Sometimes in an MMO, it is easy to get distracted from the main story. Sure it is there and it is a coherent thread through the various zones, but you are doing so much other stuff in the zones that it can be easy to lose track of it all. Why was I here again? Does it matter? Whatever, follow the yellow brick road made of question and exclamation marks to the end.
In a lot of RPGs, the big story can get lost in the open-world nature of games. You need to be stronger to face the big enemies, so you need to collect resources, forge alliances, help people, close rifts… whatever it is, there is a whole lot of it going on. Each zone you travel through takes you on a circuitous route so that you basically quest in every little settlement, village and hub on the way before the main quest takes you to the next zone. World of Warcraft has been like this for a long while, and you knew you were about to finish a zone’s quests soon when you got the achievement for exploring the entire zone.
A change in structure
Shadowlands has changed that. You arrive in the realms of Death with a purpose and after barely escaping The Maw, you head off to try solve a puzzle. Your only clue is that some of the enemies that attacked you sound a lot like the Kyrian, so you head off to Bastion to try discover what is going on. In Bastion, you try to learn the ways of the Kyrian, passing their rites and challenges to get the attention of senior management.
As you work to find out what is going on, Bastion gets attacked twice, once from the inside and again from an outside force. Now with even more questions, you head off to where the invaders came from, while the Kyrians try to puzzle out a response to the invasion and deal with the losses after a brutal surprise attack.
There are large chunks of the map left unexplored when I leave Bastion. Places that I might return to later for quests and exploration, but there is something more important to do right now. I need to get to the bottom of this, and several powerful allies are still trapped in The Maw, and who knows what is being done to them while I am gone?
It feels refreshing to see these new zones as larger than the immediate issue, and to focus on central quests before moving on. It makes things feel a lot more natural and allows space to come back later, maybe when things aren’t so mysterious or dire, to clean up. It also stops that feeling that besides world quests, you are only ever going to go to a place once before moving on, like a murder hobo carving a path across the width of a zone.
Sure there are side quests, but it isn’t hundreds of them and the ones I encountered in Bastion were fun enough to act as a relaxation point after the stress of trying to fathom how the Shadowlands works and what The Jailer is up to. One sidequest chain has you building a token of affection for a Kyrian, only to then reciprocate it, leading to them being each other’s soulbind. Another quest has you help out in a beautiful tranquil garden, built for contemplatives to centre themselves among animals and near cool waters, or you have to decide if mechanical creatures are better than flesh and bone counterparts with personalities and feelings. One quest lets you see how the Void once attacked Bastion, and how they repelled the attack.
As a result of this approach, it is easier to keep the main big quest in mind, but not to the point that the world doesn’t feel lived in. It feels like story is being put front and centre and being given the importance that many players want. You can even feel it by the number of cutscenes and how several quests just require you to stand around and listen to various characters.
Now I move on to the second questing zone to see if the trend sticks.