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On The Drawing Board #18: Diablo III Quests

Posted 24 Feb 2010 by


In this installment of On the Drawing Board, we’re examining the quests of Diablo 3. What type of quests are found in Diablo 3? How are they delivered? Are they worth completing? Are they rewarding enough to bother with? Will they remain viable even into the end game?

Happily, we’re able to answer all of those questions (lots, yes, yes, yes, yes), since we know quite about bit about the quests in Diablo 3. We were able to play through more than a dozen quests at Blizzcon 2008 and 2009, and the D3 Team has spoken about their quest design goals in numerous panel discussions and interviews. Based on what we know, it’s safe to say that players who go into D3 expecting more of the same D2 style quests are in for a (pleasant?) surprise.

The D3 team has a whole new approach to quests. They’re working to integrate quests much more into the level up process, they’re using them to tell the story, and players in Diablo 3 will spend most of their play time completing quests, rather than just grinding monsters, D2 style.  (This column assumes you are somewhat familiar with the style of quests in Diablo 3; if not, you should look over the Quests article in the Diablo Wiki; it’s completely up to date and is one of the most extensive and detailed pages in the entire wiki.)

Click through to read on…

New Quest Style

The quests in Diablo 3 are not like those found in Diablo 2. They are similar in how they are assigned, generally from an NPC with a ! over his/her head, but in D3 there are many more quests, they are more varied, more closely tied to the story, and are much more rewarding, especially when it comes to gaining experience. On the whole, the quests of Diablo 3 are more like those found in MMORPGs than the old style Diablo 2 quests. Yes, there’s that World of Warcraft influence once again rearing its ugly head.

Players will want to complete virtually every quest they are assigned in Diablo 3, and quests will be a big part of the end game play as well, which is a huge change from Diablo 2, since quests became irrelevant at that point. (Other than trying not to complete the Secret Cow Level quest.)

Diablo 2 Quests


The quests in Diablo 2 were largely incidental to the gameplay experience. They could be completed, and quite a few of them had to be completed to continue through the game, but the quests didn’t often feel like quests. Every Act Boss was a quest boss, but since Act Bosses dropped the best loot, and had to be killed to move to the next act, players would have killed them constantly, whether there was a questing reason to do so or not. (And most of us ended up killing Mephisto and Baal, AKA spinning the item roulette wheel, several million times even after we’d received the quest credit.)

Other quests in Diablo 2 were incidental since they were part of what you were doing anyway. Quest were almost always located in the next area you were going to advance to, the monster to kill (for an item or for its head) was usually something you’d have killed anyway, and the quest rewards were fairly negligible; often nothing more than allowing your character to move to the next area or act. Other than the quests that granted skill and stat points, players ignored virtually all the rest, since there was no reason to do them. More experience and items could be gained by moving on to the next area and killing higher level monsters than by completing quests, and this was especially true if you had a friend to rush you through the game.

Most of these facts about Diablo 2 quests do not apply to Diablo 3 quests, since the game developers have consciously changed their style. What’s the new Diablo 3 quest style? Is it what you’re afraid of? Of course. Those three letters of doom. W. O. W.

World of Warcraft Quests

WoW quests are very different from Diablo 2 quests. Most of you are probably familiar with them already, but if not a good overview can be found on Blizzard’s WoW Quest Basics page, or more details in our WoW site’s wiki.

Unlike Diablo 2, virtually all of the PvE gameplay in WoW is quest-based. Players can have up to 25 quests active at once, and there are far more quests at every level than players are likely to complete. Quests are color-coded (gray, green, yellow, orange, red) based on their designed level and your character’s level. So, simply by viewing the quest color a player knows if that quest will be easy or hard, and how rewarding it will be. Players can choose to complete gray and green quests, but they will essentially be wasting their time, in terms of speedy character progression and useful item rewards.

Most quests in WoW are of the FedEx style—go somewhere and kill something(s)—and how related they are to the story varies widely. What does not vary is their value; all of the appropriate level quests give characters big experience rewards; more than they could obtain just by grinding random monsters, which is the biggest difference between WoW quests and D2 quests.

WoW quests, and those in other MMORPGs (and Diablo 3) virtually all use just a few “verbs” for their functions. These were very well summarized in this recent article by game developer Scott “Lum the Mad” Jennings.

There’s also the fact that quests, much like fiction, only have a few narrative ‘verbs’.

  • KILL – find new and exciting creatures and squash them

  • FIND – collect the whatsit to check it off your list
  • GET – cool! someone did something for you. Most likely it involves you obtaining shiny things.
  • GIVE – someone desperately needs a whoosit and only you can help
  • EXPLORE – something happens the first time you arrive at a given X/Y/Z coordinate
  • CLICK – yay! you successfully moved your mouse over a pixel and pressed the button
  • TALK – “I Will Take Thee”
  • WATCH – stuff is happening on screen that you may or may not have had anything to do with.

