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Vignettes and Tasks - How do you like to quest?

I have been wrapping up my playthrough of AC Valhalla and I spent some time running around trying to put my finger on what I found unsatisfying about the open world content. The best conclusion I have been able to draw is the highly vignetted nature of all the events – each thing on the map is an interesting story or puzzle moment but is highly self-contained. As a consequence, exploration became a cycle of wandering the map until I discovered a vignette, then poking around a 50m radius until I found the enemy/oil jar/window. It’s a slow back and forth sweep of wrapping up unconnected scenes.

(I think the big exception to this was the treasure maps – still localized to a particular region of the map, but still required some lateral thinking and mastery of the environment to put together)

This got me thinking about what makes questing feel different in Classic WoW vs Retail WoW. Retail WoW also has a pretty heavy degree of vignetting. Open world social interaction complaints aside, Blizzard’s environment team have done an impressive job stitching together varied and interesting subzones into a larger patchwork zone with a coherent theme. While questing (solo) through Shadowlands, you pass through a series of lovingly crafted small scenes with interesting objectives. It is a satisfying linear narrative experience, but everything is local and doesn’t require or reward exploration or routing.

In contrast, I’ve also been leveling through Classic WoW again. Don’t get me wrong – the individual questing experience is pretty miserable (kill 10 bears, get 20 bear teeth, find 5 bear flowers), but the way the quests are arrayed across the landscape is much more satisfying. Classic WoW requires a lot more travel between objectives, parallel questing, and quests that will not be relevant or completable for a long time. Collectively, this means there is a lot more responsibility on the player to explore the map and keep track of their objectives. You can see this in the speedruns of leveling in Classic – they travel the entire world, grabbing quests that won’t be resolved until three zones down the line because the breadth of things to do is spread out across the environment.

The sweet spot for me would be the richness of objectives present in Retail WoW with the wide-open destinations of Classic WoW. For me, questing should be about having to figure out directions, not be purely a countdown of kills, and to reward exploration and routing. My ideal experience would be rolling into a town on a rumor from my last location, picking up a dozen quests of varied objectives (some of which are nearby, some out in the wilderness, and still others sending me to far away locales), and then having to make decisions myself about the best way to unravel the knot of all the tasks I have been given.

I’m curious about what you think ideal questing is – I’m familiar with WoW over the course of its history, but how do other games do it? Do you like the systems present in other non-MMO games? What would you want an afternoon of questing to look like?

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    Wandering MistWandering Mist Moderator, Member, Founder, Kickstarter, Alpha One
    The most natural questing experience I've encountered in an mmorpg is in ESO. Sure you have the overall main story (which I don't like for various reasons) but to be, the really interesting stuff is in the side quests you find while travelling the world.

    For example, you're walking down the road and you come across a merchant who just got attacked by some bandits, and the bandits captured the merchant's family. So you go after the bandits and in doing so you uncover a plot to take over one of the nearby towns. You defeat the bandits and the town changes a little bit because of it.

    This kind of questing really helps bring life into the various settlements and connects the world, especially during the slightly longer questlines that send you to multiple different towns. There were times when I would purposefully wander through a zone with no real direction just to see what quests I came across.

    The only thing holding it back was the voice acting, which is markedly worse for the side quests than for the main storyline.
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    NoaaniNoaani Member, Intrepid Pack
    Yeah, ESO's side quests are one of the few good points about the game.

    I like having a few major questlibes on the go at any one point in time, especially if the lore of the game is interesting and well presented.

    I also enjoy smaller, more localized quests and stories, especially if there are references to the larger world (even if not mechanical connections). This allows the games world to feel more alive.

    To me, the key is in balancing these two ends of questing. Too much reliance on either end will make the world feel artificial.
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    Out of the many questlines I've done in MMOs, one of the ones I remember more vividly than most is Warhammer Online's quest line for the Order side in the Chaos Wastes. Basically, a lot of quests there involved Lovecraftian style themes; people losing their mind, tracking down spooky shapeshifters, lots of dark stuff.

    There was another series of quests from the game Age of Wushu that I really enjoyed. It's a martial arts fantasy game, and one of the quest lines involves your character climbing a snowy mountain to search for a significant npc. As you try to climb it, you stumble across an old woman who is trying to climb it as well, but she's old and frail and can't muster up the physical strength to do it. You offer to carry her up, and during your travels it quickly becomes apparent that the cold is too much for your character to endure, but she seems quite capable of handling it. She berates you in a crotchety old woman sort of way, then offers to teach you a little kung fu so you can protect yourself from the frigid temperature. Surprise, turns out she used to be kind of a big deal in the martial arts community. Eventually, you reach the top and she gives you a little backstory on herself and why she was here climbing it to begin with, which I found rather endearing. That kung fu she teaches you sticks with you for the rest of the game, and comes in handy in a variety of situations.

