GW2: Traditional Quests? Hell, No…

WoodenPotatoes makes an argument that Guild Wars 2 needs traditional quests to fill up a gap that dynamic events can’t cover, because the racial cities (and the world) somehow feel hollow.

Personally, I think he’s conflated two issues together and grasped at the old standby of traditional quests to attempt to solve it.

Point 1, which I heartily agree with, is that the racial cities are full of unexplored potential and as of right now, feel extremely empty and hollow.

When I too ran around to explore the Black Citadel, I kept coming across all manner of interesting locales and intriguing NPCs that I would have loved to hear say more than a few automatically scripted lines on interacting with them.

Coming across an NPC that said a few words of “fluff” that added to the lore was nice, if you’re the sort to actually read such things, but that’s about as good as it got, besides stumbling across the various merchants that sold different kinds of food and so on.

Sure, keep pacing. Maybe one day I'll get to join you in a gate defense holding off invaders from the Asura gates.
Sure, keep pacing. Maybe one day I’ll get to join you in a gate defense holding off invaders from the Asura gates. Too bad it’s not right now.

Point 2, is that he thinks this empty feeling can be solved by strewing a whole bunch of traditional quests across the landscape, alongside dynamic events.

I disagree most heartily.

Perhaps this is just semantics, or perhaps my most recent experience with “traditional quests” in SWTOR has left an extremely jaded taste in my mouth, but when I hear the word “traditional quests,” I imagine players running off alone by themselves on Fed-Ex errands moving things from one NPC to another, there and back again, just to get it ticked off a list and done with, preferably for xp or some other reward.

Being led around by the nose in Kass City on a traditional quest that was apparently meant to be an extended city tour did not actually serve to show me much of the city besides endless running along empty corridors, and all I could think of was that I wanted it DONE. Done and over with.

Now, of course we can argue that the map design of GW2 is a whole lot better than SWTOR in that there’s almost always something intriguing to see after just a couple of paces, and it wouldn’t ever devolve into endless jogging across barren landscape…

But to me, the entire design of a traditional quest is counter-productive to what GW2 is trying to achieve.

A traditional quest focuses you on the end reward, on the destination, not the journey. It’ll end up a race to swiftness as much as possible from NPC A to NPC B for the shiny. Repeat ad nauseam x how ever many alts you have, because of course, all of them want the shinies. That shiny is linked to the quest, see, so you can’t do another quest, you gotta do -this- quest.

A traditional quest is often done alone, by yourself. It wasn’t until later that all the fancy shared questing and shared item collection technology got shoehorned in, because folks suddenly realized that it was really stupid to have to kill 12 rats x 3 players when in a group so that everyone could get their proper share of rat intestines, while the guy who did it alone raced off blowing raspberries at the slowpokes who dared to be social.

No, no, you say, we will assume that we have learned from the past and all this technology will be implemented… but are you saying then that every player who wishes to do the quest together must first run to NPC A to pick up the quest? If you don’t have the quest in your quest log, then you can’t get the quest complete, even if someone in the area did it while you were standing nearby. That’s traditionally how it goes, no?

No, you scream at me, MMOs have solved that already. It’s called sharing quests. Any player who’s picked up the quest can share it with others in their group (or maybe even, in the area) with a press of the button. They don’t have to run to NPC A to start the quest. That’s old-fashioned.

Wait a sec, why do we even have to press the button to share the quest?

And suddenly we are in Warhammer Online and RIFT territory with public quests.

Add the question of why we have to physically form a group by ourselves (Warhammer) or click a button to join the group by yourself (Rift) and suddenly we are back to square one with Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events.

The beauty of the dynamic event system is that they are both solo and multiplayer friendly. If you’re alone, you can do it by yourself (assuming it’s not marked as a group, and even then a lvl 80 probably could) and anyone in the area can come by to help out – and they can only do so if they see those admittedly-immersion breaking orange marks on the minimap.

In truth, what you may possibly be irked with is the following:

a) Dynamic events feel very random and beyond one’s control to start.

