The Rise and Fall of Daily Quests

With the impending release of Patch 5.4, with the Timeless Isle becoming Blizzard’s big gamble in response to complaints of daily quest burnout, I think a review of how this mechanism has been used in WoW’s history is in order.

World of Warcraft

You may be surprised to hear that daily quests weren’t a thing in the launch version of the game. In fact, throughout all of the classic game, you really only had two kinds of quests: your traditional yellow bangs that offered one-time quests, and your occasional yellow bangs that were “infinite repeatable” quests, in that once you completed the quest you could pick it up again. The second type was used pretty rarely, but two examples jump to mind that I feel acted as the prototype for daily questing: Silithus and the Argent Dawn, which were updated with this content late in the classic patch cycle.

  • In Silithus, the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj (Patch 1.9) opened a series of repeatable quests that asked players to face off against elite mobs in the area, from Twilight’s Hammer cultists to roaming elementals to silithid bugs. Because the monsters here were exceptionally dangerous, these were all flagged as group quests. The quests rewarded various badges that could be combined to get various rewards from the Cenarion Circle, in addition to being a reputation avenue for them.
  • In Eastern Plaguelands, Shadow of the Necropolis (Patch 1.11) revamped Light’s Hope Chapel with several repeatable quests. The repeatables here were centered around earning Insignias of the Argent Dawn and the Scarlet Crusade, which could be acquired a variety of different ways (everything from crafting tasks to farming up particular mob drops) and then spent to acquire various rewards from the Dawn, including a big spread of epic equipment.

Since both of these quest hubs gave players a repeatable, non-raid-oriented method of both grinding up reputation but also centered around gaining up a special currency that granted access to raid-level rewards, you can see how this might have contributed to later designs. But let’s get to actually dailies, shall we?

Burning Crusade

Patch 2.1 introduced the first true daily quests with the Netherwing, the Skettis Skyguard, and Ogri’la. In all three cases, after a brief introductory quest, players gained access to a set of quests that could be completed every day, granting reputation that gated access to epic equipment, mounts, and consumables.

The limit of ten dailies per day meant that players had to prioritize who they were going to work on first, and there wasn’t any variability to the quests. Ogri’la offered various avenues to acquire more Apexis shards (they were lootable off mobs and could be gathered from nodes in the area) and the Netherwing Egg hunt was, like today’s Cloud Serpent eggs, a scavenger-hunt where you were competing with other players on your realm for spawns, but without the dailies you were just saving yourself time spent farming later OR some days off the whole grind.

The argument from Blizzard at the time was they wanted to give players a reason to interact with the game every day, but also provide something that wasn’t going to require an extensive amount of time on the players’ part. Because the ten-quest limit meant you were only working one hub at a given time, and because the quests were pretty well-localized, this was a boon to casual players who didn’t have a lot of time to play, and was something raiders could work on while waiting for the raid to come together. The complaint, of course, was that there wasn’t any variability in the quests.

The next iteration came a couple patches later (Patch 2.3), when daily dungeons and daily heroics were added. While this was oriented more around being another avenue for Badges of Justice, it still gave players a random option in terms of what dungeon to run, adding in the variability players seem to be looking for. Of course, the difficulty differences and keying differences between various dungeons had an effect for players.

In Patch 2.4, the Shattered Sun Offensive dailies raised the daily cap up to 25, and then promptly filled that quota with SSO quests. Aside from raising the cap, the SSO quests didn’t really change the game at all, though the place being a Contested area made it a real disaster/pleasure on PVP servers.

Overall, dailies served their purpose in giving players a reason to log in everyday, but after hitting Exalted with the respective faction, you didn’t have much reason to continue with the faction. The Daily Dungeon/Heroic contributed to the Badge of Justice grind in a significant way, but… well, we’ll get to that.

Wrath of the Lich King

The big iteration on daily quests that we saw in the new expansion was the addition of dailies that weren’t intended for max level. The Venture Bay area in Grizzly Hills (as well as a contested area upriver) offered dailies that involved killing players or player-like mobs to gain a currency that gave rewards that were tuned for that stage in the leveling curve, and other hubs provided at least a couple options in that area as well.

Meanwhile, the matrix of having a wide spread of factions that offered different gear to different specs, as well as being the primary source of head/shoulder enchantments came into play for the first time. The Tabard Championing system also provided the first time when dailies and mob-grinding could be completely eliminated from the reputation equation.

Objectively, the big changes to dailies in Wrath were that they came into play during the leveling curve, helped you rep up with factions that were much more pertinent to characters because of item enhancements, and generally could get circumvented with Tabard Championing. Again, once you were Exalted, you didn’t really have much business working for the faction anymore.

Cataclysm

Here’s where stuff starting to get turned on it’s head: Tabard Championing became the norm for how you repped up with the critical factions. Only Therazane was really contingent on doing daily quests (the Twilight Highlands factions had a few and the Tol Barad factions had a bunch if you liked fighting over quest objectives, but neither were as endgame-critical as Therazane was). You had much wider variability in what quests you were doing day-to-day for each faction, and combined with the daily random heroic (which was now built into LFG instead of being a quest) Blizzard was still compelling you log in every day and do content that was probably different from the day before, but the overwhelming issue of Cataclysm not having enough content extended here too.