    And honestly, out of World of Warcraft, Lineage 2, Dark Age of Camelot, Everquest 1 and 2, Guild Wars 1 and 2, Warhammer Online, Age of Wushu and several lesser MMOs I never committed wholly to memory, those are about the only quest lines that really stuck with me. There were some other ones that were kinda interesting, but I didn't really commit them to memory. Overall, I think the reason I liked them was that they were a little more personal than most quests in games are, where you just do generic good guy stuff for generic people. In my Age of Wushu example, you helped a little old lady, she helped you, found out a little history behind her (tldr she was also looking for the npc you were on the hunt for, because he promised to marry her when they were younger. He never did, and she intended to force him to keep his word. Oops...) and the reward wasn't some gold or a sword you wound up replacing, but an internal skill called Ice Chi, which is sort of like an "equippable stat block," not that unlike gear, that you kept for the rest of the game.

    I guess I'm a sucker for quest lines that are odd or unconventional, and that give you a fun peak into other characters' lives. Not very useful feedback I suppose, but it is what it is.

    By and large, though, I much prefer my "quests" be purely player driven. Most of my most enjoyable moments in MMOs revolve around community and social interactions, not quest lines.
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    maouwmaouw Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    True! Vignetting is dull - I think the best way to overcome it is to have multiple questlines that criss-cross through the same NPCs and you learn something different about the NPCs/wold from each quest line. Re-using NPCs for multiple semi-related quests that flesh out the characters:

    E.g. Some ways to reuse one single rich woman NPC:
    • one quest line has you take orders from a rich woman trying to expand her linen business into a foreign territory in node x
    • another quest line has you helping a kid whose mother is always absent, turns out the absent mother is the same rich woman you're helping
    • a third quest line has you discover that the linen business is thriving on slave labour in node y
    • a fourth quest line has you foiling an assassination attempt on the rich woman's life

    Then follow-up quests at higher levels suggest progression from the quests you completed before:
    • rich woman wants to set up a pre-arranged marriage for her kid, but doesn't know how to ask her kid about it - maybe she should announce it for his next birthday. Lots of drama.
    • grandparents who live in node z on the otherside of the world ask if you've ever met <rich woman's name>. They are surprised to discover she has a child - they ask you to deliver an heirloom to the child. Of course the heirloom gets stolen, etc. etc.
    • Linen business is struggling without using slave labour, solution: sabotage closest competitor in x node. Competitor in x node requests you exact revenge on rich woman.
    • You get blackmailed for sabotaging the business in x node, a 3rd party witnessed your crimes.
    I wish I were deep and tragic
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    Very interesting

    I had divided questing into two approaches - the tight line and the open field - but you've shown me a third way, a kind of middle ground - the decentralized network. That does seem like it would hit my big desires, in that individual locations (towns, caves, or otherwise) can be crafted in great detail with things to do more complex than the classic '10 kills, 10 loots, 10 flowers' while at the same time constantly pulling you in different directions and giving you choices on how to tackle all the odds and ends.

    I've dabbled with a few MMOs but I haven't tried ESO. I'll definitely have to give it a shot to feel out this sort of questing experience.

    Retreading old ground is also a great idea that seems particularly well suited for Ashes. That's a thing you see a lot in TTRPGs - looking at old haunts with new perspective as you have grown in power and your prior actions' consequences have had time to play out - but it isn't something I have really run into in an MMO before. Ashes, though, with the evolving nodes seems like the perfect place to give it a shot.

    I wonder if you might have questlines that require you to have been involved in the earlier stages of the node? Greater rewards or insight for veterans or the regions. At the very least, you could imagine it such that the quests available in a city are a direct consequence of the questlines available in an encampment, allowing those that were there at the beginning to see the changes they wrought play out.

    I wonder too how much inter-node connectivity we'll see. It seems like it would be challenging with the ongoing evolution of of each different region at different rates, but I think it has been brought up a few times how desirable it is to be constantly pulled it all questions - and the memorability of quests that want you to plunder the corners of the world looking for oddities. (Perhaps there are even quests that cannot be completed until other nodes are at a certain stage of development?)
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    maouwmaouw Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    Yeah, I think inter-node quests will be heavily dependent on node development.
    I imagine certain quests could be more flexible - in terms of which nearby node is developed - by giving the quest a priority queue:
    • If node A is at least level 3, quest destination is node A shopkeeper otherwise...
    • If node B is at least level 3, quest destination is node B shopkeeper otherwise...
    • etc.
    • If none of the above nodes have been developed, spawn new quest to develop a node in the east
    I wish I were deep and tragic
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