As games become larger and more open-world, developers often add in side quests to help boost the play time. Some of these work wonders, intertwining with the main narrative. Others are a fun distraction that, while not adding anything to the central plot, do help to expand the world. Then there are those that fall flat on their faces and become chores to complete.
The Yakuza series is a fine example of expanding both the world and adding to the central plot. As I slowly come to the end of my playthrough of Yakuza 6 (and the series), I’ve finally finished off all the sub-stories except for one. I’ve been thinking about how they had been presented, how they developed certain characters and what they had contributed to the main plot. Some of the sub-stories were, of course, filler, but there were many that helped us to understand the characters better. Yakuza 3 (my least favourite of the series) had sub-stories that ranged from mediocre fetch-quests to wonderful additions to the main story. One that really stood out to me was the sub-story involving Rikiya’s tattoo. It gave a bit more likeability to the Okinawa yakuza as well as providing a bit of closure for him. These sub-stories increased the time I spent with each game as I was determined to finish most of them (I still have problems with the Amon ones) but I really enjoyed them and they never felt like a drag.
The Fallout and Elder Scrolls series would be excellent examples of helping to expand the world. Fallout 3 was my first Fallout game and, to date, the only one I’ve finished the main quest on (as well as the DLC). Fallout 3 (and its sequels) were incredibly clever at getting you to explore its wastelands. Rambling through the ruins of D.C., you could find a small quest that would lead you to another area that you’d never explored if you were only interested in seeing the credits. Of course, these areas would often hide special equipment, guarded by a powerful enemy, but they would also have little Easter Eggs for those with a keen eye. The Fallout games encourage this type of exploration and really do feel like the journey is far more important than the destination. Strangely, the side quest I remember most actually comes from Fallout: New Vegas. It’s called “Come Fly With Me”. This mission is a fun distraction that helps to expand the wacky world of the Nevada desert, as well as displays Fallout: New Vegas’ morality system.
The Elder Scrolls (the other Bethesda franchise I mentioned) is also filled with Guild quests. These can help you to gain items that will compliment your playstyle. They also have some dark secrets to them too (I’m looking at you Dark Brotherhood). The thing I like about these side quests is that they are their own little story. Some missions in Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim (the three I’ve played) are fun but they can be standalone quests. The Guilds have their own little stories that build your understanding of them, as well as having unique characters. These Guilds can be difficult if you’ve invested in one style of play (e.g. attack over stealth) but the rewards, story and characters make you want to keep going.
One series that has struggled with side missions in recent times is Final Fantasy. This is odd because Final Fantasy XIV’s side quests are not too bad. They add a bit more detail into the world and the speed you complete them at makes them enjoyable. Obviously, it’s an MMORPG but the older games in the series have done them well at times (when they’ve been present). Final Fantasy VI is probably the pinnacle of this. So much so, it annoys me that a lot of them are side quests and not main story quests. It helps to develop the characters so much and gives a bit of an insight into their personalities. The most tragic I think is Gau’s back story. It is odd then that Final Fantasy XV’s and Final Fantasy VII: Remake’s side quests are often filler and fetch quests. Final Fantasy XV is littered with quests that don’t really add much to the game. I think the worst offender for this is the broken-down cars. Sure, they’re a small distraction but they might as well not be there. They really are padding. Final Fantasy VII: Remake has it a little better but not much. Find cats, defeat x monster, smash crates. Decent side quests but nothing mind blowing, which is sad because we were told they would enhance the game. I hope that with the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI, the series will be able to tap into the secret that made Final Fantasy VI’s side missions a joy to complete.
I couldn’t talk about side quests and not list a series that has gotten them both so right and so wrong. Yep, it’s time to talk about Mass Effect. The Mass Effect Trilogy is one of the finest examples of side quests done right. The side quests help to develop the characters but thanks to how the sequels carry over details of each, they help to enhance the later games. An example of this is regarding Conrad Verner. Conrad is an irritating character who wants to be Shepard. In the first game, you can talk him out of it or send him off to be killed and in the second you can encounter him again where you can once again try to talk some sense into him. It’s in Mass Effect 3 where you can see the full effect of his side quests. Buy a particular license, mine certain items and talk to Conrad in the previous two games and you can get a short but nice bonus scene with him. It’s nothing to shout about on its own but when put with the previous side quests, it is an excellent example of how a side quest can be done.
And from the greatness of the Mass Effect Trilogy to the mediocre Mass Effect: Andromeda. I didn’t enjoy Andromeda and it was mainly how the side quests were handled. They felt like boring fetch quests that added nothing but time. I understand the idea behind them in that you’re exploring new planets but there’s only so many times I can scan x item or search for y item before I get bored. When the general advice is to ignore these quests to really enjoy the game, you know they’re poor. It’s sad really because Andromeda has a lot going for it. The main plot is decent, some side quests are on par with the Trilogy and the worlds look gorgeous but it feels drowned out by mundane tasks that add no real benefit. I would like to see more adventures in the Andromeda Galaxy but with the fetch quests greatly scaled back.
I am missing some games with excellent side quests, such as The Witcher series, Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, but I just wanted to give a brief glimpse of games I’ve played recently. What are some of your favourite side missions or are you the type of person to just skip over them for the main quest?