In the latest Guild Wars 2 update, lead content designer Colin Johanson talks about how the game's dynamic event system is doing away with the traditional question-mark driven MMO quest systems in favour of world-changing events with lasting results.
The standard quest system sucks. Mechanically it works fine, but in terms of immersion, it leaves everything to be desired. You click on a quest giver, read through a paragraph or two of text to determine your goal, run off to achieve said goal, and then turn the quest in for your reward. After repeating this process in dozens of MMO titles, it's starting to get a bit old. Colin Johanson thinks so too, and ArenaNet has a solution.
In Guild Wars 2, our event system won't make you read a huge quest description to find out what's going on. You'll experience it by seeing and hearing things in the world. If a dragon is attacking, you won't read three paragraphs telling you about it, you'll see buildings exploding in giant balls of fire, and hear characters in the game world screaming about a dragon attack. You'll hear guards from nearby cities trying to recruit players to go help fight the dragon, and see huge clouds of smoke in the distance, rising from the village under siege.
He goes on to talk about another issue with standard quest mechanics: things described in the quest aren't actually happening. He gives the example of a quest claiming ogres are coming to destroy your village, and you having to kill them to stop the attack. In a game like World of Warcraft, you'd wander over to an ogre spawning ground, kill a bunch, and you'd be done, without the threat showing any intention whatsoever of invading your village.
At ArenaNet, we believe this is NOT good enough. In Guild Wars 2, if a character tells you ogres are coming to destroy a house, they will really come and smash down the house if you don't stop them!
ArenaNet is taking their claims of a living, breathing world quite serious. Quests will have actual, visible impact on the game zone they take place in, changing the world dynamically based on player reactions. Say a dredge army is invading the area. Players can muster forces and ward off the attack, furthering the story by then taking the fight to the army's masters, crushing them completely. But what if the players don't win? Does the encounter simply reset?
If, on the other hand, players fail to destroy the army, it will establish a fort in friendly player territory. From there, the dredge will send shipments of troops and supplies to the fort from the main base while building up walls, turrets, and siege engines to help defend it. Enemy dredge forces will then begin to move out from their newly established fort to attack friendly player locations in the area, sending snipers out into the hills, sending assault team forces to capture friendly player villages, and trying to smash down friendly fortifications with massive dredge walkers. All of these events continue to cascade out into further chains of events where cause and effect is directly related to the player's actions.
It's an ambitious system, and one that will require a ton of work to implement correctly, but should ArenaNet pull it off, the benefits to replayability specifically would be tremendous. Imagine creating a new character and walking the same paths as you have previously, only to find everything has changed? There'll be no more running to the village, grabbing the quests you know by heart, and power-levelling yourself. Guild Wars 2 will be a game you experience, time and time again, rather than simply go through the motions.
Dynamic Events Overview [Guild Wars 2]