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Know Your Lore: Dailies and story development

Anne Stickney
Anne Stickney|November 11, 2012 8:00 PM
Know Your Lore Dailies and story development SUN
The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

I have to admit that I've spent a lengthy amount of time this week trying to understand why people hate daily quests with such unbridled passion. Leveling a character through zones and completing various quests has to be one of my favorite parts of the game -- but once you reach max level, you've done all there is, from a questing perspective. In vanilla, this resulted in an absolute drought of things to do once you'd hit level 60. When daily quests were introduced in Burning Crusade, they were lauded as an excellent way for players to make gold after they'd reached max level.

But the focus of daily quests has shifted since their introduction in the first expansion. No longer just a way to make gold after the well of quests to do has run dry, daily quests have morphed into a resource to gain both reputation and unique rewards. And oddly enough, daily quests have also evolved into what is slowly starting to look like an effective storytelling tool as well. But why do some dailies work, and others falter? What makes dailies palatable?
Know Your Lore Dailies and story development SUN

Dailies in The Burning Crusade

Originally a source of extra things for players to do, the first daily quests in Burning Crusade mainly involved reputation gain for two new factions, the Sha'tari Skyguard and the ogres of Ogri'la. From a story perspective, there was little to be had. The main branch of the Skyguard was working to prevent the uprising of arrakoa in Terokkar Forest. Ogri'la was a community of enlightened ogres who sought to protect the Apexis Crystals that helped them achieve that enlightenment from the Burning Legion's greedy claws.

Although there was a small pass at a story involved with these reputations, it wasn't really what one would consider involved or particularly well-developed. The ogres and Skyguard all responded differently to players at different levels of reputation, but other than that, there was little reason to do the daily quests unless one wanted extra gold, and the mounts and other goodies that were offered at exalted reputation.

It was the Netherwing that offered that additional story element. Players asked to assist the Netherwing had to assume a disguise, masquerading as a fel orc and quietly working their way through the ranks while disrupting operations and keeping an eye out for precious Netherwing Eggs to be rescued. Unlike Ogri'la and the Skyguard, the Netherwing had a definitive purpose with an equally definitive storyline. The end of that storyline culminated in an event that placed a prominent end to the story arch, and gifted players with one free mount of their choice.

Later, the Isle of Quel'Danas introduced the idea of an evolving hub, a storyline that progressed but was dependent not on the individual efforts of players, but the cumulative efforts of all players combined in order to further story progress. As more dailies were completed, more areas were unlocked for players to explore -- and vendors were unlocked that sold valuable gear upgrades. The overarching story of Sunwell Plateau was an ever-present factor in the dailies, and played throughout the zone itself.

Know Your Lore Dailies and story development SUN

Dailies in Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm

In Wrath of the Lich King, dailies took a back seat from a story perspective. Players could choose to save either an Oracle or a Frenzyheart and then gain reputation with either side, but there was little reason to do so beyond achievements and the chance at a mount. In the case of the Sons of Hodir, daily quests unlocked item enhancements that players felt were necessities for gameplay -- and each of the individual factions in Wrath also contained additional item enhancements that players considered a requirement.

When Cataclysm was launched, this chain of requirement continued. Players felt that they were required to complete the Therazane reputation grind because of the enhancements offered. In addition, each additional faction offered item enhancements and gear upgrades that were useful to one class or another. Although these rewards were valuable, the reputation grinds themselves were lacking in story, particularly in the Cataclysm era of daily quests -- and it almost seemed like there was a reason for it.

Many of the main factions in Wrath and the majority of those in Cataclysm could be gained simply by donning a tabard and running dungeons, bypassing the need for daily quests at all. It may be because of this that little attention was paid to daily questing to creating a feasible storyline to go with the daily quest system -- after all, if players had the option to skip content, that content really didn't need to be a major focus for lore elements, did it?

When Firelands was introduced in patch 4.2, it included a new daily quest hub along with it. The Molten Front attempted to be what the Isle of Quel'Danas was in Burning Crusade -- an evolving quest hub that phased and unlocked more content as players progressed through the zone. And it brought back the story elements that had been missing with the other reputation grinds as well. The story of Leyara as well as the continued story of Fandral Staghelm were highlights of the zone. Unfortunately, quest and reputation rewards did little to make a red-on-red zone palatable to players.

Know Your Lore Dailies and story development SUN

Dailies in Mists of Pandaria

And that's where we come to Mists of Pandaria. Unlike any expansion before it, Mists contains hundreds of different daily quests that are open and available the moment a player reaches level 90. Each daily hub involves a different reputation in Pandaria, and each has its own storyline that plays out as players progress through the chain of daily quests. And oddly enough, none of these daily quest hubs are exactly the same -- each has its own unique method of gaining reputation.

And then there is the Golden Lotus. The Golden Lotus attempts to do what we've never seen before -- introduce a level 90 zone that is operated on nothing but daily quests. It tries to present the feeling of a zone storyline, but feeds it out in daily chunks, rather than allowing players to access it all at once. And in between the daily quests are seeds of the main storyline, culminating in a spectacular end storyline once players finally finish the climb to exalted.

But dailies in Mists have been received with mixed results -- some people just don't care for daily quests at all. And even though daily quests now offer valor points as well as chances to roll on additional loot in raids, people are still angry about how they have been implemented. After thinking about it, I believe there is a distinct reason for that. It's one that's been hit on time and time again, ever since the days of Wrath -- obligation.

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Dailies and obligation

In Wrath, characters were offered items to enhance certain slots of gear. The Sons of Hodir were pretty much considered a requirement to complete because of this. In Cataclysm, the same was offered through Therazane, which again, made the grind almost a requirement for players. In Mists, these enhancements were changed to player-created items, eliminating the "need" for a reputation grind. Yet a handful of new reputations were introduced. And instead of eliminating the problem of what is a perceived need for a reputation grind, the problem was then exacerbated by the placement of the only valor gear in game behind reputation requirements.

