A new interview over at Game Informer has new information on the design approach to questing for the new Elder Scrolls MMO.
In The Elder Scrolls Online, the developers are trying to get past the ‘hub and spoke’ questing design of current MMO frontrunners. For ESO, “the world is what gives the quests.” It accomplishes this by being littered with points of interest through specific regions of the game’s various zones which provide objectives and rewards for completing objectives. These points of interest are divided up in such a way to make the game friendly for those who can only play long enough to complete one, while not preventing players who wish to play long enough to complete several.
After a player finishes several points of interest in a given region, they reach a “graduation point”, or point where the objectives escalate and the story advances in a more meaningful way. The analogy used for this system is how a reader experiences chapters in a book (albeit non-linearly). For example, unbeknownst to the player, finishing enough points of interest to reach a graduating point is like finishing a chapter in a book. The book of course representing the overall story of the zone, which the player gradually realizes he is a part of. And unlike the hub system where all quests begin from static npcs grouped in a collective (often a city, town, or camp), ESO provides two different ways of getting players to these points of interest. First, multiple NPCs can point a player to the same point of interest, so that a player can be directed their from a wide number of places and directions. Second, the minimap has a compass of sorts that will point our and direct the player to nearby points of interest.
In addition to this, some quests have choices and these choices lead to permanent, world-changing ramifications. For example, a certain choice may lead to a statue being built in the world, versus another choice which may lead to no statue or a different statue. Similarly, quests where the player goes back in time could result in the NPC that sent them there being the opposite gender when they return. These decisions can change how towns receive you, but they are not intended to alter the game in such a way as to close off content. The Elder Scrolls Online team believes that one of the worst feelings a player can have is when they realize much later that a decision they made early on has prevented them from accessing specific content.
When it comes to player interaction in questing, it is encouraged simply by how much more fun it is to play in a group with friends, and by how non-confrontational it is in comparison to other games. MMOs of the past often have players fighting for the specific objectives of quest; for example, a quest that requires you to get ten of something would force a group of four to collect forty of that thing to complete rather than sharing the credit among all players. Also, there is a long-standing tradition of groups fighting over loot, who deserves it, and which group member gets it. None of this will be an issue in ESO.
All of these ideas come together to help prevent the player from being bogged down in typical MMO fetch quests. An overall objective may be to kill off an evil werewolf, but along the way to doing that, the player encounters various points of interest that get the player to kill multiple werewolves, to free slaves, etc., which help solidify and reinforce the permanent changes the player is making to the world. These world-changing results reinforce that the player specifically was the hero.
My primary concerns with The Elder Scrolls Online’s approach are that soloing seems to be the real focus and the whole “the world changes to reflect your choices” angle seems to imply a heavy amount of either instancing or phasing (as a refresher, phasing is where you are in the same instance or zone as another player, but you see different things in the world). I get that they are trying to recreate playing an Elder Scrolls game by reinforcing the exploration elements and not tying questing to large ‘seas’ of exclamation points in any given city, but it seems like it will be a missed opportunity in advancing the series into the multiplayer realm. If the only thing you have to promote grouping with friends is the fact that it is “more fun” or that it “isn’t as bad as grouping in the past”, then I think you are missing the whole reason for making a MMO in the first place.
The point isn’t to create an Elder Scrolls game where people sit around banks showing off their completed Daedric armor or to hold dance contests underneath the Sheogorath statue, and otherwise don’t interact while they solo through points of interests. Instead, it should be to promote more directly the notion that there is a lot of dangerous wild out there, and it is going to take more than just myself to tame.