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.