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Problems with the MMO Quest Grind

Prickle Gets a QuestI’ve made it no secret that I am fatigued with the quest grind system that all MMOs seem to have moved to. It is because of that leaning that I’ve been accused of living too much in the past. If that were true, I’d just be demanding every MMO become like EverQuest in every way. That is something I certainly don’t do (of course I’m certain some of you will disagree about that)! To be fair, however, I want to look at the issues I have with the quest grind and offer some solutions to them that I think could go a long way.

The Problem with Steps

The biggest annoyance I have with quests are pre-requisites. If you’re a solo focused player this isn’t that big of a deal but the moment you involve a group you end up with people on all different steps. Time has to be spent to catch everyone up to the same point and, in MMOs that barely reward you for killing mobs (basically all of them now), it is time wasted. The fact that this has yet to be addressed is surprising. Are developers so focused on the solo market that they even treat quests in a fashion that only supports it?

To alleviate the time wasted from catching a character up, it would be nice if a quest could be broken out in autonomous parts that all must be completed to achieve the final reward. Players could hop in a group and pick a starting point based on where one member is. They would then follow the usual progression to the conclusion and receive a flag for completing each step. Once the group is disbanded the players who were behind should be able to go back, start at the beginning, and work their way to the group’s starting point and then go receive the final reward. The system is a bit complex but from a database perspective it is entirely possible. The issue is just allowing a group to suspend pre-requisites.

Playing Ping Pong

The quest hub system has created a ping pong match in our MMOs. An NPC will send you out to complete an errand and you will usually have to come right back to get the next part. To add insult to injury the next part is usually right back where you were. This frustrates me and really breaks the enjoyment factor. Nothing is less exciting than being halfway into a dungeon, finishing a quest, and leaving to go turn it in to get the next part that goes deeper. The same is true for leveling. If you don’t find out via a spoiler site where all the quests go and pick them up based on not wasting time, you end up running back and forth a lot. I’ll take the “camp a spot and slaughter mobs” system over that any day.

We need to spend less time talking to our task masters. If an NPC is going to give you a long line of errands to do, the player should receive a list in advance. The player will then go out and complete errand one. When that one is complete the quest finishes, experience and rewards are issued immediately, and the list can be examined to receive the next quest. When the list is complete it can be turned in to the task master for the final reward.

Quest Overload

In our tendency to “want more” developers have responded by throwing a huge volume of quests at us. It can be exciting to run into a new quest hub and see a ton of quests ready for us to grab. We don’t really care about the quality of them. We’re just glad about the quantity because it means less moving around. In life quantity isn’t always a good thing and in quests it certainly is true. There are so many quests out there that games actually limit how many we can pick up! That tells me there are too many.

This might fly in the face of the instant gratification MMO culture but more quests do not equate to good content. Every time I see a patch that advertises x amount of new quests I think, “So what? They’re mostly just repetitive errands that were copied and pasted from other repetitive errands.” Let’s be honest, industry, I’m pretty much right. We need less quantity and more quality. Quests should take a little bit longer to complete, give more experience for the reward, and the mobs related to it should give more experience per kill. The only difference between three errands that give 10,000 exp total and one quest that gives 10,000 is that a developer will spend less time designing and achieve a better product. Of course we’ll have to put off our gratification a little bit but I think the culture needs that.

Gear Glut

Quests have almost completely taken over the role of “loot issuing” in our MMOs before you reach the end game. Not only do quests issue loot they do so in a shotgun approach and in mass quantity. The rewards we receive are rarely quality checked across a level range. Some quests give outrageous rewards without much effort while others are difficult and don’t offer a single usable item to some classes. This is largely due to the quantity issue but also because of the expectation that there should be some gear reward associated with a quest. That simply isn’t a necessity.

It is largely unnecessary to create fifteen different one hand slash weapons for quests within a certain range. Quantity is not necessary and the argument of “variety” really doesn’t hold up in MMOs. There just aren’t enough warriors who are going to want a sword with 10 intelligence on it when there are ones with 10 stamina or 10 strength. We can let that one go. The gear that quests give shouldn’t just be random trinkets that a developer threw together in a void. If we reduce the number of quests and then reduce the number of them that produce gear we can get a better handle on gear across the board. There isn’t a need to have as many items as we do now.

I am a hero, not an errand boy

The key difference between the EverQuest style of MMO and the World of Warcraft style is being heroic. In EverQuest my daily activities included banding together with other players and going into a dungeon to fight tough monsters for treasure and experience. Fights were sometimes hard and dangerous. We didn’t have a lot of quests and most of them provided very special rewards. Errands were kept to a minimum and were usually just bounties on a mob body part. In the WoW era I spend most of my time doing whatever inane task cruel NPCs can come up with.

I really don’t want to spend the majority of my leveling time in future MMOs killing ten rats. It is absolutely acceptable to have some errand quests in each leveling tier. I am equally happy to do bounty quests since that is essentially just going into an area and killing mobs to collect those parts. I would like to see better quests that are actually more interesting and may even offer choices that you can’t change once they’ve been made. A few random elements would be equally exciting. This will take more development time for sure but if we reduce the number of quests, drop the amount of random loot and focus better I think it is possible.

