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Okay, really, I've got to ask. What do you guys mean by "an epic, meaningful quest"?
I'm pretty sure I could come up with an epic, meaningful quest. You won't like it, but here goes.
"A rural farm town has been stricken by a plague. The plague can only be cured by the blood of a dragon. These people, in their rural ways, cannot afford to fight a dragon for its blood. In fact, I'm not sure you can do it on your own. In any case, you must travel to Loran Mountain and kill enough dragons to get enough blood to cure the whole village of its plague. I think around 10 should do. I suggest you take a group with you...those dragons can get pretty nasty."
Okay, read the above. You're telling me that even if you couldn't do it on your own, and the quest was meaningful in the sense that you're saving a whole village, and that of all things, you're killing big-friggin-fire-breathing dragons, that this quest would not be epic, simply because it follows the "kill 10 rats" thing?
I simply don't understand what people want in an MMO that will feel like its an epic quest. In my personal opinion, to have an "epic, meaningful quest" and still have the feeling of it being epic, it can't be a quest.
No quest can ever be epic.
Because quests are designed for everyone to be able to do. By the time the 10th person comes around and saves that village, it's no longer epic. Everyone's a hero. Everyone had access to the quest, didn't they?
And this is why you can't have "epic, meaningful quests."
This is where sandboxes become what every player wants.
See, in a sandbox, all you have is a set of challenges, often similar to a themepark's challenges, except you're never told where to go, what to do, how to do it, or sometimes not even given the "handout" resources to do it.
In a themepark, the most "epic, meaningful quests" often happen in places like dungeons. Instanced or not, everyone still ends up doing it at one point or another, as dungeons tend to funnel people towards them.
In a sandbox, you can create your own "epic, meaningful quest."
The thing is...people are too lazy to do it.
Even after all the work it takes to get to a point where you can raid in WoW, people feel it took less work than providing their own "epic, meaningful quest."
In truth, it may have. They didn't have to think at all. It was all handed out to them. The gear, the money, the experience. It was all given to them from square one.
However, in a game without quests, a "sandbox", you don't get those handouts. You have to start from square one, often with nothing.
Whereas the game provides everything you need to go on an "epic, meaningful quest," the game doesn't provide the means to do it instantaneously.
It takes work, it takes dedication, even to get the money to buy the means off of other players.
In itself, the whole process is an "epic, meaningful quest." You work your way up from nothing, poor and helpless, to a point where you can take down the game's biggest baddies.
Is that not epic?
Why can't we write our own epic quests? If we did that, it truly would be epic.
It's not a pre-determined path that everyone else can take.
You wrote it yourself.