A lot of the dynamic events are on some kind of timer, or linked in a not-so-obvious chain where a prior DE may have to be completed before the whole thing cycles again. To most players, the events just seem to pop up at random.

But they don’t have to be.

There are dynamic events that can be started by talking to an NPC, and they are often helpfully marked with a symbol over their heads and a conversation option with another symbol.

Here's a dynamic event that's started under player control.
Here’s a dynamic event that’s started under player control.

b) Dynamic event rewards feel all the same. Woohoo, xp, karma, 1 silver and however many copper pieces…

Maybe GW2 missed a beat here by not sending a thank you mail with a shiny item attached, so that it feels more traditional quest-like.

Alas, they were trying to think outside the box and offer players the option to choose their desired reward from pretty much anybody.

Talk to your karma vendors, people, there’s where your quest rewards are. Toys, equipment, and so on.

c) Dynamic events repeat too often and thus feel predictable and cyclic, and shortly thereafter, boring

Well, this I’ll give you partially, but the devs are human and can only make so many events at one time.

And we tend to only see the most obvious dynamic events run on repeat cycle because that’s the ones most people find.

Just today I did an extended Zho’Qafa Catacombs dynamic event chain that I’ve personally -never- seen before because so few people bother to find and run it. Straits of Devastation is somehow so oddly avoided an area. But it was extremely fun, with a number of champions along the chain. We had formed a group to go Final Rest hunting, and it seemed almost dungeon-like, where we were cooperating as a synergized team – boons, conditions and all, just in the open world where others could join up too.

It’s not really the fault of the dynamic event system per se, because it is also quite capable of sophisticated surprises. I wouldn’t dismiss the system just because the big event chains follow a predictable pattern.

Fer instance, a couple days ago, I was just waffling along on my lowbie Asura Guardian in Brisban Wildlands and I came across a chest next to a Veteran cave troll, flanked by two minion cave trolls. Recognize the setup?

The chest -was- on the right, along the wall. I've gone back twice now and haven't seen the chest again.
The chest -was- on the right, along the wall.

Kill veteran, pick up blue piece of loot from chest, right? Or if you’re sneaky, bypass veteran and grab loot from chest. But I’m a bloodythirsty sort, so I kite the cave trolls and kill them, feeling awesome and bounce over to the chest to grab my reward…

…and suddenly this slimy Skritt thief hops out of the chest, cackling madly and runs off with the loot. (Cue dynamic event popping up – stop Skritt thief from reaching destination)

Caught completely by surprise, I snap off my scepter’s immobilize, but it’s short lived and the skritt is off.

STOP, YOU THIEVING RAT, I want to yell, but that’s a waste of breath when my Asura is already huffing along on super short legs.

I didn’t have any swiftness skills swapped in at the time, and I fling myself after it with greatsword leap, trying to get in range for binding blade, but it’s a little too late, he’s got a head start and my guardian is slowed down by having aggroed all the mobs in between him and me.

The skritt does drop one piece of blue loot in the chase, but I fail that event, and now my Asura despises those little thieving buggers (he won’t even call ’em bookahs – those are for tall stupid people) even more now.

What was different about this dynamic event? Player-triggered, for one. Out of a goddamn chest, not by talking to an NPC like you’d expect.

As for the timer, well, I keep wanting to do it again and challenge the Skritt to a rematch. I’ve gone back twice now and haven’t found that chest again. Maybe there’s an in-between event I’m missing somewhere. Maybe it’s a long timer.

And Lost Shores proved that the dynamic event system is even capable of one-off events. (Though just because it’s capable of it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to do it.)

Well, maybe, someday I’ll get that scrawny Skritt…

You know what I think GW2 needs? To fill up those empty-feeling areas?

What those places need is -content- and -stories-.

We want to have stuff to do in the cities, aka content.

As for stories, well, even across the open world, some of the dynamic events may feel more generic than others – nameless bandits, centaurs, Inquest, Risen, whoever, just rushing to the slaughter.

