Alex’s Analysis – The Fear Factor

posted by on 21st March 2015, at 9:55pm

The 200th quest is fast approaching, and as a avid questeer and one of the 14,800 players who’ve done them all, I am looking very forward to this one. I remember how good Recipe for Disaster was. Seriously; 9 quests in one! If they wanted to get epic with this one, they’ll do the whole F2P list in this alternate universe. I’d totally do them all!

But rather than chat about what I’m looking forward to… mainly because I don’t know what to expect, as I’ve been keeping myself in the dark on this one purposely, I’m going to chat about something that’s been bothering me about the latest quests.

See, lately, I haven’t been enjoying quests as much as I used to. I couldn’t understand it. The quality of the quests themselves were very good and getting better. The graphics were always a wondrous sight to see, the music and soundtracks sounded very epic, and the story continued to progress into something interesting enough to keep me wanting more without break. Heck, even the selling points and behind the scenes articles had me pumped up by giving me just the information to make my imagination go wild.

But my main complaint about them all has always been that they seemed just too… short. That I was just blazing through them, taking in the content as such a rapid level that despite the immense amount of content, I was still done at a time that would make a speed-runner flinch. Quests used to take me an age and a half, trying to figure out puzzles, pushing me to prepare for the fights ahead, doing research and even asking other players in-game for advice. Now, not so much. I’d do them all in a morning, or spread across a couple hour sessions if I didn’t have the time.

What was it? What were they missing? I really wanted to know. It wasn’t the level requirements, since having 92+ in all skills made doing just about anything pretty darn easy. Plus, you couldn’t even do the quests without the level requirements, so they weren’t much to think about. It’s not the puzzles; they are still as complicated as ever (not comparing to Mourning’s End Part 2, which I still sometimes brag about having finished the day it came out). Was it the combat perhaps? Having 99 in all combat skills made combat simple, but even that had been tweaked to scale, so that boss fights were a challenge to all (stroke of genius, Jagex designers!). Heck, I couldn’t even blame the lack of content because it definitely wasn’t this. Many of these quests had more content than many of my older favourites, and yet I still feel like they’ve been rushed.

I was getting nowhere, so instead, I turned my thinking around. Instead of wondering what they were missing, I started wondering what the older quests had that made them difficult. Why haven’t I ever completed Runescape Classic’s version of the Legend’s Quest even though I had the requirements? Why was I so hesitant on chasing Solus Delegar in Wanted? Why was Monkey Madness such an intense quest? Heck, why did I even take so long to first take on Elvarg and Delrith in RSC, even though I was a considerably high level for them? It wasn’t the level requirements that stopped me, because I had them. Something else made me hesitate. Something else actually made me stop doing the quest.

Then I realized it. Why didn’t I fight Delrith the instant I had my hands on Silverlight? It was simple: it was because I was scared to.

… yeah, that’s the pathetic truth, isn’t it? I was scared to fight the weakest demon in the game. But bear with me for a while here. In fact, let me take a moment and do a little reminiscing on the days of RSC and the Demon Slayer Quest. Don’t worry, this is relevant.

Back then, we were all considerably low-levelled characters and getting a stat level 99 was a dream and a half away. The scariest thing to happen to us was dying because your stuff all fell on the ground and was immediately accessible to any and all nearby players. Since we were all low-levelled players, even a noob junk drop was a treasure to some. This meant that unless you died in a very dangerous place or nobody was around, you were almost guaranteed to lose all your valuable stuff, and since it was really hard to get rich in RSC… yeah, dying was really scary.

We walked almost everywhere we went, so if I wanted to go into Varrock, I would always pass the stone circle where you fought the demon. I usually avoided it because the mages there would wreck you with their long range attacks, but sometimes I would look at a distance and I would see a player doing the quest. Silverlight is out and they’re whacking at the demon. A vicious struggle.

The demon was level 43 (or somewhere around there). To me, right-clicking to reveal that blood-red level text and watching that big red hulk wreck 4s and 5s on players with 20 health was scary. Scary, because when you fought in RSC, not only could you not eat during combat, but you were locked in combat the first three turns. Quite often I saw the player get hit too much and retreat, only to have the demon de-spawn and he would have to fight it again.

Now, I had good stats and good armour (adamantite!). I took the effort to find the three keys, and I had Silverlight at the ready. In fact, for a while it was my weapon of choice until I got an adamantite battleaxe. But I didn’t go for Delrith yet. I was too afraid of dying. Very often, I would stand at the side and watch as other players went for it. I watched their strategies, took note of food and equipment used, and asked their stats afterwards. Finally, I prepared myself, took a deep breath, and went for it. As it turned out, I over-prepared and rocked Delrith’s world twice over (literally – I messed up the incantation the first time).

Because of this hesitation to take on the boss, the quest lasted me days, and to this day, I still remember doing it long ago. It was a great quest not because of its story, graphics, or audio, but because of what it did to me. It made me nervous, hesitant to go on, and once I summoned the courage to win it once and for all, a great feeling of triumph! I took on this intense challenge that had been mentally crippling me for a long time and finally saw it through!

This is what quests nowadays have been missing. Not frustratingly difficult puzzles or unclear instructions, but fear. Hesitation. The fear of the unknown. A part in the quest where we don’t know what we’re up against, but we know that if we fail, there will be serious consequence. It makes the most paranoid of us stop and do research, or the most gutsy of us to just wing it and hope for the best. The quest doesn’t force us to stop, it makes us WANT to stop.

Quests should make us hesitate. Make us over-prepare. Make us take those deep breaths before we start the battle because we’re trying to summon up courage. It’s a very intense emotion. Broken Home was a really good quest in that regard because we were facing the unknown and we forced ourselves to search every nook and cranny to prepare ourselves for the frights in the next room. If only it had a bit more consequence to death…

So how can quests nowadays incorporate this fear mechanism? It’s quite simple, actually.

First, there must be a consequence. In future quests, there must be areas where you either don’t get a gravestone upon death, or it’s in an instanced place (nobody can bless it) and getting to it is a long, convoluted process prone to failure. Or maybe even start incorporating the loss of experience somehow. That will get people hesitating. Or, better yet, if you fail, you have to START THE WHOLE QUEST OVER AGAIN! Ooh, I like the idea.

Second, there must be an unknown. Because of the internet and quest guides being able to explain things like good gear to bring and how to not die immediately, the only thing I can think of here is that you are pitted with a random instanced boss out of… maybe 5 or so different types. A good number that would be difficult to memorize strategies for all five. You don’t know what you’re going to get, and once you get him, there’s no turning back. You are put in an intense, high-paced fight to prevent you from simply logging out and reading a guide on killing him, and if you fail, you die, lose all your items, start the quest over again, and get pitted with a different random boss.

Third, there must be preparation involved. With the economy nowadays, earning money and buying good stuff is a cakewalk for most players. Treasure Hunter and Priffdinas saw to that quite nicely. So instead, create a sort of side-quest preparation where you have to gather unique materials to fight the boss with, like special runes or arrows. Oh yes, and you can’t bank them, because if you die or run out, you must lose them all and have to start the preparation process anew. They take a while to get several of, and it becomes the player’s guess as to whether or not they have enough or keep going. More then likely they end up over-preparing, which is good, because then that will make the quest take longer.

To the players and you, my beloved audience, ask yourselves this: did your favourite quest have these aspects to them? And in reverse, maybe the absence of these is the reason you don’t like some of the new quests? And to the designers at Jagex, I urge you all to give it a try for the future quests. Would be an awesome way to start the new set of hundred!

Until next time,

Cheers, cannoneers!

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