"Riddle me this: how many rats can you kill in ten minutes?"

"Riddle me this: how many rats can you kill in ten minutes?"

In experimenting with DDO and other MMOs I’ve been struck by the lack of challenge some of these games offer. I’m still in the early stages of exploring Dungeons & Dragons Online, but one of the features I noted and liked was having to solve puzzles in instanced Dungeons.

One of the very early quests asks you to go to a storeroom in Stormreach and find a missing parchment. It’s an instanced dungeon, rather small but nicely designed. However to get the parchment you don’t simply kill X amount of MOBs and wait till it drops.

What’s different?

You have to do some problem solving in order to retrieve the item.

Sure, along the way you kill giant spiders and reanimated zombie rats (that’s right – you have to go kill the proverbial ten rats). However, in this quest puzzle zolving is central: the parchment is held in a magical field. To deactivate the field you need to rearrange the surrounding floor tiles – which are decorated – into a pattern. Once they are into the right pattern the magical field drops. Following tht you collect the parchment and return it to the NPC for your choice of reward, XP and currency.

All good fun.

Whoa there! You want me to think through the problem?

Hours of fun... or frustration?

Hours of fun... or frustration?

When I initially when I entered the chamber I stood there numbly… the room was empty. I was expecting to see a semi-elite MOB I’d have to kill. Maybe a few trash MOBs around them. I was ready to pull, auto-attack and thump some keys to activate some abilities. But, something was different…

“What the hell?”

Panic! What should I do? How do I complete this quest!?!?!?

Maybe I should Alt-Tab out and go online and Google the answer? Is there a DDO wiki? If this was WoW I’d have half a dozen resources to consult, and maybe a add-on or two that would tell me what to do.

“Right…” I thought “…breathe…maybe I’ll try something different. Let me try and solve it by myself.”

It took me a minute or two, but I solved the puzzle. And gosh, didn’t I feel good! OK, it isn’t a MENSA test, but the simple act of attempting and solving a puzzle was enormously satisfying.

In my view it was a true D&D experience: a dungeon, some monsters to kill and puzzles to solve. Puzzles in DDO clearly signal the role playing game (RPG) heritage inherited from D&D. Dungeons required players to disarm traps, explore and solve problems. In contrast, dungeons in games such as WoW ask that you learn a scripted fight.

Do gamers want puzzles in their MMOs?

It did make me think: we aren’t MMOs doing more of this? WoW clearly doesn’t, or at least not in the quests I’ve seen. WAR certainly didn’t. Both MMOs are built around the concept of killing vast numbers of MOBs and looting items from their corpses. Puzzles offer something different and fun. They can offer a challenge.

Strangely I don’t think gamers would be immune from charm of puzzles. The enormous popularity of Tetris, Peggle and Puzzle Pirates indicates that gamers would be amenable to the challenge of puzzle solving. So why have games lost their puzzle solving elements over the years?

It would seem MMOs have become more and more like conveyor belts, placing the player on a path that will level them as quickly as possible. And while it may be great to get to level cap and experience the “end game”, such an approach degrades the fun and challenge of levelling a character.

Most WoW players pride themselves in how fast they can level a character these days. No one takes pride in completing a quest. And how could you? The mechanics of most WoW quests are fairly basic. Go here, kill this, come back… here is the XP you need to level as fast as possible. Rinse and repeat for eighty levels in WoW or forty in WAR.

But maybe it’s the journey we should value more, not reaching the destination as fast as possible.

My view? More puzzles please.

Next instalment: my comparison of the DDO and WoW user interfaces.