Questing, persistence, WAR

Not a few people have remarked that the PvE content in WAR is less than stellar, or leaves them cold. But why is that? Is the PvE in WAR really craptastic? Or are we, the MMO players, ever more jaded and therefore ever more demanding?

It’s no longer enough to kill 10 foozles — no, we have to see a cut-scene first, it has to involve saving a buxom and grateful noble tart (who may or may not give us a sword), there has to be spoken dialogue and if it doesn’t get us at least 20% to the next level without too much running around, it’s a waste of time. Screw the foozles, just take me straight to maiden –> sword –> demure yet innuendo laden thanks dialogue.

I therefore spent the last couple of days actually reading quest text. I only read a few of them in detail in beta, telling myself I would read and savour them properly on release… and then I didn’t. I’m mildly disappointed at myself every time I do it, too. The quests in WAR are, in fact, extremely well-written. Almost all of them have some useful and/or interesting and/or amusing lore to pass on. Their purposes are coherent for the game world and its background, within the usual restrictions of killing 10 foozles and that never actually affecting the world in any significant sense.

Ah, there might be the rub. For one thing, most of us have done about 23,574 quests in the last 2-10 years. We have killed enough foozles to build a bridge to the moon. No matter how good the text is, no matter how brilliantly-conceived the tasks and journeys, it’s not new. And humans, like chimps, like new things.

To be blunt, I’m not sure there are a thousand ways in which to jazz up quests. It’s a standard narrative device and works even better in games than it does in books. Whether it’s something you read or something an NPC speaks at you or whatever, it’s still just a “go there, do this, go there, maybe come back to me to tell me about it later, and you will be better than you were!” The hero’s journey leads to enlightenment — questing leads to levels.

For my money the Warhammer Online quests are rather better than many I’ve seen lately, even though they are presented in those godawful beige chat-bubble UI monstrosities. (But we’re not going there. Not talking about UIs. Must… restrain… self.) At the end of the day, however, they’re still just quests to kill foozles. There aren’t a million ways in which you can jazz a basic mechanic up — although if I had to suggest just one, I would invent the Faerie-Walkietalkie, which would mean the VIOLENT DEATH of all those pillar-to-post quests. You know — speak to Fred, run 3 miles, inspect a wolf dropping, run 3 miles back to Fred, tell him about it, then Fred sends you back 3 miles to kill the wolf. Return to Fred, who tells you that unfortunately, the wolf has a pack, so you have to go back and kill 5 more! By the time you’ve done that, what you really want to kill is Fred.

If I could remove that particular mechanic, I would do it in a heartbeat. And quest designers could too, if they wanted. I very much doubt there are many MMO players out there who would raise a ruckus if the endless running back and forth so NPC Fred can scratch his butt at you were removed. Quests update with no NPCs nearby? Oh noes! Verisimilitude is one thing, but I guarantee you 95% of players will happily suspend their disbelief in this particular instance. Hell, it happens already — run 3 miles, find clicky corpse, clicky updates the quest.

(Oh yes an incidentally, if you’re going to have something pop up that takes 20% of *my* 28″ screen and god knows how much on smaller ones, do not have it happen for clickies in the middle of insta-respawn bad guy camps. Seriously. Or do not have the damned things CLOSE themselves as soon as I move, forcing me to clicky-interact all over again. That is bad, bad, bad design. Bad Mythic!)

So yes, back to the rub. For me, certainly, a deeper underlying issue with questing has been a deeper underlying issue with MMOs in general: they claim to be persistent, and in some respects they are… but mostly they’re not. The more “epic” a quest is, the bigger this disconnect. Kill Badass the Dragon, Eater of Worlds, and he’ll be right back in his spot tomorrow, ready for the next group.

That has been bothering me since at least as far back as 2000/2001, when I started following Atriarch, which may or may not be neverware but which had at least one really, really good idea, provided it can be implemented in any reasonable, cost-effective way.

What does persistent mean in Atriarch?

Persistence in Atriarch means that whatever is in the world stays in the world. For example, if you build a fortress, then it will be there whether or not you are logged into the game. Assuming it wasn’t captured, it will be there when log back on. Another example is if you kill a Native (npc), then that Native is gone for good. The effects your Character has on the world will remain.

The FAQ is months and years out of date and I haven’t followed Atriarch’s development lately so I don’t know if that’s still on the cards. But if I had one request to make for the next huge game, it would be that. I don’t think about it much, but I am really, really tired of what I do — what any of us does — having no effect on an MMO game world. (No, not even SWG — plopping houses down isn’t really what I mean.) Maybe that’s why so many players are turning back to single-player games and finding them ultimately more fulfilling. For one, they have a full story-arc. For another, what you do in them actually matters.

