Due to quests in TERA being such a general irrelevance, I find myself filtering the order of quests I undertake by giving preference to those which offer equipment upgrades; although, I’m still not sure about the technical accuracy of ‘upgrade’ in the context of a game where your character wears less armour the more they grow in power. It was always something which intrigued me about Star Wars: The Old Republic, the fact that the quests never showed a preview of the reward you’d be getting, and –perhaps due to the generally excellent storytelling– I never cared to know.
It’s a simple distinction, but an interesting one. By having the carrot waved around in front of their nose, the player rarely cares about the path they take while pulling the developer’s cart of flow. The developer, guiding the player in this way, gains a great deal of control and can instil motivation in the player, all without the need for world building or story. In fact, the reward will detract from the story in most instances, and I think it’s another area where BioWare were clever and alert to the pitfalls of the genre they were entering. The last thing you need in the Regency era ballroom of storytelling, where players are invited to twirl elegantly through the carefully choreographed steps of the plot, is a DJ in the corner with the glitter ball of phat loot, spinning to the thumping rhythm of tracks from Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward.
TERA is a curious beast in terms of how players are directed in their questing. There is a strong World-of-Warcraft-like impetus to click through the quest text and get on with adventuring, especially considering that the combat is the stronger pillar of the game’s foundation, along with the aforementioned carrot of the rewards being presented up-front. What’s more, clicking on any highlighted name in the quest text will place a marker on the player’s map as to where that mob can be found. In essence, the game seems to be using quests as an enabler to drive the players into combat, as per the standard MMO model. However, the game also marks any mobs for which the player currently has a quest by placing an exclamation mark above their head. Here we find the ubiquitous ‘quest marker’ being employed not only as a way for players to easily find quests, but the quest mobs themselves. What I find strange is that this would be a perfectly excellent way to remove some of the production line feel from an MMO, that of grabbing quests in an area and then slaughtering all the wildlife in the vicinity until the quest tracker was full of green ticks. Being able to wander freely, and have any Mobs of Interest highlighted to the player as they explore, seems a far more natural and immersive system than the current MMO standard – Lord of the Geocachings. I really like the idea, but it’s bizarrely extraneous in a game such as TERA, where there is no discernible reason to explore the world –outside of the potential for a screenshot opportunity (of which there is an opportunity roughly every four yards in this painfully pretty game)– and every quest mob can be found with pinpoint precision, each player a laser-guided bomb of mob obliteration.
It’s interesting how small adjustments in the presentation of quests, their rewards, and their objectives, can quite dramatically change the perspective from which a player approaches them. In a game where combat is its own reward, is the loot carrot really necessary? If a game wishes to encourage exploration and adventure, should it perhaps spend time finding ways to remove the unnatural geocaching of quests, rather than inventing new game-play mechanisms? Mechanisms which are layered on top of the already proven questing system, and thus often feel forced.
As the fundamental enabler of flow in MMOs for many years, it’s curious to see how little has changed in the design of quest presentation over the years, and fascinating to see just how little change is required to transform the way a player views the world through the questing lens, where slight adjustments to structure can alter the focus of a player’s attentions, blurring the boundary between mechanisms and mind-set, while throwing the game’s world into sharper relief.