The RPG Scrollbars: Saving World Quests

Previously in this column, somehow not taken up by the industry as of yet, I suggested that the word ‘quest’ was being somewhat damaged of late by the fact that it can be anything from ‘Kill the Great Red Dragon’ to ‘bring me some orange juice.’ I advocated a system where instead, tasks were split between two basic categories – what used to justifiably be called ‘quests’, and the more prosaic ‘shit to do’. I realise now though that I missed an important third category, World Quests, named because scattering mostly pointless crap everywhere is much easier than actually filling an open world.

World quests come in many different forms, but typically ‘icons on a map’. Kill this. Collect that. Blow up this. Keep doing it and typically your reward is something that would have been really useful about ten hours ago, but now only serves as bragging rights for the literally nobody interested in hearing anyone brag about their success in RPGs. The irony is that they’re usually pretty easy to ignore, in terms of raw game, but always prominent as a way to level up a little more or get some extra cash that may or may not be useful later on, or simply obscure what you’re actually supposed to be doing next. The biggest recent failing is of course Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Hinterlands map, which many players found themselves playing to the point of screaming instead of playing as Bioware intended – to do some stuff, and come back later. “The Hinterlands” is now effectively industry short-hand for offering too much up-front, from regular quests to solving ‘Astrariums’, and closing wibbly green Rifts.

There’s often a fairly wibbly line between world quests and simply optional side-quests. The easiest differentiation is that they’re repeated content in some way, whether it’s getting one of many things, or performing the same rite to shut a magical doorway, or defeating X waves of monsters to mark a location as ‘safe’, or exploring a ruin in search of a treasure that nobody in the game will ever send you after. Conversely, a FedEx quest to deliver something rarely counts, nor would tracking down a bounty hunter target or something like that. Usually they’re shown on a map either up front or when you get close. Also, usually they inspire a sound not a million miles away from ‘urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh’ after the first seventy times, usually with the general feel that being The Chosen One has become something of a janitorial position.

I don’t really want to talk about the bad examples though, because they’re both legion and speak for themselves. I think perhaps the nadir came in Assassin’s Creed 2, not an RPG, I know, which somehow kept a straight-face while asking players put aside the quest for revenge and power in favour of collecting… feathers. Feathers. Fucking feathers. The Witcher 2’s free DLC would subsequently parody this with its own tedious feather-hunting quest, and incredibly awkward finale.

What’s interesting about the good examples of world quests is how easily they can be identified and built on by others. World of Warcraft for instance introduced them in the Legion expansion as end-game content, with each one a bite-sized chunk of regularly rotating content to try and cut down on the dullness of just running dailies, and a wide variety not only available, but available to choose from. Never want to do the ‘find the lady’ game played with barrels of beer? Just ignore it. Conversely, if you need the basic endgame equipment of Order Resources, Gold, key crafting supplies or equipment up to the current level cap, you can head over and get a pretty big payout. Mechanically, it serves to not only give players something to do, if only idly, but as a way of quickly catching up slower players and providing plenty of upgrade potential.

Nothing however does world quests as well as The Witcher 3, for the simple reason that like most of the game, CD Projekt Red based the systems around not just Geralt as a character, but Geralt’s job as a monster hunter. You don’t have to. In terms of cash, it doesn’t pay well. However, it makes sense that you would, either while passing or at the bequest of some peasant, take a moment out of your day to stomp a monster nest or go after some creature not directly relevant to the narrative courtesy of a Witcher contract. It doesn’t feel right to leave the situation undealt with, especially if you can do it on a ride through somewhere else. Likewise, retrieving the fancy Witcher gear from maps found in Scavenger Hunts offers funky new looks as well as the sense of completeness. Even if you never use them, at least by the end of Blood and Wine there’s somewhere to stash the things instead of just treating them as more merchant-fodder. They’re also wrapped in at least some story, of the fallen Witchers who once used them, albeit nothing crucial even if you’re primarily playing for plot.

