Quests and Events: The Return

Quests and Events: The Return

Coming back to a quest-based MMO, in this case Lord of the Rings Online (“LOTRO”), after spending so much time in Guild Wars 2 was eye opening. I never once believed that the renown/event system of Guild Wars 2 (“the Guild Wars 2 system”) would kill quest-based design in any sense of the word. Guild Wars 2 had something very similar in their personal story. I did however think that perhaps the renown/event system was better, at least for me.

I realize now after spending a couple hours in LOTRO, that “better” is not the right word. “Different” is more accurate.

I Am Free!

The reptilian shock from the Guild Wars 2 system comes from the amount of freedom in gameplay. In LOTRO, I have to follow the quest chains in the hubs. If one guy wants me to pull turnips before he’ll tell me where the secret lair of Grofmog Hobbit-Eater is, I have no choice but to pull those tasty roots. In Guild Wars 2, a renown area might have turnips to pull, but I can also choose to kill local denizens, take part in local events, and various other activities.

Like any moment of freedom, it’s freshness is fleeting. We start to hit the edges of boundaries. A renown area might not be that fun so we stick to killing mobs to fill the heart. The events aren’t kicking off because there aren’t many players around. Renown activities start to seem to run together as much as gathering warg claws, gathering beetle shells, and gathering orc banners is really all just gathering rat tails.

I think that the Guild Wars 2 system is one of the best for an MMO, but I also think it is important to step back for a moment. In my case, LOTRO helped me do that because it allowed me to clear my mind of the subjective glee of playing Guild Wars 2. I had to return to restriction with quest chains to truly see the Guild Wars 2 system.

A Pause That Refreshes

The biggest flaw, yes, let’s call it a flaw in as much as too much freedom can also be a content delivery flaw. Where was I? The biggest flaw is that the momentum in Guild Wars 2 can be continuous. In quest-based MMOs there is always a pause. For many players it’s just click, accept, click turn-in, but it is a break from the action. It is a moment to refresh. That is important. In my case, it is also the moment to learn, but we’ll get to that.

Ironically, the biggest refreshers in Guild Wars 2 in the open field seem to come from events. During the start and end of events, usually some NPC is slinging names at someone or talking about the effect of the event or something, and it creates a break. Events are also usually higher in the activity charts than renown activities anyway.

ArenaNet gave a small pause when the heart is completed because we get a mail from the renown NPC with a bit of gold. Most of the letters are not worth reading, any more than the standard “you’ve killed ten rats, and made this area more rat-free”-type quest text. Yet, I’ve also forgotten or simply ignored this mail as I barreled onward. A few hearts later I open up my mailbox.

I think a better system would have been to go talk to the renown NPC once the heart is completed to receive that bit of gold and a personal thanks. This would have created a better pause and provided a better way to deliver text content (yes, yes, getting to that). Then again it makes it get closer to quest turn-ins, and ArenaNet seemed to want to separate themselves as much as possible from the book-ended quest deisng. Perhaps I am giving too much weight to these pauses, but I truly believe the ebb and flow of action is important for any gameplay. The more constant the action, the more, I feel, that different content is going to seem to bleed together.

As Lore Delivery

This part is even more subjective. I love how ArenaNet delivers lore content in Guild Wars 2 because they really emphasize showing, not telling. LOTRO, on the other hand, as well as other quest-based MMOs, is about telling. However, this is not an issue of “better”, although I do think ArenaNet has it a bit harder.

Quest-based MMOs have a chance for depth that can be very hard to show otherwise. Even with Guild Wars 2 plethora of NPCs, the modicum of that speech was conversation instead of information dump. Plus it can be easily missed.

One of my favorite hearts in Guild Wars 2 is to help maintain order in Moriarity’s Hold in Bloodtide Coast. The heart objective is just to break up pirate fights, rouse knocked-out pirates (who will then drink or fight), and drink rum so pirates don’t drink it. The reason for doing all of this is because the Order of Whispers is trying to groom a controllable pirate crew to take over the other pirate crews. Players would not find this out unless they took the time to talk to the renown NPC. If this were a series of quests to fight pirates, click on downed pirates, and find and drink rum, the story of this subversive activity could be more blatantly told.