But I remember Rhendak the Crazed pretty well, mostly because I keep joking he’d have to be crazy to sit all day underwater waiting for people to come by. I remember the ghosts in Barradin’s vault VERY well, because Ivor Trueshot kept pwning my lowbie and Horace still tears up my downleveled 80 and I recall them as people from Guild Wars 1. I even remember the Bane warband going on their regular ghost patrol, if only because they and my character share part of their surnames.

(I even remember that most useless group of almost-pacifist ogres that need their hand held with everything – even if I don’t remember their names.)

I think what we’d really like is to get to know some of the characters in the open world a little more. Learn their names. Hear their stories. Get involved in meaningful ways. Bring a little more personal story into the world story.

Ditto with all that potential in the racial cities. (I remember enjoying the public quests in Warhammer’s cities.)

But you don’t need traditional quests to do it. That’s a cop out. That’s the “I don’t have time to show you these stories, so I’ll just tell them to you in a big wall of text format” solution.

Based on the dynamic events already in game, add on what we’ve seen in end-of-beta events and the monthly updates, the dynamic event system is capable of filling those in just fine.

Given some time.

TSW: Quests That Make You Think

Having a good time in The Secret World with the plethora of innovative quests that don’t mind leaving the player stumped or running around in circles perfectly poised on the knife edge between frustration and conviction that the answer is here, somewhere, if only I could figure it out…

So what are these innovations that move TSW’s quests beyond the simple kill-X-whatevers, defeat-alls, click glowie objects, Fed-ex parcels back and forth and escort quests we see in every MMO out there?

All the above still exist in TSW, by the way. It’s just mixed with a good helping of the stuff below, which makes the story and quest path more interesting. So far, I’ve encountered:

(Minor spoilers follow. That is, you may find out that such-and-such type of quest exists, and I may allude to some methods of solution, but no direct answers or walkthroughs. If you want to be completely in the dark before playing the game yourself, then stop reading now.)

1) Pay attention to the scenery (I mean, the world)

It’s such a small thing, but what a world of difference it makes. Quests casually refer to places or things that are near another place and leave you to figure out where to go and where it is.

If you recognize the address of where some shop is, or some other notable landmark in town, you can head directly there feeling good that you know where things are in this world, rather than spend all your time following arrows and waypoints from the minimap radar.

TSW generally follows the LOTRO style of waypointing, where the waypoint chucks you at the ballpark area so that you’re not completely hung out to dry, and then leaves you to go and search the area however you like. More than once, I’ve had to do the casual version of a grid search across the entire highlighted area because the item I’m looking for is not terribly obvious.

Fortunately, they are kind enough to highlight important items in yellow if you get close to it, so that it does not devolve into a frustrating pixel hunt. (If you were masochistic enough, you have the option of turning it off. I wouldn’t dream of it.)

This style of quest encourages you to observe your surroundings more closely and generally pay attention to the world as a world, rather than pretty but unimportant scenic props.

In investigation quests, TSW doesn’t hold your hand at all. The easy-mode waypoints go dark. Hopefully you were paying attention on the earlier kinds of quests.

One memorable quest had me running in and out and around the Kingsmouth Church for a good half hour or so, ready to tear my hair out and taking it out on any nearby zombies that got in my way. I was supposed to find out what song was going to be sung on a particular Sunday, and it was baffling me good and proper. I kept talking to the pastor there, wondering if he had any clues in his dialogue. I kept looking for hymn books lying around on some convenient table. Nothing, nada, zilch.

This view does not contain what I was trying to find.

I was just about ready to start Googling for hints, when by chance, my camera angle shifted and I really -looked- at what was on my screen.

What I exclaimed was not fit to be said in that church.

In retrospect, it was obvious, and it fit. Which is the best kind of adventure game puzzle solution.

2) Follow the Trail of…

Blood (a perennial favorite,) dirt, even metal traps.

Or Illuminati signs. This shows up in the intro tutorial, so you immediately get a sense of the kinda place this is going to be.