As with so much in RPGs, there’s a lot more that could be done with world quests. Assisting different sides of a civil war affecting the overall result, for instance. However, not for the first time in the last month or so, it’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild that really shows the rest of the industry how to design open worlds. It’s hard to convey how well many of its systems work if you’ve yet to play it, but a good starting point is that though it does have Assassin’s Creed style towers, they’re purely used as observation points rather than a reason to cover the map in collectibles. Instead, the game itself gently guides you through the world and simply presents opportunities – an impossible climb for instance, which turns out to have a reward at the end of it. Bits of scenery that encourage you to throw things into stone rings and trigger characters to pop up without even thinking about it – feeling clever instead of just anally-retentive.

It even manages to make – and I can’t believe it either – it manages to make collecting seeds interesting, just because the little critters hiding them are under every other rock or tree. Likewise, the game uses its raw mechanics to drive a lot of the game. It doesn’t need to insist, for instance, on endless tutorials about cooking things up in the fire when it knows full well that you’re looking for interesting recipes. The result is that exploring much of the landscape doesn’t feel like a chore, because it’s your own choice to do it, and there’s still scope to be pleasantly surprised by what you find, instead of just working out how to get, to take a purely hypothetical example, a feather.

So, what makes for a good world quest?

The first part is that you can’t just throw Something down and expect it to work, or for that matter just something that can be handwaved as ‘a thing the hero would do’, since that tends to be a very general platter of murderous and thieving activities. It has to feel like a diversion that’s actually worth their time, even if the player knows that ultimately it’s of tertiary importance. That can be, for instance, taking the time to build an interesting location, or having the player fight a tough enemy, or taking advantage of the fact that it being off the critical path means that the difficulty can be cranked up to present something familiar in a real gloves-off, come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, kind of way, with a suitable reward to match.

The second part is that the job should be, in itself, fun. Now, that sounds obvious, but I’d argue its a jump from the open-world games where this kind of thing started. Red Dead Redemption for instance had its treasure hunting challenges, where maps had to be found, deciphered and then solved. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag also had its treasure hunting, along with contracts. That mental element is the obvious thing to take. However, those games also put a lot of stock into making simple traversal into part of the game experience – riding through the desert or sailing a ship to a beautiful island, and then clambering all over the final destination and so on and having exciting encounters. Zelda too falls into this category. But even The Witcher treats travel primarily as a way of getting from A to B rather than something to do for fun, which radically cuts down on the excitement of wandering. Its world too is beautifully rendered – the game looks gorgeous – but it doesn’t typically go in for points of particular scenic beauty to find and enjoy. (There are exceptions of course, like the palace in Blood and Wine, with its amazing vistas, or the painter quest, but they remain exceptions to the rule.) A monster’s nest for instance is just going to be another bit of forest, not an incredible ancient temple to clamber over.

Third. The reward has to be real and imminent. That doesn’t mean immediate. But part of the problem with most games is that they don’t necessarily have much to give out for their side-quests that actually ‘feels’ notable – equipment can’t be too good, or it unbalances the game, and it can’t be crap, or it’s not worth it. Gold is usually functionally worthless by the middle of every game. And if it takes too long to get some form of attaboy, then it’s a pain. This is a challenge for every game to solve individually. Zelda for instance exchanges seeds for larger inventory space. The Witcher, as mentioned, offers unique looks and stories. Black Flag offers sea-shanties.

Incidentally, speaking of pirates, does this sound familiar to anyone else?

Just asking, because I’m suddenly sad we never got a piratical Ultima game…

Anyhoo, where was I?

Ah, yes. Fourth. If at all possible, the side-quests should have at least some bearing on the world as a whole. There’s no reason for example that something like Fallout couldn’t have you plant trees and have life return to the wasteland, or factor in the overall prosperity of a settlement into its end-game stats instead of just basing everything on big decisions. This one, I don’t think is essential, but it’s a good way of making all decisions feel at least a little meaningful.

Fifth. These quests really, really shouldn’t slow anyone down. I am so looking at you here, Dragon Age: Inquisition, with plot quests attached to levels of Power well past the point that most players just want to find the villain, insert a boot into him, and catch the titles. The player that wants to scour the map and do everything is the player that will scour the map and do everything. Most just want to advance the story on at least a decent schedule, and know full well when everything’s being blocked because someone in Marketing promised a 50 hour experience rather than 20.