The addition of the Regrowth/Molten Front hubs helped a bit, but it was done in a manner that wasn’t directly related to working for a faction; yeah, you get rewards at the end, yeah, you’re accumulating a currency, but the only way to get rep with the Avengers of Hyjal was to kill baddies in the Firelands Raid. So it’s definitely an instance where the link between dailies and working for a faction weren’t directly related, as they had been in the past.

Mists of Pandaria

And now, in the current, we’ve got the big game-changers.

  • Nearly all of the factions in the expansion have their reputation gain driven almost completely by daily quests.
  • Tabard Championing is gone, principally because it felt tacked on.
  • The 25/day daily limit was removed, since launch factions provided almost 50 daily opportunities for quests across Pandaria.
  • At launch, all of the quests in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms were a series of daily quests for the Golden Lotus, and getting Exalted with them was a prerequisite for starting the daily grinds for the August Celestials and Shado-Pan. This was done to prevent players from feeling overwhelmed by the number of factions to rep with, but the result backfired; by making the Golden Lotus required, people burnt out on the Vale questing experience and dailies in general before getting to the factions they needed for Valor gear.
  • And the big kicker: all daily quests now provided a few Valor Points for completing them, while the proportional Valor Rewards from raiding and running heroic dungeons were reduced. In Cataclysm, you could nearly cap your valor just from killing the raidbosses of the current tier, or doing seven heroic random dungeons. In Mists, you didn’t get nearly as much Valor per kill/run. Now, other avenues existed; scenarios, challenge mode dungeons, and dailies all provided avenues to get your Valor cap, and capping on one character increased Valor gains for all your other characters on that server by 50%. But the genie was out of the bottle; running dailies, more than ever before, was something that needed to be maximized if you wanted to get your character to optimal gear.

Characters very quickly burnt out on the daily experience. Even with a wide breadth of variability in the quests offered (Ex. the Golden Lotus had multiple hubs throughout the Vale, and a normal day’s run would only take you to half of them) players loudly groused about how gated the experience had become.

In 5.1, the introduction of the two Landfall factions (Operation: Shieldwall and Dominance Offensive) was received a little better because of a number of mechanisms: first, hitting breakpoints in the reputation grind opened up one-off quests that told the Landfall narrative, so players were able to break up the monotony of the daily grind by looking forward to new quests. Second, most of the major factions had Grand Commendations added to the game, purchased once you hit revered, that would double reputation gains with that faction for all of your characters.

In 5.2, the two Isle of Thunder factions (the Kirin Tor Offensive and the Sunreaver Onslaught) were pretty much as refined a version of the daily model as could be achieved, but faced pushback because the Isle of Thunder wasn’t flyable. Combined with a more dangerous crop of enemy mobs on the island and fewer story moments (instead of being unlocked by individual reputation gains, they were unlocked by zone-wide participation by the two factions, and took the form of solo scenarios instead of quest-chains) it’s debatable whether this hub was better received vs. the Landfall factions. But the resourcing message at this point was “no more dailies.”

5.3 showed that iteration heard loud and clear: Battlefield: Barrens only has a weekly quest to collect resources from mobs, nodes, caravan escorts, and boss kills, and that was it in terms of repeatable content. Like the Molten Front it’s not associated directly with a faction, meaning there’s no gating to the rewards aside from your willingness to farm for them. And all indications about the Timeless Isle in 5.4 seem to say that it’ll be much the same, only bigger.

SO WHAT THE HELL DAILIES

So what’s happened is that we’ve kinda come full circle on daily questing. They went from something that was just an incentive to log in every day in order to get some bonus mounts and optional gear to something that was perceived as being 100% necessary if you were going to play your character right. And with the glut of quests that dominated the early stages of Mists it’s no surprise that players burnt out on them.

But the self-directed, non-quest-oriented methodology that we’re seeing espoused with Battlefield:Barrens and the Timeless Isle has potential issues as well.

  • Some players like direction, and more importantly the limitations that’s inherently placed by completing a daily quest.
  • Some players don’t like obvious grinds, and if you’ve got rewards that cost hundreds of [Currency] that drops 1-2 at a time from mobs in the area, players see that as a pretty obvious grind, complicated by having to compete with other players for mobs.
  • Some players like the sequence of working through a series of quests. Granted, only the Landfall factions (and the Tillers to a certain extent) had a sequential story that unlocked over time, and that’s a challenge to overcome.

I foresee daily quests being deployed pretty cautiously in the future; Mists overused them in a pretty dramatic way, and I think players are spooked off them for now. But I think Blizzard needs to have that mechanic of tempting players to log in every day. It doesn’t need to be as draconic as, say, Neverwinter’s daily prayer mechanism, but even just having dailies be only one or two factions instead of, y’know, ALL OF THEM would probably be the best path forward.

Suffice it to say I’m interested in hearing the postmortem between now and BlizzCon. ^_^

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