Think of your favorite quest in an MMO. Every intricate element in that quest is composed of those verbs.

Diablo 3 Quests

What we know of Diablo 3 quests comes from hands-on play, and overview comments by the designers.

The hands-on play was very useful for specifics, and that info is what’s fleshed out all of the individual quest pages in the wiki. From playing the game we were able to see how the quests are randomized, delivered, executed, completed, and rewarded. But since we’ve only (so far) been able to play through some early areas of Acts One and Two at Blizzcon 2008 and 2009, we know nothing about the major story quests, act quests, end game quests, etc.

For that info we must go by the various comments of the Diablo 3 team. Fortunately, they’ve been quite forthcoming on this issue, and you can find numerous quotes by them on the wiki main quest page. For instance, here’s Leonard Boyarsky on quest randomization.

We?re doing -? there?s a main storyline that is, parts of it might be randomized depending on the area, depending on what the quests are, depending on what the actual objective is. But apart from the main quest, most of our other content is randomized, so from game to game it will be completely different. I can?t give you any kind of percentage because we?re still playing with those numbers, but that?s really the way we built this game is so that we can have a lot of randomized content, including story elements and including quests.

And Leonard Boyarsky from a different interview, about using quests to present the story:

The areas of story and character development will now be in focus, and the team wants the players to feel like they are having an effect on the world, which can also affect the character. They don’t want the game to be either action or RPG, the two can mix. The story elements just need to be more engaging “without interfering with the hack-and-slash gameplay”. It’s possible for players to opt out if they don’t care about it, “but if you do care about it, the story will bring a whole extra level of involvement to the game experience,” Boyarsky said. As few as possible quests will be mandatory, and instead having a lots of voluntary quests and random quests if you want to.

And Jay Wilson on end game quests and gameplay variety.

We do have specific systems planned for the late game and our goal for those systems is to make sure that players are experiencing as much of the content over again as possible.

The best example of where we feel we do this well in our other games, in World of Warcraft, is the quest system, which really gets you to move all over the world and do lots and lots of different things. The basic, core actions of the game are very repetitive. It?s not that they?re not fun, but the boredom with anything comes with repeating the same thing in the same way. If you could repeat the same thing in a different way it stays interesting a lot longer and that?s definitely going to be a goal for us.

I could quote the devs all day on quests, but the gist of their comments are that Diablo 3 is going to be much more like WoW than D2. You’ll have a large variety of quests, completing them will be your best course of action to level up and gain lewtz, and even in the end game, you’ll still be working on various quests and missions, rather than just endlessly running Bloody, or Cows, or Baal, or Pindleskin, or whatever area is the most profitable in that particular patch.

The D3 Team sees this as a good thing; a way to diversify the play experience and keep things interesting long term.

They’re also working to use the D3 quests to vary the gameplay, which is probably the most interesting thing about them thus far. None of the D2 quests did that; all just sent players to location X to kill whatever monsters were there. We only know a few of the varied D3 quests thus far, but we’ve seen several that force you to hold your ground against swarms of monsters, or to hurry through a dungeon hitting all the chests and trying to avoid the monsters who will only slow you down.  These seem like a lot of fun and potentially challenging, as they’ll get characters to expand beyond their familiar comfort zone/play style, and will be much easier or harder for various builds, in a way that general monster grinding isn’t.

Change for the Better?

I’m excited about the Diablo 3 quests, from what I’ve seen of them thus far. Even though none of the juicy story quests have been in the Blizzcon demos (and the quests that have been have had some parts removed to avoid giving us plot info), the quests have been varied and interesting, and the ones that create different scenarios; such as huge rushes of monsters you can’t run from (if you want to complete the quest) are very clever.

The fact that the quests give far larger experience bonuses (and item prizes) than you can obtain grinding demons seems like fun, and a useful reason not to simply rush through the whole game, Diablo 2 style. On the other hand, it might come to feel limiting long term, since it essentially forces you to do every quest… if you want to level up expediently.

Though the D3 quests are taking some inspiration from WoW quests, the fact that D3 isn’t an MMORPG is a good thing. The game can have a definite story with an end to work towards, and there don’t need to be hundred and hundreds of quests. That should allow the designers to keep them varied and interesting, rather than just churning out perpetual versions of the dreaded, “Kill 10 rats and bring me their tails I will give to you magic shoulder pads!” type missions.

What do you guys think? Does doing quests all the time in Diablo 3 seem like a good plan? Or do you prefer the more free-form, rush-for-rewards, endless pindle/baal run end game style of Diablo 2?


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