Quests, goals, and mechanical horses

rifthorse

Finally hit level 40 on my character in Rift (yes, I know most of the blogosphere is off in tier 2 expert dungeons, which is sort of equivalent to hard mode heroics), and was able to buy one of the coolest mounts in any game ever. This is why you roll Defiant. It’s all about the mechanical horse. This is a copper one, although you can’t really see that in the screenie, I call it Rusty. I always pick boring brown horses when I have the choice, there’s probably something Freudian in that.

Now the mechanical horse and my great desire to virtually own a copy of same has really made me think about how I feel about quests in games. Because even as a low level noob, you will get to see NPCs with mechanical horses, you will see the mechanical horse vendor when you first head into Meridian. And you will KNOW that one day, if you want one, it will be yours. You can browse the available mechanical horses and decide which one you prefer. And you also can easily find the requirements –- you will need to be level 40 and have 35 plat to spend. It’s not like having a quest pop up in your quest journal, but no less of a quest all the same.

WoW pretty much went the same route with their mounts. As your lowbie character travels out of the starting zones, you will encounter the mount vendor with all their ‘wares’ out on display. It’s just that none of them are as cool as a mechanical horse.

Wolfshead posts a thinly veiled screed against WoW and all it’s scions, specifically focussing on the evils of quests this week. I can’t really agree with him; whatever the downsides are to quests, I rather enjoy having a variety of short and longterm goals in game. Quests serve a useful storytelling purpose in many CRPGs. And if they didn’t exist in MMOs then all that would happen is that people would find the most efficient way to level via grinding and just do that – we know this because it’s how levelling used to work.

And yet, they can be improved. Quests like the unofficial ‘where’s my mechanical horse?!’ aren’t official quests, they’re more like game-specific goals which I make for my character. And they always feel more personal than a coded quest, even if every other player on my faction shares the exact same goals. (And if you don’t want a mechanical horse, then I do not know you.)

Sims Medieval has a good modern take on questing – you’ll have some immediate goals to be getting on with, and your characters will also have more longterm ambitions. Plus you as the player may also have some goals which aren’t codified, but will influence how you play.

I’m looking forwards at some point (ie. when I have more free time) to picking up LA Noir, which looks to mark a point where even Rockstar Games abandon the full sandbox in favour of more questing, to see how they handle giving the PC some goals and direction.

But speaking of WoW, the main issue I had with Cataclysm questing is best described as sugar rush. I liked the zones well enough (Vash’jir and Deepholme in particular are brilliant), but everything was so fast, so quickly consumed. My character was travelling quickly, killing quickly, finding things quickly – with no downtime it’s just a lot to take in.

I think the questing layout in Rift is better in general than WoW. Not because they’re more streamlined, because they aren’t. Not because the storylines or writing are better, because they probably aren’t. But because they seem to preserve a better balance between exploring a zone and zipping through it so quickly that you can’t really remember it a few days later. And also because there is a better mix of linear quests, hidden stuff to explore and dynamic events. The pacing seems to work better, for me. Plus it has mechanical horses.

So my view on quests as gameplay is that they’re a useful way to project linear storytelling into a virtual world, but that we’re not done with them yet. I hope to see more devs experiment with ways to encourage players to set and celebrate their own goals, formed through interacting personally with the game world and NPCs. Or in other words, it doesn’t start and end with the gold exclamation mark.