The discussions on questing and storytelling have been going on for a while, and I haven’t said much on the subject until now because personally I feel divided on the subject.

As a way of establishing a basis for my thoughts, here’s a little information about my playing habits in WoW:

I currently have the maximum number of characters allowed (50) scattered across a good dozen servers. I play mostly alliance characters, on PvE servers, but I have player all the racial and death knight newbie areas, and all races to at least level 20. On my main server, I have 10 alliance characters, 3 80’s, 4 70+, and three lowbies. I have one of each class (including death knight), at least one of each race, and all professions maxed or just about.

I interact with the world around me. I mourn the passing of NPCs. I intercept and kill predators that are trying to eat domesticated sheep and chickens. I /salute Thrall when I am in his presence, even as an Alliance character. I /knelt before Varyan Wrynn when he made his triumphant return to Stormwind. I will randomly emote my feelings to NPCs that I’m interacting with. To all intents and purposes, while I’m in the game, I’m in the game world. I don’t roleplay, but I respect those who do. I PvP in battlegrounds, and when I’m with a group of people pursuing an objective, but I don’t believe in ganking, and I don’t care to live constantly looking over my shoulder, worried that someone is going to poke a claymore through my spleen.

I read all the quest text, the first time. Since I play 10 different characters, that averages out to about 33% of the time up until level 80, 20% of the time up to level 74, and just about 10% at level 33 (my lowest level characters). That’s one thing I don’t know if Blizzard’s metrics take into account, players blitzing through content on alts. I’m not sure what the numbers are, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who suffers from altitis, although I’m probably among the ‘chronically endangered’ by the disease.

Personally, I enjoy in-game lore. I care about the NPCs and their plights. I will avenge innocent NPCs that get slaughtered by evil meanies (don’t get me started on the Oracles questline in Sholazar Basin, I must have single-handedly slaughtered thousands of undead there). I don’t mind fetching some guy’s abandoned wood, thinning out pest populations, exploring ruins, retrieving artifacts, or any other menial task (I do object to some of the more mind-numbing quests). I like killing stuff. I like quests that send me to kill 100 blibbles. In fact, I prefer them to quests that send me to pick up one flower in zone A, two zones south from the starting point, hand it in to the wild fae maiden in zone b, on the diametrically opposed end of the continent from zone b, and then come back with the maiden’s words of love back where I started. If it wasn’t for my epic flying mount, I would despise that last quest, but would probably do it anyway if the shinies were shinier enough than what I was currently wearing.

All of that said, I agree with Tesh in that  most of these so-called quests are basically doing other people’s work for them. The aforementioned wood collecting is not a quest, it is menial labour. I have nothing against menial labour, if it will net me a little coin, some experience, reputation, and/or a follow-up. I do object to it being called a Quest.

Hence, my first line in the sand: Differentiate Quests, from tasks, favours, errands, requests for aid, bounty hunts, missions, random acts of kindness, and temporary emergency conscription. I will concede that tasks, etc, can be gateways to Quests, as a means of gaining reputation, proving one’s worth, and all the other rotes.

To me, it’s not just a matter of semantics. It’s a matter of scope. Personally, I would see Quests as the ‘group-required’ stuff in WoW, and tasks as the single player stuff. I would also differentiate in the scope of the rewards. Quests would award meaningful gear upgrades, large amounts of experience, reputation, etc. Tasks would award smaller amounts of experience, and either gold or reputation . In fact, I would love to see a game where I can choose to forego monetary rewards in exchange for a reputation boosts: the character performs the deed out of their sense of duty, honour, or kindness, and thus they are exalted in the eyes of those who requested their assistance. This would tie in nicely with what I said about tasks leading to Quests. If a number of Quests required a minimum reputation to acquire, and there were more minor reputations one could work on, all the better. Even more so, if a number of the tasks are repeatable, for smaller rewards than the first time they are completed. And even more so if there are a number of different repeatable quests that one can do in each town to build reputation, to mix things up a bit.

What makes a Quest different from any of the other terms I used above? Simple: If it requires I kill a single, named or ‘unique’ enemy, or several formidable ones, or obtain a single object of above-average importance, or  an assortment of materials that combine into something greater than the sum of the parts, or beseech the aid of a being of power orders of magnitude greater than my own at the time, it is a Quest. If it involves killing many lowly enemies, obtaining components for something that can be crafted routinely, or several mundane items, or deliver a message to someone only slightly more important than me at the time, it is a task.

The thing about quests, for a chronic sufferer of altitis as myself, is that they lost their sheen after a the first couple of times you do them. By the time I was doing Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord for the fourth and fifth time (I was alternating a warrior and mage), I found myself killing way more monsters than were immediately necessary to complete a quest. On my mage especially, I would be running around from place to place to complete my checklists, and I would stop every few dozen steps to AoE down a pack of monsters. Even on my warrior I was grinding mobs about as much as I was questing, simply because the quests had lost their sheen somewhat. It didn’t help that at the time I had a maxed tailor (cheap, decent quality mage gear) and blacksmith (ditto for warrior), hence completing quests was only coming ahead of grinding on the basis of repuatation rewards. Some of the quests I was still looking forward to doing, namely the ones that required more than killing monsters or collecting items, like the vehicle riding quests.

Another thing about quests, which has been mentioned elsewhere, is the segregation they cause. If I happen to be on the same quests as you, we can group, and go do the quest, then either we see if we have more quests or part ways. One thing I’ve noticed about WoW is that I haven’t formed any relationships as strong as I did playing Everquests, and even those pale when compared to the friendships I still have with people I met while interacting on the pre-release forums of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. I do tend to solo in WoW, but I’m not sure which is the cause and which the effect.

In fact, call me weird, but I have fond memories of grouping in Everquest, just grinding mobs and talking to people between bouts of meditating. Part of me feels that the group quests in WoW only serve to emphasise the problem: if you happen to find enough people of the right classes to do the quests, great, you are treated to either a short period of excitement, or a horrible experience of waiting for people to gather, people dropping out to do other stuff, and/or wiping on what should probably not be a huge deal. If you don’t succeed at finding a group to complete the quest, you get stumped in your progression through the questlines of the zone, and either have to move on and come back later, wait for your friends to show up to help, or abandon the quest and miss out on that part of the game experience.

Which segues nicely into story.

As I said above, I like the stories developers weave into their worlds. If I see something that stands out in the game, I look around to see if I can figure out why it’s there. If there is quest to be read, I will read it, the first time. On the second and third times, if it’s still fresh in my mind, I’ll just click through it. I might read it again if I remember the quest text being interesting, funny, or otherwise memorable – an aside here to mention that I have a pretty good memory for in-game quests and such if I’m actively playing the game – but chances are, if it’s yet another fetch quest or verb number noun quest, I’ll just click through it and go on my merry way.

That said, I do like in-game lore. I especially like what WoW did with the books strewn throughout the world. And not just the important books that tell the world’s history and legends. I thought the steamy romance novels were clever and funny. I read people’s diary’s, or try to. I think story, of all scopes, does more to bring the world to life, as do little NPC interaction scripts, wolves killing squirrels, critters, and things that are there just because. When I’m doing a quest with a story behind it, I live the story, and don’t worry about the fact that thousands of others have done it already, and I don’t feel like the hero any less.

So, as it relates to quests, I like that Quests have stories, and that quests have stories. It’s all part of bringing the world together into a cohesive whole. Even if they are simple, small stories of labourers driven away and missed shipment deadlines, they are the stories of the people who we, as heroes, are there to protect. And we all have to start our Questlines somewhere.