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A heroic quest is similar to what is termed a 'public quest' in other games. Heroic quests have a dynamic element to them and objectives can vary depending on a player's level, allowing for players of varying levels to participate in the same heroic quest and still have a suitable challenge.
At higher levels, heroic quests will be quite challenging and could have significant rewards for those who contribute.
The Heroic Quest system appears to have been reborn as the rift system although there may still be Heroic Quests not tied to rifts.