Cry Engine 3 - A 'Good' Quest study
I am a big fan of open world games with free roaming and exploration, such as Skyrim, State of Decay and Firefall. So I am always disappointed when I find out that a game that was supposed to be an open world RPG is actually taking place inside wide corridors with beautiful vistas. I feel the same when I see a beautifully crafted world being filled with a ton of generic quests in which you have to 'defeat X number of monsters' or 'collect X number of items' for an NPC.
So I decided to post a quick example of how I would fix and improve one such routine and transform it into a more interesting location.
In the particular case shown below, a player was to walk along the straight road and then encounter an optional path to the left where he would find a treasure chest. What bothered me was the fact that, after looting that chest, player had no other options than to go back to the main road. Not only that the chest and it's location did not contain nothing of interest, but it was not even possible to cut your way thru the forest and avoid backtracking. I found it very tedious, unnecessary and not fun at all.
How to fix that?
-First, since it is an free roaming game by design, the player must be able to approach the clearing from both West and East side. Also, the area design should not force player to use the path, allowing him/her to move freely thru that forest patch. These two changes eliminate that awful 'corridor' feeling.
-Second, I would expand the clearing area slightly, so that the chest is leaned against the North wall. It is much better, navigation and composition wise and it allows placing something memorable on the wall as well, like say an overgrown statue or something that ties well to the game's lore.
Now, if we are to take this to the editor and expand it further by adding in an actual quest, then this is one of the ways of how I would do it.
Playing with verticality usually works nice for branching paths. In this case, I placed it slightly above the main road.
Then, I would replace 'chest & wall' combo with a cave entrance. The area in front of the cave would become a small campsite with a couple of dead bandits lying around. I would also place a typical 'bandit camp' landmark on both approach points. That way, while approaching this place from either side, the player is thinking: "Ok, so this used to be some kind of bandit hideout. And now someone or something killed those bandits. Do I really want to see what is inside?".
As you can see, both approach points are at an equal distance from the campsite and there is no anything that would restrict player's movement in any way. Of course, things could be more or less obscured, depending from how much of a secret that cave actually needs to be.
As player enters the small cave, he immediately sees more dead bandits and pretty soon encounters a couple of cave bears. Upon defeating the bears, player opens a bandit chest and finds a Bandit Journal and a Bandit Leader Ring.
A Bandit Journal explains that this, now 'killed-by-the-bears', bandit group was travelling to meet with another such group from the South. Together, they were planning to rob a nobleman's carriage. Upon learning this, player is able to start a new quest (Meet the South Group) in which he can go to that meeting. And by having Bandit Leader Ring in his inventory, player can pose as a Bandit Leader and actually start the Carriage Robbery quest.
This can now start to branch. So, upon completing the Carriage Robbery quest, player can either:
-betray the South group by running away with the loot; as a result, player becomes hunted by that group.
-kill the South Group; challenging, but possible.
-join the South Group; opens up a new quest line with 5 more jobs, each as less generic as possible with 5th job being unique.
Upon completing all 5 jobs, player gets a special reward that is specific to that group. And that quest line can be broken at any point by betraying or killing the bandits.
Please note that entities such as bandits and bears can be replaced with raiders, scavengers, mutants, orcs, aliens, zombies or anything that is in the context with the actual game world and it's lore.
Of course, a lot of extra flavor and character can be added to this quest. For example, the nobleman from Carriage Robbery quest can be one of the King's relatives offering a substantial reward and perks if player is to forfeit the loot and eliminate the South Group instead. Player could also kill the nobleman, which makes King's men actively hunting player down, later down the line. And so on...
Anyway, the things written here show that especially 'good' and interesting quests are those that make players feel as if their actions and choices were the very reason of why this quest happened in the first place. And although they will be constantly performing the same 'action loop' like fighting, leveling and loot hoarding, all that time they will be saying to themselves: "Man, I came across that cave and found that note. And now I am in with these bandits and have to decide what to do. Let's just stick around for a while and see what comes next".
And, in my opinion, this kind of feeling is what makes questing enjoyable and memorable.