Again, it’s a simple thing, but it feels good. It’s like you get to play really simple CSI and follow the red blood splatters until you get somewhere.

For some quests, the trail in question is phased in. For other quests, the trail has always been there, embedded into the scenery you keep running past without a second glance.

(This ain’t completely new. I’ve seen Runescape do it specifically for certain quests/skills that require tracking animal tracks. For all I know, there are other MMOs who do stuff like this for footprints or whatever. But we need to see more of it, because it’s something else to do besides just follow the waypoint dotted track that has no real existence in the world. )

A very neat touch and more advanced spin on this type of quest is the Siren’s Song in the main story quest. Trigger an item, and your view changes, including a waypoint path that you have to follow. Except this waypoint path represents the song you are hearing being sung. The audio also sends atmospheric chills up your spine, in a good way.

Dooo doooo…. La lala la lalala…

3) Find the Safe Path (or ANY path at all)

Sort of a variant on the jumping puzzle, just less vertical and with a touch more lateral thinking. Bunch of scary red lasers, or piles of green radioactive goo or electrocuted water in your way. How are you going to get from here to there?

The same question and challenge also applies to awfully high items that you can’t reach, or things that sit around taunting you with a fence/barrier blocking your way

How the heck do I get in there?

Kind of a more sophisticated version of the thing you do in City of Heroes when you get to the waypoint and can’t find the mission door because it’s either above or under you.

4) Riddles

Obscure wordplay. ‘Nuff said. Pretty fun, but I am a wordy kind of person.

LOTRO also dabbles with these.

5) Triangulate to a Location

Seriously, wow. I was NOT expecting any other MMO than A Tale in the Desert to make me even attempt triangulation (lemme tell you about frog catching in ATITD some other time.)

You get a radar thingummy. It pings more frequently and beeps louder as you get warmer and closer to the desired location. Figure it out.

Ping! Ping ping! Ping…

Fortunately, the location was nearby and I didn’t have to do any coordinate calculations unlike *ahem* a certain other sandy MMO, which was good, cos I hate math.

6) Solve Morse Code

*@#@)!*

I confess, this one defeated me. I am naturally as far from an auditory learner as you can get. Anything that requires me to pay attention to sounds, memorize them and their rhythms, and replicate them is going to kick my ass.

I gamely tried to pause the visualization and go frame by frame to decode it, but the poor UI controls in the game frustrated me to no end. Nor did looking up a Youtube recording of it help, even though I could rewind and fast forward. I got as far as three letters, garbled up by an extra imaginary dot where there should be nothing, threw up my hands and started Googling for help.

I even tried downloading an automatic Morse Code decoder as suggested by a forums-goer, but was stumped by all the technical audio references and terms in the program, and also discovered my seldom-used mic was definitely not working.

(I was, however, quite impressed as to the ingenuity of the other puzzle solvers. This sort of program use harkens back to my MUD days, where some of us would indulge in ‘cyborging’ – my term for the use of such programs to help a human solve these kinds of quests at a much faster rate than manually puzzling it out. I still know where to go for anagram and cryptogram solvers, fer instance.)

So I eventually cheated via Google-fu and found some kind person who had spilled the answer to this puzzle online.

I don’t feel a speck of guilt for doing this though. It’s up to each player to choose the difficulty level they desire. This is still an MMO, and the ‘multiplayer’ component has to play a part somewhere.

Sure, maybe we’ll get to a point where an expansion is released and no one knows the answer to some new mysterious investigation quest or ARG that just launched. Then I’ll be glad to pool my mental power with that of everyone’s in trying to puzzle it out together.

Ultimately, we are living in the age of an interconnected global mind by courtesy of the internet. It would be foolish not to harness its power.

P.S. For anyone who still has not encountered this amusing Zahada riddle website yet, feel free to enjoy doing stuff similar to (or slightly harder than) what The Secret World is asking of its players right now. You may thank me for wasting a week of your time later.

(Our workplace lost about that much productivity time when we found it and attempted solving it together.)