We have all heard the story a million times before. Every time a new MMORPG is released, everyone wonders what sort of endgame content awaits them. After all, an MMORPG’s “real fun” only begins once you have “hit max level”.
The fact of the matter is that leveling a character in a MMORPG is really boring. World of Warcraft popularized the process by replacing mob grinding with quest grinding.
I remember back when I first started playing Ragnarok Online. There was no quest to be undertaken nor any story to fill the gaps while killing monsters. I logged in, traveled to a map which spawned a monster appropriate to my character’s level and started hacking away at it for hours on end. Once I’ve obtained all the experience points I can from the monster, I moved on to a harder monster and repeated the same dull process.
Blizzard noticed the disconnect that players experience when leveling and introduced the idea in WoW that the primary method of leveling a character in an MMO should be via quests. These quests will have players kill a certain number of monsters or travel somewhere to deliver an item. More importantly, it provided the player with a large chunk of experience and occasionally, even items. Instead of grinding mobs over and over again, players are instead grinding quests.
However, MMOs have now come to a point where even questing is boring. The process is drawn out and it makes creating a new character unappealing. Even if quests had stories behind them, it required players to read through a wall of text to understand what is going on. Most of us would simply skip through the story as the time could be better spent on completing the quest instead. What’s more, in order to get to max level, players would have a complete an obscenely large number of these MMO quests.
Despite the plethora of quests which players have to undertake to get to max level, there are essentially only 6 MMO quests:
- Kill X number of Y monsters – Players have to defeat a certain number of monsters simply because the NPCs which reside in the game are utterly useless.
- Kill an elite monster – Some monsters have earned a name for themselves and your faction’s NPC requires you to kill it because he/she is utterly useless.
- Item delivery – Because the quest giver is lazy and you need the experience.
- Item collection – Everyone knows where the item is but no one can be bothered to get it. At least they have the decency to point it out to you on your map.
- Escort – Because all NPCs in any MMO is utterly useless and are unable to fend for themselves.
- Defend either a NPC or a location – Because all other NPCs are too busy with something else and they totally expect you to keep them alive.
Some MMOs such as Star Wars: The Old Republic had wonderfully written stories and voice overs to go with their quests. Each class had their own unique story which drove the narrative and motivations of the player. It was a welcomed feature as the story made the players feel invested in their characters. On top of it all, players were given choices which could affect NPCs and the appearance of their characters. While this makes the process of completing MMO quests much more enjoyable, it does not address the inherent problem of questing being mundane.
Guild Wars 2 on the other hand tried to “revamp” MMO quests in general; and I use the term “revamp” very loosely. At its core, it required players to do the same 6 quests as stated above. However, instead of letting you know outright how many monsters you need to kill or items to collect, the actual figure is hidden behind a bar and percentages which fill up as you work towards your quest objective. Again, while it keeps the players guessing, it does not address the problem. However, it did provide alternatives to leveling besides questing. Crafting and exploring the world were made in a way that provides just as much experience as questing which meant that players could get to max level without doing a single quest.
Providing alternatives to questing like Guild Wars 2 or having voice overs and engaging stories like in Star Wars is most definitely welcomed. What MMOs need however, is a revamp as to how leveling is approached, to once again make it fun and engaging. But with Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar, it does not seem like the formula is likely to change. Perhaps the genre is too set in its ways and no amount of change can inject new life into leveling.
What do you think needs to be done in order to inject new life into MMO questing?