Whilst on my search for information relating to Guild Wars 2 I came across the idea of “Dynamic Events”, something that is apparently being thrown around in Guild Wars 2 as the primary way of levelling. I thought the idea of removing quests in an RPG as incredibly strange, very alien, but also extremely interesting. So interesting I thought I’d write an article on my thoughts.
My thoughts are focused around removing quests as a necessary function to level, not merely as “something to do”.
The “Korean Method”
The large majority of Korean MMOs – or at least the numerous ones I’ve tried – play much like Action RPGs in slow motion. Most of them don’t have an indepth or meaningful quest system, in fact, many simply don’t have one at all. The primary method of levelling in these games is to kill the same enemy over and over until you can kill higher levelled enemies, over and over.
They play in a similar vein to Action RPGs such as Diablo or Titan Quest, as the primary means of levelling (and indeed the main point of gameplay) is to simply kill hordes of enemies for hours until you reach satisfaction (otherwise known as “the level cap”). Using this logic one might come to the conclusion that Korean MMOs must implement some pretty awesome combat systems but unfortunately, most of the games I’ve tried, whilst looking pretty snazzy, are incredibly tedious and very, very slow. Think of them like Action RPGs in slow motion. Where Diablo has you speeding along slaughtering demons, a Korean MMO will have you slaughtering the same pigs all day long until you die from boredom.
This is what we call “farming”, and Korean MMOs have this in abundance. The games are still successful despite this, simply because they’re not designed for the average Western market, like myself.
The “Western Method”
In an average Western MMO like World of Warcraft or Rift, the primary source of experience for levelling comes from quests. You talk to an NPC, he assigns you a quest, you go and do the quest, then you turn-in the quest for a boat-load of experience, some money and maybe some gear upgrades.
The vast majority of these quests tend to be “Kill X amount of This” or “Kill X amount of That”, and if not kill quests they’ll be “Collect X amount of An Otherwise Useless Item” which usually requires you to kill more goblins for their toenails or something (which they conveniently never have any of).
So what’s the difference between this method and the above, “Korean Method”? Fundamentally, nothing. All you’ve done is traded one grind (killing monsters) for another (doing quests) and the one you traded for has you killing monsters anyway.
So why do it? Because quests give a false sense of accomplishment, and many gamers cling to this (even I do). The quests feel more efficient and you also feel you get more out of them. In many ways they are more efficient: You get bonus experience for completing the quest, money, and even a possible item upgrade, which is a ton more reliable than what you’d get farming a bunch of bandits for several hours (most of the loot from that would probably be a bunch of vendor trash, perhaps some cloth, and coins less than the pocket change you get from your parents).
Incoming Action RPG!
Most Action RPGs actually have quests: Diablo, Titan Quest, Torchlight, even The Elder Scrolls games (which could still be considered Action RPGs) have quests of some sort, but they’re not necessary nor do they necessarily benefit you as largely as a quest does in a Western MMO.
In Titan Quest you have your “main quests” which are all storyline-related and pretty much impossible to avoid (not that you’d want to) and then it has side-quests which have some nice little bonuses (most experience and gold) but aren’t necessary. If you miss one then going back to get it is usually less efficient then simply carrying on and slaughtering more foes, this is much unlike an MMO where it’s usually beneficial to do all quests, regardless of whether you have to go back (more-so if they give you upgrades).
In games like The Elder Scrolls, doing quests isn’t actually a big deal most of the time, in regards to levelling. Most are actually quest-chains with rewards not truly appreciated or apparent until the very end anyway (which could end up being super-long, like back in Morrowind). They’re usually unrelated to levelling because most of your levelling will be done through actual combat and use of actual skills. You don’t get a pre-arranged set of experience and level up, you have to train in actual combat.
In some cases it’s because of this that these quests can feel so epic. A large amount of quests in Morrowind, for example, felt truly epic not because you were going to get a crapton of experience at the end but because they were designed that way. Compare this to World of Warcraft where some of it’s quests are epic (like punching Deathwing in the face) but the majority of it’s 5,000+ quests are utterly time-consuming grindfests.
