The highs and lows of side quests

Syp of the Bio Break blog started a discussion, earlier this week, about the value of side quests, or indeed whether they still have any value at all. More prominent storytelling in many MMORPGs has caused a split between quests that advance the main story and tell of big and dramatic deeds, versus those smaller less consequential events or tasks that fill gaps in-between the main story.

I certainly agree that some games take side quests too far, Rift for instance when it added the carnage quest made the stereotypical “kill ten rats” type quest into a numerous and entirely narrative-free category of quest – one that you invariably had to do if you wanted to keep leveling at the required pace for zone progression. I guess I’m a sucker for story but I found such quests to be quickly boring.

Other games that I have played exemplify the other end of this spectrum, little quests that hold great value to me as a vehicle for telling non-essential, but equally enjoyable, stories as any main storyline. Two immediate examples spring to mind from two different MMOs.

Star Wars the Old Republic is bursting with side quests, although changes to the leveling speed probably mean that newer players would be forgiven for not even knowing they exist. Perhaps the most memorable for me, because I’m a linguist at heart, is that of the Gree chain of missions on Coruscant. These missions made me grin like the Cheshire Cat the first time I played through them, simple enough quests if you look at the mechanics, but they encapsulate the Star Wars universe: there are very strange things out there, not least the very alien Gree and their barely translatable speech-patterns.

Lord of the Rings Online also has very many side quests, completing some is likely needed to get the XP required to level, but you skip whole quest hubs or zones given the scope of the virtual world. I really loved the questing in Rohan in particular from a story perspective, but I’m going to mention a zone that has a surprising number of hidden-away side quests, ones that I’d never completed until a recent run through of a Year 9 anniversary quest. In Bree town there are more quests than I’d realised – several chains relating to residents that show a whimsical or mysterious side to this main settlement. As always I avoid detailed spoilers, but go check out hunt for uncompleted quests in and around the time if you have the time!

So I’m a fan of side quests if they’re done well overall. I don’t expect every single one to breathtaking storytelling but they should give a sense collectively for the zones and overall world that your character travels through.

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6 Responses to The highs and lows of side quests

  1. Shintar says:

    Funnily enough, the Gree chain on Coruscant is actually labelled as that planet’s main story quest for some reason. As much as I like it, I do find that odd, considering that the stuff with the senators and the civil unrest seems a lot more central to what’s happening on the planet.

    • Telwyn says:

      How strange, though I do like the quests they don’t strike me as appropriate for the planetary story. I don’t have a great memory for good side missions after all these years, perhaps the one on Tatooine about rescuing “loved ones”…

    • I think that’s more because it gives a title, and is a pretty popular/well-liked quest as well.

  2. I think the problem is not with side quests as a concept so much as that they’ve become the embodiment of the principle of quantity over quality. I don’t think side content should take up more time than the main story, but increasingly that seems to be the case, and often there isn’t much effort put into it. Side quests are at their best when they add an extra insight into the setting or characters without heavily distracting from the main plot. They shouldn’t be used to just to add a few dozen hours of shallow gameplay to a title.

  3. Bhagpuss says:

    I’d take “side” quests over a main storyline any day. I don’t like main storylines in MMORPGs – I see them as entirely unnecessary and frequently they are the main impediment to simply enjoying being in the world. Side quests, on the other hand, *are* the world. They’re small, local, environmental and cultural and they represent your character’s life as it’s lived.

    I also love pure “kill ” quests that simply require you to go out into the world and hunt down enemies, vermin, threats or profit. That’s even more immersive than side-questing.

    No, the more I think about it the more certain I am that it’s the slide towards MMORPGs having a core narrative that’s the real problem. That’s an import from single-player RPGs that we would be better off without.

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