And sixth, all these quests really need to start from the starting point that they’re really not as necessary as many developers think. It’s already hard enough for many players to find time to finish long games, be it because they have other draws on their time, or simply that owning a Steam account is to drown in enticing offers from a million different new experiences every five minutes. If the developers are excited by the side-objectives, as with the treasure hunts mentioned above, then awesome. If it comes down to simply filling the map with icons in some Ubisoftian push for perceived value then really, don’t waste our time. None of that stuff ever, ever compensates if the main game isn’t going to be good enough, and as the Hinterlands prove, more really can end up being less. There’s always bits of the real game that better warrant the time.


  1. Stijn says:

    It does seem to be a tough nut to crack for game designers. Mass Effect: Andromeda had this system where fetch quest-ish quests would have their fetchables show up in whichever bandit camp you decided to clear out next, which in theory makes such quests fit in neatly with whatever route you’re taking through the world anyway, and at the same time serves as an extra incentive to clear out bandits (which, as the person charged with making worlds liveable, is the thing to do anyway).

    Only this mechanic is never really communicated well to the player, and the objects often fail to spawn for reasons both buggy and mechanic, so in the end the quest is first really frustrating because there are no quest markers and it isn’t clear that you can go to any random bandit camp to advance the quest, and then really tedious because in spite of that promise, whether the objective actually shows up in those camps is still more or less random. Also it’s a bit of a challenge for my suspension of disbelief that quest objectives will magically always be in the next camp I visit, but that’s probably the smallest flaw.

    Oh well. Next time they’ll get it right, surely.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Ah, the joy of magic trick design, where the player is meant to appreciate a mechanic without noticing. I think Sorcery 3 did a pretty good job of that with its loot-tables and random encounters carefully mixed in with the scripted stuff. Still a guiding hand on the narrative, but subtle enough to go largely unnoticed.

    • Bradamantium says:

      Even if that system worked 100%, it’s a strange thing in that conceivably, at some point, those quests sent you to the far corners of the not-earth to find quest items and someone realized it would be more convenient to the player to just put that stuff where they’re already going. Which fundamentally undermines the point of having that quest to begin with, seeing as now the only difference between Having Quest and Not Having Quest is the player talking to a background NPC on either end of a larger objective. Trying to make such quests as convenient as possible speaks to their general inconvenience and inherent lack of real purpose or engagement.

      • Ghostwise says:

        One of my favs is the first two Borderlands games, where a sizeable proportion of the loot is equipment specific to enhancing sirens… which, as far as we know, means six ladies in the entire universe.

  2. Love Albatross says:

    “There’s no reason for example that something like Fallout couldn’t have you plant trees and have life return to the wasteland”

    Fallout 3, NV and have all had mods which bring plant life back to the wasteland. It’s a shame Bethesda has never taken note of their popularity and created a quest to do exactly this.

    • Rich says:

      Fallout 4’s Natural Green is a must have for me. I just can’t fathom why a marshy place like Boston would look like a dessert, even after a few nukes went off near by. 250 years of minimal human habitation and Boston would surely be a lot like the wooded swamp it was in the 17th Century.

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      phuzz says:

      There is a quest in FO3 which can result in you re-greening the wasteland. I think the implication is that it’ll take years, although I just completed the quest, and then installed a tree mod to get an instant rejuvenation.

    • Coming Second says:

      It’s not post-apocalyptic unless it’s brown and grey, I’m afraid.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      And everyone’s too lazy to take the skeletons out of the bathtubs.



      • unacom says:

        EDIT – I think, by now, it has to be seen as some kind of comment on how gamers want everybody to treat “their” gaming worlds (especially in their Nth installment).
        They want it untouched.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          I see it more as Bethesda being silly with their initial choice of timeframe. Everyone acts like the Vaults opened ten years ago and they’re the first stable generation. So. Uh. Just… do that?

      • Rich says:

        Also, I’m pretty sure 250 year old canned meat wouldn’t be edible.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I’ve been playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, and it does post-apocalyptic scenery brilliantly. Looks amazing, everything rusted and overgrown with life.