At the same time, there is the pig with lipstick effect. Perhaps there really is no epic purpose for the activity. In many places in norn country: there are dredge, they are bothersome to norn, kill them. With quest text, the bar is higher. There is a pause for delivery, and something worthwhile must be delivered. I don’t know how many times I have read some iteration of ‘local denizens are bothering us to some degree; please kill them’. Many writer flourishes are added (some quite good), but the pig still remains.

Questing Palette

The best content designer will understand when to use certain brushes and colors available. Turbine, I feel from my current experience in Dunland, is getting very good at this, and I would love to hear from people playing in the latest World of Warcraft expansion, how those quests are fairing.

LOTRO quests uses a palette of phasing and instances to really good effect. They give the illusion that the world is changing, and they can create really nice story moments interwoven with the more mundane quests.

In my latest quest hub in LOTRO, I helped a family in Starkmoor whose farm has been ruined by enemy clan attacks. To do this I had to help a boy retrieve goods from the farm while stragglers attacked us, round up people at the town to the auction (by basically giving them goods to auction), and then experiencing the auction in an instance. I had to say for such an unepic story, it was really good. It was very well delivered even though the quests themselves were surrounded by mostly mundane activities.

I am not sure such a complete regional story could be told through the event system in Guild Wars 2. I can easily envision the farm portion and gathering portion as events, and yet in LOTRO’s case there was finality. Saruman came and took the father back to Isengard. There would be no event cycling or second chances. As much as the event system was supposed to change the world, in some cases it is even more locked in time than a quest-based system.

Here Come Old Flat Top

What I would like to see going forward is a step towards each other. I feel Guild Wars 2 could benefit from having either zone-wide or renown-area personal story portions. That would give them a chance to make smaller stories that are more personal to the small region. At the same time, I would like to see less restriction for quest-based design. It does not need to be on the level of renown areas, but if the local hunter needs beetle shells give me a couple way to retrieve them instead of just killing beetles.

Neither system is perfect, and ultimately like a palette it comes down to the finesse of the content designer. Some quest hubs in LOTRO are going to feel like grindy chores without style, and some renown areas in Guild Wars 2 are going to just bleed into the other areas.

Overall though, I am pretty happy with both systems. I think Turbine is using their palette in ways that bring it away from “tiresome”, and I definitely like the freedom involved with ArenaNet’s style. I feel that playing both MMOs at once is going to be very complementary.


14 thoughts on “Quests and Events: The Return”

  1. Completely out of subject, but following your advice (I was already tempted but you made me cross the line) I bought mystic pieces at about 1 silver.
    Yesterday they were at about 4-5 silver. This is going to pay. Hard :D

    1. Nice! I would definitely cost-average some before Halloween. I expect that the monthly achievement’s are going to be cashed in after the Halloween update, which may lower the price.

  2. If someone needs a pause, there’s nothing stopping them from seeing what the karma vender has to give. That said, I’d rather they ditch the letter and make the person give the silver so that I actually remember to check out the karma goods instead of backtracking for cooking supplies. Beyond that, I can give myself moments of pause. I don’t need a game to impose them on me.

    Also, not having to refer back to an ever growing quest log is better. The absolute best part of how hearts and events work is the complete automation, and that whole aspect of wherever you go, there you are. The information is provided when you need it as you need it. I want to play the game, not manage my game play through the UI modules any more than absolutely necessary. I also hate having to run back and forth, and two of my biggest pet peeves were missing an overlapping quest or being on a different step than a friend.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s room for improvement (namely improving the heart/event overlap, and diversity.) But Quest hubs (and logs) need to go the way of the dodo. There’s nothing I like about that system. I didn’t like it then. I don’t miss it now.

    1. i think heart newer should have been anything but events. And that you should have earned a karma bonus based on how much you contributed to them.

      i think Ravious is spot on with the slowing down issue, and the story parts skipping in the current setup. Maybe events is just to fast paced in general? It’s actual very often that a NPC tells about an event, that there is no possible way that I can get to before it’s done.

  3. I agree that more meaningful tying of story to hearts would benefit Guild Wars 2, however I disagree that ‘return to the person in the hamlet’ is the best way to do it. I believe this disrupts the flow of play, makes it more difficult for players to play together (“hang on, I have to run halfway across the zone to turn this in”), et cetera – however I’m sure there is some way to accomplish this goal without an interrupting return to a certain area for a floaty text bubble.

