MMO Rant #7: Quests Suck

I love quests. When they don’t suck. Unfortunately for people like me who like quests that don’t suck, most quests in MMOs totally suck. They are uncreative and are only worth doing because they break up a little bit of the monotony of grinding the same mobs over and over, even though the quests specifically task you to grind the same mobs over and over for only a tiny amount more experience than you’d get by grinding them without the quest.

I love killing 10 rats for stage 1 of a quest, then killing 10 rats for stage 2 of a quest, then killing 10 rats for stage 3 of the quest. After all of that immense fun, assuming my mind isn’t blown from the sheer awesomeness of it, I also love getting a reward that is worth 1/25th of all those kills and gives me two slabs of edible rat meat that recover my health by 1/25th of my total HP when consumed. Holy effing crap the fun is blowing my mind just writing about it!

Imagine my surprise when, after completing the kill 10×3 rats quest, I get something even more spectacular… SOMEHOW! Holy mother of all that is for seriously holy, I get to kill… !!! 10×3 boars! I haven’t killed boars since the last 10 level range (and by the way, I am in the last 10 levels of the game so by now I completely enjoy the comfort of killing the same mobs over and over… Ryan don’t go on a rant about that yet). Frick I can hardly keep my pants on this is so amazingly splendid.

Okay, calm down… calm down. I understand why those craptastic quests exist. I get it, but they suck. You know what, I’ll even allow them to exist as long as you just use those crappy quests as distractions and focus on making really good quests instead. For every 10 pieces of junk there is a gem, and make it obvious which ones are crappy. Make them all come from one place, label them differently, SOMETHING to tell me that I don’t actually want to do the quest.

Have you ever heard the phrase “quality over quantity?” Me too, and I don’t know what it means. Still, though, the quantity of quality quests is so low that I nearly stub my toe on purpose just to have a little fun while playing games. Learn to make good quests. Get inspired. As an artist here at 38 Studios once said, “this shit comes in waves.” Sure it does, but you’re paid to be creative (designers), so you should be able to come up with a few badass quests or you should stop working on games. Love, Ryan.

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20 Responses to "MMO Rant #7: Quests Suck"

  1. Teljair

    Quests do suck.

  2. Yutznut

    why does it always have to be (*^^(* rats?! anyhow? the type of crap quests you are talking about are forgotten about after somebody levels past it once and figures out well, Hell, Joe, I can go kill another 5 rats and have the same xp you have, you go have fun with that quest, ’cause your special. This type of monotonous sado-masochistic bullshit drives me crazy, so I’m with you!

  3. Ever give D&D Online a go? While it isn’t the future, it is a fresh view on the whole “Here is your quest. Happy birthday!” given all the little things you can do in the dungeon. I mean, it is D&D after all ;)

    I’ve been playing DDO with guildmates for about 8-12+ hours a day for the last 4 days, and I’m about to make a post on my site about it. It is kind of funny watching all these so called hardcore players going back to their roots in D&D (and getting owned by elite ranked quests, darn those traps).

  4. Wolfe

    Good way to put it really. The point is that “levelling” is a long and demanding process for the player. This needs creative pacing and the quest concept has evolved to needing a new method of punctuating the high notes.

    Old EQ had like 20 quests you did between level 1 and 50, some freaks did a few more maybe as many as 50?

  5. Hear, hear!

    I have to head out the door for work at the moment so I will be lazy and just cut and paste something I wrote the other day on my guild forums. I think it’s understandable even for those who don’t play Vanguard:

    Thinking about all of this got me to thinking about quests, and I think I’ve finally put my finger on what bugs me about the way quests have been implemented in Vanguard. Growing up (so to speak) in Everquest, quests were almost always special. You didn’t go to an area and pick up the quests there (although you did a few as a newbie), instead you went and sought out the quests you wanted to do. World of Warcraft changed that by filling each area of the world with a bunch of quests that gave players a nice content path to follow.

    In EQ you had that content path, but it wasn’t determined by quests. It was by area. So when you hit level 20 or so you thought to yourself “hmm, here’s four zones I could go to, which one do I want to do?” In WoW, you would say “I just finished all the quests in this area, so now it’s time to go to the next area”.

    Now when I say this is a problem I don’t mean it’s a problem because the majority of the quests are of the “Kill 10 rats” variety – but rather it’s a problem because we’re using quests to give players a guided tour of things.

    EQ2 and Vanguard both followed this pattern, and although they did a better job at making the quests feel meaningful and rely on groups, there’s still that feeling that you’re just visiting places to do the quests, and that you’re relying on quests to advance. And collectively as adventurers we are all so spoiled by constant questing now that when we don’t have a quest to do, we get confused and lost and don’t know where to begin. THAT’s the flaw. We’ve traded grinding for experience for questing, and by doing so, sucked the meaningfulness out of the vast majority of questing, because the vast majority of people are simply doing it because it’s the most fun way to level.

    What I would change, I think, is that I would stop filling places with quests. Quests shouldn’t be used as the de facto leveling method. Instead, quests would be special things. To put it in EQ terms, every quest becomes an epic quest. None of this silly “go kill 20 kobolds and I’ll give you a few silver”, and none of these “Can you recover my heirloom from the hobgoblin camp” quests unless they lead into something much, much bigger.

