[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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LOTRO: Introduction to Skirmishing

dinkydino666 has written a fantastic introduction to skirmishes on the EU LOTRO forums, complete with extensive screenshots. I’m glad I found it before it got pushed so far down the boards that it was lost forever to posterity.

Brief Summary of my Day 1 of Mirkwood

Downloaded patch data previously using link given by codemasters on twitter (did I mention that I love twitter?), they also posted about it on the official forums. Patched game up smoothly, logged in, and as usual spent 2 mins thinking, “Where am I? Why did I log out here? And where are my pants?”

Worked out that I was in Moria. Being surrounded by dwarves and in stone caves helped with this. Moria is stunningly beautiful when I’m not getting lost there or eaten by the monster-du-jour. It also contains relatively few spiders compared to the rest of Middle Earth, a deficiency that I imagine Mirkwood will more than make up for. If I was a dwarf, I would totally give respect to my ancestors to building all of that, and would also wonder how much it cost and whether they could have spent it on something more productive like curing cancer.

Hoofed it via goat to the 21st Hall, centre nexus of Moria. Located the skirmish camp off to the side and picked up the introductory quest which required me to go kill some orcs. Trauma, I am in Moria, wherever will I find an orc? Oh wait … that would be everywhere.

I head off in a random direction to locate orcs and kill a couple, enough to realise that the drop rate for the quest item is less than 50%. I then get annoyed by a loremaster stealing my kills — any stealther will be familiar with the frustration of having some ranged nuker throw a fireball at the mob you were just about to backstab — and explore further afield to find some orcs of my own.

Hm, not been here before. I see a questgiver! Shiny! Apparently I have located a crafting instance and I had actually been there before but had forgotten and hadn’t actually been into the instance anyway. I think .. well, maybe I can kill two birds with one stone here and pick up the instance quests. I have an hour to clear the place. I zone in and … it’s full of orcs. Bliss. Just me and them, all on our own, and not a loremaster in sight.

I complete the crafting instance neatly, with much stealthing, waiting for patrols, careful pulling and crowd control. And I complete my skirmish quest as well as picking up a load of wood to sell later. Result. A couple of my legendary items also level up, so I head back to the 21st hall to hand everything in and reforge my tools. I notice that all my weapon damage has increased. I still think I kill things slowly but that’s because anything is slower than the way I two shot same level mobs in WoW.

Off to the skirmishes and I’m now able to port into the tutorial — it’s snowing in Bree. Everyone on chat channels seems way more excited about the snow than the skirmish. I have a minion as well. We liberate Bree but I suspect I was doing most of the work — the quest NPC agrees and gives some pointers on how I can improve my minion’s usefulness.

I debate on what class I’d like him (or her) to be and decide on a tank so that I can focus on crowd control, debuffs, and generally killing stuff while he gets his face beaten in. I notice that my tank minion is now a dwarf, this is a good thing. I feel safer with a dwarf tanking for me, and have no idea why that might be.

I try a skirmish and do not die instantly. We’ll call that a success. The skirmishes all seem to involve waves of mobs which you have to kill. The next wave does not generally arrive until the last one has fallen — this may not be true for the Barrow Downs skirmish which is timed. Some mobs are accompanied by lieutenants, mini-bosses with different abilities. There are also random events that may occur in each skirmish which you can get more marks for dealing with.

After every few waves, you get a short break to catch your breath. It is continual action other than that, and even on the easiest mode it will feel as though you are constantly fighting. They last about 30 minutes, depending on how quickly you kill mobs and whether or not you die. My quickest time through was 21 minutes, but it does depend on the specific skirmish.

The skirmishes do involve other NPCs who fight with you. They break crowd control like pros. My minion on the other hand was well behaved and did not. On the other hand, the minion does do his or her own thing. The only control you have is directing which mob they should attack, and via which skills you decide to buy for them.

I was also able to try a group skirmish which was similar, but involved more mobs, tougher mini bosses and additional objectives other than just defending the NPCs. It was terrifically fun in a vaguely chaotic way. Everyone was able to summon their skirmish minions so there were a lot of bodies on screen.

I bought archer traits for my guy to use in the group skirmish (figuring that since we had an actual player tank, my minion was only going to get in the way). I suspect that people will tend to respec their minions as needed, but for now it’s easier to focus on improving one set of skills for them.

Being as how this is LOTRO, there are also traits for just about everything skirmish related. Traits for how many times you have completed a skirmish, traits for how many times you have killed a specific miniboss, and so on. The traits  reward more skirmish marks, which can be spent on customising your minion or on gear or consumables (a nice nod to the raiders, I think, I’d much rather do a skirmish or two to get my alchemy elixirs and potions than have to grind daily quests.) And of course you can also buy more cosmetic gear and items for your house. Whilst I like my current cosmetic appearance, I guess a psychedelic bathrobe doesn’t really scream ‘burglar’ and I might try for something more in character.

My first impressions are definitely positive, and I’ll write about this in more depth next week after I have had more time with the game.

It was fun running the solo crafting instance, then switching to skirmishes as a change of pace. Mixing in quests and monster play as desired means that LOTRO offers a very solid mix of single player gameplay these days. (I am mostly soloing because I’m behind the curve and I’m expecting that my friends will be keen to try out the Mirkwood content — I expect to catch up soon enough and it’s easy enough to sort out group skirmishes if people have 30 mins to spare.)  The skirmishes are fast and furious and not something to do for pure relaxation – they are also excellent xp for levellers.