Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Quest-free MMORPGs?

When I asked people whether they would play Wildstar, I got quite a lot of people saying that they wouldn't want to play any quest-based MMORPG any more. While I completely understand the sentiment and am likely myself to quit a game because I just can't stand being sent on yet another errand any more, I also see a problem: A lack of alternatives. I don't think I played a quest-free MMORPG since Ultima Online. Even games that are far more sandbox than World of Warcraft, for example A Tale in the Desert or EVE Online do have some form of quests / missions / tests or whatever else you want to call them. Yes, you can play these games without doing those missions, but you can also play World of Warcraft without doing a single quest, so that isn't saying much.

The future doesn't look much different. Whatever innovations Everquest Next and Landmark are introducing, an absence of quests is not among them. Even if you buy the latest single-player game with some sort of world exploration content, like Watch Dogs, you will see quest objectives popping up all over the place. In some strange sort of boomerang development, the idea of gamification ended up where it started, and now most games have layers upon layers of gamification features. Many of which end up, like quests, being an endless to-do list, telling you what you are supposed to do in the game. Apparently we aren't trusted to find out ourselves.

So while in theory a MMORPG without quests could exist, I have a hard time finding a practical example. Do you know of any MMORPG from this century that has no quests or missions?

Actually there is more in EVE Online than "you can play WoW without doing quests". In EVE *most* people don't do quests. Mining and ratting (grinding monster spawns) are more common form of PvE than missioning. Also, many players do no PvE at all and get their wealth from robbing other players, fighting them for Faction "forts" or serving them (haulers, mercenaries).
Heh, Tobold mentions EVE, faces correction immediately, the balance of the universe is maintained!

Sort of what Gevlon said. WoW is clearly more quest focus, the main aspect of at least the leveling game being quests. You can avoid them, but it would be like avoid the main point of the game. I do quests regularly in WoW, even at level cap.

In EVE, quests are a much smaller part of what drive the game. I don't think I have run one since I moved out into null sec. There are all sorts of other aspects of the game to explore, and they are more geared to wealth and faction than character advancement in the game.

That said, it DOES have quests, and a lot of people who play EVE run them regularly. High sec systems with good level 4 agents are always more populated than anything besides trade hubs. Missions give players something to do when they are not sure what they want to do. Taking them out of EVE would be a bad thing for EVE and the players. And that is the take-away from my perspective.

So I cannot see somebody really thinking "quest-free" is a good idea. Maybe they don't want a quest-centric MMORPG. Maybe they want a player base that isn't mostly obsessed with following a chain of best-run-solo objectives. But quest-free seems like cutting off a long standing and still quite viable aspect of the RPG genre in overreaction to a trend towards over-using quests to the point that they are trivialized.
How is that a correction if you actually agree with me? I never said that EVE is as quest-centric as WoW is, just that you can play both games either with or without quests. That still stands.

And I did my research, EVE Wiki said that most EVE players play lots of missions (and Wilhelm confirms that). I would bet that Gevlon plays EVE very differently than most people play EVE, because Gevlon plays every game differently than the average player.
Eve is primarily pvp, wow/wildstar/eso are primarily pve.

I don't think you can lump eve and wow(clones) in the same category for comparisons, that is a disservice to both types of games
I like the main story quests in many new games, but having to do quest after quest is boring!! I would much rather kill mobs and do dungeons with groups. Games today are too solo friendly. MMOs are great when you can go to an area and find a group without too much effort.
Eve is primarily pvp

Please define "primarily". While the design focus of EVE is on PvP, if you counted all the hours that all the players spent in EVE and sorted them out into PvE and PvP activities, EVE could be called primarily a PvE game.

A majority of EVE players stick to empire space. Especially all new players. So you could call questing the common entry level game of WoW and EVE, and then the end game differs between raiding in WoW and PvP in EVE. A high-level WoW player could with the same justification say that he isn't playing quests any more since moving to raiding as Wilhelm says that he isn't playing missions any more since moving to null sec.
Heh, it wasn't so much a correction as it was the automatic, knee-jerk response I am sure you have come to expect every time you bring up EVE as an example. (I was making a lame joke about Gevlon's response, not my own.)

Anyway, you also never said EVE wasn't as quest centric as WoW either, you made no statement about that at all. Instead you made a direct comparison between the two saying you could play either without doing quests. I am sure that you can see how one could infer some sort of parity out of that. So I sought to clarify on that front, seeing the gap in your statement.

But yes, I agree with you. That is the main gist of my comment, bad joke aside.
Mortal Online. No quests, nobody plays it.
Depends on what you define as quests.

Guided signposts that say: Perhaps you might like to do this now?

Never gonna get rid of it, because too many players otherwise become immediately lost and quit the game.

