Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 20, 2009
 
Quest based advancement

Muckbeast over at Brighthub has a theory that quest based advancement is bad, because it is the new grind. While I'm not saying that quests couldn't be better, I don't agree. There are a lot of advantages to quests that Muckbeast didn't see.

One major thing Muckbeast completely misses is the type of quest more and more used in Wrath of the Lich King, but already present in some corners of The Burning Crusade: Quests with vehicles or other unusual game mechanics. In TBC that was just bombing runs, but in WotLK there are giants to ride, abominations to explode, sea cows to mate, dragons to harpoon, landmines to lay, and a hundred other things that wouldn't be possible without quests.

Another big quest-related feature of Wrath of the Lich King is phasing, the technology in which you finally get to change the world. Okay, you only change it for yourself, but that was necessary to not have the first player to reach that content spoil it for everyone else. Without quests this phasing change of the world would be much harder, if not impossible to realize.

Muckbeast claims that quest makes people anti-social, because they are never on the same quest and so can't play together. Unfortunately people are anti-social even without quests. In games like Everquest or Final Fantasy XI they work together because they have to, not because there are fewer quests. If you would remove all the quests from WoW, people would still be solo grinding mobs, not start to form groups, because WoW has a screwed up group xp system. If Blizzard would make gaining xp in a group much faster than solo, people would form groups and overcome the obstacle of different quests. There is also the nice solution Warhammer Online introduced: Repeatable public quests, which would have been a smash hit if Mythic hadn't shot them in the foot by making scenarios much more rewarding. By giving out quests to people for going somewhere, not by clicking on an NPC, you can make sure that everyone around you has the same quest, and can group if the incentives are there. WAR also has quest items drop for everyone in the group, negating another disadvantage of quests Muckbeast cites.

Of course Muckbeast is right that 3,000 quests of kill 10 foozles doesn't constitute engaging story-telling. But eliminating quests, or quest-based advancement would do more harm than good. You can't judge the merits of a system based on just one of its implementations. When we look around we see a lot of different quest features in different games which could be combined to a system much better than WoW's, but still having advancement mainly based on quests. Final Fantasy XI has cut scenes with your player character built in. Age of Conan has a great destiny quest series up to level 20 (and WoW has something similar for starting death knights). Quests *can* be great vehicles for story-telling.

One thing that WoW could do for the next expansion is to have a lot less quests, but have these quests take more time to complete, and give correspondingly better rewards. Instead of doing 10 quests for 10k xp each, players would do one quest for 100k xp, but that one quest would not just be killing 10 times more of the same mob. By having fewer and longer quests, each quest could be more engaging, tell a better story, and have a better chance to find somebody else with the same quest. It's all in the fine-tuning of parameters in the implementation. A game without quests, where people log on next to a mob camp and kill them over and over and over until they level, because there is no reason to move, is a lot worse. Believe me, I've been there and done that. Quests, while perfectible, are still the better alternative.
Comments:
I for one like the quests. Yes some can get boring. Yes some are a pain. WOTLK did a lot better in linking quests, and bringing about story lines. It's hard not to like the dragonsblight ones that led up to the wrath gate thing. But overall quests do a nice job of making you explore the map, lead you from place to place as you progress, and break up that grind to the level. Face it without quests, it would be like that South Park episode. Kill boars till level X0.

I'm not sure how they can actually make the quests longer without 1. decreasing drop rates, 2. Raising the numbers of things to find/kill, 3. Increasing travel distances, or 4. combining a bunch of smaller quests into a large one (instead of rewarding you at each step, one big reward at the end.

I'm not sure any of those are the way to go. None of these really add anything to the experience. I'd rather do a bunch of smaller quests, and get small rewards along the way than spend 3 hours doing one and getting a big reward. Makes you feel like you are getting somewhere. Whereas if its one 3 hr quest, if I only have 30 mins to play, I might end up getting discouraged and not start, or if I do and then have to logoff, forget where i am when i log back in and try to pick it up again. More chaining story quests with cut-scenes, instanced or phased results, etc would be a nice addition however. Perhaps give new skills or items based on these scenes. For instance when you complete a quest to unlock a secret room or something, show your toon gaining some item or learning a new spell from a book, and then you have the item to use, or that spell in your spellbook. Seems more seamless than this NPC having a choice of 4 items in his pockets that he will give you in exchange for your foozles. Make it make sense. Gather items, show your toon throwing them into a pot, cooking them into some useful potion.

