Quest text in the age of cut scenes

I’m in two minds at the moment about quest text, and its use as a story and task delivery medium in MMORPGs. I am a fan of the video-clip delivery method used in SWTOR and TSW although I can’t help feeling that for all the polish and subtlety such videos can bring to storytelling there’s also the danger we become more passive in our engagement with content especially when repeating quests/missions.

Playing LOTRO and Rift again alongside SWTOR I am reminded constantly how old-fashioned quest text boxes can feel. But there are some benefits, if you don’t mind reading lots of text in a game, since with quest text you set the pace of reading it instead of the video clip’s director. Also you can very easily access everything in your quest log at any time – SWTOR does have a text based mission log to refer back to but it can only summarise what has been delivered by the dialogue in the cut scene.

The importance of the text in your quest log is highest where the pop-up quest box or the cut scene leave some details out. I was discussing the early World of Warcraft questing experience (before everything was on the mini-map/map for you) yesterday with friends and I seem to remember that back then quests weren’t that obvious on the first play-through. So referring back to that log text was the primary resource for clues to where you needed to go and what you needed to do. I’ve found in The Secret World a few times that the log text isn’t that helpful as a summary of the cut scene that sets up the mission. I guess that feeds into the style of the game since it has a lot of overt puzzle-oriented missions, even combat-focused missions can have some mystery to them.

Playing LOTRO again I am finding the quest text to be generally very well crafted and specific for most quests. It’s no surprise that of all the games I play it also has the most verbose quest text  – which is great if you don’t mind reading a lot while playing. The game does use cut scenes as well but only for more dramatic moments, quest text still handles the larger share of story-telling. I can’t say that I prefer one over the other, it’s nice to have the variety in my gaming.

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