[Cataclysm] 7 ways in which questing has changed

Now that I’ve gotten my main to 85 and seen a large number of the quests in the game, I keep noticing that Blizzard have made some changes across the board to how the whole questing game works. Some are minor, some already existed in other games (LOTRO players will definitely recognise some of these), and others smooth and clarify the existing system.

Bearing in mind that Blizzard pioneered the current MMO trend of levelling completely via quests and were seen as fairly innovative even for minor tweaks like marking quest givers with a giant !, it’s interesting to see where they’re trying to take the ‘genre’ further.

I haven’t mentioned the increased use of phasing, since that existed before. Although it has been used to great effect.

1. No more annoying escort quests

I think players always found escort quests a bit annoying. You find a poor hapless NPC and have to escort it to some other place, during which time you get attacked by several waves of mobs and have to keep the NPC alive. These quests were always plagued with NPCs who ran ahead and got themselves killed, or kept going regardless of the fact that the player was fighting so you got behind, or just generally being annoying.

In WoW these days, this barely happens. Instead, NPC sidekicks are useful (sometimes to the point of massacring mobs before you get to lay a blade on them), amusing/ worrying, and ‘escort’ quests form some of the high points of the questing experience.

Who could forget that dopey druid in the Plaguelands who keeps transforming into the wrong forms? Or the undead ex-Gilneans in Silverpine who coolly murder prisoners after you have freed them ‘for being cowards and getting captured’.

2. More interaction with the world

I have noticed that Blizzard are trying to foster a bit more interaction with the gameworld. Yes, it’s never going to be Minecraft but for example:

  • The Hillsbrad quest that made me go ‘ick’ where you had to pick spider eggs from the backs of dead bears. In previous expansions, you probably would have looted ‘[spider egg] from the corpse. In this one, you have to actually click on the pictures of the spider eggs to pick them up. It’s a subtle distinction but a useful one.
  • The dragonmaw/ alliance daily quests where you have to loot foodstuffs from the burned out villages. Previously the food would have looked like giant sacks. This time, you can loot loaves of bread, fishes, and grain hanging from the ceilings. It feels more like rummaging through the houses to see what food they have left around.
  • Quests where you have to pick things up and deliver them are more likely to show your actual character carrying the item. (I know I’ve seen this but struggling to remember the actual quest.) LOTRO or WAR players will find this to be old hat, but it’s new in WoW.

3. Zone introductions

This is most marked in the new Cataclysm high level zones, but you don’t just run into a new zone any more. Instead there will be cut scenes, travelogues, and ‘something will happen’ to drop you right into the middle of the action. My character probably should never take public transport again, judging by all the shot down zeppelins, drowned ships, and captured caravans.

And yet, it makes the whole process of going to a new zone and discovering it for the first time more of an event.

In particular, the prelude to the Twilight Highlands in Azshara for Horde is brilliant. You have to fetch some of the soldiers out of the goblin fleapits where they’ve been spending their R&R, help get the fleet ready for action, and sit through one of the funniest sequences in the game, where a couple of goblin flight attendants convince you never to set foot on one of those flying deathtraps immediately before you have to leave.

And then there’s the actual flight, together with the fleet of zeppelins, and what happens when they get attacked in the air.

Yes, it’s on rails. But yes, it’s also really exciting. If you’re going to run a game on rails, this is the way to do it.

I think in general Blizzard have been considering how to make progression feel more meaningful. The quest in Vash’jir where you have to tame your own seahorse, Avatar-style, is a good example. Instead of just giving you the seahorse reward,  you get to play through some of the process of getting the sea horse.

Again, LOTRO players will find this to be old hat. They’ve had special racing and riding quests associated with getting your character’s first mount for years.

4. New ways to receive quests

Gone are the days when all quests were received by clicking on an NPC with an exclamation mark over their head. Some will pop up when you enter a location, others when you kill a mob for the first time, others when a new festival starts.

I particularly like the location based quests. They aren’t typically thrilling quests, more along the lines of “there are tons of boars here, you think it’d be a great idea to thin the herd”, but the notion that you could be exploring and find a quest for yourself rather than going back to find an NPC who wanted those mobs massacred is definitely a step forwards.

WAR players will find this similar to the way public quests used to be introduced. You entered the right area and the quest requirements popped up on your screen.

Similarly, some NPCs will let you hand quests in remotely (something which will be familiar to CoH players), saving you having to keep running back to them.

And instance quests now tend to be given out inside the entrance to that instance. There are still extra instance quests that you can get by finishing the zone outside, but the majority are inside the instances. Of course, the downside is that after you have finished the instance, you have to run back to the start to hand them in.

5. More dynamic questing

If you’ve been trying the Dragonmaw/ Wildhammer dailies, you will know that some of them are based around little villages which constantly change hands between horde and alliance. As a player, you can get involved with these skirmishes, and are encouraged to do so in order to get your quests done. In fact, if you find a village occupied by the opposite faction NPC and pull one of them, your own faction NPCs will run in to help.