      • Daymare says:

        It also neatly categorizes every form of “quest” in your menu: main quests > sidequests > fetch quests. And then categories for bandit camps, climbing “towers” etc.

        So basically when you accept it you already have an idea about how involving your quest’s gonna be. I thought that was very convenient.

    • El Mariachi says:

      Chrono Trigger had exactly that side quest 22 years ago.

  3. Gothnak says:

    Developers usually call the types:

    Core Quests – Very important to the main storyline & character development, put lots of effort in these.
    Side Quests – Unimportant, side story or something that can be skipped, still well authored.
    Generated/Procedural Quests – Spend time making a system with as much variation as possible, but also cheaply. Tey add a lot of repetitive gameplay without much need to create specific content to make them. They also usually cover a lot of achievements on console.

    • Rich says:

      And then there’s Bethesda’s Radiant Quests, which are similar to the Generated/Procedural Quests you mentioned… but without any sort of variation.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      As a player, the primary purpose of procedurally generated content like quests is to extend fun gameplay mechanics so that the player can indulge that gameplay indefinitely. Shadow of Morder is brilliant at this. Witcher 3 is pretty good with it.

      The problem I frequently find is that developers often produce procedurally generated content for some sort of quantum to extend playtime or what-have-you but fail to marry it to a set of fun gameplay mechanics that actually provide it with any purpose.

      What’s the point of an infiniate number of boring quests if carrying them out is not fun in and of itself?

      • Gothnak says:

        Developers want people to play their game for as long as possible on consoles so they don’t take them back and trade them onto the 2nd hand market. On the PC, as long as someone has got their value for money, there is no reason for these types of quest really.

        • pelwl says:

          The thing with that is that what constitutes decent “value for money” in your eyes may not be the same as others. I constantly see Steam reviews praising games based on their hours played versus dollar paid ratio, seemingly regardless of whether most of those hours were filled with tedious world quests and the like.

          Personally I would like RPGs to have these quests either gated until the end of the main story or only available as a checkbox option when you start the game – some kind of OCD mode – so those who like them get what they want, and those who don’t are free of the tedium that invariably sets in.

          There’s also a whole load of balance issues around these quests which can mean you’re either over or underpowered when taking on the main story, depending on how much of them you’ve done.

    • Coming Second says:

      >Core Quests – Very important to the main storyline & character development, put lots of effort in these.

      That’s true up to a point, but other things come into play in AAA games. For a while now it’s been noticeable that the main story in big blockbuster games like F4 and Mass Effect tends towards being offensively bland and scatterbrained, whilst it’s the side quests where the interesting, involving writing hides. Core Quests are the most subject to revisions, focus groups and producer tampering, and are purposefully designed to be as all-inclusive as possible. Side Quests, meanwhile, are usually the product of a single writer working over a smaller, uninterrupted timeframe.

  4. Antongranis says:

    Dragon age inqusition really is awful when it comes to its side-content. Even companion quests boiled down to “kill/ collect x things”. Bah.

  5. Sui42 says:


    The trouble with open world games in general, is that it’s a philosophy of game design based around the ability to copy & paste content over a huge area, giving the illusion of some grand scale, despite the fact that there’s just as much ‘Content’ as any other AAA title.

    So, just as there are only ever four or five different types of ‘wooden hut’ that you ever encounter, the actual actions you perform in the game are fairly generic and lack depth, so that they are easily transferable from quest to quest.

    This is why, I think, pouring 100 hours into some Bethesda game can eventually turn into a poisonous addiction, because part of your brain is craving the dopamine-reward of achieving small tasks, while the rest of your brain is ensnared in a perpetual sense of Deja’ vu. Even when you discover a new area, you realise that you have *literally* seen everything before. This could perhaps be saved by good narrative design / writing, but this is SO RARE to find in any sort of AAA game.

    So yeah. I’d rather play a game set in a much smaller space, but with a high degree of unique assets / stories / interactive elements. To me, this is actually more ‘open world’ than some amorphous entanglement of cloned content.

    Probably my favourite open world game is Dark Souls. You don’t really here it referred to as open world much, but it totally is. All the areas are interconnected, there are no loading zones etc, but also every route has been meticulously designed, and there’s very little ‘fluff’.