One thing that I would suggest is to make reputation "bind on account." There is nothing worse than grinding out days of repeatable quests to get one toon to a certain point, than to have to start it all over again, doing the same repeatable quests on 2 or 3 other toons. If it sucks to do the same quests once over every time you level a new character, it really sucks to repeat the same quests that you have repeated 100 times on one toon, 100 times again. Sorry off topic.
 
What i miss in WOW is something like "Epic Quest" story line, as LOTRO has it. Line of quests which are optional, but give better reward. And better story :)
You have a filling that you accomplished something.
 
What i miss in WOW is something like "Epic Quest" story line, as LOTRO has it. Line of quests which are optional, but give better reward. And better story :)
Actually.. WoW had those pre-TBC. For example, Darrowshire. A simple task of finding a doll for a ghost child ends with a huge battle to set things right that went wrong in the past. There were also many emotional quests, like discovering the gruesome fate of a troll scout's fiancee. Many of the questlines introduced in TBC and Wrath are at least at par with those. There's just so many of "epic" questlines nowadays that they don't really stand out. For example, in Icecrown Glacier you beat back the Scourge offensive and methodically dismantle their troop production and logistics efforts. The player characters are so powerful that it's hard to come up with sufficiently epic tasks for them without venturing into Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann territory. Not that TTGL is a bad series, quite the contrary. I just don't think it would fit post-TBC WoW.
 
As the Muckbeast in question, I must first thank Tobold for sharing his thoughts on the matter.

1) I totally agree that the vehicle and bombing run quests are awesome. Those are really more like mini-games though, and the quest link is circumstantial.

2) Phasing: Honestly, I think phasing is a horrible concept. I think it makes MMOs even LESS like the virtual worlds they should be, and more like weird pseudo-single player games with IM built in. The idea of standing somewhere with a buddy, and I can see an NPC but he cannot, is massively immersion breaking. I think phasing is a really poor attempt to lessen the whole "will the real princess step forward" syndrome of tons of people questing in the same area.

3) "One thing that WoW could do for the next expansion is to have a lot less quests, but have these quests take more time to complete, and give correspondingly better rewards."

I totally agree. Less quests would make them a lot more interesting.

I don't think quests are bad, I think an overactive obsession with them is bad. I think an advancement system that depends or relies upon them exclusively is bad. I think the anti-grouping nature of them is bad. I think the way they dilute real story and world lore is bad. I think the way they turn quests - which should be interesting and memorable - into boring to-do lists is bad.

But the CONCEPT of quests is great.

Thanks again for commenting on my article! :)
 
2) Phasing: Honestly, I think phasing is a horrible concept. I think it makes MMOs even LESS like the virtual worlds they should be, and more like weird pseudo-single player games with IM built in. The idea of standing somewhere with a buddy, and I can see an NPC but he cannot, is massively immersion breaking. I think phasing is a really poor attempt to lessen the whole "will the real princess step forward" syndrome of tons of people questing in the same area.

Now this i have to agree with at least to some degree. Things like this make it a pain for someone to help with a quest, even group quests. There are instances in icecrown where you have to be in the exact same point of progression as others to group with them and help each other with group quests. Great idea for the first month or two, but when you are leveling your 3rd toon, or whatever a few months later, there is noone at that same point as you are to group with. It took me a week to find a few people on the Basic Chemistry quest that could help neutralize the cauldron to make up for the cooldown's inability to do it yourself. Sure people can help kill the mobs, but if you dont have at least 2 toons with the stuff to throw into the cauldron, this quest is going nowhere.
 
I have a blog post that shows how players could have an effect on the environment without phasing. If you are interested, please go here:

http://warcraftdialogues.blogspot.com/2009/01/ixobelle-and-tobold-are-discussing-epic.html

In short, there are ways to make an effect on the environment without killing the experience for everyone else but still allow other players to see or experience what you have done.

