Quests – The Biggest Grind

Wolfshead posted an interesting comment on my Open Dungeons article from the other week and it made me start thinking about questing and the whole ‘grind’ structure of MMORPGs.

Questing as a leveling mechanic was introduced with the advent of World of Warcraft. Before that quests were simply a means to address story and receive items, they were never designed to be part of the exp level grind. I applaud Blizzard for trying to take the leveling process in a different direction but I would disagree that they’ve made it more enjoyable. In fact, I think grinding up with quests in WoW is far more dull and laborious than grabbing a dungeon exp group in, say, Everquest 2.

I have three big problems with quest orientated leveling:

  1. Most quests are just disguises for mob killing. For example, I took my Warrior to Nagrand in Outland and immediately stocked up with several ‘master’ quests which, predictably enough, just involved me kill X number of different types of mobs. /yawn
  2. Quests offer very little variation. Once I’ve done a quest once, I’ve done it a hundred times and the prospect of having to level up another character by doing the exact same quests that I’ve done before is unappealing and exceptionally tedious. There is no room for the diversity caused by social interaction when just soloing a bunch of quests.
  3. By granting the ‘best’ experience through quest rewards, it’s killed off the appeal and drive to form groups. As I said in my Open Dungeons article, quests leave no room for the unpredictable nature of social interaction.

I believe quests used to be used to drive story, to help immerse the player in the universe and to grant rewards and knowledge but not as a leveling mechanic. Killing X mobs for a quest in order to receive experience is not different than just killing X mobs. The motivation and experience of the player is not changed just because some NPC has a silly reason for needing 10 hormone glands from ravage snailbeasts.

For me, quest leveling is a far bigger grind than exping with a group. I can’t think of any more enjoyable exp method than doing a dungeon crawl through an engrossing dungeon – completing a few quests on the way but not being there just for that purpose. I’d like to see a return to group orientated leveling in which quests are either self-contained stories with defined purposes to them or a soloing alternative to grouping. When they overshadow grouping completely and just become another grind mechanic then it’s utterly counter productive.

Are quests a grind?

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  1. Before playing Ryzom, I probably wouldn’t have agreed with you. The first time leveling through WoW, mainly through quests, I almost never felt the “grind”-part of the quest mechanic. It only happened during certain key-moments, like being two levels from level cap and just being frustrated at not being the same high level as my friends (back in Vanilla, at least).

    But brining up an alt? That’s when it truly hit me. It’s just the same thing over and over again, every alt goes through the same motions. It’s not very exciting or rewarding to do the same quests, in the same areas, again. Going out on a hunt in Ryzom, grabbing nice mats while gaining XP and interacting and having a whole lot of fun with your group mates, is a whole other deal – it’s spending time with others while also gaining XP and developing your character.

    I am very interested in seeing how Aion will do in all of this, especially since it borrows so heavily from WoW when it comes to quests. Come to think of it, most MMOs these days do, unless they are as niche as Darkfall.

    Ok, rambling comment…perhaps I should just leave it at this, not even sure what my point was. :D Voted for number 1, for what it’s worth.

  2. Andrew says:

    The issue with your preferred method of leveling (group-based dungeon crawl) is the implicit time commitment required. Not many groups will pick you up if all you have is 30-60 minutes of playtime available…. and if you don’t lay that restriction out when you join a group then you end up looking like quite the ass when you quit.

    Kill 10 foozles quests – while terribly dull – do allow a limited-time player to jump into the world, futz around for as long as possible, and then log out to meet some r/l commitment and still make progress in the game.

    Perhaps the holy grail lies somewhere in the middle….. increased experience for grouping AND a viable (if boring) task-based progression path.

  3. Ecgric says:

    I’ve leveled many alts in WoW and quest leveling is by far my favorite thing to do in the game. Whenever I reach level cap, I usually roll a new character and start over again. If I had to level by grouping with other people, I wouldn’t be playing WoW.

  4. Beej says:

    I wish it were easier in WoW to entirely instance grind. There are simply too few players on my server to make dungeon running my primary form of XP gain. It’s fine right after an expansion (which I am sad to say I missed out on this time thank to grad school), but after the initial burst, it’s hard to keep a consistent instance chain running. So I’m left to questing, which bores me, and explains why my Priest is still not 80.

    The instances, while the same thing over and over, can have a much more dynamic feel thanks to the group one has or the spec one plays. Quests turn out the same every time with little variation. After I’ve done them a couple of times on alts, I never want to do them again.

  5. whatsmymain says:

    Well yes and no. If you treat quests as just a way to gain xp then it will become a grind. If you treat instances as the only way to gain xp then that is where the grind is. As boring as it can be that is a mechanic that is important to MMORPG’s.

    The quests in the original WoW contain a lot of kill x amount because I said so quests. WotLK quests, however, are fairly story driven. The issue is though that people turn instant quest text on and just accept before reading anything but the objectives… if that. Many people go out of their way to turn it into a grind rather then reading why you are being set to kill whatever.

    My favorite leveling tool is dungeon crawling. When it comes to WoW I try to do what I enjoy… not necessarily whats fastest. The more people view leveling as something they have to do the more tedious it becomes.

  6. Dblade says:

    Groups aren’t as good any more, because they have so many issues. Class balance is one, if you are underpowered in your archetype, in a group-based game you are SOL to find a party, and have to solo anyways, often much more inefficiently and with much less fun.

    Time is another, a lot of people simply can’t devote 3 hours + anymore in an MMO. Especially since grouping can be risky and have no results, or even no invites.

    I think maybe the next step is to go from groups to large pve encounters in battlefields.

