The Weekly Raid: How Can We Fix MMORPG Questing

Ever since the release of World of Warcraft in 2004, the vast majority of MMORPGs have followed the linear quest progression model. While MMORPGs have had questing long before WoW, they were often rare treats tied to lore or unique item. Progression was largely done the old fashioned way: exploration and killing monsters.

Questing certainly proved to be a valuable addition for WoW, the questing-for-progress system has since become overused. It may have even outlived its usefulness. MMORPGs prior to World of Warcraft were extremely inaccessible. The linear questing system actually streamlined the genre, but it now serves as a barrier.

Experienced gamers often take their prior knowledge of genre cliches for granted. We know we have to look out for the next '!' NPC after the tutorial. We know its almost useless to leave town, fight monsters, or just explore before finding that first quest giver. Not only is it important to find that first quest NPC, but its vital to never fall off that quest chain until max level. Losing your way, skipping a quest, or just going to the wrong city could cost you hours of backtracking to get back on the one-way-quest-train. This is an issue several new players have run into with MapleStory 2. Unlike the original Maplestory, MS2 relies on quest chains for progression rather than open-ended grinding.

Many games have found workarounds to linear questing, games like The Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2 balance every zone to match each player's progress. This allows players in those games to explore zones in any order they like. But these games suffer from another issue: quest bloat. There are just too many trivial and meaningless filler quests. Theoretically, these can just be ignored but thats not how new players will interact with that content. Its one thing for an experienced player grinding an alt to know which quests to skip and which quests yield the best rewards. New players want to play the content they run into, and if each map has hundreds of quests to complete, it can wear them out before they get a chance to experience everything the game has to offer.

Many big budget singleplayer 'open world' games suffer from this same bloat. Ubisoft games in the Assassin's Creed series come to mind. Game developers, especially MMORPG developers who are in one of the most competitive genres, have to relearn an important lesson: less is more.

Let us know what you think on these issues. Do you feel quest bloat and the linear questing progression system that is now a feature of the genre are holding the genre back?

Lifelong gamer always looking for the next virtual adventure. I'm still waiting for the next big MMORPG. Until then, you can find me hopping between multiple games.

  • Timothy Noël

    Honestly, Runescape nailed questing, every quest is a puzzle and an adventure, not a shopping list or a kill list. Quests are the rewards for earning levels and unlock features that make your leveling better (like a magnetic backpack which recovers your arrows).

    • Rex Xillian

      Entirely agree, questing is fun in RS and still is in RS3

    • ivan_

      Mostly disagree. While I enjoyed a lot of RS quests, a lot of them were really poorly made. You are completely wrong re: shopping list - almost all quests start off as a shopping list because you have to gather supplies for the quest. Either that or you make/find/farm your own supplies, but even so you'd have to go through the checklist of what you have before you start (either you do your shopping list at the beginning or do it during the quest - either way, it is a core component of the game). Just because the community decided it was ok to be shafted by quests because the rewards were too good to pass up doesn't mean the quests are suddenly good. This one streamer on Twitch called MaximusBlack, almost finished all quests without guides and just following in-game instructions (initially). A lot of them, he ended up needing a viewer/player to walk him through the quest because the in-game instructions were simply too unintuitive (this is OSRS). If the quests were actually good, it wouldn't be mandatory to go off-site or ask other players for help with the quest.

      Also, another downside: quests that unlock quests, especially ones that have nothing related to the unlock quest. One dialogue line worth of reference to a prerequisite quest is generous, sometimes they don't even mention the other quest. I don't have exact examples because I haven't played in a long time, but the amount of times I had to do silly, low-level quests just to unlock a more difficult one that had nothing to do with the easy quests was ridiculous. It was akin to having to pick 5 cabbages as a prerequisite to killing a dragon.

      Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed RuneScape for what it was, especially the skill diversity and PvP minigames. The quests had great story and lore too, but questing itself was one of the worst parts of the game. I think new players trying OSRS questing for the first time (without guides) will agree, the questing has funny and entertaining stories but the quality and mechanics are shit. I actually think RuneScape has worse questing than the typical MMO fetch quests, because at least in fetch quests you have concrete expectations about where to go and what to get - not left to your own devices to figure out what you have do from vague clues.

  • Skylark

    Quest as we know them today are not quests, they are ERRANDS. When I imagine a quest in MMORPGS I want to imagine the quests in Ragnarok Online. They were few, far between, very long, required time+resource investment, had a deep story and a HUGE pay-out for finishing them. that's a quest.

  • Rex Xillian

    I think FFXIV questing isn't too bad; The main scenario is enjoyable and a great story, although quite large for newer players now. Side quests offer not very good rewards though and a lot of players won't have touched most of them except the few for completionist sake (and those quests i didn't even read).

    I think what Bless online has done for grinding quests is a step in the right direction. I also like what Skyforge and Guildwars does with its "quests". They give you a zone with a multitude of tasks that need doing and you can 100% a zone.

    Personally I think a good quest involves good rewards and at least makes you think about a puzzle or engage with the story. If it does not do any of these things then it really shouldn't be a quest and i'd rather grind out the exp on mobs (im sure im in the minority that enjoys a good grind though). For this reason i think the real question is not broken quests but broken grinding, after all the only reason they throw these quests in there in the first place is so people don't just go brain dead grinding mobs.

    tldr: Enjoy FFXIV/Guildwars/Skyforge type quests. Replace grinding mobs with something other than mindless quests