Failing at the Basic Chemistry quest

26th June 2009 – 5.53 pm

Grouping up with a guild mate to defeat Chillmaw as part of a daily Argent Tournament quest I ask if we could continue as a group to clear out some of the lingering quests in my log that require help to complete. As she agrees to come along to heal my reckless self we head to the southern ramparts of Icecrown to kill some giants, after which an NPC tells me to continue my good work by mixing some formula in to a cauldron, for a quest he calls Basic Chemistry. This quest, he says, will probably require five characters to be in with a chance of succeeding. Pshaw, I think to myself, that's five ordinary characters. We are heroes, two should be enough. At least, we can have a jolly good go with only the two of us. A plate armour-wearing death knight DPS monster and a tree-hugging druid healer has often proven to be quite an effective combination in PvE.

I get a flask of the formula to throw in to a cauldron and we fly off to attempt the quest, wondering how challenging the five-man quest will be for the two of us, but quietly confident of completing it easily. I find the cauldron, chuck in the fluid and out jumps a nasty ghoul bent on eating my flesh. I start beating the ghoul away with my two-handed mace as my druid friend heals any wounds I take, but then I get a warning to apply a further application of the agent. First, I wonder 'what agent?', then repeated warnings appear. I don't think it can be the fluid I used to start the quest, partly because it is never referred to as an 'agent' anywhere in the quest text or on the item itself, but mostly because the item is still on its cool-down from being used initially. The timer runs down and the quest fails.

Scratching my head as to what happened I suggest restarting, just in case something bugged the first time. But, sure enough, the same events occur as before, with warnings to add more of the agent and my quest item remaining on cool-down until after the quest is failed. My guild friend cannot help, because she isn't on the quest and so doesn't have the quest item herself, yet I cannot use the quest item more than once before the quest fails because its cool-down is longer than the quest timer. This strikes me as flawed, so I create a ticket to talk to a GM about it, hoping that it is an oversight that can be fixed.

A GM opens a conversation with me a little later and after acknowledging my question suggests that perhaps I should bring along some friends who also have some of the agent. It's an obvious solution to the problem, but one that frankly I find unacceptable. I am in but a tiny guild and pick-up groups are difficult enough to create, and cope with, for instances, I certainly don't want to spend hours looking and waiting for other people casually wanting to complete this arbitrary and otherwise unexciting quest.

I fully appreciate the desire to create more challenging content that requires collaboration to complete, but having to synchronise quests, particularly quests that are part of chains, before being able even to attempt these more difficult quests goes beyond the expectations of a friendly and social game. If there were a particularly good reward or interesting conclusion to the quest, such as opening the quests to be able to fly a Netherwing Drake by defeating Zuluhed the Whacked in Burning Crusade, for example, then there is sufficient motivation to work together as a group and ensure everyone remains at the same point in the quest chain. But as far as I can see this is just another quest, and all I can think to do is abandon it for being a waste of effort.

The main problem with this type of quest is what happens when others complete it. As with Zuluhed the Whacked, when a character completes the chain to move on to the next step they cannot return to a previous stage of the quest, so the quest item is no longer available to them, which of course means that they can no longer help anyone else. So by encouraging players to complete the quest in groups the designers are potentially locking out other players from being able to complete the quest, as the number of characters available to help naturally dwindles. If you can't get the quest, you can't get the quest item and you cannot contribute towards the quest completion. It becomes logistically improbable that enough players can be found to complete the quest together, particularly one that offers no real incentive to complete in the first place.

The GM notes my frustration and, if I would agree to a disclaimer, is happy to forward any suggestions I have to the designers. Hmm, I haven't actually thought of any ways for the quest to be improved, but I really ought to at least try to be constructive. It's not too difficult to quickly come up with the suggestion that not all players need to be on the quest for it to be attempted. If the quest item were allowed to be shared amongst party members, as long as one player is on the quest, then it would allow for the increased complexity of multiple applications of the agent by different people at different times for the quest to succeed, thereby making the quest able to be completed without simplifying it or requiring logistic complications of quest chain synchronisation. I may not have been quite as eloquent at the time, but I got the basic idea across and I'm sure the designers are smart enough to work out the details.

MMORPGs are social games at heart, by the very nature of them being massively multiplayer. Whilst player skill certainly should be a factor in contributing towards success, and equipment options appear to be a necessary evil in creating a more level experience, denying access to content because of contrived complexities that make finding groups more difficult seems to be antithetical to the design philosophy of the genre. Forced grouping generally makes players grumble, it should come as no surprise that adding further requirements to a forced grouping leaves a player with a bitter experience.

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