17 thoughts on “Questing, persistence, WAR

  1. “And quest designers could too, if they wanted. I very much doubt there are many MMO players out there who would raise a ruckus if the endless running back and forth so NPC Fred can scratch his butt at you were removed”

    You might be surprised. No one would complain about the mechanic but what you would get is complaints that ‘the world feels too small’. Running back and forth deceives players into thinking the world is bigger than it really is. And of course, people will complain about anything. 🙂

    I guess the closest thing to what you want right now is LOTRO. Most of its quests are typical quests, but the “Book” quests are semi-persistent. They do this via NPC Instances. So early in the game you go into a room in the Prancing Pony and meet Aragorn, who sends you on quests. Later on, you go back there and he’s left Bree with the hobbits, so you can no longer find him.

    But this persistence is really more about the quest givers than the quests themselves.

    I can’t think how they’d do persistence on the quests themselves. So I do a quest and no one else can ever do that quest? Or I do it, and then what I see is different than what you see, because you haven’t done it.

    Horizons had some interesting ideas, not so much in quests but in crafting. So there’d be an island, say, that no one could get to until the server banded together to build a bridge to that island. Once that server had completed that “quest” then that bridge was there forever, so players did impact the world.

    I still don’t see what’s wrong with WAR’s PvE other than there not being enough of it. I logged into LOTOR last night, and decided to knock out a couple of level 30 quests. One was to kill bears to collect 12 chunks of bear meat, the other was to kill 16 hawks. Ah yes, this is SO much better than WAR… not.

  2. lol good points Pete. I personally think WAR’s PVE is craptastic. WoW’s pve was much more fun, and yes I am including its multifarious dungeons and quick leveling to lvl 20 and hogger and all that stuff. It had a more balanced fun level. That’s about the ebst way I can put it. There are areas and quests in Lotro that compare but certainly the kill such and such and collect such and such quests are not it, though they are great ways to level up 😛

  3. For me, PVE fails because of the lack of dungeons. Not instances, but dungeons. Having dungeons start halfway through the game doesn’t help either.

    I don’t mind the kill X foozles quests as long as they take me somewhere interesting and fun or require a little effort.

    I think it’s worsened by the fact that they have markers on the map that hold your hand in where to go. It was a turn off in AoC as well.

    It’s all soloable with the odd exception here or there so I’d find myself popping on and getting into a mindless zombie-like state that isn’t all that different from when the wife sends me out to fill a grocery list… only I think it’s harder to fill the grocery list.

    Really, the PVE seems like it’s there as something to do to get to 40th. It’s fairly linear unless you hop over to another faction area and follow their line instead (or as well).

    Yes the quest content is nice (really, they did a good job at portraying each of the evil factions culture and motivations) and there are neat storylines if you take the time to read them, but ultimately… zombie… grocery shopping…

    The Open RVR has been the highlight of the game for me but I’m not sure it’s enough.

    I had a lot of fun in Mount Gunbad, but I had to wait until level 20ish (even then, it wasn’t easy to get to!) before going there.

    Needs more dungeons. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the game is really focused on dungeon exploration because what purpose does delving a dungeon serve in the war effort? (They could come up with something I’m sure)

    The other thing is, even if they had dungeons, it wouldn’t be easy to get people to leave the scenarios to get into them (guildies aside).

  4. Thallian, I’m gonna pick on you a little…

    So you mention Hogger. So to do Hogger, you go to a Wanted sign, get the quest, hopefully find some other people to aid you, then kill Hogger. I don’t see what’s all that special about that. And the quests in the same area… kill Hogger’s brethren and get their pendants or something, right?

    On the other hand, “Fun” is a subjective and emotional concept, so if WoW PvE was more fun for you, then WoW is where you ought to be. No amount of dissecting game systems and debating data points is going to change something that isn’t fun for someone into something that is. 🙂

    Smaken, here’s a question for you. If PvE quests were color-coded in WAR would that make a difference? You say they’re all solo-able. But any below-cap quest in any MMORPG is solo-able if you’re sufficiently high level. One of the odd things about WAR is that, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to identify a “level appropriate” quest from one that has “gone gray” (or one that’s too hard).

    Now I’ll jump over to your side of the fence and say…

    One thing the WAR almost never has is social mobs (that I’ve seen, at least). I kinda didn’t notice that until I went back to LOTRO last night and plinked a mob with an arrow and suddenly he and 3 of his friends charged me.

    The whole concept of pulling is pretty simple in WAR. Just don’t get your person within aggro range of more than 1 mob at a time and you’re OK, at least for most ‘ordinary’ encounters.

