Random MMO Frustrations: #1 – varying difficulty for class based quests

I find a few things about MMO game design frustrating.  One thing that’s on my mind at the moment is when every class has to do something to get a class specific reward, but those somethings vary in difficulty (often by a great amount).  A specific example would be the Moria Class Quests for Legendary Traits in the Lord of the Rings Online.

The rewards are obtained by doing a little quest line, which leads up to a kill in one of the Moria 6-man instances.  Each of the instances in question supports two of the classes (who need different kills).  So, each class has one quest, that one quest takes place in one of the instances, two classes share an instance but have different creatures in that instance.

Now when the designers put the instances together, they made them vary in difficulty.   This is fine, I think MMO content should vary, some should suit certain style groups, and some should encourage people to look at their gear or their skills (or in Lord of the Rings online, their traits, etc.)

The problem comes when class X has no choice but to do instance Y to get their reward, while class B can do instance C.  If instance C is generally considered to be easier than instance Y, you’re going to generate unhappiness.  Easier of course is subjective.  Maybe it’s easier because the players have a lot of Hunters and no Guardians, or because their general tactics suit that particular instance.  But it doesn’t really matter why it’s easier, or even harder, that variation without choice causes friction.

Here’s a live example.  Our little group is struggling to beat one of the encounters in the Forges instance, we need to complete all the bosses so that we can get to the final mob for the Loremaster quest.  However, in the 16th Hall, once we’d worked the wrinkles out, we beat the whole instance quite easily, and not only that, but we only needed to kill the 1st boss to get to the Runekeeper quest mob.

There’s no good in-game reason for this.  It just causes friction.  Yes, it means you are forced to see all the instances if you want to see all the class quests, but being forced into stuff is never good.  It’s bad design.  I suspect it went like this.  Developer X designs a bunch of instances (or more likely, several developers do), and they vary in toughness and mindset.  This is find.  Deveoper Y is tasked with putting in the rewards for class traits somewhere in the game, and decides to put them into the instances, they pick them almost at random, and place the final mobs at random (behind boss 1, at the start, at the end) without really considering the different difficulties this will impose.

The instances and the quests were not designed together.

It’s bad design in my view.  And it could be easily avoided.  Each class could be told to ‘bring the head of a terror from the depths of Moria’.  The final boss in each instance could then drop 1 or 2 heads (or ears, or whatever body part makes sense).  People can then choose the instance they want to do to get their reward.   Yes, it means people can pick the ‘easy’ instance, but then designers should strive to make them all challenging.  But it would reduce the friction and ensure different classes didn’t get the short or long stick.

This is only one example, there are many (like the 2.0 Epic quests in EverQuest, where the final fights varied widely in difficulty, not to mention the run-up quests and mobs).

Content difficulty should always vary, but if you’re going to design a bunch of quests, one per class, then you should ensure each class can choose to follow an equally difficult route to their reward.