So basically there’s often fighting between NPCs going on in these locations. New waves will turn up every 10 minutes or so after a village has been captured. And a player can take part either solo or in a group. I imagine it’s a focus for PvP on PvP servers too.

I am rather enjoying it now that I have a better understanding of how it works. I wasn’t so sure before.

6. Use of cut scenes

I know some people hate cut scenes but I love how Blizzard have been using them in Cataclysm, and I now understand what they meant when they were talking about a new approach. You will see your character, wearing the gear it is actually wearing. You will be talking to people, sitting on wagons, interacting with the NPCs in the cut scenes. And if the cut scene involves part of the gameworld where other players are around, you will see them too.

I think they’ve been beautifully done, and if you hate them then there is always the ESC button. Sure, they could be improved. There could be a way to replay or pause them if something comes up iRL while one is playing and you missed it. There are some bugs in Uldum where you may have to terminate a cut scene early.

But I found them very cool on the whole. I like seeing my character in the cut scenes! It makes me feel more part of the action. In particular, the dream sequence in the Twilight Highlands was very very effective.

7. Great set piece solo encounters

Blizzard have really been trying to work on the solo gameplay, in some areas. There are fights like Baron Geddon in Hyjal where NPCs encourage you to move out of the flame ring, and get away from your friends when he turns you into a living bomb (I tried to bomb an alliance guy but he ran away – boooo.)

There’s a particularly cool example at the end of the Twilight Cultist chain in the Highlands where you are fighting alongside Garona (one of the big name characters from the lore) in a fight which feels more like a raid encounter – even solo – than some of the earlier raids themselves did.

In Uldum, Blizzard have tried some innovative quests where you control armies of mobs, where you roll around as a flaming ball of fire killing evil gnomes, and where you paint targets for a tank gunner. They don’t all work brilliantly as gameplay, but it’s obvious that they’re trying to do something different.

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

cata_daypic2 Riding my seahorse through a kelp forest.

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6 thoughts on “[Cataclysm] 7 ways in which questing has changed

  1. About the lack of escorts: I noticed that too, and while I agree that it’s convenient I also think it’s funny that every time you get a quest to rescue someone now, you basically only have to walk up to them and they then rescue themselves. “What, I can just walk out of here? Why didn’t I think of this earlier?!” :P

    And I’m undecided about the cut scenes – they can be fun, but I’ve had so many bug out on me and it’s a real fun killer when it’s supposed to tell you about an important bit of story and because it didn’t play you have no idea what you’re supposed to do next now.

  2. Blizzard seems to have taken a page from Valve when designing escort quests. Just like how Valve set Alyx to follow the player instead of the other way around, escort NPCs are treated as sidekicks; They keep following the player and only attack whatever the player attacks, allowing the players to progress at their own pace.

    There’s also quests triggered by kills. I killed a hyena in Uldum because it was in the way, and I got a quest to kill some more.

  3. Glad to see theres another blogger out there that isn’t horrified by the linear questing design. I find Cataclysm far more immersive and story-based, which is what I truly enjoy in an RPG.

  4. *chuckle*

    Yup, WoW won’t ever be as interactive as Minecraft, despite the “world” in the title, but I do see these changes as a Good Thing. The escort quest changes are long overdue (I’ll second Hirvox’s comments here), and the better organization and flow of questing is much appreciated.

    The vehicle quests at low levels are fun, too. Bombing enemy encampments from a flier or piloting a Goblin Shredder are good fun.

    With the increased focus on the ol’ Orcs vs. Humans meme, I’m actually *more* annoyed than ever that we can’t communicate cross-faction. Apparently the Horde and Alliance can only talk to each other in cutscenes or if there’s an important quest with Story to impart. It’s silly.

    • I don’t think WoW should be Minecraft to be honest, all that would happen is that people would find inventive ways to grief each other and maul the lore even worse than Blizzard do already!

      And this is the same reason against cross faction conversation really (which is why I imagine Blizzard will allow it eventually). If you have any hope at all for a game where horde are notionally fighting the alliance, it goes out of the window in a *puff* of cybering and cooperative play as soon as players can talk to each other.

      It is definitely possible to set up a game where this isn’t the case. The MUSH I used to help run had strong factions, but even so, it relied very heavily on player faction leaders who enforced and punished associating with the enemy in game. MMO players arent’ going to do that.

      So I guess I could see it on smaller player moderated servers where the people running the servers could set up their own rules and keep things vetted OR something more like Second Life where it’s just large and piecemeal without any single over riding theme. (Second Life probably is the Minecraft of MMOs.)

  5. I just finished Mt Hyjal, and I don’t recall there being any group quests either.

    With regard to game, that’s probably a good thing – all the phasing they had there would have made grouping very frustrating. With regard to the social experience and the fact it’s called an “MMO” … oh dear =(

    One thing I did find obnoxious though was the on screen prompts for quests. I’d pick up a quest, where the quest giver says “go climb a tree, grab some bear cubs, and toss them down onto the trampoline” … and then flashing onto the screen would be the instruction “climb a tree”, and once I did that it would flash “grab a bear cub”, and so on. Obnoxious.

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