Something needs to give

The quest grind, as it stands now, probably won’t persist for too much longer. A whole generation of MMOers seem to be just as tired of it as the previous was of kill grinding. The system can be salvaged, however, and a hybrid of the two could go a long way. If developers make it easier for groups to quest together, increase the quality of the quests and take care of some of the tedious aspects, I think we’ll have a system we can all enjoy.

Consider discussing “Problems with the MMO Quest Grind” on the new Epic Slant Forum!

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10 Responses to Problems with the MMO Quest Grind

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  2. Tesh says:

    I’d like more fluid quests, too. Say, a local baron wants to cement his claim on the throne in case *cough* the King dies soon, but he needs a certain relic to prove his lineage. Of course, he’s not quite sure where that relic is or how to get it, but he’s paying top coin to anyone who brings it in… discreetly. The quest has a clear goal, but the means are variable. A Rogue might just go nick it from the local Church that has it in its relic vault, a Cleric might convince the clergy that it’s needed elsewhere for a purification rite, a Warlock might pull a dog and pony trick to show that the relic is actually an Unholy trinket that the prior would be wise to part with, a Merchant might barter for it, a Politician might blackmail for it, a Warrior might defend the altar boy’s honor for it, and a Death Knight might just kill everything in the area and take what he wants and burn the rest (so nobody knows exactly *what* went missing). Whatever the case, whatever your character’s talents, there is a solution, and often, more than one. (A well-heeled Thief might just buy the thing instead of stealing it or whatever. A Merchant might hire a thief NPC to grab it.)

    Short story long, I want quests to feel more like a series of decisions and intellectual involvement with the world, rather than a bloodsoaked laundry list.

  3. evizaer says:

    There’s no fix for the “we’re on different steps” problem if you stick to a static world of static quests from static NPCs. We really want to have MMOs that allow everyone to start in the middle of the action–just like all good fiction does–but we’re chained to these old-fashioned, single-player holdover notions of quest chains and static content.

    If you want to stick with static content, the answer is to move the entire game world ahead in the story at the same time–make everything a public quest.

    The real answer is to move forward with dynamic virtual worlds and emergent gameplay. For this, we just need more simulation.

  4. Blue Kae says:

    I don’t remember ever finishing a single quest in EverQuest. They were difficult to find, difficult to figure out what to do (without checking the web), and often required gaining several levels to complete. Easier questing was one of the major reasons I shifted from EQ to DAoC. Even after WoW, LoTRO, etc. I’m still not sick of the current quest mechanice, but I would love to see some innovations. Less of the ping-ponging would be nice. A shift from errands to more heroic quests would be nice as well, although I don’t think they need to all be epic. So say collecting hides or mushrooms is out, but rescuing the local village chief’s daughter would be fine.

    Still, given a choice between camping an area and killing gnolls for four hours one night, or going to Loch Modan and picking up and completing half a dozen errand, I’ll take the latter.

  5. Ryan says:

    The problem I have with the Wow style is it generally makes no sense. I get a huge amount of experience somehow when I tell some NPC in town that I killed 10 wolves, and probably money and magical items too. Had I instead remained in the forest and killed 50 wolves, or grouped with friends to kill 100 wolves, or went through a dungeon, I’m worse off in terms of progress. There is just very little attempt to stand up to scrutiny like that.

    Fewer but more substantial quests, with real design and intent behind them instead of just meeting the X-number per hub quota would be nice. If there is an item reward, consider carefully how and why that is awarded. It always bothers me when an NPC seems to have a bunch of great gear…where did they get it? Why not use your superior items and complete the quest yourself? If your village is really in great danger, why don’t you just give me the weapons or at least sell them to me so I have a better chance to save you?

    • Ferrel says:

      I get a huge amount of experience somehow when I tell some NPC in town that I killed 10 wolves, and probably money and magical items too. Had I instead remained in the forest and killed 50 wolves, or grouped with friends to kill 100 wolves, or went through a dungeon, I’m worse off in terms of progress.

      This is one of my biggest problems when it comes to the quest hub games. I just don’t understand the need to make killing mobs less viable. EQ2 does a pretty good job of making kill experience worse than quest experience but not in a way that makes it pointless.

  6. Vaellen says:

    One of the major issues that WoW still has after Wrath with questing is that the dungeon in each zone is the culmination of all quest efforts. This leads to people finishing Gundrak or Storm Peaks, and then doing the instances for those zones 1 or 2 times to finish the quests they need, and moving on.

    Imo, Wrath did a good job of giving a bit more story, although the “Collect more bear ass plz,” is still there. Integrating dungeons better, using a phasing technology that progresses a storyline as you level, and also allowing people at any step to come together as a group and knock out each members needs is something i hope the development team is aware of and plans to implement in future endeavors.

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