Fex-Ex quests that follow the formula "talk to NPC A, go to an area, do something that involves killing 10 rats or clicking 10 objects or bringing parcel B somewhere, return to NPC A when done"...

...and have that gameplay as the be-all and end-all of experience gain and leveling...

...Those are less necessary.

Puzzle Pirates just has one main noticeboard which suggests things for you to do right now.

A Tale in the Desert has multiple tabs of things you could aim to achieve right now.

Eve has missions, but they are merely one aspect of the game, not the central thing to do.

So on and so forth.
The Darkfall: Unholy Wars feat system is imperfect, mainly due to execution, but a strong alternative.

I would argue that it's similar to quests in that it encourages people to explore but it's not a linear path like the typical quest system.

In WoW terms, it's like a cross between the Achievement system and the Quest system. Imagine if, in WoW, instead of questing, you reviewed your list of achievements and earning these achievements provided an XP reward.

With enough achievements (dungeons, crafting, mob kills, etc) you create incentive to explore or do other desired behavior but the choice of what path to follow is completely up to you.

The above works in DF:UW because you also get a small amount of prowess (XP equivalent) for doing anything and everything.
I googled a bunch of games that I thought did not have quests but where Google said they did have quests. Darkfall was among them, apparently there are both starter quests and other quests you get from NPCs by hitting the "F" key.

Now obviously AGAIN Darkfall is less quest-centric than WoW. But if there are all these people saying they had enough of MMORPGs with quests, is putting "somewhat fewer" quests in the game and making the game "less quest-centric" enough? Why not just eliminate them totally and offer a real alternative. "Come to my game, it has less quests" isn't much of a recommendation.
I would like to see someone deliver on the unfulfilled promises of Warhammer Online. You go out and play, doing what you want to do, and some NPC comes along after fact and rewards you for doing it.
I am not sure an MMO could survive beyond the niche market without having quests. Just as we're trained to look for sparkly stuff over an objective and health/name bars over a monster, we've been trained to play through quests.

I have played Wurm online for a couple of years now and it has no quests. I regularly see new players doing the "What do I do now?" routine in chat because there's nobody with a yellow exclamation mark over their head standing around to tell them what to do and how to play.

Yes, it's sad. Yes, I'd like to see more games with a purpose that don't rely on quests (and preferably aren't primarily focused on PVP). But I am not sure our current gamer culture is willing to support such a game in anything but a niche market.
Leaving aside the fantasy-specific term "quest", what you're positing is an MMORPG with no structured content whatsoever. I think that's moving so far away from the underlying concept of the genre that it goes outside the boundaries altogether.

If the developers don't put structured content into the game players will create it. Most of what I read about player-driven gameplay in sandbox games amounts to player-generated questing. In SynCaine's accounts of sieges in Darkfall or Wilhelm or Stabs EVE stories, a good part of what I see are "quests" that are generated by a small number of players in command positions and accepted by the rank and file.

What UI or NPC generated quests do is automate the process so it can be accessed at the time of choosing of the player performing the quest rather than one of the player instigating it. That's immensely more convenient, hence the prevalence of that version of "questing" over variations that rely directly on human sources.
I think there are various type of "quests", we cannot just put all of them in the same basket.

The hallmark of WoW, WS or SWTOR is a series of pre-defined quests where you do (more or less) heroic tasks such as killing rats or bears, saving a princess or killing a dragon. As we all know, this is a bit immersion break as every player kills the dragon, saves the princess and kill many bears. So -at least for me- that doesn't feel any good or heroic. I am just following a script written by the game developer. In single player games, you are the only hero hence your actions make sense. In a MMO, you just complete meaningless objectives dressed up as pseudo-heroic just to gain XP.

I think quests have a role to play in MMOs but they need to be put in a credible setting and have an influence on the world.
For example, I very much liked the idea of one of those early WoW expansion where players had to collect resources and complete missions to progress a world objective of opening a gate.

Quests make sense when they have a visible purpose and a logic in the world for example, helping NPC to build a town or secure an attacked outpost.
I liked the way the idea was (timidly) used in Rift or GW2, however the outposts are gained and lost so fast that the meaning is lost quickly.

As some commenters rightfully pointed out above, PvP games don't need quests but I think there is still significant potential for a much less "quest on rail"-type MMO world. Some games seems to be heading the right direction,e.g. the Repopulation?, story-bricks (I like the idea but not convinced yet the technology can work).

In conclusion, for me the problem is more about "meaningless, pseudo-heroic" quests that about "quests" themselves.
Darkfall was among them, apparently there are both starter quests and other quests you get from NPCs by hitting the "F" key.

Unholy Wars doesn't have quests and there is no interaction with NPCs.

What DF:UW does have is a Feat system. There is also a tutorial. About mid-way through the tutorial, you realize that what the it's doing is guiding you through a few of the earliest Feats (kill a mob, craft something, etc).

