Having gone back (again) to TES Oblivion, its once again painful how bad questing is in MMOs. When you compare the best quests from your favorite MMO, and you look at some of the better quests in a game like Oblivion, it’s not even remotely close.
Oblivion has a bunch of ‘random’ dungeons and ruins to explore, non-quest stuff you enter to skill up and gain loot. These are entirely optional, the difficulty, length, and rewards vary (more so with one of the mods that tweaks the games auto-level feature), and you can go in/out at will. These locations are generally the equivalent of most MMO quest content, and in some cases far better. But Oblivion never pretends that these dungeons are its main content, or its focus, and that’s something MMOs have yet to learn.
MMOs try to hide simple tasks behind the word ‘quest’, and spend a lot of time putting filler around that task to make it seem special. That needs to stop. The reason most people skip flavor text is because there is too much of it and the good gets lost in the bla. If the game wants me to kill ten rats, just have an NPC tell me “go kill ten rats and I’ll give you gold”. Don’t pretend the rat kill task is something epic because the poor static NPC’s family is starving due to the rats getting into his grain bla bla bla. I don’t care, I’m killing rats in order to move my xp bar along, not because I want to save the static NPCs family (which I can’t anyway, and we all know that going into it)
If an MMO was up front with its tasks, the actual quests would in turn stand out, and players would have a better understanding on when they are working on something more epic, and when they are logging on for an hour to move their xp bar along. Just like we don’t like quests with simple tasks, we also don’t ALWAYS want to be working on something epic, sometimes we just want to log on and grind out some mindless content, as that can be relaxing and non-committal.
Labeling the simpler activities as tasks also allows the developer to drop the other unnecessary quest trappings like flavor text, repeatability, and a set reward. What if every task had a somewhat random reward, with a 90% chance to get just gold, and a 10% chance to get something random, be it gear or bonus gold or an xp boost. Nothing too major, just something to spice up the act of turning in the task a bit. Leave the major loot for the actual quests, and make sure players know exactly what they are working towards from the start.
The other major fault of current questing in an MMO is its static nature. If you ‘save’ a village, you have just repeated what the past 1000 players have done before you, and the next 1000 will do after. The logic behind this is that if the first player saves the town, and it no longer needs saving, the other 999 players miss out on that content. However if we limit such events to a select group of actual quests, the developers would have a few options to make this work. One would be to create a chain reaction system, where the completion of one quest opens up other choices for future players, and eventually the chain goes back to square one (hopefully long after the first player has moved on). While not a true change, it would at least give a zone some life based on the players. Another option would be a tug-of-war style system, where a player picks a side to quest for, and those quests would put the players directly in competition against each other, each completed step pushing that side further towards victory, changing objectives and available quests. As different players enter the level range of the zone, they too would pick sides and continue the system.
It’s scary that actual questing has changed so little in the MMO space, especially with some many PvE-focused games. Playing it safe is certainly the current trend, but how many elaborately written rat kill quests can we stomach?