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With Elder Scrolls Online, ZeniMax Online Studios is hoping to move away from the traditional questing structure seen in MMOs. The development team wants to encourage players to explore the game world.
"For instance, you go an area of the game and see this ruined tower off to the left and a town ahead of you. With most MMOs, players have been taught to ignore the cool looking tower and instead head to the town where someone will eventually tell you to go to the ruined tower," director Matt Firor told Game Informer. "To me that’s dumb. The Elder Scrolls games, and even TESO, you see see something interesting, you go over there, and you find something interesting to do. In fact, it might even be a long series of quests."
"You get something to do right then and there and you get rewarded for it and then you can go to the town. You don’t have to do things in an certain order."
The vast majority of MMO's are structured just as Firor says. Each area has a hub, like a village or camp, filled with NPC's that provide players with quests. It's an efficient structure - you can knock out a bunch of quests and then head back to town to turn them in all at once. However, it definitely kills any desire to explore. I've often wandered into a new region in an MMO and said, "I should see if there are quests for this place before I start killing monsters."
Many games at least toy with new quest structures. For example, Star Wars: The Old Republic will give you new quests just for walking into a certain area, and RIFT offers players dynamic events to participate in. Still, most quests in these games are still doled out at hub towns.
Elder Scrolls Online seems like the right game to seed quests naturally through the game world. After all, the key appeal of a game like Skyrim or Oblivion is exploration. You see a cave along the road, walk in, and end up on some brand-new adventure. Capturing that essence and translating it into an MMO setting will be one of ZeniMax's key challenges with TESO.
TESO is in development for the PC and Mac. ZeniMax expects to release it in 2013.