When you think of Elder Scrolls and questing you immediately go into the exploration mode. Turn and run off in a random direction and you are guaranteed to find some lost ruin or dungeon. However, even the great RPG behemoth known as Skyrim has directions and quests to move the player through multiple story lines. Elder Scrolls Online has a similar approach. The team wanted to add in exploration to the zones and the game, but hey also have quests in to guide players through the zone pick up some valuable loot at low levels and to tell an overall story. We wanted to talk a little about how questing works in the game and what players can expect.
We got to play Daggerfall with the demo this past week. The opening zone has a quest line where you are helping some pirates put together a crew to get off this island under the thumb of an evil warlord. I don’t want to give the story away, so that is all you get in terms of spoilers. There is a main quest line to find three crew members around the island and reunite them with the captain.
Quests begin with cutaways to the character talking directly to you on screen. It is easy to get through and you can talk as much or as little as you want. Like any Elder Scrolls game you are given dialogue choices. You can get the main theme of the quest and say goodbye, or you can continue with more information during the conversation. I will admit that I am not a huge fan of cut scenes, however in Elder Scrolls Online they are not intrusive. The game does not center around the dialogue and you can still get the quest information and move on quickly. You can also get more information on the quests if you want to continue chatting through all of the options.
As you move through the zones there are a lot of quest areas that open up to you. Everything is very clearly marked on your map so it is easy to navigate. As you enter one of the areas in the main quest you will see other quests pop up in the zone to finish if you want. One of the journalists at the demo only did the main quest line and quickly moved to the next zone. I continued to find smaller quests that I wanted to do and pursued those instead. It took me longer to get through the zone, but I am also the completionist sort of player.
So the big question is what happens if you do not really “pick up” quests? There are fail safes built into the zones so that you will move through the content and get to the next areas. This is not as big a deal once you get out of the starter zone. The other important thing I noticed is that there are no “kill ten rats” quests at all, at least not in the starting zone. The quest lines are more centered around story and not about grinding some arbitrary number. Overall, it has more of an RPG feel than many MMOs do.
There is another very important element in Elder Scrolls Online questing: how you accomplish your goals. The team feels very strongly about giving you multiple ways to achieve your quest objectives. On one hand you are given a disguise to wear and travel through a pirate camp. This allows you to avoid all of the fights along the way. If you are more of a bash ‘em style player you can just charge in and fight your way through the camp. You can also sneak around the NPCs to reach your objectives. There were multiple ways to get the quests done throughout the entire opening zone. I know the team is all about this dynamic and it is great for the players. At one point I was fighting everything I saw in the camp. Then I had to run back through to complete a quest and I did not want to have to fight so I put on the disguise. It made it much easier to move quickly. Having multiple options to complete your goals is definitely one of the best parts of questing in ESO.
At MMORPG.com we have talked a lot about quest design. I think one thing that Elder Scrolls gets right is that you do not feel like you’re just grinding quests, at least not early on. It really does capture the RPG feeling of games like Skyrim where you can pick multiple paths, go on different adventures and you never feel like you are in a hamster wheel. The question will be how it plays out at higher levels, and whether the developers will run out of ways to keep things interesting for the PVE adventurers among us.