Book 7 introduced an experimental new quest mechanic to LotRO, requiring the player choose between two mutually exclusive quest outcomes. In summary, a dwarf at the border of the Golden Wood offers you a quest to poach some protected deer. On accepting the quest, a new quest ring pops up nearby. A concerned elf warns you against carrying out the dwarf’s request, recommending that you should instead report the misdemeanour to another elf at the other side of the wood. If you go ahead and complete the dwarf’s quest chain, you’re locked out of the elf one, and vice versa.
I’d heard a little about this quest a while before Book 7 arrived on the EU servers, possibly from skimming through a thread about it on the US forums, or perhaps an even earlier thread on the test server forum. My understanding when I spoke to the dwarf for the first time was that the outcomes for deciding whether to poach or not essentially boiled down to a choice of mutually exclusive titles, with a minor reputation penalty with the elf faction for taking the poaching route. With that assumption in mind, I’d already decided I was going to do the right thing and respect the wishes of my elven hosts.
In doing so, I made a mistake. I briefly heard/read what the dwarf had to say, accepted the quest quickly without paying any attention to the rewards, and then tottered over to speak to the elf. In my excitement at shiny new content, like a puppy chasing a ball, I was then distracted by something else, and ultimately ended up shopping the dwarf in while completely failing to notice that he was offering a reward that I might have wanted (in this case, an off-hand dagger, only made reasonable by a sparsity of alternatives in Turbine’s haphazard itemisation agenda).
When I realised my mistake a day or two later, I was annoyed, mostly at myself for not having paid enough attention, but also at Turbine, for placing desirable items forever beyond the acquisition of attention-defficient players such as myself. The specific developer responsible for these quests, MadeOfLions, even quipped that he enjoys punishing those that don’t read the quest text, and by extension those like myself who usually do read the text, but have been conditioned by LotRO and several other MMORPGs to only consider rewards at the point of quest hand-in, not pick-up. Incidentally, Book 7 also sees the introduction of the quest tracker, which will almost certainly guarantee that the net amount of quest text read in LotRO will fall sharply.
So, does the responsibility for the mistake fall squarely on my shoulders? Do Turbine have any responsibility at all to protect me from my errant self, perhaps with a discreet warning just before locking out a particular quest forever? There are countless confirmation boxes popping up in an average play session. “Are you sure you wish to destroy this item?”, “Are you sure you wish to combine these relics?”, “Are you sure you wish to toss this particular dwarf?”, etc. Surely a “Are you sure you wish to lock out quest chain X forever?” is neither here nor there?
In a certain respect, MadeOfLion’s little experiment has been a success, in that I’ve been forced to consider the consequences of my in-game actions on a deeper level, but not, I suspect, on the level that he had envisaged. If his intention was that every player should experience making that same informed decision, then the fact that I (and at least one other person, judging by the forums) didn’t, indicates that there may still be some fine tuning to do. If, as he joked, his intentions really had included a desire to punish players that don’t examine the quest descriptions properly, then perhaps he should have included reward items that are desirable to classes other than one of the least popular ones!
I do applaud Turbine’s efforts to mix up standard MMORPG questing, and I look forward to seeing where they go with it. If they can make it more meaningful than a disguised reward selection, it could be an interesting addition to the game. I imagine, however, that anything they do introduce is going to look pretty primitive in relation to what Bioware are likely to come up with for Star Wars: The Old Republic.