After that, however, it's an entirely up to you. You could go do a Feat to kill Goblins or you could do a bunch of harvest/crafting feats.

They are similar to quests in that they provide the player some direction. Which is the point that I think your bouncing around...

People want direction in games even when they say they don't want direction. Games which provide no direction at all are both rare and usually unsuccessful.

I think what people are REALLY saying when they don't want to play a "Quest" game is that they want a game with more choices.

When you play WoW, you have level defined areas. Once you are done with an area, you move on to the next area. The game shepherds you along from place to place.

There is an element of choice -- you can choose not to be shepherded -- but it's detrimental to the experience.

Whereas, with a game like EVE, you may be given direction -- but you also have a multitude of paths to follow. In terms of "choices" -- there is simply far more options.
More time goes on the more I like EQ's implementation of quests. For the most part they were completely optional but did serve a purpose on occasion.
I would probably use the Monty Python Spam defense "Wife: Have you got anything without spam? Waitress: Well, there's spam egg sausage and spam, that's not got much spam in it." and try to claim EVE. But until the fanfest changes get implemented, tutorials and missions are done by a lot of new players so not really.

I guess I just don't see big, Western MMOs getting away from questing in the next decade. But probably making alternatives to questing.
Quests are too useful a tool to abandon entirely. They signpost new stuff and offer guidance to players who aren't entirely sure where to go next.
Shadowbane had 3 quests in total ... all of them being related to how-to use the GUI or play the game. After that it was a free for all.
My answer to your actual question is: No, I don't know of a questfree MMO, that is, with your apparent definition of what a quest is. But you seem to have arrived to this question because of reactions to Wildstar. I am not sure that people complaining about Wildstar's quest system really mean it when they say that they won't play any MMO with quests anymore. What they probably mean is that they won't play any MMO with *classic* quests anymore. At least that is what a grand total of 2 of them are thinking (my son and I). If you disguise them neatly, make them not that obvious, repeating and obligatory (example: GW2), then quests are ok and serve their function as "way signs" through the content. Wildstar was a bit too uninventive in disguising them invitingly...
Entropia Universe has no quests.
Among the mainstream fantasy MMORPGs, I think the closest is, ironically, World of Warcraft! You can level completely through the dungeon finder, skipping all the questing zones.

Yes, you have to quest your way to level 10 before you can use the dungeon finder. And yes, the dungeons have quests also. But I'm sure you can see the potential is there. A game could be modeled after the dungeon finder, with no questing zones, and devoid of quests. (Although, more realistically, any game company that did this would add the quests.)
MJ @ just had an informative article Norrathian Notebook: The key differences between EverQuest Next and Landmark

1) Maybe I am overlooking for irony but it seems to me many of the cool kids who are too sophisticated to play MMOs with quests seem to be the ones who are saying they prefer traditional-MMO EQN vs that Minecraft-like Landmark.

2) Quest-free MMORPGs vs Dev-created Quest-free MMORPGs. Landmark seems to have no dev-created quests and both will have player-created. That seems like a big difference since the problem with dev-created content is that it is not cost-effective to produce enough. OTOH, the problem with player-generated traditional (i.e. non-emergent) content is how little of it is good.
@secretsofatlantica I think the problem with the GW2 style of questing is that if you're any kind of veteran, you can spot the laundry-list side-questing/miniquesting very, very easily and write it off as, "A quest that is temporarily unavailable," like an annoying WoW quest attached to a roaming NPC.

It's only those who are very fresh to the genre who wouldn't be able to see past the smoke-and-mirrors. The new, and the willingly self-deluded. Which, god bless'em if they can manage that feat, they'll probably enjoy most things more. If only we could all wipe our memory of certain degrees of awareness... I'd totally play WoW all over again.
@Cam: Yeah, I get your point. But mine is slightly different: I have nothing against quests. I like them. IF they are attractively presented and free me as much as possible from annoying things (like turning quests in). And if they are voluntary (you can level a character without doing any heart but the very first one in GW2, in fact the fastest way to level nowadays is to do it in Edge of the Mist, a world vs world map, which is not only fast but also fun).

I took GW2 as an example because I know it quite well. It is by far not perfect and NOT a quest-free game. But it is a step forward to make questing comfortable. Wildstar, while it has its strong points, is a step backward in this regard.
So, I just spent an hour while 1/2 asleep typing up a post, realizing how many tangents I ran off on, and spent another hour trying to fix it. I have work in a few hours so I'll just leave an ultra condensed version. Apologies.

FFXI(first 4-5 years) -
Tl;dr: Main meat of the game was grinding mobs in a group. Leveling was almost impossible solo. Quests were things to do on the side and gave no exp and often had no tangible benefit upon completion.
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