Tobold has a recent post discussing quest design. He discusses Wildstar among other games and this chimes somewhat with my experience. It also makes me think of certain elements of Neverwinter’s quest design that I want to comment on.
Tobold mentions the lack of moral choices in Wildstar, that like many MMOs before it you have one choice only – do the quest or skip the quest. There are few MMOs that support any real choice in the outcomes of quests – SWTOR is one obvious exception, I suspect The Secret World might also provide some manner of choice/consequence mechanic also?
I feel the lack of moral choices in Wildstar’s early questing is jarring. Both factions are shades-of-grey – with obvious sub-factions and different moralities at play. The developer choose to confront us with moral dilemmas (make the characters “do bad stuff”). It’s nothing new to MMO story-telling, but I think in a brand new MMO it is lazy to use that story trope without offering us some agency. SWTOR is single-handedly responsible for this change in my views on questing. It may be unfair to expect a full on branching-conversation system in all games but I do miss this when it’s not present in a game.
Neverwinter has a few branching conversations, there are some in the official campaign and plenty more to be found in the player-generated quests. Whether you think it’s effective or not, at least the game supports some moral dilemmas that are backed up with an actual choice. I find that much more effective and engaging.
As for another of Tobold’s points about “free X slaves” that is probably a limitation of open world questing. If you’re freeing the slaves in an open world zone then by natural consequence there will be more than you need to free stood around in cages (or whatever) and they’ll reappear very soon after you free them. Neverwinter’s highly instanced design (which SWTOR also uses) makes for a more immersive version of the same. I ran the end quest for Elves a few nights ago and I had to free some slaves, but there were exactly the right number and they all thanked me before running off to the exit. There was no immersion-breaking respawning cages or captives, nor was there a queue of other characters bunning-hopping in front of cage spawn points or rushing me to free them first (Neverwinter’s open world zones certainly do have these issues but the more character-specific quests are instanced and a lot more immersive as a result).
Tobold also talks about the extent to which the game should guide players. I’ve experienced extremes in different games of this. Tera springs to mind as a game that really requires little thought to play when questing. Everything is precisely marked on the map, even down to the specific mobs you need to kill.
Neverwinter has the trail to lead you around by the nose but it can be turned off and doesn’t always work. For instance on the racial quests I mentioned above, all of which I’ve just done at level 60, I had to look in the relevant zones to find the right NPC. Since I was so over-level there was no golden ! above their head. The wikis for the game are incomplete so they listed the zone and name but no further info. I was happy to explore the zones and find the NPCs before completing the quests, but to refer to Tobold’s given example I wouldn’t want a quest to say “go speak to a dwarf” with no clue about which city or even continent that dwarf was stood in!
I’d say the quest text should be detailed enough to at least hint at where you should go, clues given in this way can be fun to puzzle out (and there’s normally a wiki if you can’t be bothered). Not every quest needs to be a puzzle but once in a while I’m very happy to be challenged to think a bit before I start killing some more monsters…