    Perhaps instead of sending you mail, these NPCs would visit your personal instance in the city next time you return there?

    One defining feature of GW2 that I’ve noticed is that it puts a lot of initiative in the hands of the player rather than being prescribed by the developer. The freedom means that if you need a pause in your game play, you need to take that yourself rather than the game making you take it when it demands you must. I recall being very frustrated in SW:ToR by having to run quests back, the potential to miss quests going to new hubs I was entering, and on top of all of this trying to play with other players juggling the same problems. Freedom means you can take breaks to visit merchants, craft, explore NPC dialog, etc when it suits you so it doesn’t interrupt what you’re in the mood for at the time (action, achieving a goal, playing with other players, etc). In other MMOs, the game says “I know you want to do this, BUT FIRST you have to spend X minutes/hours doing this.” I’m glad I don’t have to wrassle with that in GW2.

  4. Because I’ve been playing all MMOs as though what NPCs wanted didn’t matter for over a decade, GW2 didn’t come as any kind of revelation to me. I swap back and forth from GW2 to EQ2, Rift and other MMOs and my playstyle is relatively unaffected.

  5. My biggest gripe about GW2’s quest design is how often it fails to establish context and motive. In a memorable example, I walked into Beetletun and was told to erase graffiti and find children. I was left with questions. Who painted the graffiti, and why? Why are these children avoiding their friends and family? I eventually found someone who told me about the kids, but 20 levels on the unanswered graffiti question still bugs me. It might have been answered somewhere, but I never found it.

    And I can think of several cases where I completed hearts and never saw the theoretical quest bestower at all, either due to my own momentum, or overly generous quest areas. I’m getting thank you mails from someone I never met, from names I don’t recognize. More than once I’ve found an NPC who thanks me for doing something for him I no longer have any memory of.

    A lot of the time, I feel I’m doing something to do a thing, rather than to solve a specific problem or aid a particular person.

    1. Yeah, I actually searched Beetletun for answers on the graffiti, especially since it was… demonic-ish. Could’ve just been re-used.

      1. In RL would you wonder about the meaning of some crude, amateurish graffiti you spotted on the side of a building for days as if it had some deeper meaning?

        Use your imagination if you have too, some youths or bandits or centaurs have painted a mocking representation of Caduceus. It doesn’t need much more explanation than that, certainly not a quest giver moaning about the eyesores and how it is affecting their well-being or some other nonsense.

        As for the children you actually talk to them and have to motivate them through dialogue options, it’s not too hard to figure they are dodging chores.

        That’s the greatest strength of GW2, the freedom, even if you need to use your imagination a bit more to find some motivation, but that is a boon in of itself. It’s better for roleplaying too, you can decide if your character is one to do menial cleaning work, or kill rats and destroy wasps nests or scold children, or just a mindless drone to do anything that is put in front of them i.e. not much different than players skipping quest text in other MMOs.

        1. I might wonder at the appearance of graffiti in RL if it only appeared in one town in the state (so far in my admittedly limited travels, Beetletun is the only town with graffiti) and I was asked to paint over it.

          Besides, in RL I *know* some reasons why graffiti appears. To mark gang territory and to indicate economic and/or political disenfranchisement. There appear to be few truly poor people in Tyria, even playing as a “poor” background. Which leaves gangs or a political underground. The presence of either in a small “everyone knows everyone” country town rather than the huge capital city just up the river is peculiar.

          If the graffiti had said, “the minister is a fink!” I might have gotten it. But to me it just looked like scribbles. At one point, considering how the objectives are tied together, I assumed the kids were doing it.

          It worked for you, and that’s cool. To me it stuck out as a mystery with no ready clues after searching through the whole town, as a context free task.

  6. Interesting comment about pauses, I remember reading years ago a comment by the author Mary Gentle describing something very similar in the way she wrote her books.

    If I remember it, she said that she always gave her readers a pause after a big scene so that they could digest what had just happened.

  7. > Guild Wars 2 had something very similar in their personal story.

    That’s probably the reason why everyone hates the story. If you force people back into a “quest chain” you should deliver a better story then what they do. I have about the same amount of motivation to play through the story on my second character as I had to play through Cataclysm on my second char. Luckily, the hearts and events are still fun, to me.

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