You know how you wince whenever you think of typing /played into your MMO and realize just how many hours you’ve given to a pretend world? I can only cringe at the thought of seeing a tally of how many in-game quests I’ve performed since 2001. At least 20. Probably more.
Game developers are quick to tell you that there are really only a small number of quest archetypes, including “kill 10 rats,” “FedEx,” “click glowies,” and “escort the suicidal NPC.” Yet within those categories are thousands of sub-types of missions, from the unimaginative to the truly bizarre. The best ones arrest our attention, keep us enthralled, and leave us wanting more.
Having done so many quests over a decade and a half, I’ve noticed that even some of the stranger quest sub-types tend to pop up across a spread of MMOs. When you’re done killing 10 boars for their livers, take a gander at this list of weirdly specific quests that we keep encountering.
This one always makes me roll my eyes and smile a bit because MMOs downright encourage you to slaughter anything that cons red, including (and sometimes especially) the native wildlife. Then you stumble upon a nest or find an orphan gizzseky, and suddenly the game is like, “Congratulations! You’re a parent in charge of a baby! Now go kill a bunch of uglier animals to feed it!” And you do so, starting to worry about the rising costs of college tuition and how you’re going to explain this child to your neighbors.
Of course, after a quest or two, the animal is suddenly able to fend for itself and leaves you, which I think is a missed opportunity on the designer’s part. I think if a player picks up this mission, that animal should be with that character forever, constantly asking for food and whining that you never let it do anything fun.
2. The Quantum Leap
An MMO doesn’t need to be sci-fi to utilize time travel. Heck, I’ve seen it all over the place so often that I made a top 10 list of such quests years ago. But there’s an even more niche variant of the time travel mission in which you don’t go into the past as you, but instead — somehow — jump into the body of another character in that era and have to complete a mission as him/her/it.
My characters always seem to take this time-and-body-swapping with aplomb, instead of doing what I would do, which is to freak out, spend a lot of time in front of a bathroom mirror, and then run down the street cackling, “NO CONSEQUENCES! AHAHAHA!”
3. Questing in the great beyond
The afterlife in MMOs is usually portrayed as a monocromatic speed bump between one incarnation and the next. But once in a while the devs figure that they might as well do something with all of this, ahem, dead space, so they design quests in which you deliberately commit suicide to achieve an objective as a ghost.
As with many MMO quests, it’s really messed up if you think about it too much, so it’s best to click the glowie, resurrect, and move on with your new life.
Betrayal is a powerful storytelling twist that — if handled right and not used too often — can be a watercooler moment for the game’s community. I’m fine with encountering NPC betrayal in-game, but what annoys me is that the devs know we’ll do everything in our power to exact immediate revenge or try to head off incoming betrayal.
Thus, there are these quests in which the game totally cheats by locking your character down or giving you no options but to meekly accept being stabbed in the back. Oh hey, my character is stunned and reeling yet again while the bad guys give me a wedgie. Thank you for that, game designer! I truly did miss being in junior high!
5. Pickin’ up poo
I’m sure that the first time a (probably giggling) developer thought it’d be amusing to put in a quest in which players — seasoned veterans of many battle campaigns — were tasked with picking up or sorting through poop was a hoot. But then games kept on doing it. Sometimes the same game (World of Warcraft, I’m pointing at your scatalogical fixation) did it more than once.
Yes, body waste is a part of life. But in games where there are hardly any restrooms, why does poo pick-up need to be a thing?
6. The mercy kill
This is about as dark as I want to get with this particular list (I’m not even going to go into the trend of quests that have you “interrogating” prisoners), but I’ve seen it several times and it honestly disturbs me.
So the quest has you jogging off to rescue NPC Captive #1,124, but there’s a surprise when you finally get to him or her. Instead of freeing the person and seeing them give you the standard “ThanksIgottagonow” blow-off, you find a person who’s either on the cusp of death, infected with some sort of incurable disease, or encased in some sort of body horror that would make The Fly look tame. In any case, the NPC tells you that there’s nothing to be done and begs you to kill him or her.
Battlefield euthenasia? Really devs? I mean, it’s usually a quick thing and we do it because the NPC becomes attackable and thanks you for this great mercy, but… dang. That’s heavy stuff for games that also have you picking up poop.
Whew, after that last entry, I could use a virtual drink! It’s probably a good thing then that devs are so in love with their drunk goggles (a shocking number of MMOs have a tipsy visual effect) that they can’t help but put in a quest in which you’re given a very simple task: Get completely wasted.
Now I don’t drink in real life, and after seeing how annoying my screen gets and how nauseous I feel trying to navigate around in a blurry, shifting world, I’m not sold on the virtues of chugging down pints of stout ale. The best part of these quests? Waiting for the drunk timer to expire long after you’ve turned in the mission.
8. The Aliens homage
I love me some James Cameron Aliens, let me tell you. All-around terrific movie filled with action, horror, hilarious quips, and memorable imagry. You know who else loves Aliens? At least one quest writer at every MMO studio because sooner or later we go through a mission that pulls concepts and visuals from the movie. Usually you know you’re in an Aliens homage when you encounter a room with lots of cocoons vomiting horrible beasts or (and this is somewhat more rare) become infected by a creature that wants to burrow out of your chest cavity.
WildStar loves Aliens so much that it’s done it in-game at least three times that I’ve encountered. There are other sci-fi movies, people!
9. Hobbit riddles
I was playing The Secret World last night and encountered a malevolent computer that kept testing me with riddles. That reminded me of how this quest trope rears its head here and there because everyone remembers the chapter in The Hobbit where Gollum and Bilbo challenge each other with first grade riddles.
I don’t want to give you the impression that any of the quests on this list (mercy kill aside) are unwelcome to encounter. I actually enjoy seeing a game stretch outside of its combat-centric quest design to challenge me to something more cerebral. And riddles can be fun and tricksy, there’s no doubt about that.
10. Test this weapon. Now give it back and go away.
We see this a lot, don’t we? A quest-giver says that she’s invented some marvelous new killing device or scientific breakthrough, but instead of testing it personally, she would like a total stranger to run over to those bad guys and start zapping them.
This is often great fun because these weapons are overpowered and trigger fun effects, such as turning heads into balloons or swapping limbs on enemies and relocating the buttocks to the forehead. But then there’s always that bitter moment when the game’s like, “Oh, that was fun? WELL GIVE IT BACK. No more fun for you. Shoo.”