Let me make this utterly clear -- any time you place any kind of enhancement directly related to character performance on a reputation grind, it automatically makes that reputation grind a requirement to players. This was applicable to the arcanums that have now been removed from the game, and it is now applicable to the Golden Lotus, the Shado-Pan, the Klaxxi, and the August Celestials. Instead of just one reputation grind being required in the case of Therazane, it now feels as though four are required for character progression -- and two of those four are locked behind the Golden Lotus.

This takes daily quests from the territory of something additional to do, to something that players feel that they must do in order to remain competitive in the game itself. And because there is now a requirement label on those daily quests, they have gone from something players can enjoy, to something they perceive as a chore, something that must be completed, something that forces them to log in every day whether they feel the need to or not.

So what is to be done about daily quests? How does one make them an option without being a necessity, and what could be done to make them worth doing?

Know Your Lore Dailies and story development SUN

Dailies and story development

Many players don't read the novels, short stories or other assorted material associated with the Warcraft universe. The usual refrain in response to these stories and other material is that they would like to see this material presented in game, rather than a series of books. This is all well and good -- and while I highly encourage players to read the novels and other assorted material associated with the game, I also realize players don't necessarily have the time to do so.

So what if we played in a Warcraft where story was presented via daily quests, where story was the reward for completing the content? Where story was parceled out on a daily basis, in bite-sized chunks that players could play through as they wished to do it? We have the foundation for it already in Mists of Pandaria -- the Golden Lotus, although riddled with bugs, does its best to offer story components throughout the reputation grind. The Klaxxi offer story involving their background and history in Azeroth, albeit in small chunks.

At the moment, daily quests work on the basis of repetition. Kill this many mogu today. Tomorrow, we'll ask you to kill that exact number of mogu all over again. Unfortunately, while this works for gameplay, it does little for story -- the repetition kills all drive that players have towards completing these daily quests. Blizzard has tried its best with rotation, keeping players moving from base to base on a daily basis, but the grind from friendly to exalted is so long that players are bound to repeat the same quests at some point, often to the point where they are simply tired of doing it.

In the case of the Golden Lotus, it currently takes 26 days to get all the way to exalted. When you begin the grind, there is one hub open to you -- additional hubs open the further you are in the reputation grind. There are close to 90 daily quests offered throughout the vale, and when one adds in the story quests that are not associated with dailies, those quests come closer to 100 in number, if not a little over.

That's a lot of quests. Unfortunately, that is also a lot of quests that are devoted to repetitive tasks. What if those quests were instead dedicated to moving story forward in an engaging fashion? What if a player never saw the same quest twice on that daily grind -- what if each day presented another section of the overall tale, without repetition? Would players be more likely to play through dailies if the rewards weren't gear upgrades, or item enhancements, but instead a story reward? Is story enough of an incentive in and of itself?

Know Your Lore Dailies and story development SUN

The lure of a well-told tale

For some players, the answer is absolutely yes. For others, the answer may still be that dailies are not a preferred activity. But if the reward for daily quests is less of a tangible character upgrade, and more of a knowledge upgrade, that tradeoff may be enough to allow daily quests to pack the story punch they need, without having to integrate loot rewards into the mix. If all dailies gave you were valor, gold, perhaps a mount or cosmetic upgrade at the end, and a giant chunk of Pandaria's continuing story, I suspect players would be far more receptive to completing them, for a few major reasons.

First, it means that the obligation has been removed from the daily grind. People don't feel as though they have to complete those quests every day, or fall behind. It would drop dailies from something that players feel they have to do, to something that is an option, just as much as running dungeons, raids, scenarios, or PvP. If the valor point reward is kept intact, this lets players choose the path to valor points that best suits them -- rather than having to choose one path of valor acquisition to unlock the rewards to then spend that valor on.

Second, it further separates the gap of reward level between options. If you want the best gear in the game, you either raid, or you participate in PvP. If you don't want to deal with the hassle of getting into a raiding guild, you can complete LFR once a week, and still get gear rewards that are good, if not the best in the world. If you're not interested in raids at all, you can do heroics either by using the dungeon finder, or creating a five man group to tackle challenge modes.

Know Your Lore Dailies and story development SUN
If you're after small upgrades and short queue times, you can hit up scenarios. And if you'd like to experience more of the story Pandaria has to offer, you can mess around with archaeology, or you can complete daily quests. Daily quests don't have to be fancy. They don't need to incorporate areas that phase in and out of existence depending on what you have done. All they need to do is introduce a compelling story that progresses on a daily basis. That's the third reason -- purpose.

Raids, dungeons, and scenarios are for points and for gear upgrades. PvP is for the thrill of combat, and gear upgrades. With the wild success of the pet battle feature, Blizzard has proved that a feature doesn't need to contain gear upgrades to be successful. It just has to be compelling and fun. Why not put daily quests in that category as well, and have them dedicated to the advancement of story? It takes daily quests from something that must be done to advance your character, to something that is done for fun on a daily basis -- like reading a comic strip online, or a favorite column on a website.

Mists of Pandaria and its many reputations are on the brink of introducing story in a wholly integrated way with the rest of the game, but it's just the brink. It's not quite over the edge. The progression we've seen with daily quests from those early days to now has been fantastic in terms of story development. The problem seems to be that dailies, such as they are, don't have a single, unified purpose for existence -- yet they are perhaps the single best tool for presenting a progressive story over time that Blizzard has in its stable. Will we see that kind of directional, focused development in the future? I hope so.

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.
Know Your Lore: Dailies and story development