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StaceyPowers

What makes for good and bad side quests?

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What makes a side quest fun, compelling and rewarding versus tedious and annoying?

To me it is as simple as “please no fetch quests.” And if the payoff involves a little bit of lore or character development/background, that is my favorite reward.

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It has to compliment the primary gameplay loop. If it's going out of it's way to be different, and it's better or worse, then the question is "why isn't the rest of the game like this" if it's better, or "why is this in the game" if it's worse.

An example of this would be the Spyro the Dragon franchise. Nearly all of the games are collectathons: you go around seeking treasure and other things necessary to complete the game. I've played the first game more than any other because all of the activities revolve around the three gameplay mechanics: charging, flaming and movement in some fashion like jumping or gliding. Even the Flights are just upgrades to Spyro's existing abilities like full traversal and the supercharge.

Where the games fail is Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer onwards. Shooting lizards with rocks? OK, fine. Using the ice breath to reach platforms to ring bells? Not too shabby. Using a trolley which doesn't control well to go in two directions and use a cannon that requires laser precision? Not acceptable despite the "having trouble with the trolley, eh?" meme. The problem with that is I'm not playing the character I'm here to play: I'm playing as the trolley which is an objective downgrade. Spyro: Year of the Dragon sort of sorts this out with characters like Sheila or Bentley the Yeti, but characters like Sgt. Byrd and Agent 9 especially go against the solid movement mechanics and lack of precision required. Things get even worse in Spyro: A Hero's Tail, where Sgt. Byrd replaces Spyro in the Speedways, and Blink the Mole goes underground but isn't quite as fleshed out as he needs to be to entertain in a mini-game or his own spin-off. A Hero's Tail's other mini-games involve being in a hamster ball or firing a cannon, both are decent enough but I'm not playing as Spyro: I'm playing as a hamster ball and firing a cannon.

Let's look at Japanese RPGs for other examples. Yakuza is known for its serious story with a camp tone, but it's better known for its side quests contain nothing but goofy characters and requests from the mafia enforcer with a heart of gold. Most of the quests given to Kiryu require him to do what he already does: punch and kick lots of people. The times it doesn't such as managing businesses and collecting cash, or the other bloke's name whose name I forget who runs a club, are so confident in their ability to deliver a refreshing downtime experience. While dating sims, toy car races and arcades don't necessarily belong, they do an excellent job of grounding them into that world. Western developers take note.

However we can also look at Final Fantasy's most notorious minigames from chocobo racing to Squimball or whatever it was called in FFX. The reason Bravely Default did so well is because it wasn't full of rubbish like that: as egotistical as the name is, like Immersive Sim (more on that soon), is because it is bravely returning to its default design philosophy.

We come full circle when we look at Western RPGs: most of the quests I enjoy are the ones that are based on the core gameplay mechanics. If they're better, like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's sailing, then one must ask the question: why is there Assassin's Creed in my boat game? A good side-quest doesn't necessarily have to be tied to its core gameplay loop, but if it isn't it's taking a risk that may well not pay off. If the players aren't willing to go out of their way to try a new activity, why would developers go out of their way to make it work?

One final comment about Western RPGs, some of which developers call iMmErSiVe Sims (I'll be the judge of what is and is not immersive, thanks), is that these do a great job of providing the means to go about the same side-quest differently. Deus Ex is probably the best example, as one of the first games to be thoughtful about the question what if the player wanted to do [thing]? They made a point about simulating first person activity beyond solving every problem with a gun. BioShock, a spiritual successor to System Shock et al follows that exact same formula, as long as you solve every problem with some form of violence.

TL;DR it's about complimenting or being based on the primary gameplay loop. There are exceptions, but painfully few in Western game design philosophy.

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13 hours ago, StaceyPowers said:

What makes a side quest fun, compelling and rewarding versus tedious and annoying?

To me it is as simple as “please no fetch quests.” And if the payoff involves a little bit of lore or character development/background, that is my favorite reward.

Seriously, I'm not sure if there's any gamer that enjoys the nonsense of fetch this or that side quest. It can be very annoying most of the time and it's not worth the effort put into doing that. 

Take for instance what you experience in playing the side quest Scan the Keepers in Mass Effect 1 where you keep running around the Citadel trying to catch the little wired aliens and having them scanned with a device. Finding them can be very annoying and frankly frustrating because some of them are damn buggy that you can't even find them. 

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A good side quest imo should tell a good and compelling story, should reward you properly for completing them and above all should give a sense of satisfaction for taking the time to go of the beaten path . Some games that have brilliant side stories are skyrim, the witcher series, kingdom come deliverance and any bioware game just to give some recent examples. I'm personally a fan if they stretch out side stories over different quests and tell a complete story like the factions quests in skyrim or some of the witcher 3 quests.

Bad quests are offcourse the fetch quests that don't really have any significance to the game and are only there to lenghten the game, offcourse ubisoft games really have a habit of doing this where you have to collect a certain amount of things only to unlock a costume that isn't  anything special other then being a cosmetic item. I know i'm a sucker for this myself aslong as they are  showing on the map i don't really have a problem with this myself.

Rockstar is another company that is guilty of this as good as their games are, much of their side quest are just boring and frustrating as hell, collecing waste in gta 5 is boring and tedious as fuck let alone collecing the ufo parts that don't show up on the map once you start that mission, so you have either spend 100's of hours looking for them or look up a guide online. Same with rdr 2 where you have to collect bones, why can't they show up on the map, why isn't there an option to buy a map for them, whoever tought this was a good idea at rockstar i don't know fire them for my part.