    Every quest is an epic quest. And each area or part of the world will have one and only one quest that starts there. Sure you might visit that area for parts of other quests, but only one that starts there.

    In addition to this, each class/race would have quests as they advance. So in Vanguard, high elves would get a quest to go to the fallen lycaeum, or the temple of vol tuniel. Paladins might also get a quest to beat back the undead coming from Targonor. Which means that at any given time, you might be working on 2-3 area quest chains, a class quest chain, and a race quest chain. In my mind, that gives enough incentive to go out and play that it gets players moving, without making everyone spend all their game time staring at their quest journal, which is very much what’s happening now.

    There’s an obvious followup to this, which goes something like “if you make quests special and not the primary means of advancement, then what do you do to make advancement fun?” I haven’t written my opinions on that down yet though, probably will do it sometime this week :)

    Oh well, off to work I go..

    ~Tal

  6. JuJutsu

    I thought the alternative to kill-10-rat quests was take-this-basket-across-the-continent-and-then-return-for-your-3-silver-pieces quests.

  7. Indy

    Kill 10 rats is an unimaginative, boring quest, you say. But as you do acknowledge, killing rat after rat after rat is boring, which is basically your alternative if the quest isn’t there…. and the quest gives you a reason to kill them, and more importantly, a GOAL, something to accomplish.

    A lot of fun in these games is in things like that… dinging a new level, getting that item you’ve been after, and completing the quest. Don’t underestimate the value of ‘breaking up the monotony of grinding the same mob over and over’.

  8. Bluehound

    True Indy, they break up the monotony of grinding…because you get a sense of accomplishment after each ten rats you kill. But, there still has to be a better idea out there to satisfy the player, without boredom.

    I hated the quest camps in VG. I don’t like leveling via questing but a lot of people don’t like grinding mobs for xp either.

    The idea of Epic quests is a good one, and games do use this. At least the smaller parts of the quests that you do, add up to something bigger, even if the first quest is “Kill 10 Rats”. You know you are headed on to bigger and better things. The idea is to move people through zones and content so they experience more of the game. Not “Kill 10 Rats”, turn in the quest just to do the same thing…but this time it is “Kill 10 Snakes”.

    The HQ’s in EQ2 and the 20′s armor quests in VG are good examples. The problem is, these get difficult and you can’t just solo them all. They also take a lot of time to create, I imagine. Solo or small group questlines would be nice since casual seems to be the way games are headed…not that I agree with that, but that is what the masses want.

  9. That is why I quit LotRO. Once I got to level 38 I realized that the game is just not fun. I like that it is largely quest based, as I love doing quests, but the quests in that game, aside from the main story line, are craptastic! I get to a new area and I’m like “Yay! New place to quest.” Oh… more spider… ok, next quest guy… oh wow, more wargs… on to the next guy… orcs again… And then you turn in the quests, and get more quests to kill wargs, spiders, bandits, boars, and orcs.

    Obviously they lost nights of sleep coming up with new quests and storylines.

    Dev1: “Ok we need some quests for this next tier.”

    Dev2: “I got it! Lets have them kill wargs, boars, spiders, and orcs. We can even throw in some bandits!”

    Dev3: “Umm… didn’t they kill those same mobs for quests a few times in the last 2 tiers?”

    Dev2: “Yeah, but these are really big wargs, and the boars are going to be really hard to find this time. The spiders will be uglier too!”

    Dev1: “Genius!”

    Dev3: “_”

    Then you also have the problem that between 35-40 there are just too many places you can go at the same level which spreads the population too thin.

  10. Nobody loves us. :razz:

  11. Re-title this “XP Sucks” and you’re on to something.

    Most quests unfortunately are just ways to package grinding and make it more palatable. So why do it? Players must grind. Why must they grind? Grinding gives XP necessary to advance their characters.

    So why XP? Does it really make any kind of virtual world sense that each completely generic and fungible XP, however earned, should contribute equally to character advancement?

    If I’m a stealthy pickpocketing backstabbing rogue for example, why should standing in one place for an hour and grinding rats, boars, bears or foozles using few or none of my class specific skills should earn me the right to become better at roguing?

    Couple XP-based leveling with the need to spread the population on the server and you have the basis for just about every mmo out there. Time to break that mold and better gameplay will follow IMHO.

  12. bizz

    Why don’t MMO’s just introduce the scaled xp system that the morrowind series uses? So if you kill a rat in zone a at level 1 it will give you 5 xp, but when killing at level 55 it will give you 1000 xp… of course, in practice it would be hard to predict gamedynamics (what if a level 1 and a level 70 team up?) but it does give you an immense freedom gamewise. heck you could level the entire game by staying in one zone or just go to the nice zones early on in the game… you could make certain mechanics to enter certain zones, like questchains that take a considerable amount of time to finish… this would also add to the overall idea that you are fulfilling your life/destiny… plus, wouldnt it be nice to see actual effects of your action.. for instance in WOW you have the low level quest to investigate a cult in Durotar (forgot the name sorry) but when i finish that quest i expect it to be done and at least some change must be made in game to show my progress… like changing the name and location of the cult for instance… and wouldn’t it be cool to have a rival npc, unique to your character, that follows your progress and every now and then you have to fight him or best him in a time trial?
    ok i’ve spilt my beans for today

  13. Cedia

    It is because of levels. Too bad the EQ model took root instead of the UO one. If I could go back in time and kill Brad McQuaid… anyhow…

    Somebody please make UO 3D? Where there are no classes and no levels, just skills? And make them all powerful and balanced so there is no tank mage and fourzors hally haxxor?