On an aside, anyone know why my address above is using my first line of the post rather than the title? I checked it and I do have a title.

Back on topic, I love long, detailed, and soloable quests. Of course, everyone has their own idea of what makes for an engaging epic questline. I hate the defias chain in Westfall, but I loved the Princess questline in Arathi. I also think that the only quests that should require a group are those for instances. People devour leveling content too quickly. Within weeks group quests become difficult to complete for lack of players interested in doing them on their alts.
 
*If Blizzard would make gaining xp in a group much faster than solo, people would form groups and overcome the obstacle of different quests.*

Well, as I've said in the other thread: if grouping up would be much faster, I'd probably just stop playing. I like soloing quests and if that's not competitive with grouping, I won't bother as it would feel like I'm getting screwed.
 
>>"One thing that WoW could do for the next expansion is to have a lot less quests, but have these quests take more time to complete.."

This would only hurt the casual player, which by all evidence is Blizz's primary target market. One of WoW's strengths is the ability for players to jump in and do something productive/meaningful/fun for just 20-30 mins or so.
 
Sorry, but in 20-30 mins right now you do half a dozen quests. What would be wrong with just doing one in that time, or even just the first half of one? Wouldn't that ultimately be *more* meaningful? Or do you right now have a sense of achievement when you do one quest, which is more or less just a minor errand?
 
Quests are with out a doubt a grind fest. I don't enjoy them at all. I enjoyed quests in vanilla wow because there were lots, but still not nearly as much as in BC or WotLK. I can get to a quest hub and pick up 10 quests, spend a couple hours and hand them in, and pick up 7 quests....hand them in pick up 4 quests....etc....etc.... Each quest bearly moves my exp bar and sometimes I feel it isn't even worth it because most quests are so similar. The wrath gate series? That was amazing. I'm all for blizzard giving us crappy collect 10 ear quests, but they should give every quest hub atleast one epic quest which would be worth a huge amount of final xp.
 
The problem with WoW is that when you go to loot a mob, you get stuck and the game lags, so quests don't work well. Also, since so many players are in the starting areas, it's hard to find a single mob for a quest objective, and players just end up camping a single spawn and whoever hits the mob first gets it. It's too bad, as otherwise WoW might be a fun game if you could ever leave the noobie area.

It's fun harping on dead issues, eh Tobold?
 
"Sorry, but in 20-30 mins right now you do half a dozen quests. What would be wrong with just doing one in that time, or even just the first half of one? Wouldn't that ultimately be *more* meaningful?"

Doing one quest with a finite, easily-grasped start, end and reward feels like something tangible. Doing part of one huge quest without that stimulus-response hit feels much less rewarding, and more like a project with no clear end to it. Even rep grinds, which are effectively one long project like that, provide rewards on a daily basis (at least in the BC/WotLK rep daily model).
 
Quests are the to-do lists for gamers of the WoW age. Basically, people that go on vacation and need someone to tell them what actually to do there. :)

You are also missing the point if you say Muckbeast misses to mention that there are quests that allow players to fly a bomber. I know the quest(s) you are talking about, there are quite some of them in Icecrown. But the ability to use vehicles or multi person mounts is not a quest mechanic, but something new to WoW. And they are for sure not the "standard quest". They are trying to make WOTLK more story driven, and many of the more complex quest lines really achieve this.

Phasing is a nice concept, but you cannot really use it too often. There are many rough edges, and it cannot be used everywhere. Just be some steps ahead of your friend with the Death Knight base in Ice Crown, and you suddenly see your friend disappear in front of you, or he is talking to guys you cannot see. The same happens if you are in a different phase than the guys who defend the Argent Dawn tower south in Ice Crown. Phasing might have its uses, but it is simply not possible to use everywhere. You cannot split the world in too many phases without creating a total mess.

The question is, do I really need a questhub to lead me nicely through this zone, to the next zone, and then to the next...?
I am totally upset about this. Some people say, without quests, the game would be much more boring. It gives them something to do. I say maybe the game is indeed boring, and quests are just there to distract the player from this insight...?
 
