Friday, October 23, 2009

Immersion and quests, again

In last post I touched the topic of MMO quests being impersonal and not involving. I stated that the quest system and level of involvement are not working in MMO's. In single player games you are immersed to the game's overall plot and quests by involving you -the player- through the direct contact with your character, and the quests in a way come to you unnoticed and tie you as a player in personal level to them. In MMO's the quests hubs have NPC's with exclamation marks just waiting for you to collect the quests and there is nothing that would involve you to do those quests except the rewards. MMO quests are impersonal.

Several bloggers have written numerous postings about how absurd and stupid the quest giver mark is, and how it simplifies the questing process immensely. At the same time in single player games you get into conversations with the NPC's who may -or may not- invite you to do a chore for them. And more often this simple task leads on to another en route, so you really do not even have to come back to the same NPC before you have unlocked the whole chain, which is in fact a story within the game. In WoW there are few excellent quest chains, like the Missing Diplomat, in which you are being led from one quest giver to another and piece by piece you unravel the mystery of the missing king... Who has returned now, but still, the questline is a longer story, spanning across the two continents.

Why and how the quests have become so stupid in WoW? And why do we want to see those incredible absurd exclamation marks and question marks in our game?

I was a very happy camper while playing Oblivion, without the marks denoting the quest givers. And without having any kind of quest help besides the discussions with the NPC's in the game. The real question is, how viable such a questing system is within a MMO.

The other thing completely involving the immersion part is the fact that when you come to a quest hub in WoW (or any other MMO after WoW's launch), you go on and collect them all and start working through the list of quests. The rewards do not matter, nor the stories in them, just as long as you get the experience. But how different would the game experience be if the quest system was such that by choosing this quest over that other, the other quest would become inaccessible to you? So that every choice you made in selecting the quests would close some doors and open others? The choice of quests would become more a multiple choice thing rather than quests being the mandatory advancement route in the game.

I'd even like to see this go one bit further: the reputation you have within the faction would also open or close quests. The faction could be as small as the village (or quest hub if you like), making the re playability of an MMO even bigger due to the fact that each alt would have completely different set of possibilities at hand. Sure, this would mean that there would be a huge amount of content which would be used more than the rest, but then again the tweaking of such content would be pretty easy by balancing the returns (rewards) of the quest chains over time, making them all more or less equal.

What would this mean in grouping? Of course, the grouping would be an issue, if the quests wouldn't have common ends in the group content. The objectives wouldn't have to be the same: one chain could require collecting something from an instance, the other killing some mobs in there and the boss would still have the loot table to satisfy the participants.

The current quest system in WoW is more or less the lazy interpretation of the whole questing system. It works but it's dull and outlived by the possibilities presented in the single player games. Wouldn't it be fair towards us players, that the quest system was as interesting and intriguing as the graphical content of the game?

Especially now as the tools like phasing are making the unique player experience possible?