    We all know how valuable a skilled puller is in PvE MMOs and that skill is barely required in WAR (again, in my experience, I could be missing stuff though).

  5. @Pete you’re right, Hogger was a bad example cuz he required you to grab some random people to bring him down. Three people was usually enough. There were quests like this in Lakeshire also, lots of em. However, the Westfall quests were great and the Goldshire quests were great and the Darkshire quests were great, and setting loose Stitches was fun even though nobody the right level ever killed him. Will I go back to WoW for this fun? No, cuz I already had it. It’s been had and done. Looking for new fun now. Plus, wow’s quality of quests and leveling pace gradually degraded as your gained levels. Want to go do the Plaguelands and SIlithus again? 😛 I’ll pass.

    If you wanna see social mob behavior, try some of the goblin areas like northern Dol Dinen in the North Downs, the lookout runs and gets a ton of friends, and they are adding more AI improvements to Moria (prolly also goblins, jumping out of the dark in an ambush, knowing them)

    Anyways I stand by my decision on dungeons and PVE and so on. However I’m still gonna play WAR. My brothers like it so I’ll be a good brother and help them out.

  6. “Smaken, here’s a question for you. If PvE quests were color-coded in WAR would that make a difference? You say they’re all solo-able. But any below-cap quest in any MMORPG is solo-able if you’re sufficiently high level. One of the odd things about WAR is that, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to identify a “level appropriate” quest from one that has “gone gray” (or one that’s too hard).”

    Pete, I was doing T3 content at level 19 and 20 because content from the previous tier didn’t really get me into T3 (21+). Even then, I advanced through the initial quests quickly enough, even capped out chapter influence. I was level 21 when it was time to start facing level 25-26 stuff. So, for the most part, I was killing stuff that was 3-6 levels higher than I was as a Witch Elf. The problem isn’t that I’m doing underconned quests… if there were color coding, I’d have been doing yellow, orange and red quests.

    Granted, I’m awesome so it might not be that easy for others. 😉

    Yes, the ease of pulling is definitely something else.

    I played some on Sunday, less than I had played from 18-21, and managed to hit 23rd in that time. Some of that was rested XP but a lot of that was the increase in XP from quests that Mythic patched in.

  7. @ Pete — I agree, real persistence might be extremely difficult to implement. And I don’t think I’d throw it in across the board, because that’s essentially asking for personalised campaigns for thousands of players, and it’s just not possible the way MMOs are designed right now.

    However, there are angles. Player-created content, for instance, which is a fairly hot topic right now — that could help achieve some “persistence.” Another would be to make only certain events/quests/occasions unique; Asheron’s Call did that very notably early on when from one patch to the next they totally DESTROYED a town most players used to congregate in. The only downside to that one was that it took place in the patch “between time” and not when players were there — but the basic idea is sound.

  8. Great article. I agree wih you on your points. I do believe that most of the regular MMO snobs will always have something to complain about.

  9. I’ve got to chime in now, you’ve awoken the beast!

    I’m going to say it, and I mean this (in a totally opinionate way). WAR’s PvE is better than most other games because there IS less of it.

    “OMG!1! WHUT!?!”

    It’s purely because the notion of WAR is to be a game about THE WAR first, and the killing of NPCs second. That said, Mythic needed to have a PvE game in place and so they went with the norm. The deviation is PQs, which are sadly only operable right now with enough people. But that’s a fixable problem.

    I’m rambling.

    My point is, WAR’s not a PvE game. Think of it like WoW reversed. In WoW the main bulk of the game is PvE with the PvP as a sideshow (though the case could be made that the arenas took the center stage the past year or so). In WAR, it’s PvP first, and PvE second. That’s intended by design.

    The PvE’s fine and dandy. It’s the same as most other DIKU MMOGs, but it’s nothing new outside of PQs. It’s the RvR, the sieges, the sacking of cities… those are the intended “main game” of WAR and I don’t think a person at Mythic would disagree with me. This isn’t going to appeal to everyone, really.

    There are going to be a lot of folks who leave because of a lack of PvE content outside of KTR quests, and a few PQ-mixed Dungeons.

    BUT… soon there will be people leaving because the RvR doesn’t deliver outside of scenarios. If I had to wager a bet, I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that Mythic’s intent is to fix RvR 1st and worry about PvE later.

    Now, all that said and rambled out… I do like the PvE in WAR. It’s a perfect diversion when I need it from the player-killing, scenario running, and sieging. It fits perfectly into the ancillary portion of the game. The only thing that needs tweaking is Public Quests. Either incentives added or scaling need to be put in place.

    All this, as always, is purely my opinion.

    Don’t blame me, blame Pete. He sent me here.

