Quexting (man, I gotta stop with the portmanteaus)

“I’m still somewhat surprised that I’m still reading the quest texts.  The missions aren’t any more than your usual kill stuff/deliver stuff/gather stuff, but the wrapping is nice, and the clever writing means that I care about *why* I’m killing stuff/delivering stuff/gathering stuff.  This in turn makes me feel less like a monkey pressing the button to get a banana, and more like I’m actually playing a character in a world.”

As a fairly recent subscriber to the game, Hawley shares a few sentiments about Fallen Earth’s quests that I’ll back up.  Simply put, he and I and many others I’ve talked to find themselves actually reading the quest text and get into the stories as a result.

What’s frustrating to me is that I can’t precisely define why Fallen Earth’s quest text — which appears in the most standard, drab text box you’ll ever see — is so compelling.  But it is.   It’s funny, it’s weird, it’s occasionally profane, it’s never quite what you’d expect, and it highlights the wacky nature of the six faction and their respective sub-factions.  But it’s also something beyond that, and I am at a loss to explain really why.  Maybe they just have a great team of writers, but I’ve played several other MMOs that have had talented writers who do their best to make the same-old, same-old quest objectives interesting.

Maybe it’s because the quests — and the stories that accompiany them — are as much a reward as the gear or chips for playing.  Right now, I’m level 23 or 24 (I forget), and I’m going through a quest hub that’s spitting out level 18-19 quests.  I’m overpowered for them, and the experience rewards are a pittance, but I genuinely want to do them.  The quests chain together in easy-to-swallow morsels that eventually form a coherent narrative.

Here’s a couple examples off the top of my head:

(1) In my current questing hub, Picus Ridge, I was ordered to head out and hunt a guy who was on the run from the authorities.  When I caught up to him and knocked his head off, I found a mysterious key on him.  Returning to the quest giver, I handed over the key and watched as the guy freaked out as he realized that this was the key to a bomb.  I went out and hunted through a camp for the bomb and disabled it, and found out that the bomb in question was a plague bomb, not an explosive one — and that there also was one in the town proper.  Off to rescue the town from imminent doom!  At each stage of the quest, I was fully aware of what I was doing and why, and it felt like a cool little story instead of a checklist.

(2) This one is a bit of a Sector 1 spoiler, so be warned.  I’m not even sure where this quest line started, but somewhere along the way I began to investigate a group of malcontents who eventually were linked to a larger group of anti-technology luddites, who were eventually linked to the mastermind group, a bunch of absolutely whacko military/religious folks who wanted to bring the “purifying fire” to the world.  The quest chain sent me everywhere, including infiltrating one of their camps as a potential recruit, after which I discovered that they wanted to launch a few remaining nuclear missiles from Sector 1 to Sector 1, and I had to stop them.  That ultimately led me to one of the coolest locations in the area, an underground missile silo base.

(3) And no Fallen Earth quest discussion would be complete without mention of the gang struggle in Depot 66 that has you choosing the outcome of not only who ends up in charge of the town, but how their performance of MacBeth happens.

Now, I’m all for more advanced forms of quest delivery — cutscenes, voiceovers, scripted events.  But there’s still some magic left in those little quest text boxes, and I guess it’s made me rethink my position on disliking them.  If only we could distill the formula that makes FE’s text so addicting to read versus other MMO text!  Are there any other MMOs that you would hold up as an example of superior quest text?

10 thoughts on “Quexting (man, I gotta stop with the portmanteaus)

  1. Thac0 January 22, 2010 / 9:23 am

    To be honest i think its just plain old good writing and them not taking themselves too seriously. I’m also really enjoying FE quests. I’m only lvl 7 and below on my characters. SO far I’ve enjoyed South Burb the most. I’m also in Depot 66 at the moment and am having a blast.

  2. Gigi January 22, 2010 / 9:55 am

    I agree that the writing is amazing. From what I understand, FE is unusual because they have a team of dedicated writers creating the missions instead of the model that many other games use — programmers or scripters writing missions. But the other thing that I think makes FE’s text so enjoyable is that it sounds like natural speech; it’s a welcome change from the typical over-wrought fantasy language of so many other MMOs.

  3. pitrelli January 22, 2010 / 10:32 am

    Yup, I agree the text does draw you in. From the smallest story line about local rivalries to quests which involve your clones identity, it just sucks you right in making it almost impossible to abandon any quest.

    My take on it is its just natural and the text doesnt seem forced, it flows like a conversation and is more realistic for it. Each individual ‘questgiver’ seems to have a personality which I find amusing 🙂

  4. Angry Gamer January 22, 2010 / 10:41 am

    I’m tellin ya like I said on my podcast…its throwback!

    I dont know why but I love reading em too

  5. canazza January 22, 2010 / 10:42 am

    I did one the other day in Hoffa Bunker. The guy said that the last US President, Jimmy Hoffa, hid treasure in the bunker, and that he wanted some of it… and some soup. He really likes soup.

    Not only was the quest text funny, bizzare and quirky, it was also an excellent place to explore.

  6. Fuzzy January 22, 2010 / 10:51 am

    I think the post-apocalyptic background lets quest writers get away with all sorts of contemporary references that would seem out-of-place in a traditional fantasy/sci-fi setting.

    *reads that npc’s fanfiction*

  7. Sharon January 22, 2010 / 11:14 am

    Some of the FE quests just make me laugh out loud, like the chain about the Children of the Net. It’s all well-written though… Quests, item tooltips, the NPC voice-overs, even the graffiti all fit together to set a consistent tone for the game world.

    I’ve noticed that sometimes in FE, you really need to read the quest text to know what to do. The help channel seems filled with people struggling to do the tutorials because they aren’t reading the quest text or listening to the narration. (“How do I use the axe?” and “How do I make relish?” spring to mind.)

  8. badjawa January 22, 2010 / 11:58 am

    Wotcha Syp,
    Gosh: I can’t help feeling that I’ve arrived, now that I’ve been quoted by you. It’s a big compliment! 😉
    I think what keeps me reading is that care has been taken to write the quest text. You go through the screens, and sometimes you have to click through a couple of statements to get to that little “Accept” button, but you’re always rewarded by a little comedy, a little more information about the game world, and the feeling that Word of Mouth is a really rubbish way to pass on the history of the world.
    It really feels like care has been taken in creating every bit of text that appears in the game, from quests to skill and item descriptions; the quality shines through.
    Cheers,
    Hawley.

  9. Brad$ January 23, 2010 / 9:23 pm

    I tend not to read much of the quest text in FE (or any game), but at least the few times i do read it, i too have found it very refreshing. the reasons i think the FE text is so much more interesting than others is stuff like “adult” language, the not-fantasy setting that has been beaten to death, the excellent background stories, and of course just good writing in general. i also dare to say that they care a little more than your average AAA studio game. maybe that’s just me raging against the big players in the industry though.

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