There has been something that has been playing on my mind for a while now... in fact I dare say it has been something I have been thinking about ever since I stopped playing Runscape and moved on to more traditional MMO titles.
What happened to the quests? Before I started playing MMORPGs I thought of quests as long, adventurous journeys; something that would have huge ramifications on the world stage, you know something a little like the Lord of The Rings! Truth be told I got that impression very early on from the quests I played in Runescape but that feeling died the second I started playing other games.
Perhaps this is just my nostalgia speaking. Heck it's entirely possible that I'm looking at the entire subject through rose tinted glasses and all those quests I did back in Runescape just weren't all that, I mean Runescape was my first MMO after all.
My first real exposure to questing in a game that had multiple "quests" to offer was an online flash RPG called Adventure Quest. I must have been about 12 years old when I discovered that game. To be honest it was that game that got me into the RPG genre as a whole. It was the first game that introduced me to the concept of making a character, choosing his appearance, hair style, etc and sending him out into the world. It was in this game that I tackled my first "Quest". I'll be honest I don't remember much of it, but what I do remember is coming out of it and thinking "Well... that was pretty cool! Oh? There's more?" and guess what, that simple 2D Final Fantasy-esque game claimed years of my life, and contrary to popular belief it wasn't the samey, repetitive combat mechanics that kept me playing, it was the fact that stories were being told, with my character as the protagonist!
After finally dipping my toes in the forums and getting to know about the other players out there I decided to check out the off the topic section and somebody made a post titled "Anybody play runescape?" I don't know what made me do it but instead of actually checking out the forum post I opened up another internet browser (because tabbed browsing didn't exist ;_;) and googled runescape. My first thought was "oh... so you make a character and go off into the world... kinda sounds like adventure quest!" but after making my character (and in the process having my mind blown by the realisation that it was in fact 3D) The first thing I noticed was that all those other erratic NPCs weren't actually NPCs, but other players!
After having my mind blown again I levelled up some skills and decided to look at the quest tab and pick one at random called "Demon Slayer" because hey, I like killing demons... I don't know what that says about me. The first thing I remember was that I had to start the quest by talking to a gypsy in Varrock City (one of the main hubs for players who aren't subscribed) and she told me an incantation that I had to remember.
My first thought was "yeah ok..." and wrote it down like a good boy should, then promptly forgot about it and carried on with the quest to gain a special sword from a knight. I promptly went to see this knight and he consequently told me that I had to go and find three keys, all of which where nowhere near straight forward to acquire, mind you this is where most of the game's ingenuity was noteworthy. The second key in particular required me to examine a drain and find out that the key was lodged in there, so I had to find a bucket, fill it with water and pour it down the drain to dislodge the key (It's worth noting that this bucket wasn't a "quest" item or anything, it was an item that can be bought in a general store which had many other uses - particularly in crafting), then descend down the nearest manhole into the sewers and search for the key.
Eventually I got all three keys, got the sword then (doing a lot of summarising here) faced off against the demon, got it down to the last bit of it's health and suddenly I was presented with a bunch of options to pick that secret incantation and defeat the demon for good! My first thought was "CRAP what was it again!?" Then my second thought was "Oh yeah... I wrote it down!" and then that was the quest completed! That was my first experience of quests in Runescape and I can say in all honesty that the quality of quests only went up and up, and even higher when I subscribed and became a member.
Eventually like I do with most games, I eventually decided to move on to something different. Not because I thought runescape was particularly bad, but I just don't play the same game for very long without feeling like there are so many other fictional landscapes I can visit and have fun with, and I eventually tried World of Warcraft.
The first thing I saw about this game was the trailer for the main campaign and the Burning Crusade trailer. People hailed it as a game that was far better than what Runescape could ever be, with way better graphics (I suppose the latter is kind of true) so I thought "great!" I bought the game, installed, patched (UGH), made my character and set off. Well before making my character I had to pick a class which seemed a bit weird... I mean from my point of view I was just coming from a game with no classes; you just did what you were good at and gained "levels" in those departments, which was great for an indecisive kid like me who didn't know how he wanted to play! But after all that I got my first quest! Kill ten kobolds.
