RIFT: Is choice good, and can we improve quests?

It’s not just WoW which is being dissected today. With the shine starting to come off RIFT a bit, we’re seeing more commentary about RIFT’s choices too – good and bad – and the ways in which it could improve.

Top of the list are its plethora of talent choices. Initially hailed as a huge advance over WoW, people are starting to ask if the uber-customisable talent system is actually as good a thing as it appears – some are afraid of making the wrong choice, others simply bewildered.

There’s a larger issue here, and developer Brian “Psychochild” Green is taking it on today with a post on choice, and whether having more or less in a game is a better option

“Going back to Wilhelm’s post, we see that sometimes choice leads to heartache; he writes about how in RIFT he anticipates “that a few months down the road somebody will say, ‘LOL noob! You went with beastmaster/champion/warlord for warrior DPS?’” In other words, he worries that his choices might be poor, particularly in the eyes of other players.

In this light, the problem with choice is that there’s the potential to make the wrong choice. Usually there’s someone out there who has figured everything out, run the math, chosen the ideal variables, and can explain which option is considered “the best”. Anyone not conforming to these choices is an idiot or worse. Depending on the attitude of the community, this can lead to anything from verbal abuse to being specifically excluded from groups. Add in the pressures to “fit in” that most people feel and choice can seem a problem for some people. Choice tends to get limited own to a few “right” answers for many people.”

It’s interesting that Psychochild focusses on external influence and peer pressure as the main reason to dislike choice. There’s also a well-known problem in everything from interface design to being a chef at a restaurant – past a certain, comparatively small, point of choice, users or consumers start to find too many choices offputting. A restaurant with a hundred dishes often won’t do as well as one with two. There’s an element of decision fatigue at work here, and I wonder if many RIFT players are just finding their talents… tiring.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the blogosphere, Gazimoff of Mana Obscura has returned to RIFT, and whilst he’s enjoying a lot of it, one aspect is chafing him badly – quest design

“Almost anyone who’s played through an MMO knows what boomerang quests are, but I’ll explain with an example. You approach a small group of friendly NPCs on the coastline. One of them tells you that there’s a cave up ahead filled with smugglers, and would like your help to remove them. You agree to go off and kill ten Smuggler Pirates and ten Smuggler Pistoliers.

After wading through the cave you return to the NPC, who then asks you to head back out again. Only this time she wants you to kill Smuggler Corsairs and Smuggler Captains. You fight your way back into the cave, killing more Pirates and Pistoliers just to get to your Corsairs. Annoying, right?

On your return, the NPC sees you coated in the blood and bodily fluids of the best part of fifty pirates. Not satisfied she asks you for one last thing. Kill Smuggler Chief Spalding, who resides right at the back of the cave. At this point you swear at the screen and weigh up just telling her to get lost.”

I don’t generally feel that the WoW Cataclysm redesign was, on balance, a success, but as Gazimoff says, the fact that it has mostly eliminated “boomerang questing” is a definite bonus. Personally, I’d like to just see the world react a bit more like a world – as it stands, unless you kill Smuggler Chief Spalding whilst you have the quest so to do, it’s not relevant to the NPC who wants him dead. Why?

If I could just hack through an area, spot that there’s a guy clearly in charge, take him out to be on the safe side, and subsequently have the NPC say “And I also need you to kill – “ -looks at head #15 of 45 – “oh, wait, never mind. You got him.” – that would be a major quality of life and immersion improvement for me.

What do you think? Do you want MORE choice, not less? Do you have a better solution for boomerang quests (or do you actually like the darn things?)? Let us know below.

Quotes taken directly from their respective sources.