  6. Mungrul says:

    Bloody Zelda.

    Look, yes, it’s good, but those seeds you need to expand your inventory so you’re not constantly running out of weapons (because they break if a gnat so much as farts at them)?

    Why? Because the amount of seeds required to unlock a slot increases with every previous slot unlocked. I think I need something like 27 for one slot now.

    Oh, and to add insult to injury, while you can use your Sheikah slate to detect virtually every other thing in the world (including treasure chests, shrines and even fecking DONKEYS), you can’t get it to detect bloody Korok seeds.

    Those shrines you need to do 4 of to get one stamina or heart upgrade?
    One hundred and twenty.
    It doesn’t matter how different the puzzles are. They all look the same.
    They could have quartered the amount of shrines and it would have still been a lot to do, but at least you would have got a decent reward from each one.

    This game is far too big for its own good. Yes, it does some things incredibly well. But after a while it just can’t hold my attention any more. I think I’m just going to finish the final Divine Beast then finish the game.

    And don’t get me started on the fact that there’s no recipe book storing discovered recipes, or ways of cooking multiples of one dish.

    Perfect game, my arse.

    Final rant: While there are no character levels to speak of in the game, weapons DO have levels. This means that half way through a fight, your weapon WILL break, and unless you’ve gone out of your way to pick up weapons of a similar level, your overall power-level will drop dramatically with the loss of that weapon.
    Stupid, just plain stupid.

    • nattydee says:

      It’s funny, I’m pretty sure I consider every single thing you’re complaining about to be points in BotW’s favor. I mean, you don’t *have* to collect korok seeds. You don’t *have* to complete shrines. You don’t even have to touch the divine beasts!

      And weapons having durability and breaking mid fight is a fantastic change that injects dynamism into the otherwise stale “oh boy I found a sword with 2 more points of stack power than what I’ve been carrying around for the last 5 hours, how meaningful”. Progression my butt.

    • Rizlar says:

      Interestingly someone told me earlier that you don’t even need to find half the koruk seeds in order to max out everything. Which makes complete sense. These things are everywhere for the joy of discovery, so different to the mindset of trying to 100% everything.

  7. Masked Dave says:

    The other way that The Witcher 3 did such a great job at this is by not making you “the one”. There are other Witchers operating in this world.

    Not many, sure, but you have the knowledge that if you choose not to do a quest or clear a nest or something then another Witcher will probably take the job. I remember there was an old man in an out of the way village that asked me to go get some flowers from a nearby cave or something, I just told him to fuck off. I’m not his sodding errand boy.

    Obviously, they actually don’t, but it meant I never felt guilty about not doing things I didn’t want to. I’m a tradesman and I can choose my contracts rather than being a saviour, the only one with the power to close your portals/kill the beast/fetch your 10 sheep hides.

    I also liked the way that DA:I made their fetch quest type things completely optional. It was more you’d be passing through a town and hear someone lament their low stocks of food for all the refuges, or something, and you could choose to speak to them and help out. You weren’t given a “new quest” icon that made it seem like you had to go and speak to this person only be to told you had to do some bullshit.

    • Rich says:

      The player is as much “The Chosen One” in The Witcher 3 as Geralt is in the books; pretty much everything important involves him somehow, but he doesn’t have a huge amount of control over it… or even understand it half the time.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        Well, Ciri is “The Chosen One”, Geralt is just destiny-entangled with her.

  8. Treners says:

    Horizon Zero Dawn rather neatly organises things into:

    “Main Quest/Story Quest”(can’t remember which) which is obviously the main story (and a couple of important side-ish quests involving key players important to the main story)

    “Side Quests” which can be anything from saving a village to helping some robin-hood types- obviously of less import than the main story but still pretty extensive, for the most part

    “Errands” which are more akin to the world quests you describe. But even these tend to be a bit more in depth and interesting than your “kill x thing” fodder; “find my husband who has gone missing” ends up being [very minor spoilers here] “follow the tracks of said husband to find him, retrieve his supplies from amongst a group of tough enemies with the choice of how you approach the situation left open” i.e. I set up traps and picked off the entire group but I could just have well have snuck in amongst them without alerting anyone, either was valid and importantly didn’t affect my reward.

