One thing that has really bugged me about MMOs post-WoW has been the way in which players receive and complete quests. I think anyone who has played most MMORPGs since WoW knows what I’m talking about. Even games that game before World of Warcraft like EQ2 and DAoC have updated their interface to include them. We are talking about the big giant exclamation marks above the heads of NPCs that give quests.
I bring this up, likely not for the first time, because of my recent play in Champions Online. The whole act of doing a quest has become so redundantly mindless that I’m not entirely sure why we even bother doing them anymore. There is no work at all involved in them anymore. Look for exclamation on map, go talk to NPC with exclamation over head, go to big giant green circle in which the quest completes, once done look for question mark on map, talk to NPC with question mark over head. Question magically turns into exclamation, rinse and repeat. There is no work or mystery in finding the guys who do quests, let alone finding where the quest that needs to be done. WoW didn’t have the circles but did give you everything else you needed to find it, CO just made the next natural step.
Yet, in a way, it does kind of work all the same. New players in particular tend to get frustrated by the inability to find quests with the old style system. Oddly enough, most newbs apparently have no idea what to do without putting a giant exclamation point over it so that they know. And the cartoony style of both Champions and World of Warcraft makes it only mildly obnoxious to see them in the game.
The problem is though that I do think that these flags should disappear as you go on. Sure these games still have “secret” quests. Quests that only show up in certain areas under the right conditions without the flag to show you where, or quests that come from dropped items. But this isn’t exactly what I mean. I feel that there should be different levels and for some reason I think of Magic: The Gathering.
MTG at some point decided that new players struggled with the new concepts that sometimes showed up in expansion packs. To this end, they decided to brand their expansions as “Expert” so that a new player knew that these were going to be more difficult cards to deal with. Their core set got split into “beginner” and “advanced.” Beginner was for the starter decks that a player could buy, and advanced was for the booster packs.
I don’t generally think that this concept really worked that well for MTG. For one, there really wasn’t a difference between beginner and advanced, and for two I don’t think the jump to expansions was as difficult as Wizards made it out to be. However, the idea still seems like one that could work for MMORPGs, and would actually be a natural evolution of WoW’s implementation.
The first thing you do is have the “Beginner” quests. These quests would be designed to help the player learn about the game and the world. We already see that with the tutorial helping players learn about games, but after this tutorial would complete, the player would imbark on a series of quests that would help the player learn about the world. History and Current events would be taught in this way and would be visibly found by players like what we see in WoW or Champions.
Once a player is more attuned to the game, he becomes expected to go out and find quests for himself, these quests would be the “advanced” quests. These quests would come from other NPCs that don’t have flags or maybe even any visible sign. I prefer the idea of continued visible signs, but more subtle and realistic signs that the player could see if they were paying attention. EQ2 had a really good example of these before they went all in on the flags. The NPCs would wave over the player, but this could also be augmented by text and voice of the NPC saying stuff like “Come over here young fellow, I have a task for you.” These quests would have slightly better experience and item rewards. So while the beginner quests would give players basic needs like base swords and armor, the advanced ones might give slightly bigger than normal bags or something people would actually seek out.
Lastly, there would be the expert quests. The expert quests would be the hidden quests with no flag or visual clue to them at all. Players would be expected to find them completely, and yes some would come in the form of hard to find items that are dropped off creatures. These quests would largely be more difficult to complete, more difficult to find, but also give the player the best experience and items that quests could give.
I think that this particular system would be able to be a nice happy medium between the old system and the new system. It would allow newer players a place to look while offering older players the depth they require to keep interested. It sort of brings in that easy to learn, difficult to master mechanic that all games tend to look for. Yes the hidden quests are already there in most games, in large part, I’m just adding a middle step that would narrow out a lot of the quests that have a flag currently and would thus greatly reduce the brainlessness that games are heading towards.
With regards to these quests, I think back to the time that Ultima Online first was coming out and a story of Richard Garriot logging in for the first time after the NPC AI got put into the game. He started talking to an NPC, not realizing that it wasn’t a player and took a few minutes before he realized that this was not a human he was talking about. Now the UO intelligence was not really this great, but it does make you realize how far we’ve fallen from those initial times.