Quest Rant

You know what's one of the worst features in MMO's today? The quests. Not because quests are bad per se but because there isn't a single game developer in the MMO space that doesn't totally and utterly cheese the concept from start to finish. Quests are supposed to be more than just a laundry list of busy work. Telling a player to go kill 10 rats is not a quest no matter how much xp you dish out or how uber the rewards might be.

It started out that MMO's didn't have quests at all. UO and the games that came before let players figure out on their own how to keep busy. The philosophy was players should consider themselves lucky just to have a world to play in. Then along came Everquest. With a name like that you might figure quests would play a prominent role but No. EQ quests were few and far between, so much so that one of the many derisive nicknames earned by the game was 'Neverquest' (but one thing I will give EQ points for is that their quests often required some thought even if some required so much thought you couldn't be sure if there really was a quest there or not). DAoC continued the tradition of weak and lifeless quests even going so far as to admit they were nothing but scut work by labeling some of them as 'tasks' demonstrating that not even the developers could be bothered with them.

Then along comes EQ2 and WoW. A generation of games with years of MMO history to look back on and learn from. What great improvements did they bring to questing? Their big innovations were floating punctuation marks and the occasional wave. Their developers seemed to believe that the lack of thought and creativity could be solved just by making players more aware that these trite, mindless activities existed in the game. Players often spoke in terms of farming or grinding to refer to repetitive, mindless activities. With the advent of EQ2 and WoW the phrase 'grinding quests' was added to their lexicon proving that the community recognized how bad questing had become.

Looking ahead to games on the immediate horizon quests are getting worse rather than better. Pointing out where quests can be obtained is at least marginally beneficial but now games are holding the players hands showing them exactly where to go to complete their quest and even highlighting the objectives with glowing lights. This removes any need for the player to think. Which I guess is fine since the quest designer sure as hell didn't put any thought into writing it. Soon quest objectives will be delivered directly to the player in a box that says 'insert sword here'.

Quests should be getting more complex, not overly simplified. Instead of being tasked with killing 10 fuds players should be asked to 'solve the fud problem' and given multiple ways of making that happen or reasons for deciding not to. This concept has long been embraced by the best single player games. Instead of giving players step by step directions or a linear series of quests that they must progress through like some sort of laundry list the best games provide players with a only a goal leaving it up to the player to determine how best to accomplish the objective.

You can see examples in games as old as the Thief series or Deus Ex among many others. You know what your ultimate objective is and there are multiple paths for the player to take to get the job done. These games don't give you a quest to knock out the guard, then another to steal his keys, then another to open the cell. They tell you to free the prisoner. Maybe you do it by stealth, sneaking past the guard and picking the lock on the door. Maybe you find a way to lure the guard into a quiet ambush and use his keys or maybe you roll in with guns blazing killing everything in sight and blowing the door off the hinges. Whatever the task may be exactly how the situation develops and is ultimately resolved is a puzzle for the player to work out on their own. This gets players involved in the game, makes them think about their situation and their surroundings and ultimately brings the world to life in a way that no MMO has yet achieved.

Quests have degraded to the point now where I seldom even bother to read the text. I feel confident that I can blindly pick up any quest I see and complete them all without any effort just by obliviously wandering through the game. As I play the little check boxes will get ticked off and the tasks completed despite the fact I had no idea what needed to be done. Now and then I may check the quest log to see if I missed anything. The only role they have in a game any more is as a virtual tour guide. Like leafing through the pamphlet you get when you go to the zoo. Have you seen the monkeys? Check. Have you seen the snakes? Check. Have you seen the bears? Nope, guess I missed that one.

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