Defining Quest

Cuppy’s post about going back to EverQuest got me to thinking… One thing that has always bugged me is when people say that the title of the game EverQuest is ironic because the game had so few quests and was mostly a grind.  “NeverQuest” they often call it.  I heartily disagree… now, on to the tangent…

When I wake up in the morning there are things I do.  I shower, I sometimes shave, I eat breakfast, I check emails, I watch a TV show, maybe I write something for this blog, I go to work.  Work itself is a list of things to do.  Write some code to fix a bug, check on the performance of the servers, flowchart the processes of a new program, and more.  The one thing that all of those have in common is that not a single one of them would I ever, for any reason, consider a “quest”.

My quest in life is to be a writer, or perhaps a game designer.  The things I do on a daily basis are, in some form or another, tasks I perform in pursuit of those larger goals, either directly or indirectly.  And now we return to the point…

In my years of playing EverQuest, there was not a single day in that game where I was not on a quest.  Whether it be a small task performed to gain reputation, or the pursuit of some larger aspect of something else, but it was always moving toward the completion of some quest somewhere.  Headband and Sash quests, Ro Armor, Shackles, Epic weapons, Manuals from Knowledge, Rings in Velious, and much much more.

In my years of playing World of Warcraft, I can’t say I’ve actually done very many quests at all.  Every day, every session, I was completing tasks.  Busy work.  Dozens of little things to do, none of which took very long, and none of which mattered.  The rewards I gained from doing WoW’s “quests” would be replaced in days, sometimes less.  The only rewards that were even close to permanent and mattering to my character were ones gotten at the level cap, through raiding.

To me, a quest should be a long hard road through hell, something that directs more of you life than fifteen minutes.  When I think of “Quest” I think of The Holy Grail, I think of the search for Solomon’s Mines, I think of the search for intelligent life on other planets, I think of goals that consume you.  Quests in EverQuest in the “old days” had this.  Quests in today’s games don’t.  Today’s quests are nothing more than “To Do” lists.  Today’s quests are bullet points on the agenda.  Today’s quests are eating breakfast, checking my email, and reviewing code.

And that, I’m fairly certain, describes exactly why most modern MMOs, and even what EverQuest has become, just don’t seem to hold my interest.  I want to quest again…  Do any games have this? or have they all gone the way of WoW?  I had hoped Lord of the Rings Online would deliver, and perhaps it did later, but I only got up to level 17 and it was “quest hubs” and tasks, sometimes with a dash of story but really nothing more.

4 comments

  1. Aaron says:

    I agree. I wrote about quests vs other activities once. A quest is long, hard, and unpredictable. You know the destination or the object you desire, but the path to it is full of surprises and tests.

    One of the main problems with MMOs in general currently is that they let players know and plan too much. My favorite line from Tolkien is “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” All the great adventures of literature and film are about experiences the protagonists didn’t expect. Adventure’s not about acting, but about responding.

    The last MMO that felt adventurous to me was SWG, because I could explore and didn’t know what to expect.

  2. Cuppycake says:

    Agreed. I think these new ‘tasks’ that are the latest and greatest way to make an MMO have completely redefined the word “quest”. I only call them quests because that’s what the game calls them, but I’ve never felt like they were quests.

    My favorite quests I’ve ever done WERE the long ones in EQ. My epic quest – nothing has ever made me feel as important and accomplished as getting my rez stick. And no matter what I do, I can’t replicate that in games because it just doesn’t feel the same. The Onyxia quest chain was as close as it got for me in WoW I think…maybe the BWL attunement too.

    When I say “get the quests outta my EQ”, I certainly meant tasks. I love quests, but these new things in EQ are NOT quests. They’re deliveries and collections. Borrring.

  3. Jason says:

    EQ, to me anyway, also had a much greater level of immersion. Because I had to go around and talk to the NPCs and read dialog to find quests and tasks, I got to know them. Ten years later I can still name you NPCs and tell you their stories, I can recall all the quests I did and the players who did them with me. WoW and other newer games, for me, just don’t have anywhere near that level of stickiness.

  4. Aaron says:

    While I don’t remember any epic quests from my brief EQ2 experience, that game had a handful of quests that were memorable thanks to great dialogue and storytelling. Conversations and simple experiences with NPCs can be memorable, but they shouldn’t require running back and forth like a postman.

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