  7. Tesh says:

    Forced grouping doesn’t always invoke the wondrous unpredictability of playing with other people. PUGs rightfully have a bad reputation, and some raids are more of an exercise in execution and group composition than actually approaching an interesting challenge with some good friends.

    In other words, the more structured your “grouping” is, including group-gated content and raids, the more likely it is to be anything but delightfully unpredictable. More often, it will be an exercise in pointing fingers when the raid or PUG wipes, and that’s on top of an hour in LFG chat whilst twiddling fingers in a capital somewhere, enduring idiotic general chat.

    …so yes, open dungeons are good times. The most fun I’ve had in a WoW minidungeon was schlepping around as a low teen Night Elf, helping random people with quests in some mine complex with ghosts… or something. One fellow asked me if I wasn’t a bit overleveled for the content in that area, to which I readily agreed, but explained that I liked helping people mucking around down there who looked like they needed a hand. (And I liked that because I saw how much of a pain it was to solo some of the combat when I soloed it earlier.)

    Make big, interesting areas where working together is a benefit (in rewards, efficiency or both), but not required, and let people play however they like. Those who like to help others will do so, and those who just want to do their own thing can go ahead and play through.

  8. [...] to everyone for the fabulous feedback on my previous post about quest grinding. It was very interesting to hear everyone’s different views and opinions and actually quite [...]

  9. Gordon says:

    @Petter Yeah, that’s when it really hit me too. I think the WoW quests are great but the problem is that if you’ve done them once, you’ve done them a million times. I’d like to see more quests added to the old world content in order to give more variety when leveling alts.

    @Whatsmymain Definitely agree, of course TBC still has a huge amount of kill X mob quests. The problem is that the technology to do hugely interactive and game changing quests just doesn’t exist yet.

    @Dblade Yep, groups can be very time consuming. I’d like to see a WAR style Open Group mechanic in WoW actually. Would be very curious to see how it went.

  10. Sente says:

    World of Warcraft was not really the first that provided quests as a mean to level. But they might have been the ones that used that mechanic and got away with hiding the repetitive nature of it by having a large part handcrafted quests.

    The first quest grinder would possibly be Anarchy Online with its mission generator. A large part of leveling in Earth & Beyond also included quite boring repetitve quests/missions – only 50 of 150 levels could be gained at a somewhat reasonable pace through killing mobs. For a large part of the other 100 levels repetitive missions were necessary.

    The problem is really that a gameplay mechanic (questing or something else) is dragged out during a very long time, long after people have learned and mastered the basic idea behind it. There is simply not so much new to learn and master, since it is pretty much the same all the time.

    The long progression time through a limited set of game mechanics is the culprit, MMO quests are just one example.

  11. evizaer says:

    I find your preference for straight XP grinding to be out of the ordinary. By camping and doing xp runs, you’re just making quests for yourself–quests that are less rewarding than the structured and pre-programmed alternative.

    Beyond that, I’ve written a few posts that address this issue. Instead of rewriting them here, I’ll just link them.

    In this post, I dissect the the relationship between character advancement and “questing” in the traditional sense:

    In this post, I take a look at the progression from camps to quests and what it all means, I even go so far as to take a stab at what will follow:

  12. Gordon, in the post, wrote:
    Questing as a leveling mechanic was introduced with the advent of World of Warcraft.

    Incorrect. Sente points out Anarchy Online, but Dark Age of Camelot also had quests (very simple “go kill 10 of X” quests without any real flavor, mind you) to help level up through the early levels. WoW took the idea and added polish: variety, flavor text, sequences, a nifty tracking journal, etc. Before DAoC, there were text MUDs that had directed questing that rewarded experience or provided gates a player had to go through to advance.

    Tesh wrote:
    PUGs rightfully have a bad reputation[...].

    Part of this bad reputation is because people in PUGs have no investment in solo-friendly games. If nobody will group with you in a PUG, soloing is a viable enough option to still advance. There were bad PUGs in earlier games, too, but if someone was really obnoxious their reputation got around. People had more interest in not being a screwup because it could directly impact their ability to get into groups (and eventually guilds and therefore raids) in the future.

    I’m not saying forced grouping is all that and a bag of chips, but there is a reason why people are looking back at the EQ era fondly beyond simple nostalgia.

    Gordon wrote:
    The problem is that the technology to do hugely interactive and game changing quests just doesn’t exist yet.

    Sorry, you’re wrong again. ;) Ignoring text games and focusing only on graphical games, the technology exists (even before WoW’s phasing); the larger issue is generating enough content and being willing to wipe old content out of the game. This unwillingness to wipe out old content was the major explanation for why developers don’t do more dynamic content that allows the players to affect the world. Given that WoW seems to be sacrificing the old content on the altar of “getting people to the latest expansion ASAP”, this seems like a hollow reason. However, time spent changing old content is time not spent adding new shiny stuff at the higher levels; seems Blizzard knows which side the butter is on their bread.

  13. Gordon says:

    Ah yeah I remember those quests in AO and DAOC. For some reason I never paid much attention to them and pretty much always tried to group and exp or not play at all.

    The dynamic content subject is very interesting. It’s almost impossible for MMORPGs to do it and still give every new player the same exprience as someone who started playing 4 years ago. IMO, I don’t think thats necessarily very important. I’d love to see a MMO in which actions actually effect the world, permenantly, and we see the face of it changing over the course of months and years.

    Thanks for the info, Brian!

  14. bert says:

    one of the reasons i loved daoc was because you could often solo quests or join a pug if not, ah those were the days

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