Yeah. That was my face when I read that.
Well I did it, and got another quest! My first thought was "already? Ok" Kill ten other kobolds.
Suffice it to say, I wasn't pleased, but I was in enough awe over everything else to overlook that problem but I quickly realised that if I was going to enjoy World of Warcraft, it wasn't going to be because of the quests, and to this day that's how I felt whenever I set foot in WoW, and almost every other MMORPG out there, with the exception of Guild Wars.
I mean I'll give most modern MMOs credit. They did have way more quests than runescape ever did (at the time, I don't know about the state of the game as it is now) but they're so forgettable! I can remember at least a bit of every quest I did in runscape because they were so unique.
Killing the Demon in Demon Slayer and remembering the incantation, Sneaking into the black knights fortress by dressing up in chain-mail and fooling the NPCs into thinking I was a guard, that feeling of absolute terror when I had to defeat a level 101 spirit in unarmed combat to get my dragon long sword (and discover a hidden city in the process), most quests provided something a little different. Heck there were quests like Rune Mysteries that didn't require any combat at all but still managed to provide a rewarding experience.
Now quests in MMOs like WoW and similar titles were memorable for another reason. They were memorable because they were all the same thing. Kill 10 of these, kill 10 of those then kill the boss. If a quest didn't involve combat, it was probably a quest telling you to talk to another guy, situated in an area with lots of other NPCs with quests that require you to kill 10 of something. Come on guys, that's not questing, I don't even know what to call that. Now it wasn't all like that, I mean in WoW's Wrath of the Lich King expansion there was a very memorable quest chain start started in the Storm Peaks zone with a quest called "They took our men!" that eventually lead to you, using a grappling hook to jump from gryphon to gryphon, taking out their riders in the process. That was pretty badass, but the problem was it was unexpected because you only got to do fun stuff like that occasionally. In most MMORPGs you do fun things occasionally and predominantly you do things that are boring, however in games like Runescape you did boring things occasionally, but most quests offered something genuienly fun and challenging.
There were times when I found certain quets a little to challenge and would have to resort to guides such as this to point me in the right direction. Pay attention to the overall quest in that guide, and if we were to try and get something similar in a modern MMO, we'd get this.
So the question is, what happened? Why do all these new MMOs surpass runescape Aesthetically, but still struggle to make decent quests? I don't rightly know, I mean clearly these game engines have shown us that these MMOs are certainly capable of handling much more interesting mechanics, I suppose genuinely unique quests would lead to less of them in general but is that bad? Not when you design your entire game around it. Let's look at what we have, and what's coming up:
- Star Wars: The Old Republic's use of interactive cut scenes has shown us that quests can be more cinematic
- Guild Wars's story driven structure made some of the more generic quest a lot more believable by basing the whole game on an overarching story
- The Secret World has proposed an interesting change of pace by having conspiracy driven quests that take the community as a whole several months to solve by aggregating clues together
But here's a suggestion to all you guys making MMOs why don't you design your game around these stories and actually make something memorable? Don't make the game about rushing to endgame and doing the same raids to get slightly better pieces of armour that are obsoleted by the next expansion release, I mean back in runescape I cared so little about levels that I didn't even know there was a level cap! Why don't you make each time a player logs in a unique experience by making the world revolve around monumental journeys made with friends eh?
There is hope of course. There are games coming out that look like they can really change the face of what we as players have decided are conventional mechanics for MMOs and have a chance of bringing us close to something Runescape has been doing for years... only with those fancy next-gen graphics and honestly, more power to them! My suggestion to all those other MMOs in development, or in fact are already out, Take a long hard look at the quests in your game. These are things that will always be there, things that players will always do, so make them fun adventures within themselves! On that note I can't believe I forgot to mention this earlier but Dungeons and Dragons has also made a very good step. Quests as we know it don't really exist in that game. Sure you talk to NPCs and all that and get things dumped into your quest log, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. A quest in that MMO is simply a pointer saying "go to this dungeon" in which the real game happens, and the dungeons in that game are simply brilliant, but to all you other MMOs. Quests are not synonymous with mind numbing monotony, let's bring some meaning back to that word, or don't use it at all.
My two cents.