It's fun harping on dead issues, eh Tobold?

Sez the man with the blog about the dead issue of PvP.
 
You missed the point huh?
 
No, I just found your point irrelevant. I'm not complaining about how quests in WoW were in 2004. I'm commenting on a post of 2009 from Muckbeast.
 
"Sorry, but in 20-30 mins right now you do half a dozen quests. What would be wrong with just doing one in that time, or even just the first half of one? Wouldn't that ultimately be *more* meaningful? Or do you right now have a sense of achievement when you do one quest, which is more or less just a minor errand?"

Personally, I prefer doing many small quests in 20-30 minutes, it provides a sense of achievement. Last night, I got my DK toon in Zangarmarsh. I was able to do all the Cenarion quests and the horde quests from the first outpost on the East within 2-3 hours. When I logged off for the night, I felt I had achieved a lot in that one night of playing because I must have completed 30-40 quests.
 
Exactly, we are talking about the games NOW, yet you referenced a complaint about WAR that is outdated. No one grinds scenarios anymore. That was fixed shortly after release, just like WoW's item database/slow spawn issue.

Details aside, I think the comments here, and elsewhere, show that the a large portion of the MMO player base is not looking for the same thing people pre-WoW are looking for. A 10 minute 'quest' for me is a waste, yet others identify that as a selling point. The genre going mass market has moved it away from it's RPG roots and into the same space as console party games; barely connected minimum effort/commitment mini-games.
 
you referenced a complaint about WAR that is outdated. No one grinds scenarios anymore.

I don't believe you. A) Friend of mine just made a Choppa and told me he was grinding scenarios because that was the only thing to do. B) Mythic changed public quests to be more easily soloable, which would hardly be necessary if everyone was already playing them.
 
While scenarios are still in the game, people don't sit around the warcamp and queue, which is what you experienced. I also played an alt recently, and between PQs and oRvR, only played scenarios when we had a group. That your friend feels he has to grind scenarios is his choice, but plenty of options exist, which eliminates the previous issue where scenarios dominated the game. Short of removing scenarios all together, some players will grind them regardless of anything else around them, if from nothing else than the wrong perception that scenarios are the 'best' way to get to the end game.

They made ONE PQ easier (not soloable for all) in each chapter. The rest are still group content, and like you argue for motivation, give better rewards. The real problem with PQs in WAR is that WAR tries to not be an item-oriented game, and since reaching T4 is so easy, PQs don't exactly fit the formula. The mechanic itself works, just not in the themepark PvP game WAR is (or as is now the case, the players found a way to get around the fun to reach r40)
 
The problem with grouping is not the XP penalty. I actually understand that. I was grouping with two friends in the 30s in Stranglethorn Vale and we thought - we have 3 paladins, why not just attack mobs 5 lvls above us. Get more XP and be ok. Except we often died or came close to it. WoW makes it that if the mob is Red to you, you miss a lot of your attacks. Therefore we could make a dent in a lot of them. I get that we should miss more, but 75% of my attacks were not landing. Three lvl 33 characters should be able to take down a lvl 38 NPC without too much difficulty. That is the big group penalty.

So instead, we continued on doing level appropriate mobs, just 3 times as fast.

oh, and I'm totally loving this Tobold vs. Syncaine drama. Keep it up :)
 
I would like to interject on the Tobold vs Syncaine WAR debate.

PvE AoE grinding is better exp per hour... especially for a Choppa. I should know have one.



My issue with quests is they feel like chores, and not quests. I know that if I go here and do this I will get exp and a little money. It's boring and lacks any real challenge.
 
I dislike quests, but I'm sure I'm in the minority. I don't find them very engaging storywise. I never care about any of the characters, why they need my help, who wronged them, etc. I'd much rather explore and find a good monster camp and grind/level on my own terms. The repetition doesn't bother me because I find questing to be just as bad (or worse) in some respects. Then again, I am a combat junkie.

