My first MMO was the ironically-named Everquest. I found some quests there, eventually. Hours passed happily as I wandered round Qeynos /hailing every idling armor salesman and strolling guard on the off-chance a small package might need delivering to a guy standing ten yards away or I might get offered a few silver to murder someone in cold blood.
|Wolf? Kill? Pelt? Just tell me!|
Everquest's key-word matching was probably familiar to everyone playing back in 1999. It was largely the same system text adventures had been using for a decade and more. There are MMOs using it still, but as the genre struggled towards the mainstream many of the traits inherited from its primitive ancestors began to breed out.
|Calm down! I saw the feather!|
Innovations came thick and fast. Tasks, Missions, Journals, Breadcrumb Trails, Counters, Map Markers... Questing ceased to be about wandering a world, meeting people, getting drawn into their intrigues, troubles and dramas. Instead it came more and more to feel like being the intern whose job it is to go round the office asking everyone what sandwiches they want for lunch then going out and getting them.
Eventually we hit a point where the entire questing process seemed to have been subcontracted out. There are MMOs where all you have to do to quest is hit a marker on your map to autorun to the guy who wants something then another to run to what he wants. Not that that isn't fun in its own way, but where's the mystery? Where's the romance?
Penelope Pitstop. GW2 is determined you'll have plenty to do without needing to ask.
The Secret World has a more traditional delivery system but Funcom look to be out to break both the quest hub and text-skipping. No clicking through a clutch of question marks and loading up. Your journal has room for only a handful of Missions. Try to take a new one and an old one drops out. You have to focus, talk to people and listen to what they tell you. I know. Unheard of.
|How's he keeping that thing up there?|
|TMI - strictly roots|
There's no clear agreement about the solution but there appears to be some consensus around the problem: NPCs that deliver lengthy instructions in text or voiceover that we passively receive, record and carry out like obedient droids have had their day. We're back out in the open world, getting caught up in stuff as it happens because we were poking our noses in without asking first.
Where does that leave highly directed fourth-pillar storygaming? Washed up and wiped out or just surfing a different wave? Time will tell. There's probably room for both. I'm just glad to see an orthodoxy that was ossifying begin to crumble.