(This is obviously a long post. If you didn't notice that, and don't want to read it, feel free to move along instead of replying you want a summary or providing a critique of my word count. Don't like it, don't read, simple as that, right?)
Many people are complaining the quests in Rift are too simplistic, too hand-holdy, too linear, and the 'only' thing to do. While some of that criticism is valid, based on one's perspective, the real problem with the quest-heavy model of Rift is that it creates anxiety. In Rift, you want to group, want to explore, want to level on rifts and invasions, but there's an anxiety that you'll miss something important if you don't check or even complete all the quests first. You may not get equipment upgrades as readily, since it’s a sure thing with quests but random out killing in the world. You may not get story quests, or quests that unlock souls, or quests that lead to group content you actually do want to do.
The game is designed from the beginning to teach us that quests will be the method to getting equipment, unlocking souls, and being told the story. So, we jump through the quests hoops in the start town, and by the time we’re put into the ‘real’ world of Telara we aren’t comfortable with breaking free from the quest-chains.
It’s not that the quest-based model is bad. It’s a valuable tool that delivers content, makes the game less confusing for many players, and adds a good way to help control rates of player knowledge and leveling. It’s a good mechanic, but one that has become too important, so when you don’t have a quest many players get nervous about missing something important, which leads to out leveling quests and going back through lower-level quests to make sure you didn’t miss anything, or ‘fishing’ various quest givers and hubs for quests that are ‘necessary’ and often having to make up past quests before you can do the ‘necessary’ ones.
The quests were fine, if not a bit uninspired and expected fare at times. It’s what most ‘core’ gamers expect these days. And the non-quest stuff was great too, as rift and invasion hunting was great fun, more challenging, and really good exp (though more overland elite areas specifically for groups would be fun). The problem is that quests are sure-rewards and lead to important/necessary stuff in the game (or at least that perception) so an anxiety is created and people think they HAVE to do the quests, which makes them not fun, and creates the feeling that quests are chores you have to complete before you can go outside and play.
Individually, the questing and open-world grouping features in the game are solid and well developed, but they aren’t meshing very well yet. It’s not that quest-based game-play is bad, it’s that it feels and seems too important, so people are uncomfortable doing anything else. Like I said, we’ve been trained to understand quests are where the farmer drops off bails of hay, so like sheep our ears perk up only when the hay-truck comes around, since finding food elsewhere isn’t a sure thing.
First, in the starter area I would add named mobs that are slightly tougher, but still able to be defeated with reasonable effort. While the game is instilling the idea/training that quests give rewards, it could also be instilling the idea that there are things to explore and experience in the open world. Players start not only looking for quest indicators over quest-givers’ heads, but also looking for things of interest in the open world.
Secondly, give us a way to filter quests. The green exclamation point was fine for WoW, but the system hasn’t evolved. I want a system where in the quest log you can indicate which quests you want to show up and assign different colors or symbols to those quests. I would personally make only quests that gave gear show up in green, and then in red quests that lead to souls, stories or dungeons. Sure, it would be some work, but would reduce the anxiety I’d miss an ‘important’ quest and then I also wouldn’t have to go fishing through tons of quests to find any ‘good ones’ I missed. I could just adventure in the world, and when I came back to town to sell, notice the quests I wanted to notice.
Third, Vanguard had a cool system where sometimes NPCs would send you in-game mail. It was actually pretty neat and made the world feel a bit more alive. I would do this in Rift with soul or story quests that Trion probably wants ALL players to do. The game is already pretty hand-holdy, so making what is already pretty easy more convenient isn’t a bad thing. That way, I know I can go rift hunting and not miss a quest, because if I reach level 19 or whatever and still haven’t gotten the quest to pick up a new soul, the appropriate NPC (knowing I’m an ascended and savior of the effing world!) will send me an in-game mail letting me know.
Solutions like these are the best way I see to help change the perception that Rift offers only a linear, quest-driven experience. It has quests, and the quests are pretty linear, but there is also a ton of other things to do. The problem is people aren’t doing these other things as much, or feel anxious about not questing, knowing they run the risk of missing out on important aspects of the game that are delivered through quests. So, instead of getting to still experience those important quests, one feel pressured to experience ALL the quests for fear they’ll miss one that is, or leads to, the ones they actually want to do.