Tag Archives: quests

The trap of linearity

Tobold is experiencing Mists of Pandaria largely spoiler-free, and is concerned that MoP is shaping up to be just as linear as Cataclysm.

Blizzard is making most of their money from people like my wife, who was subscribed to WoW all the way through Cataclysm, and was busy leveling alts.

Mists of Pandaria might well turn out to be the worst expansion ever to level alts in. It has the linearity of Cataclysm zones, but where Catalysm had two possible zones to start in, Mists of Pandaria only has one. The Jade Forest might end up being more hated than Hellfire Peninsula, because in Hellfire at least you could skip the quests you didn’t like. All the talk you heard about Blizzard making MoP more casual-friendly is going to come to nothing if those casuals become bored of leveling alts due to linear questing.

An SWTOR mission

This is exactly the problem I encountered with SWTOR. The class quests are unique to your class, but the rest of the zones are incredibly linear, with very little room for deviation. The best you can do is try to get ahead on XP and skip side quests, but you can’t just ignore a zone planet completely even when you’re totally burnt out on it.

This pretty much killed any desire I had to play alts in a serious way in SWTOR, despite my interest in the different classes and their individual stories. It is, I think, probably the single biggest flaw with SWTOR: the replayability is very low1, which means that there’s little motivation to continue subscribing2 after you’ve played both factions to level cap. Even raiders need something to do outside of raid times.

Tangentially, The Secret World has the same problem — however, it’s less of an issue in TSW because you can do everything on one character (except experience the very small amount of faction-specific content), so a) there’s less impetus to play alts, and b) you’ve got a lot more to keep you busy on your main character anyway.

Totally linear quest progression is, I think, a design mistake for a traditional MMO. It may enable the devs to tell more interesting, engrossing and epic stories, but it’s at the expense of replayability, and replayability is where the MMO money is.

  1. Relative to most other MMOs.
  2. For most people.

A letter to game designers everywhere, #1

Dear Game Designers,

If you write events or quests that prompt us to try to capture or defeat an NPC…

…and if that NPC gets multiple cut scenes in which he gets to gloat about how clever he is while standing easily within range of our firearms…

…and if that NPC then gets to run off without us getting an opportunity to stop him at a sensible juncture…

You got me monologuing!

…you have only yourselves to blame when we players complain that we should have been able to shoot him in the face while he was monologuing at us.

This is a lesson that every pen-and-paper GM learns early in their career. Just because there are thousands of miles between your ears and our jeering doesn’t mean you should pretend it’s not happening.

Bad writing, designers. Please, please stop doing it. It’s not exciting or inspiring; it’s weaksauce and mockable.


on behalf of frustrated genre-savvy gamers everywhere.

(This letter brought to you by the Star Trek Online “Diplomatic Orders” mission.)

Investigation missions: The Secret World innovates

Working out an investigation mission in TSW

It’s been a long time since a game has made me take notes. Theorycrafting napkin maths, sure; spreadsheets of profit-and-loss and crafting recipes, well, they’re a given with me and MMOs. But actually taking notes? The last game I remember doing that with was Loom or Myst.

TSW’s investigation missions are a puzzler’s heaven, and break the mold of standard questing in a big way. They don’t follow preset formulae the way normal MMO quests do; you’re just given some information to find out, and the game leaves the rest up to you.

One investigation mission has you learning Morse code to translate an intercepted transmission so that you can reach the drop point. Another gives you mysterious conspiracy-theory style clues about Bible verses and times on a clock to lead you to hidden treasure. Some have ciphers, or clues based on nursery rhymes. Many require you to make friends with Google: not for spoilers, but for in-universe websites with hidden clues — there’s a web browser accessible within the game (your character is given a smartphone as part of their factional induction), because they know you’re going to need it. Unlike most MMO quests, completing an investigation mission isn’t just a case of “pick up all the clue macguffins; presto, quest complete”. Investigation missions in TSW say “here are (some of) the clues; now work out what answer they’re hinting at” — and leave the rest up to you.

In many ways, TSW’s investigation missions are reminiscent of ARGs, or Alternate Reality Games, where subtle clues lead you on a treasure hunt across multiple websites and other media. Funcom employed several ARGs as part of TSW’s prelaunch marketing and community building, and it seems they don’t intend to drop that thread now.

It’s a really fascinating addition to an MMO, and it perfectly fits the flavour and atmosphere of The Secret World. I really look forward to the investigation missions, because they tax my ingenuity and imagination. Solving one doesn’t give you any idea of how to deal with the next, except by showing you how far afield you might have to search for your answers.

…The downside, of course, is that unlike most quests, an investigation mission isn’t repeatable — once you’ve done the legwork once, the second run-through isn’t a challenge.

Thankfully, Funcom is planning a monthly update schedule with regular injections of new mission content. The first update, Unleashed, went live this week with seven new missions — five of which were investigations. That’s a promising start, and I hope it becomes a trend.

TSW Issue 1 - Unleashed