapters in all books. Maybe there should be solo alternatives to the group parts but that would take away a lot of encouragement to do the group versions if there is an "easier" way to advance the books.
If you read Morte d'Arthur, then the 'romantic' quests therein usually revolve around the hero coming across a grieving woman or a wounded knight, who points to a nearby castle.
The owner of the castle is a knight or king who treats his people badly, or likes to challenge other knights that pass nearby to a duel.

The hero then rides to the castle and defeats the bad guy in single combat, usually by chopping his head off.
Repeat and rinse dozens of times.
Not so dissimilar to the repetitive quests in MMOs!
The best quest system Ive ever seen is the one GuildWars had. Although its not a true mmorpg because every area is instanced for you and your party but the quests are very interesting and the main storyline involves the player as well. I cant wait and see what they cook up in guildwars 2 where they promise to reduce the number of instances.
The opposite end of the spectrum is the Legacy Quest in SWG. One, single, long, unchanging rail of a questline to take you from level 10 to level 50-ish. You can't skip any part of it, you can't take different paths. The only alternative is to abandon it completely in favour of grinding hundreds of thousands of mobs to level.

Ugh. Just... ugh.
How do you feel about questing in War Tobold? I find that the quests that tie in from chapter to chapter are excellent at telling a story and extremely interesting. It also gives the illusion of time progression in a persistent world, which is not something easy to do.

A quest NPC from a prior hub may very well be face down in the mud on the way to the next one! Certainly a step up from the WoW model of sending you back to the same areas multiple times to complete quests of various level ranges (Strangle Thorn Vale anyone).
I think the WOW game world is the best designed of any game I've seen, and the quests well written and thought out, but the extensive quest system doesn't lend itself to exploration or independent action.

If I'm wandering through a zone and I see a mysterious cave, my first instinct is to go explore it, but WOW trains you not to do this. Virtually every element of the world has a quest associated with it, so I know that if I wait, I'll eventually get a quest telling me to go into the cave. If I act on my own initiative, I'll get no reward.

My ideal evolution of the quest system is one that is more player driven, but not necessarily in the sense of player-created content. If I see a cave, I want to go explore it, and be rewarded for my explorations. My gameplay should be driven by my actions, and not vice versa.
Sdevet, that would be the more logical way to play the game. See a cave, enter the cave, find the Balrog, slay the Balrog & cut off its head. The Balrog's Head can then start the quest to return to Town and get your reward.

If you'd gone to Town first, the Mayor would have asked your help in slaying the Beast of the Cave.

In either case, you get the quest done.

Why can't I wander up a path to find and slay Vagash, get his Claw (which starts the quest I've practically done) then go down to the Amberstill Ranch where Rudra will recognize my feat and reward me?

I don't think this rule should apply to every single Mob in the game. No killing hundreds of wolves and collecting paws and tails and ears then tracking down the Quest Giver. But for killing named Mobs, why can't they drop the Quest Item even if I'm not yet on the Quest?
The quests should have more of a personal involvement. In TBC all the quests are to benefit causes or factions that the players are hardly affiliated with. Why are there no more Stormwind/Ironforge quests in Outland, for example? Even a half dozen of those quests would remind the player of their link to their origins.

I also think cutscenes are memorable. You hardly see them in WOW, which gives every quest a 'kill ten boars' feel. For instance, Mankirk might go find the body of his wife to bury after you tell him of her death.
I would love to see epic quests where there were decision points throughout that actually affected the development of your character. ie.Choose to fight the evil lord and win but you get a terrible scar on your face. Or maybe new talents or renown that allow unique purchases or whatever. You could even have an accumulative effect where your character begins to look more evil and speak Orcish after continually choosing "bad" decisions in your quests.

So many possibilities to make it fun and interesting.
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