Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Questing in the Age of the Giant Stampeding Punctuation Marks

Can I touch it?
Quests! We like quests. We like finding that NPC that desperately needs us to deliver items to 5 other NPCs or hates bats with a passion and will reward us handsomely for slaughtering an arbitrary number of them and returning with 10 teeth. We like rewards of exp and items. We like the stories they tell and the lore they convey. They can give us a personal connection with our starting city, and later, the world. After all, we are heroes and items need fetching and mobs need killing.

Quests are a useful tutorial for a brand new player. They make us learn our starting city and the surrounding area. They teach us how to emote and interact with objects. The very beginning quests can get us up a few levels before even leaving the city if we choose. By then we have a couple of abilities to make the murder of the local wildlife more fun than just auto attacking. Soon after we have a gear check quest that teaches us to upgrade our armor. Then we are introduced to Guildleves and Guildhests that will provide that repeatable quest option. After all that, there are class, job and storyline quests that get us out of the starter areas and visiting other cities and tackling dungeons and primals with others.

The pacing of the quests, as in how many you get and how long you have to wait between levels to unlock them, seems fine to us. You can be on many quests at once and if you outlevel your quest, you can just switch to a lower level class before you hand it in.

The rewards for quests seem a smidgen high. The exp and Gil is fine but you get a lot of gear rewards even after the initial tutorial quests making much of the gear our crafters produce not profitable. Of course upgrading to HQ gear when you can afford it is nice but hardly necessary.

The difficulty of the beginner quests are extremely simple and that's great. The class quests ramp up the difficulty slightly, but are still not very challenging. Progressing through the storyline isn't very hard at all, and it's obvious they did this intentionally so as to not lock anyone out of the story. Some of the mid-late level stuff is just hard enough to give you a feeling of accomplishment. This is a MMO that wants to seduce the non-mmo crowd to come play with us so a bit of handholding and the shallow difficulty curve is expected.

While there has to be some indication of who has a quest for you and, once accepted, what it is you need to do to complete the quest, We find the current system overbearing.

The duty UI element shows what you need to do and the journal spells it all out for you in plain English and even provides you with a Map button if you don't have any idea where to go.

Our primary issues with the quest system are UI related:

There are more...
1. Giant marks above questgivers heads come in many flavors
  • One for indicating they have a regular quest for you
  • One for indicating that you finished and have to talk to them again
  • One for indicating they have a important quest for you
  • One for indicating they don't have a quest for you now but will later

2. Map and minimap clutter
  • Available questgivers
  • Locked questgivers
  • Giant orange circle noting general location
  • Mobs that need to die marked within orange circle
  • Indicators that quest is in different zone somewhat misleading/confusing

3. Mob nameplate
  • "Q" indicating that this is the mob you need to kill 

4. General UI clutter
  • Giant blue text in the center of the screen duplicating what is already listed in the duty list.
  • Giant golden letters announcing "Quest Accepted" and "Quest Complete" for every single one with accompanying musical fanfare.
5. Duty List 
  • Can only track 5 quests at a time
  • Can not choose what quests to track
  • If you turn it off you have to turn back on to sync down for a fate
6. Glowing shimmering items flash at you so you don't miss a thing
No, we don't want to go back to the dark days of FFXI where even if you managed to find a NPC that had a quest for you without a wiki you had no idea what he really wanted. There were no marks, no hints and the quest text told you very little about what conditions for completion were. All the information to complete the quest should exist in the game without visiting 3rd party sites.

However, what we have now seems like information overload. For example, here is one of the first quests that sends you out of town to kill some sheep.

The Journal tells you what the NPC wants you to get.

The NPC tells you where those mobs are located, how to get there and this information is recorded in the Journal.
The Map button in the journal tells you what zone to go to. Note even unexplored areas have some markings to help you out.
So east and south a bit from Zephyr Gate

Here is what it looks like when you find those Lost Lambs:
Go away blue letters!
You have a map with a red circle for the quest and little yellow dots for each lamb. Big Q's over each individual lamb. Neon blue letters in the center of the screen popping up each time you progress in your quest that duplicates information in the persistently displayed Duty List. Since you cannot toggle off individual quests one of the quests you are currently working on might not even show up.

For us this is complete overkill and totally wrecks any immersion. We feel more like we are playing the UI and less like an aspiring adventurer sent out to obtain some sheep meat.

In the end we think most everyone could be kept happy with some configurable options. Give us the ability to only track the quests we want to track, let us toggle on/off all the different UI elements and separate the Level Sync button from the rest of the Duty List. We really don't care if someone wants or needs a giant red circle pointing the way to everything, but we want to be able to do our questing with as little UI clutter as we can. If we do get stuck, we want to open our Journals and re-read the text, and if we need still more help, clicking on the Map button within the Journal for all the visual indicators should be sufficient.

So what do you think of quests and how they are implemented in ARR?

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