I'm going to put my flame suit on for this one: My favorite way of leveling was grinding camps in Shadowbane. The monster respawn rate was so high they you needed to wade into the camp and maintain for as long as you could. If you could hack it, deal with elites, and keep your stamina up you'd be rewarded with oodles of XP and gold. During this time you're also vulnerable to attack, so you have to keep an eye on track to make sure no one is in the same area.

It felt challenging, dangerous, rewarding, and exciting all at the same time. There are also no quests in the world.

I recognize it's a totally different (and failed) game for a myriad of reasons, but I'll be damned if I didn't have way more fun choosing how I level.
 
> Tobold wrote:
>
> Sorry, but in 20-30 mins right now you do half a dozen
> quests. What would be wrong with just doing one in that
> time, or even just the first half of one? Wouldn't that
> ultimately be *more* meaningful? Or do you right now have
> a sense of achievement when you do one quest, which is
> more or less just a minor errand?

I agree with this 100%. I won't bore you all with the details, but there is a limit to the number of meaningful stories and social relationships we can maintain in our "active memory" at any time. Loading up 20+ quests, each with their own little story, exceeds that. At that point, you aren't questing to see what happens next in the story. You are questing to turn that ? yellow so you can turn it in for you reward.

Less quests that are more involved, with more story, and more meaning, would be a huge improvement.


> Longasc wrote:
>
> I say maybe the game is indeed boring, and quests are
> just there to distract the player from this insight...?

I think you are definitely onto something there, Longasc.


> syncaine wrote:
>
> The genre going mass market has moved it away from it's
> RPG roots and into the same space as console party games;
> barely connected minimum effort/commitment mini-games.

Another good point. Is this a good thing? I think it isn't. MMOs are becoming less about being a virtual world, and more about being a giant collection of multiplayer mini-games. I don't think that's a good thing for the genre, because it dumps the most interesting and unique aspect of the genre: world simulation.


> Nobs wrote:
>
> My issue with quests is they feel like chores, and not
> quests. I know that if I go here and do this I will get
> exp and a little money. It's boring and lacks any real challenge.

Exactly!
 
I wrote about the grind of things quite a while ago, but less about quest vs mob experience grinds but more of when did it all become a grind in the first place...

http://www.jpsaunders.co.uk/?p=8#more-8

(sorry for pimping my own blog Tobold)
 
This is silly -- quests are OPTIONAL. If you want to ignore them and grind mobs, go right ahead! It's not actually much slower if you are the right class and go to the right spot. If you're not the right class, well, that's the point of a quest system -- you're not forced to group if you're not an ideal grinding class like in bad old EQ.

Anyone thinking this can't have played any MMOs before WoW -- they were 100% grind with quests that were irrelevant to progression and it was terrible. Having actual quests was a breath of fresh air. And how can anyone say they hurt the lore? There wouldn't be ANY lore in the game if there weren't quests, you'd just be slaughtering random mobs for no reason and have no idea why you should care about anything. If you actually *read* the quests you learn all about the world of WoW and what is going on.
 
"This is silly -- quests are OPTIONAL. If you want to ignore them and grind mobs, go right ahead!"

You're missing the point here; a lot of people find grinding of any type to be boring. Whether that's grinding mobs or grinding trivial errands for bored NPCs, it's still not fulfilling. Having fewer quests, but more meaningful ones would be a vast improvement. It'd be possible to increase player investment in individual quests in this way - to make them more memorable and meaningful, and to increase the depth of the story lines. Multistep quests already approach this concept; this is just taking the idea one logical step further.
 
My wife feels the same way as Nobs about quests: they are too trivial, and the reward is only a bit of exp and gold. (Plus, the gold is meaningless since my main supplies both our alts with all the gold we need.) Our toons are a L74 shadowpriest and prot paladin, both twinked with BoE blues, enchants, and consumables. We recently tried to 2-man a 5-man outdoor boss in Dragonblight, and got killed repeatedly. She found it fun because it was challenging. I found it frustrating because we didn't gain any exp from it. I would love to see WoW introduce more exp rewards for more challenges, in the 1-79 level range, and for 2-4 players. But with so many 80's clamoring for 3.1 and Ulduar (my main being one of them), I can see why Blizzard is focusing its development resources on the endgame.
 
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