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?