MMO players love to talk quests. After all, questing is the biggest part of any MMO and is further expanded by gear acquisition, lore expansion and more. But questing in many MMOs has gotten quite stale. The old saying about “Kill 10 Rats” still holds true in most games. Players head to a ‘quest hub,’ grab as many objectives as possible and then head off into the wilderness to tackle them before moving on to the next hub. Rinse and repeat for any MMO out there today. Funcom, in the form of The Secret World, is trying to move away from the ever-increasingly dull quest system that most games utilize. As I’ve journeyed through TSW over the past week, I keep finding myself impressed with the quest system, the way it’s laid out, the way objectives are handled and the way that finishing quests is literally just a button push away.
Story and Side Quests
Story is king in The Secret World and the quests that lead players along the main arc are some of the best quests I’ve ever experienced in my years as an MMO gamer. It’s not so much that TSW breaks away from the rather formulaic quest experience that most MMOs offer. Rather, it’s the way it’s done that makes it seem, at least on the surface, to be something completely new.
Players can only take on a single storyline quest at a time. Each story quest is nicely fleshed out with cinematics and stellar voice acting as I mentioned in last week’s article. The lore behind each quest is laid out nicely and gives the player a lot of insight into what exactly it is that’s happening in the world around them.
This in and of itself is something completely different than most MMOs. You actually want to listen to what the NPC is saying and to learn more about what it is that they want you to do and why it needs to be done. Generally speaking, you simply don’t want to jet through the dialog to get on with things. At least I don’t. I’ve only rarely used the spacebar to advance the dialog. The stories the NPCs tell are just that good. They’re dramatic and heartbreaking and often just plain funny. You just never know what you’ll find so it’s worth listening.
Once the quest has been accepted, players head out with multiple objectives to work through to finish the quest. In that, The Secret World is much like any MMO. There are definitely “kill 10…er…zombies” type objectives while questing. In fact, there are often multiple objectives that are essentially the same “kill 10 zombies just in a different place” which can be somewhat tiresome. In this respect, TSW’s quest system is pretty much more of the same. Still and in fairness, there are few ways around the mechanic and Funcom has done a nice job “masking” the sameness of quest completion. Much better than other games of recent memory have.
I think, however, that the very best thing, or at least the most convenient thing, about questing in The Secret World is completion. That’s right. No more slogging back to the quest hub to find the NPC to finish a quest. After all, we’re in the 21st century and one of the first gear items we’ve been given is a PDA/cellphone. Finish all of the objectives and press that button, grab your reward and “BOOM BABY”, you’re on to the next quest. Going back to the old way of doing things in any other MMO seems tiresome after just a few hours in The Secret World. I give HUGE props to Funcom for this one seemingly tiny detail.
But storyline quests aren’t all that TSW offers to players. There are quests that can be picked up literally just about anywhere in the game. Funcom has taken side quests in a whole new direction with investigation quests.
Investigations are a throwback to games like Riven and Myst. Players are tasked with solving puzzles or following clues or figuring out a password or tons of other things that lead to finding more that leads to finally getting to the answer. Players can engage the internet to find answers to difficult questions, find NPCs to help fill in gaps and much more.
These quests aren’t always easy either. See what Managing Editor Bill Murphy has to say about one of the earliest investigations in The Secret World:
I won't spoil too much about the story, or how you get there or the solution to the code itself, but I want to take a moment and chime in this week on Suzie's Review-in-Progress to talk about the Morse Code quest given out by Ellis Hill. Ellis is a strange, cryptic airplane mechanic who resides quietly by his lonesome out at the airport in Kingsmouth. His mission series was one of my own most memorable, because well... Ellis is memorable. Eventually, once you do some other chores for the big burly dude, he'll ask you to see about getting a local radio antenna working. What this ultimately results in is you finding a Morse code broadcast... and having to translate it yourself. I won't get into how, or the fact that you can probably find the answer elsewhere on the internet (cheaters!). What I will state is how rewarding the completion of this mission feels when you do some research, find software to help slow down the broadcast, and take the time to translate the code yourself. It was the best three hours of my first few days in The Secret World... and the 150K+ XP didn't hurt either.
That’s the beauty of the investigation quests. They give you a reason to think, not just mindlessly mash buttons or engage in combat. It’s a hugely refreshing breath of fresh air in the genre and I hope that other developers take note.
Dungeons in The Secret World get a bit of love and attention from Funcom as well. Each one actually has a reason for existence and each fits into the overall story of the zone in which it resides. While the dungeons themselves don’t offer much to the story, the cutscenes that come both before and after give them meaning in the world.
I’ll be talking more about dungeons in the next week or two so I’ll just leave this as it is for now.
For my money, story and questing are the shining stars of The Secret World. Developers have lovingly crafted a system that, while sharing similarities with other MMOs, is refreshingly different enough to keep it interesting.
What about you? What have been some of your favorite quests? Let us know in the comments but please do not put in spoilers!