The “Guild Wars Method”
Guild Wars 2 is proposing the idea of “Dynamic Events” in place of levelling. Guild Wars 2 is forsaking the old adage of talking to an NPC and getting a quest, instead opting for epic scenarios that all players can be involved in all the time.
Dynamic Events are designed to happen quite frequently and can last anywhere from a few hours to months at a time, depending on the “care factor” of players at the time. Dynamic Events can be simple “one-off” events or complex “chain events” that have 20+ different scenarios within the one main event.
Dynamic Events aren’t supposed to be so black and white, from what I’ve read. In one event you could band a group of adventurers together and raid the oncoming army, slaughtering their commander and saving the day, but what if you fail or simply ignore the looming threat? What happens is the enemy will come in, shove up a big stick up the ass of your allies encampments, take over and then proceed to rape the hell out of the rest of the area by building structures, enemies, weaponry and all those sharp goodies that they want to stick inside you.
Completing one of these events is akin to completing a quest: You get rewarded! Rewards come in two flavours primarily: Experience and “Karma” (I’m not too sure on what the “Karma” system is at the moment). Much like the Rift systems in Rift, how much you are rewarded is based on how much effort you actually put forth, so no slacking off for those wannabe-levellers!
This kind of system sounds fantastic but I fear some people can’t see the forest for the trees. They see this as the “end to questing” when in reality, it’s actually a glorified quest system. Bare with me a moment because you unjustly insult me!
Quests Without Questing
At the end of the day, the idea of “Dynamic Events” in Guild Wars 2 are a glorified quest system. You gain the convenience of never having to see a random NPC you’ve never heard of to get and turn-in a quest and they feel so much more epic than your standard “Kill X” quests, but what are they really?
What they are is yet another trade. You’ve gone from trading monster farming with bonus rewards (aka: questing) to killing monsters in “dynamic” ways. In all three of the described “Methods” you are still going to be killing monsters, meaning this will may feel rather “grindy” to some people eventually. In a quest system the rewards are usually meant to make up for this, and in the Dynamic Events system that same concept still exists, but anyone who calls this an “end to questing” is simply misguided.
As stated, the standard quest system revolves around you killing various amounts of enemies for some small experience and money rewards. What does the Dynamic Events system have you do? It has you killing some monsters and maybe an elite/rare commander for similar rewards. The first few times this will feel epic but if they’re all the same then it will certainly get tiring quickly.
Is this method better than the current quest solution? In my opinion, yes, as I still feel that these sorts of battles will feel infinitely more epic all of the time than killing a few measly mobs ever does on World of Warcraft. Even if that’s all I’ve been doing on Guild Wars 2 it’ll still feel epic. Not only this but my “feeling of accomplishment” will come in a sense of actual worth. I will feel as if I’ve actually made a difference in the games world. A big giant army threatened the land, and I helped beat it back. That’s a lot better than killing 10-20 of the army and saying “Yup, I did a damn good job!” I do understand that in the context of the game, “20″ is meant to be similar to “hundreds” but that’s certainly not how it feels.
Removing Quests Altogether?
The idea was interesting to me, but it’ll never truly happen without resorting back to the old grindfest of Korean MMOs, which many Western MMO players simply don’t like.
Quests are not a bad thing, though, but they shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all to a game. Things like daily quests are tedious, not fun, whereas the average MMO has shown it can make some pretty awesome quests. Even The Elder Scrolls series has some epic questlines but is ultimately bombarded by a bunch of useless crap (especially Skyrim).
Quests should feel epic and should reward you not just with experience, money or items but with a good challenge and the sense of achievement and “epicness” that you feel upon completion.
Installing the WARZONES mod and single-handedly stopping hundreds of Rebel soldiers feels so much more epic than any of the quests given to me in Skyrim. Likewise, completing the Thieves’ Guild quest chain in Oblivion is one of the hardest but most satisfying chains that game has to offer, even if the reward doesn’t necessarily stack up (the chain is the reward if you ask me, though).
A good role-playing game should have quests, but it shouldn’t rely on them. We don’t have to remove them, we just have to stop relying on them.