This is something which has been bugging me lately. A friend of mine showed me a place in pre-searing I never knew of. It's west of Fort Ranik, and you have to go through a passage which looks very hidden. As you go through it, you're in a beautiful small forest area with some pools and some ruins of an old structure. It really looks beautiful... just too bad it is also rather pointless.
I'm sure that's enough for those people who like exploration for the sole purpose of seeing new fantastic visuals, but wouldn't it be great if those type of areas had hidden treasures or some kind of quest related to them? Fortunately, there's a few areas in presearing which is like this. You have this band of drunken hunters in the forest southwest of Fort Ranik, which also has a "hidden" quest where you have to hunt down a bear within 3 minutes to get some ale as reward. The reward isn't exactly something people would go crazy over, but it's *fun*. It's a nice challenge, it's a nice surprise to find, it encourages exploration, it makes the world feel more "alive" and it's fun to do a quest which is out of the ordinary.
Another area which is nice is that the one with Piken Square. Even though it has no quest related to it, I think it's brilliantly made. It has some pretty visuals, it's fun to view Piken and the surroundings as it were before it was ruined, and it's a lot of fun trying to figure out how to kill those Charr. I honestly don't think there's any other place in the game which can be compared. Perhaps Lornar's Pass is slightly similar, since it gives a similar type of challenge... but people only use that for running.
Anet definitely made some mistakes when making the visual style of some areas. Post-searing ascalon gets tiring in the long run. After witnessing the beauty and majesty of pre-searing it isn't fun to spend many hours staring at ruins. I know this is for storyline reasons mostly, but anet should have at least made some areas of post-searing ascalon stand out. This is something I think anet has actually learned from though, I don't expect to similar mistakes in Chapter 2 and other chapters.
Regarding quests, post-searing ascalon isn't that bad. It has a really good amount of quests, but it lacks the quests which are as varied, unique and "spontaneous" as the hog and hunter quests in pre-searing. Exploring the landscape itself is dreadfully boring in post-searing ascalon. The only quest you'll ever stumble on is the caravan quest southeast of Frontier Gate.
To make matters worse, just about every area after post-searing ascalon has *fewer* quests and almost no quests you find in the explorable areas themselves. This is such a shame. You have these large areas, such as the alternate route through northern shiverpeaks, 50% of Kryta (especially Talmurk Wilderness, which is one of my favourite zones visually), just about all of the Maguuma Jungle... and no quests, nothing to do! It's such a shame, I love how Talmurk Wilderness looks, but it's something people would never see unless they do a LA->sanctum cay run or go exploration for the visuals only.
At least southern shiverpeaks got more interesting with the introduction of SF, and it has a few clever stuff like the hidden UW entrance in Lornar's Pass (why is there no hidden FoW entrance?), and the treasure chest in Dreadnought serving as a small reward for those doing the long trek of getting the FoC elite skill (just too bad they removed that chest...).
Places like UW and FoW are places I think had the potential of becoming as memorable as pre-searing, but I think they failed in too many regards. They have a good deal of similarities, they're all open-ended, and has no direct immediate goal besides exploring and doing the quests you find.
In my opinion, UW and FoW simply looks really dull compared to pre-searing. 90% of it looks like black, scorched, ruined land, and that's not eye-pleasing. It simply gets really dull to look at in the long run. It has no map, that makes it really frustrating to explore. It has only one entry point, meaning that each time you enter the areas you need to start the same way every time. For the most part, the quests aren't that interesting. Most of them are your typical "Go kill monster X." quest, I really wanna see more creative quests than this.
Another problem is that they're just not casual friendly at all. You can't bring henchmen, you are forced to rely on 7 other people (who can suddenly leave for no reason), it costs 1k, and it takes ages to go through it all, there's no outposts or anything you can use as "save points" from where you can continue from next time. I still haven't completed all of the quests in UW and FoW and from how things look, I doubt I ever will.
SF shares some of the same problems. Although doing the primary quests in SF are fun. Going there with no NPC and trying to do the optional quests is an experience very similar to UW and FoW unfortunately.
Regarding other late additions, I think anet has done a great job with stuff like the Titan quests and the tombs pve area. Sure, most of them re-use a lot of old stuff, but they're fun to do. The titan quests are amazing. You get to experience old areas in a completely new way, and you're also given new types of challenges unlike any other in the game (being forced to fight against large groups of highlevel monsters with a party of 6 or 4 people). Tombs is simple, but that is its charm. Tombs is just simply a straightforward hack'n'slash dungeon with a nice reward at the end. Though I wouldn't want many areas like tombs, it's at least fun to have one area which is a diversion from the rest and is as straightforward as it is.
As Anet makes the upcoming chapters I hope they've learned from their mistakes in Prophecies, and I'm looking forward to seeing something which is as memorable as pre-searing (all in all, pre-searing is probably what I found to be best designed of all of Prophecies).
And I also hope they'll some day improve on the content in Prophecies. What I personally think what Anet should do is the following:
-Populate certain areas in the game with more quests. Particuarly quests which you'd find from NPCs (it wouldn't even need to be an NPC) in the exploreable zones themselves. Try to make those quests as unique and creative as possible, even though an occasional simple "Kill monster X" is completely acceptable. The rewards doesn't need to be great, having fun doing the quests should be the most important reward.
In my opinion each zone in the game should at the very *least* have one quest linked to it. Try to utilize as many areas as possible in the game, it's a shame seeing places such as the big town northwest of Beacon be there for no purpose at all.
-To make UW, FoW and SF more enjoyable... add a map for crying out loud! These areas *NEEDS* a map. Make it possible to use henchmen in FoW and UW. And having some kind of final goal and reward in UW and FoW would also be nice, so that a player has a reason for completing all the quests... this would also decrease the amount of leavers since they would have a good reason to stay for the entire run.
-This is a bit more farfetched, but I think it's something which would apply nicely to the big world Guild Wars is, and would add more replayability to the game, and utilize the different areas in new ways. Add random generated quests! Has people here played games such as "Elite: Frontier" or "Mount & Blade"? Those games features missions and quests which are partially random generated. Though the quests themselves share the same mechanics (such as "Deliver X item to city Y." - "Kill monster X" - "Rescue hostage X" and etc), they are different in the ways that you're going to different cities, need to deal with different type of enemies, and etc.
For instance, Mount and Blade has one quest which you sometimes get in any town which is to rescue a merchant's daughter. You get the ransom and you travel to the area where the bandits are (the location and size of the bandit force differs for each time), and when you get there you can choose to pay the ransom to get the girl, or decide to fight them so you can deliver the girl and just keep the ransom for yourself. This is the type of quest I'd like to see in Guild Wars.
Imagine randomly treasure hunt quests, where you get vague guidelines of how to find a treasure, or quests where you have to hunt down an extremely powerful boss monster which has a bounty on him, or escorting a caravan from an outpost to another outpost. While they would share the same basic mechanics, those quests would feel unique since you'd get the chance to do them in different areas, with different monsters, different difficulty and different party size as well. And would be a good way to utilize some of the rarer zones without having to manually create completely new and original quests. It would also be a very good way to make the best out of the instanced world Guild Wars is in, compared to other MMORPGs Guild Wars has the potential of having really fun and immersive quests.
Well, this became a rather long post. I'm interesting to hear what people's opinions are about the subject (and please, I want no "PVE is for n00bs, Guild Wars is about PVP only." comments).