    The rewards you get for “errand” type quests tend to be a healthy chunk of XP and randomised loot; the loot tends to be crafting resources (distant groans) which, yeah, cliche, but at least remain useful.

    Oh, you can also make your own errands to acquire the stuff to either buy or craft something which isn’t anything special but is rather handy.

    Point is yes, indeed, you can do world quests very well in an open world game and I think HZD is an example of that.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I have also been enjoying HZD!

      It still feels too big though. I think I’ve uncovered about 1/3 of the map so far and I’ve been playing (in a kinda completionist way) for about 20 hours?

      As much as I enjoy it, if they’d cut out a bunch of stuff a wouldn’t mind. I do love just wandering about in the world though, and experimenting with the photo mode.

  9. Masked Dave says:

    Although I really want someone to finally solve the loot/economy problem. Even the Witcher 3 failed here.

    I want my sword to mean something, to have emotional attachment and importance the way we do with our actual things and the way fantasy fiction does. Bilbo gets one magical sword and keeps it forever, he’s not trading Sting in every time he gets to a new location. Finding a new/better one should be a major event. (And I don’t think having items be destructible is the right way, that’s just annoying.)

    I’ve got no real idea how you can solve this of course. Something like discovering and experimenting with runes & recipes to accentuate your core equipment is probably at the heart of it though. Or not having one-size-fits all weapons, and needing to carry the right equipment for specific quests.

    Really I just hate that by the end of these games you’re being granted apparently epic weapons of awesome, special power and just throwing them on the pile because you’ve already got a better one equipped.

    • Masked Dave says:

      Although I did like the lost designs for Witcher equipment. It made sense that these would be better for the life of a Witcher than standard human equipment and that each school would have their own strengths.

      And I liked how Fable had people react differently to you based on your appearance.

    • gabrielonuris says:

      Funnily enough, maybe The Witcher 3 didn’t do that for you, but there are two other games that, for me, completely nailed that loot/economy system in the exact way you described on your second paragraph:

      The Witcher 1 and The Witcher 2.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      At the risk of overdoing the Horizon: Zero Dawn evangelising, HZD does this almost exactly as you might want.

      You get your spear, bow etc. and then you can add upgrades (like runes/gems in Diablo 2/3 kinda). But you’ll never sell a weapon just to get a slightly improved one. Any occasions like that will be to get a weapon that does something that the previous one didn’t do.

      The several weapons that you get all have their specific uses too, and it’s quite important to pick the weapons that are appropriate for your quest.

  10. Treners says:

    Bugger, missed the 5 minute time. One more thing to add,on the subject of side quests affecting the world (also from HZD, sorry yes I know its PS4 but Zelda’s already here so): the Bandit Camp quests from that, once you clear each one, turn into new settlements with NPCs and merchants and save points which is a nice touch.

  11. h_ashman says:

    Another set of side quests in Assassin’s Creed I really enjoyed were the music boxes in Syndicate. Basic premise was some mad bugger built a musical lock and hid all the music box keys around London and you have some pictures of where the boxes are and usually one or two major landmarks in the background to help you work out where they are.

    I found that kind of cool as it helped me actually learn to recognise the various buildings in London and help me understand where they were in relation to each other. Though if you got stuck the boxes were playing music, so if you got close enough you could hear them.

    The end reward was a bit naff (a glitchy looking outfit for Evie) but it was a nice bit of fun and a decent bit of “work it out for yourself” type of quest that’s quite rare these days. Even in the witcher 3 there was a lot of “ride to this spot, turn on witcher-vision and follow the glowing red trail”. Rather than something more organic like a vague set of directions on the notice board or something.

  12. Philopoemen says:

    Not a traditional open world RPG, but I really like the quest design of Underrail. Even the very rare “collect X quests” make sense, and the oddity experience system encourages exploration, which takes you random places, and happening upon some random thing that just adds to the world-building.

