Guild Wars 2's Dynamic Questing System for Noobs
The Guild Wars 2 beta weekend event was a real eye-opener. I consider myself sort of a "noob" in terms of MMO experience - for the past few years, my attention has been fairly strictly focused on a very small handful of games. I'm surely not alone in this. A lot of players come from a long, narrow history of one or two games, and experiencing something new, like GW2's dynamic questing, can throw some of us for a loop.
Running up and talking to a NPC to receive a quest is how RPGs have worked since the days of DOS. In the olden tymes, when we rode our dinosaurs to school, three miles uphill through the snow both ways, and the 486 with a 4mb VGA card was a top-end gaming rig, we would use text to communicate to the pixelated denizens of our gaming worlds, and they would tell us to go kill ten rats, goblin, skeletons or whatever other 0-level mob was pestering the helpless citizens of the noob area. The mouse revolutionized RPGs by allowing players to point and click on these NPCs to extract our rat-killing quests without worrying about spelling errors or the like. Click-for-quest-bestowal has been the industry standard for nearly 20 years and continues to be our predominant quest delivery system.
Guild Wars 2 goes outside the box for their Player-versus-Environment questing system, keeping in-step with the rest of the games gonzo weirdness. You no longer need even to click on NPCs to receive quests - simply walk near them, and the quest is automatically bestowed. Walk past an event taking place in your area and you are given that quest. Hang around an area long enough and something is likely to just sort of pop up, welcoming you to take part or continue on your merry way.
It's a much more "organic" way of picking up quests, but long-time gamers may find it rather unnatural. There are no people with exclamation points or flaming rings over their heads. You don't go to town to load up on quests, or to turn your current batch in for rewards - mostly. There are different rules for different types of quests.
The personal story occasionally requires click-to-talk interactions with NPCs, which initiate fully-voiced cut scenes. However, a lot of these cut scenes are initiated by proximity rather than clicking - move close to your target and the dialogue starts up on its own. Personal stories do require the player to return to a quest-giver to receive a reward.
The personal story cut scene
This part of the game will be the most familiar to the uninitiated. It's the closest thing to "normal" questing that can be found in any other game. But it plays only a small part of GW2's PvE. The majority of the PvE game comes from reputation quests and dynamic events on the landscape. The personal story feels more significant than these it has a deeper meaning and uses fully-voiced cut scenes, after all but most PvEers will spend a lot more time doing the other stuff.
Reputation quests have marked NPCs - they are indicated on the map and on the landscape with a heart icon - but the player usually doesn't need to talk to the reputation NPC in order to get the reputation quests. Walking near one of these guys gives the player a selection of tasks to work on. Occasionally, the reputation guy will have more specific tasks or instructions for example, the charr guy standing by the cow pasture will give the player timed quests to capture bugs and feed them to the cows, and the player must return to the quest giver for each timed run. But this is the exception rather than the rule.
Usually, approaching a reputation quest-giver generates a list of tasks for that area kill some local pests, interact with nearby objects in a particular way, help local citizens, et cetera. Typically, the player can do all of these tasks in equal proportions or just do the ones he wants to do. Completing a set amount of these tasks earns the favor of that NPC and fills in the heart icon, turning the NPC into a specialty vendor.
This reputation system bears no real relation to the faction systems in games like the Lord of the Rings Online. Reputation in LotRO is earned through hours and hours of questing, deeding, farming and other kinds of grinding. If one were to compare it to anything in LotRO, it would be like a quest completion deed - do enough quests in an area to earn a reward. It can be completed with more or less casual participation. Players with a completionist streak can also find every point of interest on each map for XP and loot, similar to LotRO's exploration and lore deeds. These systems will be somewhat familiar to new players, though perhaps in an unexpected way.
Map completion reward
Dynamic events are your "landscape" quests. Walk into an area, wait around a bit and eventually you will encounter one of these. There are different types of dynamic events. Some are fairly simple - encounter a tough monster and get a quest to kill it. Some are more complex and involve following a long chain of related events. For example, the player might encounter an event to kill a handful of local pests for an NPC in a settlement. This action provokes a retaliation where swarms of the mobs attack the settlement. After beating back the attack, the NPC decides to stage a direct assault on the creatures' lair - the player (and anyone else in the area) must escort him to the lair and kill stuff along the way. This assault culminates in a boss fight that requires many participating players to defeat...
... or sometimes it involves dressing up as a cow and demonstrating a number of "techniques" to cows.
The open group system is somewhat related to dynamic questing. It is likewise rather disconcerting to the uninitiated who are accustomed to the idea of forming parties. The first time someone hits the mob you have targeted before you can land an attack, and you realize that other person didn`t just ninja your klil, is a magic moment.
Dynamic events and the open grouping system are a large part of the appeal of GW2s PvE game. They make the questing feel more organic and immersive, and theoretically it means the player spends more time engaging in actual gameplay. The less time the player spends messing around in towns or quest hubs gathering missions, the more time he has to complete missions and engage in PvE content. There are, however, a couple of relatively minor downsides.
Finding a dynamic event requires being in the right place at the right time. Occasionally, this can make for a lot of waiting around in areas where these events happen. Some events have very tight time cycles they begin again almost as soon as they end but some have longer periods of downtime between. In the case of chained events, this wait can be even longer, particularly if the player wants to get in on the chain from the start.
Because these events loop over and over, players spending a lot of time in an area may end up repeating the same events many times. For example, my warrior was doing his personal story quests in the snowy, mountainous region in the north of the Norn lands. The quests started in Hoelbrak and required traveling through a narrow pass to the destination region. After reaching the destination and completing the task there, I had to go back to Hoelbrak, again through the narrow pass, to turn it in and pick up the next part. I made this round trip four or five times, and every time I had to contend with a dynamic event in the pass bandits blocking the path and setting up an ambush. Theres not a way around this blockade. I had to go through it. Eight or so times.
Sure, I could have teleported around using waypoints to bypass this obstacle, but thats another issue in any previous game Ive played, quick-travel skills generally have long cooldowns, and they are subsequently never my first line of transportation. A waypoint system with no cooldowns or material requirements takes some getting used to.
Anyway, thats beside the point. The same recurring event thing happens anywhere players linger in or return to often, and while the system may improve the players sense of immersion overall, this repetition may be a turn-off for some players. It`s not really any worse than dealing with fast respawn rates in other games, but occasionally those fast respawns can be just as aggravating.
I call BS on that respawning blockade. And in GW2, there's an app for that.
In general, though, the system works very well. Its fluid and natural and does exactly what it sets out to do. Despite the minor hiccups, players generally do spend more time engaging in the content rather than reading walls of text, and this makes the game more immersive. The open nature off the questing and grouping systems makes the bizarre hodgepodge of a setting more accessible to the inexperienced and uninitiated.