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During a lull at the Notting Hill Carnival yesterday, there was a comment in the conversation about quests in games and how unoriginal they generally are. Whilst MMOs were the broad topic, this runs through pretty much all game genres that have such concepts such as RPGs with side quests, RTSes with multiple objectives and FPSes with missions.

Quests/missions ostensibly exist to provide gameplay variety and as a source of rewards but from various chats I've had over time, player opinion seems divided and runs the gamut from from those that thrive on goal completion to those that would rather uninstall the game than kill another 10 bloody rats. Games designers too seem to be divided on the subject, if the wide range of implementation I've seen is anything to go by: some games have side quests tacked on almost as an afterthought because it's needed to tick some obligatory box or other, whilst others tie the progression of the game to a questing system to such an extent that you cannot avoid the majority of these objectives.

It's rare that I find a truly innovative or original quest in a game. The current height of quest system design is one that allows for a successful completion of objectives by following more than one path, and where your choices in doing this have repercussions later on. MMOs have been very slow on the uptake here whilst RPGs and first-person games have led the way, a classic example of which is the Deus Ex series in which you can choose to sneak and hack through the game rather than kill and destroy all that you see.

So, I'm curious as to what people think about the topic. Love 'em? Hate 'em? Game makers? Game breakers? Couldn't give a flying monkey's?

Oooh what's over here?

Personally, I see quests and missions as a means to an end rather than a thing to focus on in and of itself. I'm a great explorer of game worlds and maps, and I like to see what's over this hill or in that hidden bunker. I like to click on items that look interesting and potentially clickable just for the hell of it. I'm insatiably curious about how the settings work and where the boundaries of what I can do are set. Quests are a way of getting things done while I'm indulging in my exploratory nature. I reason that there's now a good excuse to travel across the map to a part I haven't visited yet and poke around because in doing so I'll end up killing things and picking up objects and I might as well pick up extra credit and advance the plot/unlock new areas/watch new cut scenes while I'm at it. Whether I read all the text associated with the objective or even care about it depends a lot on how the story of the game has grabbed me. Generic fantasy game #1634 will have me reading only the bolded bit where it lists the mob name I nave to slot or what zone to travel to to follow the waypoint on my map. Something intriguing like a plot twist centred around a character I'm interested in will have me paying attention and eager to see what comes next. Another thing I consider is that because I am very easily sidetracked by exploration, timed quests are horrible for me and as a rule I loathe them.

Going off into new areas often means I find myself in situations which wouldn't normally be encountered until much later and this can often be rather lethal. If I've been given a specific task to in an area at a certain point in the game, it hopefully means that what I'm likely to encounter on the way is appropriate for my current in-game capabilities. Of course this isn't guaranteed, as anyone who's ever run a mission in Anarchy Online knows all too well, where low level characters end up having to travel through areas containing much higher level mobs to get to their low level destination...

All of this does mean that when I'm done with an area and want to move on, if I keep getting sent back to old territory with missions then I'll get annoyed and either sod the mission until a later point or, if I can't do that, I'll sod off and play a different game for a while. Endless back and forth between the same areas on errands gets to be tedious. Tedious tasks put me off, and thus the dichotomy of the quest question continues.
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I've been keeping an eye on what's being hyped for release in the future and whilst most offerings end up being the sort of thing I'd glance at if a demo or free trial comes along, there's often a game or two in the midst of the release schedules that I pay attention to.

Right now, I've got my eye on Borderlands 2 and The Secret World in particular.

Pandora's Vault

The original Borderlands was an FPS with RPG elements and co-op play game that initially passed me by. I saw a friend play it at a Halloween LAN party a couple of years back and whilst I do like post-apocalytpic-esque settings and sniper rifles that set stuff on fire, it just didn't interest me all that much. I acquired a copy of the game on Steam eventually after various parties had waxed lyrically about it and after a bit of a rough start (I absolutely loathe the jumping mechanics in the game) I finally got the hang of the thing and decided that sniping skags in the mouth from half a kilometre away was where it's at.

Whilst it can get grindy trying to find decent weapons, the game is more fun in co-op mode than solo and there's plenty of entertainment to be had from the NPCs and antagonists even if the quests missions are the usual 'go here, pick up this item, kill that guy'. Whilst my interest in the game waxes and wanes, it's one of the more popular cross-platform games out there and when Gearbox announced a second game, there was much excitement.

The story continues where the first game left off with a new set of player characters (the original Vault-hunters are apparently lurking about as NPCs). Thusfar one of the new character types is the dwarfish 'Gunzerker' pictured above, going by the name of Salvador. It seems to be something of a cross between the berzerking close-range Berzerker and the gun specialist Soldier by going up close and personal with a pair of heavy guns. Another confirmed character is some sort of variant on the original Siren by the name of Maya, who won't have the Phasewalk ability. Further Power details haven't been released yet.

Gearbox has stated that the interactions between the players and the world have evolved, and that choices, time taken and actions performed will all have story-changing consequences. NPCs will react more, the characters will interplay (in the style of Left 4 Dead series characters) and the game equipment will be given a more differentiated look so you can tell roughly what sort of weapon it is without having to read the fine print on the stats. Screenshots so far hint at the iconic graphical style being retained and ramped up.

The game is slated for release sometime in 2012 on the PC, PS3 and the XBox 360. More information can be found here and there's a short trailer for it here.

Begin the Beta Tests

The Secret World, formerly known as Cabal and The World Online, is about to start sign-ups for beta testing and was recently one of the featured titles at Gamescom 2011. It's another FUncom game, which means I'm wary indeed: not about the storyline, which is in the safe hands of Ragnar Tørnquist, but about everything else.

The inital viral marketing for the game was quite successful with the message "Dark Days Are Coming" and a faked tourism webpage for Kingsmouth, one of the in-game locations. Pitched as a modern-day conspiracy/supernatural 'horror' MMORPG (yes, FC are trying to pimp the RPG aspect), there is much hype surrounding the fact that characters are not restricted by a class or level based system and that there are three mutually antagonistic factions they can choose from; the righteous crusading Templars, the corporate puppet masters of the Illuminati and the chaotic and mysterious Dragons. Set in various locations throughout the modern world (and perhaps the near future and near past as well), the game world focuses on battles for dominance between the three factions and at the same time in dealing with monsters, demons, parallel dimension entities and other weird stuff that the rest of humanity has no idea about.

There's plenty of screenshots and snippets of data about the game so far through the official website linked above, with interviews and community speculation about how the game play will work, and recently there has been a reveal about large scale PvP zones. Combat mechanics are unclear at this point.

Electronic Arts is going to be handling distribution of the game, which has caused some concern over a possible Origin requirement. Origin is horrid along the same lines as Games for Windows Live so I sincerely hope that this won't be the case. Still, I'll toss my hat into the ring for the beta testing because I like the premise and it'll be a long time before the World of Darkness MMO shows up or the Anarchy Online revamp hits.

EDIT: The latest TSW trailer has just been released and can be seen here:

Animations look dodgy but the setting is coming along nicely.


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