I played Everquest for approximately 5 years starting just after it was released in 1999. In that time I did exactly 3 quests (OK, fine, if you include the “fetch me 6 fire beetle eyes” and the “hand in 20 bone chips for Kunark faction” quests then it’s probably about 5). The 3 quests I did are listed below:
- Stein of Moggok
- Enchanter: Iksar Illusion
- Rogue Epic
3 quests. 5 years. Everquest. Irony central to the max.
Thing is, Everquest wasn’t about questing. It was about grouping, grinding and struggling all the way to the top. When it first came out it there was no such thing as quest journals, large, yellow exclamation marks hanging over NPC’s heads or quest location indicators on maps. Heck, there wasn’t even any such thing as maps (I used to have to keep a folder full of print outs from the EQAtlas website). Undertaking a quest resulted in having to research it on the Internet, print out 15 pages of information, spend 2 hours travelling and then a further 18 hours camping mobs only to accidentally hand in the components to the NPC in the wrong order and lose everything. Ah, the good ol’ days.
The next few batches of MMOs didn’t really do much to improve questing or change the way we look at it. Even second generation games like SWG and EQ2 initially didn’t bother much with questing. However change was just around the corner in the form a pencil-necked geek called Warcraft, World of Warcraft.
WoW was packed with quests and it revolutionised everything. It made EQ2 look half finished in comparison and practically killed it off even though it had only been released two weeks before WoW and had a large, loyal fan base. Everything had changed and now people wanted soloable quest content.
While other games, like EQ2, fought hard to keep up and add new content, WoW grew like a juicy maggot. It changed the MMO experience from being a time consuming group orientated one to a slick and easy solo one. Now people could log in, spend 30 minutes doing a few quests, and log off a happy camper.
The result of all of this is now that every MMO has to come briming with quests or it’s considered ‘empty’ and lacking depth and content even if the core game is good (Age of Conan is a perfect example of this). 5 years ago these games would have thrived but now people just want to quest grind alone and only group occasionally until they hit the level cap.
Seems like questing is a double edged sword. On one hand it’s introduced a more user-friendly style of gameplay with greater allowances for storytelling and immersion. On the other hand it’s removed a lot of the social experiences we used to take for granted. There’s a fine line between enjoying doing quests and just ‘quest grinding’ mindlessly to level up quickly which I feel is where we’re heading now in a lot of MMOs.
Ultimately, I want the best of both worlds. I want to quest but I don’t want it just being another tool for grinding, a metric that people use to determine if a game has ‘depth’ or not. Questing should mean something and be an intricate part of the game and it’s evolution certainly shouldn’t result in the extinction of grouping or sociability. I eagerly await the same revolutionary focus being applied to the group experience that was applied to the solo quest one four years ago.