  13. Michael Fogg says:

    I absolutely loved the ‘decipher the sketch map’ quests from Red Dead (and the Ubisoft ripoff version in AssCreed BF). In fact, they were my favourite parts of their respective games. It made me think back to the days of Morrowind where EVERY QUEST was like that, except you had go by description rather than a drawn map. Those were the days. Now it’s map markers and breadcrumb trails, darnit.

    • Gurrlin says:

      I also loved that part of RDR. Growing older I’ve realized how much I like exploration in games and having a game let me go on actual treasure hunts is one of the best ways to promote exploring that I’ve experienced so far.

      A big issue now days I think is that developers try to jam in instant gratification in every mechanic they implement and disregard that there’s way more ways to reward players. I.e. exploration.

  14. Coming Second says:

    I feel like a chronically unexplored mechanic in procedural/generic quest content is the option to get someone else to do it for you. It’s beyond parody in video games that the guy anointed the Chosen One invariably spends most of his time traipsing after the local townspeople’s lost wives and antiques. Once you’ve risen to a certain rank, or at least have accrued a tidy bundle, it starts to rankle that you are apparently the only person in the world who can solve the slightest of problems. I think this is the number one complaint I saw of Fallout 4 (which is saying something), thanks to its particularly obnoxious and lazy delivery of said World Quests.

    So if the player is a leader or respected member of a Do Gooding Society, why not allow them the ability to assign generic NPCs to generic quests? “You, you and you go and clear out Rufflescum Badbeard’s band from Guano Cave whilst I’m over here saving the world, tia”. You get a result, some loot and casualties based on how well suited they were for the task at hand. There could be a whole mini-game involved with it, where you equip your mooks and see them level up for themselves. And all the while the option to do them yourself, if you like the gameplay enough, remains open.

    Ironically DA:I actually *had* the idea of assigning NPCs to tasks the PC had no time for, but obviously didn’t extend it to the parts of the game the player was least likely to enjoy. Pillars of Eternity also played with the notion, but frustratingly didn’t really commit to it.

    • Stijn says:

      It is disappointing (together with a lot of other things…) that they didn’t run with this in Mass Effect: Andromeda, given that it contains a whole subsystem for sending “strike teams” on errands. They could’ve even made it a bit of a balancing act, where you could send squadmates on fetch quests for a later reward but at the cost of them being unavailable for combat and main missions involving them for the duration.

      But yeah, that’d eat into the advertised “50 hours of fun!”.

  15. kse1977 says:

    Well-written for the most part. I am in agreement more or less. There are games, like DA:I, that I played through from start, to finish, collecting and finishing everything before me. The Hinterlands did try my patience and it really wasn’t until I had like only one or two things left, that I realized I needed to go to the next area and level up clearing it out.

    Unlike the Elder Scrolls games, which usually around the 4-50 hour mark I find I cannot stand it any longer, complete the main quest and move on. There is certainly a level of endurance for these quests, based on the game and setting. I always try to do each and every quest possible in Mass Effect before doing the main storyline missions. This sometimes hurts me in Assassin Creed games as I often find that the story missions introduce gameplay elements that would have helped my mad quest across the maps.

    Zelda is interesting in that, it doesn’t feel like this huge world is stuffed full of filler quests. If it is, I have simply been exploring far too much to get to that point. I love being able to go anywhere. I did recently learn that this does not mean I can win every battle.

    I do think something like the SWTOR system where you can send NPSs to do things while you are playing is a cool idea. I hate farming for components, so the ability to utilize idle NPCs is a cool concept for me.

  16. EDPVincent says:

    I think Dragon’s Dogma did these kinds of unimportant tasks very well. 90% of them are about slaying X number of Y, but you can complete most of them without even trying and they always reward something good, like weapons or armor with special effects. You also often find random bosses when walking from one place to other, which are always fun to fight and drop lots of goodies when killed, so it doesn’t feel like a chore killing them when you’re on your way to somewhere else.

  17. gabrielonuris says:

    I’m not defending Ubisoft here (and probably never will), but everytime we talk about useless stuff to do we remember Ubisoft as if it was the first one to create “ubistuff” on games (see?).