    That way we could quest simply for fun, which is the way it’s supposed to be.

  14. Tinman_au

    /applause

    All game devs should print that out and stuck it next to their monitor…

  15. “Somebody please make UO 3D? Where there are no classes and no levels, just skills?”

    Well, there’s EVE.

  16. Just as frustrating are the quests that require you to spawn and kill a specific NPC that goes like this:

    Clear the room – place holder spawns – kill placeholder – half an hour respawn time – placeholder respawns – rinse and repeat.

    I have personally spent 2 nights in the last week to try to spawn and kill the one certain named mob. Now I love my game and it has been a bunch of fun because I have had great company in game – but I am sure I am not the only player to find this mildly annoying.

  17. Tom H.

    Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the likes of EQ2, but low-quest-games just feel so very grindy to me now. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m dabbling in free Asian games, and they have mechanics/gameplay that isn’t inherently interesting for me – 9 Dragons, for example, is a grindy game with an average of one quest per level, and Sword of the New World actually has a lively discussion of building for AFK grinding on the forums. Even fedexy quests can give a veneer of story, which helps (for me) to redeem dull mechanics.

  18. Zach

    Guild Wars did this part right… but the character progression part isn’t all that interesting – getting new gear never really seems like it makes too much of a difference, though getting new abilities is definitely awesome. But yeah, Guild Wars missions were awesome, and while there was grinding to a certain extent, the level cap is 20 so it’s not like you’re levelling your ass off for months just to get anywhere (as opposed to the 70 and soon-to-be 80 levels needed to hit the cap in EQ2).

  19. johnbla

    Potshot nailed it, XP sucks, not grinding quests. What’s the alternative? I don’t see a solution in the rant, but guess that’s why it’s a rant.

    No one likes ‘kill 10 rats’. Hell, why are we killing rats? Aren’t we supposed to be heros!? If your game has rats AT ALL you fail.

    The trick is to either find a clever way to disguise the grind x mobs or replace it entirely. Fed ex is not the answer, I despise fed ex quests more than grinders. Who ever invents a solid replacement for grind quests wins, no doubt. Taking incremental leveling out, ie no XP, isn’t a solid answer as it has taken root and is almost expected.

    Can’t wait to see what 38 delivers, after this post I have mighty high expectations.

  20. EviLBetty

    Greetings.

    I wanted to say that, as a quest developer/writer for my company ( currently producing a sci-fi next gen MMO ), I completely agree.

    MMO quests for the most part “suck” due to thier lack of Immersion that is more commonly found in single player or instanced gameplay.

    After playing CoD4 all the way through in one setting, I realized that I wanted to bring that same adrenaline/immersive property to a massive audience as found in MMO gaming.

    I hate grinding and I hate questing generally in most games because for the most part its like practicing kissing with your sister. (I have no sisters btw). For a player to say that he/she likes questing over the “preverbial grind” In todays MMOs, is kinda like saying: ” I hate Oranges, but I LOVE Citrus.” Questing is just another form of content to keep people busy in game…there are sooo many aspects to making a game, including deadlines and coding that sometimes certain areas take a “back seat”, unfotunately, content goes with them.

    I have taken an oath not to water my quests down too much for quantity purposes. The rest of the engineering dpetartment have vowed to make the reward for questing and grouping much more significant than the current standard used in many MMOs today as well.

    I am,however, writing some “short & sweet” quests for players who just simply want a “quick fix’ can do if they wish.

    Now that the MMO has taken root and the initial luster of a “massive” 3d world to explore has worn off, developers are gonna have to step it up a few notches to ensure that the next gen MMOs arent just time sinks with eye candy.

    I want players to feel like they are on an adventure, and for them to capture the plot of the storyline without forcing them to read a novel…. lol.. I am long winded so for those who DO like to read, there will be plenty of that, but for those who just click their way through the quest text will, through gameplay, become familiar with the plot whether they like it or not… as a gamer myself, I am betting that they will in fact like it though.

    I continually get input/pressure from our CEO to churn out many “runner/kill” quests but I remind him that we hired me to bring the questing into the “next gen phase”. I am actually working closely with our Art Team Lead ( who also can use Zbrush and maya quite well) to conceptualize and create content soley for questing.

    I am going to fight at all costs against throwing a bunch of random “BS” into the sandbox to keep folks pacified and paying subscriptions… do I want the money, of course! but I want more for people to enjoy my work, I also wish to play this game as well :).

    Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I will keep you posted.

    EviLBetty

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