I had an epiphany whilst playing ESO last night. Slow leveller that I am, I’m only just approaching level 30 now after over a month of playing, and I’m tooling around Shadowfen helping Argonians and beating off ravening crocodiles. Or possibly I’ve been helping crocodiles and beating off Argonians, they’re easy to get confused and both are great sources of leather :) I was level 28 at the time, with only one level 28 quest left in my journal and a handful of higher level quests. The main Shadowfen storyline quest’s next step was level 31, so following that I’d obviously outstripped my own ability to level. For a zone that’s supposed to be level 23 to 30, I was in danger of having to move on early, and I could maybe see the point of people who have complained that they ran out of quests and had to grind many of the levels in this game.
Then I looked at the achievement for Shadowfen quests. 29 completed out of 62. Following the main roads and expecting to be led to the action by the main storyline had uncovered less than half the content available to me. I needed to go looking in the places I hadn’t been led to. In fairly short order I found an escaped slave on the run with her mistress’ stolen jewels, aided the lunatic last of his race who fancied himself a king and myself his loyal subject, and helped to heal what was for all intents and purposes a lizard man with Asperger’s Syndrome. There are still over twenty quests out there I haven’t found yet – more than enough to get me past level 30 and on to the next area. I just have to go and find them.
A friend of mine who has played a lot more Skyrim than I ever did was singularly unsurprised by this. I think his exact quote was “It’s the Elder Scrolls, of course you’ve got to explore!” It’s something a bit different for a current generation MMO though (GW2 aside, which also expects you to go search the map for hearts and events). We’ve gone from original EverQuest and DAoC, where you had to talk to each NPC to even find out if they had any quests, to having golden punctuation over the heads of NPCs, to having things neatly ordered into clusters with vector quests that take you on to the next cluster once you’ve done with this one. The thoroughly modern WoW-clone MMO even now designs the landscape around its quest hubs to make for the most efficient flow, with every scrap of the landscape serving the purpose of hosting specific quests and none of it wasted on just being, well, landscape. Those of you with LotRO accounts might want to try touring Breeland and then Southern Mirkwood to see just how far we’ve come in terms of world being designed to serve quest flow.
No doubt having to go out there and search for quests instead of being neatly guided to it is a horrible imposition for some players – if nothing else, it impedes the rush to level cap. There are websites out there, and probably UI add-ons for use in-game, that will guide you to all of the content without having to do any looking for yourself, and I strongly suggest that the players who are having trouble finding enough content to level go use them. For myself, though, I’m happy to splash through the muck seeing what else I can find in my own time. It makes a nice change from being hustled from theme park ride to theme park ride as if by a stern and somewhat harried guide, forever tapping at his watch and reminding me of my next urgent appointment on the fixed golden path towards the fabled “endgame”.