    For me, Bethesda was the first developer to lazily fill an open world thinking about quantity over quality. I still have PTSDs everytime I remember the fuckton of caves and portals and temples in Elder Scrolls Oblivion. My god, everytime I’ve got into a cave for instance, I lied to myself thinking that “this time it’s gonna be different, this time it’s gonna be fun!”. And then, 40 minutes later, after killing dozens of whatever, I find a closed chest, break 50 lockpicks trying to open it just to find inside 3 plates, a potato and 2 coins.

    • Ghostwise says:

      Furthermore, it would seem that a *lot* of people enjoy the Ubisoft open world gameplay.

      So I ain’t sure that telling them over and again for years that they’re having fun the wrong way is a great idea.

      If it were a few pros comparing designs like Richard does, okay… but when it’s everyone and their pet jellyfish on the whole of the interclicks for years, it becomes right unpleasant.

  18. kud13 says:

    I feel that the Arkham games probably did one of the better jobs keeping their “side fluff” interesting.
    Especially, Arkham City and Arkham Knight. They rewarded completion of Riddler challenges by both progressing the actual story involving the Riddler, as well as unlocking background lore, such as “interview tapes” , that helped to piece together the backstory.

    That’s probably my favourite example of “interesting side activities” I actually felt motivated to complete every time.

    Also, I disagree about the “lack of scenery” in TW3. That game had bloody gorgeous sunsets, everywhere. I played it without using fast-travel, even when I’d get hopelessly lost somewhere in the southern edge of Velen, my weapons close to breaking point, dreading another random encounter, (usually I’d be looking for a place of power, because free skill points), and plotting my course back to “safe territories” .

    Also, the climbable mountains in Skellige. It was such a relief after 2 games where a knee-high fence was an impassable obstacle to finally have a jump button. I spent hours just seeing how high I can climb, purely for the sake of looking at stuff from high up.

  19. Wulfram says:

    The Dragon Age Inquisition power requirements weren’t all that stringent. I was more likely to be under-levelled than short of power in that game.

    The big sin of DAI for me was not effectively enough distinguishing between the “world quests” and the real quests, so it was too hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.

  20. Von Uber says:

    ME:A at least puts stuff into a ‘fetch quest’ folder so you know it’s not that important. Still there is a sense of doing something to get your planet/colony liveable – it’s just a number that a goes up, obviously, but it makes sense for the plot.

  21. napoleonic says:

    I’m towards the end of my first run through DAI, and yeah, there is too much cruft. Honestly, there are too many zones, too. They could have cut out Fallow Mire, Emerald Graves, and Hissing Wastes, and no one would have noticed.

  22. welverin says:

    Hey, hey, hey! Those feathers are meaningful to Ezio’s mother, and by extension Ezio himself.

    That’s not to say collecting a hundred of them isn’t silly. It was one of two things that stopped me from getting the platinum trophy for the game.

  23. jeremyalexander says:

    One way to do quests better would be to allow the player to discover the goal before the quest is given which would play into players wanderlust. In other words, I just explore and maybe I find an ancient library with arcane magical texts and the game tells me that surely someone would value this find. Later on I stumble across a mage school or library and I meet someone and tell them that I found this library and where it is and I get a reward, or I tell a thieves guild that may sell the books to more dubious characters. Later on, if I chose the mage school, I have access to new spells they learned from the books, or if I gave it to the thieves and smugglers for more money, I find myself facing enemies with more powerful spells that they learned from it. This way you drive the quests instead of being sent on fetch and retrieve nonsense, and through your choices, change the world and the narrative.

  24. SerDirtnap says:

    What I would love to see – I’m blanking on any examples of games that do this outside of main storyline quests – is side quests that affect the game world in some real, permanent way. So, for example, in a game with factions like Imperials and Rebels, I could side with the Rebels and roam the countryside wiping out Imperial camps and fortresses, and that would improve my standing in Rebel-held territory (better prices at merchants, or special items gifted to me, etc.), and the game world would evolve based on my actions (Rebel territory would expand, Imperial troops would move around the map or even pursue me).

    Stuff like that would give me a huge incentive to do small/random missions, since it would give me a sense of making a real difference in the game, rather than just checking items off of a list.