  10. @ JB — Absolutely. WAR is an RvR game first, and its primary fix-focus will undoubtedly be on that.

    However, they *did* put PvE in so we *can* comment on it. 😀 I should perhaps have applied my comments to all the games I’ve played, but like many other bloggers out there I tend to jump off from whatever I’m playing at the moment, if only to have a starting point.

    Interesting point regarding the RvR complaints, too, and of course you’re not alone (and most probably quite correct) in your prediction. Not just because you can’t please all the people all the time, either. I will be *very* interested to see how they decide to tweak scenarios and all activity content in general in the next few months.

    As for rambling — you have much yet to learn, Grasshopper.

  11. Thallian — Ahhh! You invoked Stitches. Check and Mate. You’re absolutely right in that WAR can’t offer (to the best of my knowledge) anything as cool as that. I still remember the first time I saw Stitches and was like “WHAT THE Fxxx IS THAT!!?” and ran like a little girl.

    The closest to that kind of “SURPRISE!” I’ve experienced so far has been opening a wiggling barrel in Altdorf. 🙂

    Smaken, thanks for clarifying re: quest levels. For the record I don’t disagree that most of the PvE quests seem pretty easy; I’m just trying to figure out if there’s a reason we aren’t seeing, but I guess quest levels aren’t it.

    Ysh… how about that game… um, is that too vague. Crap, I’m drawing a blank. It took place on a planet where pretty much everything was user made, and eventually they even opened it up to where players could create quests and stuff. Then it went bankrupt, but just recently it came back…. Ryzom! (thank you google!) I never got very far into it but I wonder if it’d be worth another look. Google around for “Ryzom Ring” to learn about the user created stuff.

    You get such a nice group of commenters here, Ysh.. sometimes I think you really are giving out free grog!

  12. One of the pressing problems on everything BUT scenarios is that the world may be a bit TOO big.

    People are spread out, between tiers and across 3 different pairings. It thins the herd (not CoWs).

    Like Potshot has mentioned in passing, perhaps they should institue weekly bonuses to certain pairings on a rotation of some sort, something like “Battlefront Bonuses” where people participating in these pairings will received bonuses to XP, Influence and Renown from quests, PQs, and open RvR?

    Sort of (and I hate to say this, but it’s a good feature) WoW’s Holiday Weekends for Battlegrounds?

    Like the officers and members of CoW do, if you direct people to somewhere where action is, they’ll go. Left to their own devices, they’ll stand around and bitch and complain instead of try to get involved and build the community themselves.

    Sometimes I miss UO’s active and creative player community. I like the casual nature of today’s MMOGs. It fits my play-schedule better, but I miss when communities weren’t just waiting for something to be given to them instead of creating content through events and RP themselves.

  13. I haven’t read all the comments yet (I will later), but I just want to comment that WAR has eliminated some of the running back and forth — many quests update on the spot without running back to the original quest giver every time. A few even let you grab your reward without heading back to the quest giver. Unfortunately, this is very unevenly applied — some do it and some don’t.

    I’ve been reading the quest dialog faithfully since the end of beta and I have to say they are the best in-game lore I’ve seen since AC1 (and most of that came from books and such rather than the actual quest text). I have no complaints about the PVE in Warhammer. There are many variations on the “kill 10 foozles” out there and, as I noted above, some quests have eliminated a lot of the running back and forth. Quests send you to PQs, they send you to RvR objectives, they send you to scenarios…

    My favorite quest so far was an epic quest in T1 High Elf area that had me “crossing the great ocean” to find an exiled sage. It was an “epic” quest and it told a great story. I’m hoping I’ll run across the old gent again in my travels.

  14. My problem with the PvE is that it’s easier to rank up on scenarios then it is to do questing. The lack of xp or decent reward items leaves me very unsatisfied when questing.

    But, what I don’t want is quest xp to be bumped up, I think that would not be the answer.

  15. “My point is, WAR’s not a PvE game. Think of it like WoW reversed. In WoW the main bulk of the game is PvE with the PvP as a sideshow (though the case could be made that the arenas took the center stage the past year or so). In WAR, it’s PvP first, and PvE second. That’s intended by design.”

    Yup, it is not really a PVE game but, like Ysh said, they PVEed in my RVR. Really, what’s the point of levels in a game like WAR without the PVE content and questing in place?

    It’d be Scenarios all the time… maybe some Open RVR. Hey, that’s sort of what it is now, no?

    Not that there is anything wrong with that if it’s what you’ve signed up for… but, I do like to have other things in game that feel active and exciting (i.e. anything but crafting and decorating houses…) so I turn to PVE content; questing and dungeon delving. It’s sort of lacking at the moment.

    p.s. I soloed Hogger.

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