I've also find that a lot of jrpg's have these boring side quests, since i'm currently playing dragon quest 11 let us use that game as an example like you have to get a certain material for somebody which you can only obtain by defeating a certian monster, when you complete it you get 10 silver ores, a crafting component that is common and pretty respawns at the some locations everytime you enter a certain area. What's the point atleast give me something decent for my efforts.

Alright i'm off to defeat 10 monsters in dragon quest 11 maybe that npc who gave me that quest will give me a pat on the back and will be saying good boy, you completly wasted your time here have a few herbs for your efforts.

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Consequences. A good side quest result changes the world permanently after it is completed. A character dies, or moves, a building changes, maybe a bridge is built, or enemies are no longer in an area. Maybe even something as simple as your relationship with the NPC is altered and interacting with them in the future leads to a different result. The effect of your actions are felt.

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19 hours ago, Empire said:

Consequences. A good side quest result changes the world permanently after it is completed. A character dies, or moves, a building changes, maybe a bridge is built, or enemies are no longer in an area. Maybe even something as simple as your relationship with the NPC is altered and interacting with them in the future leads to a different result. The effect of your actions are felt.

That's true, a side quests that doesn't influence the outcome of the main mission in anyway possible isn't worth it.

I can't spend 30 minutes on a side quests and afterwards return to the main mission and it feels like nothing actually happened that isn't a good side quests in my opinion.

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9 minutes ago, Clasher said:

That's true, a side quests that doesn't influence the outcome of the main mission in anyway possible isn't worth it.

I can't spend 30 minutes on a side quests and afterwards return to the main mission and it feels like nothing actually happened that isn't a good side quests in my opinion.

I disagree, at least with it affecting the main quest. Most games these days are about saving the world, when really I just want to help someone whose son fell down the well. I would however like the townsfolk to react to good deeds rather than just the bad ones, which oftentimes has far greater consequences like guards chasing and attacking the player, or being flat-out refused service.

While too many side-quests happen solely in their own vacuum, I don't necessarily want everything to be like Mass Effect where every quest contributes to the final confrontation.

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2 minutes ago, Withywarlock said:

I disagree, at least with it affecting the main quest. Most games these days are about saving the world, when really I just want to help someone whose son fell down the well. I would however like the townsfolk to react to good deeds rather than just the bad ones, which oftentimes has far greater consequences like guards chasing and attacking the player, or being flat-out refused service.

While too many side-quests happen solely in their own vacuum, I don't necessarily want everything to be like Mass Effect where every quest contributes to the final confrontation.

That's fair enough , voluntarily you play video games and tend to go off the main course to explore other aspects of the game not included in the mission (I do this a lot for GTA).

If a side quests is included I usually enjoy having it affect the outcome of the main mission maybe just anything to show that I actually completed the side quests sucessfully.

Mass effect did give me the feeling and I usually go for the side quests just so I could alter a few aspects of the game.

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As long as I'm not doing countless fetch quests or quests that require you to go from point A to point B to collect something. Give me missions where I can fight people, and have a challenge instead of walking there and back. 

Also the side quests should add to the story, or be side plots that also tie in to the main story. I know some games do side quests differently from the story sometimes, but I want the side quests to make sense with the story, maybe even give you more details about the story in the process. 

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On 8/15/2022 at 10:27 PM, Kane99 said:

Also the side quests should add to the story, or be side plots that also tie in to the main story. I know some games do side quests differently from the story sometimes, but I want the side quests to make sense with the story, maybe even give you more details about the story in the process. 

Generally, it's called a side quest means that it's something that's supposed to support the original game's plot story. If any video games side quests fails to meet that requirement, then it's a side quest that's not worth playing. 

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On 8/18/2022 at 5:45 PM, Heatman said:

Generally, it's called a side quest means that it's something that's supposed to support the original game's plot story. If any video games side quests fails to meet that requirement, then it's a side quest that's not worth playing. 

All I want are side quests that are fun. Not tedious and boring like some are. If all side quests are fun, it will make that game that much better. 

There's just a lot of games that have tedious and or mundane side quests that don't feel fun. 

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On 8/18/2022 at 10:45 PM, Heatman said:

Generally, it's called a side quest means that it's something that's supposed to support the original game's plot story.

Citation needed.

On 8/18/2022 at 10:45 PM, Heatman said:

If any video games side quests fails to meet that requirement, then it's a side quest that's not worth playing. 

Yakuza 0, my favourite example of side-quests that exist solely to be a break from the tone of the main story, disagrees. I'd go as far as to say that overemphasis of this thinking like in Of Orcs & Men and Spiders' other games (Mars: War Logs, The Technomancer, GreedFall) is ruinous because it pads out the game to the point where it gets worse the more you complete. The necessity to complete side quests because they're "supposed to support the original game's plot" can prove fatal rather than beneficial. It could be that there's too many side quests, but Of Orcs & Men is only 12 hours long if you complete all its side-content which ties into the main story.

If side quests failed to meet your requirements, and assuming your requests are reasonable, surely they wouldn't exist? Then again I think an obscene amount of games require editors and yet Dying Light's completion time will be in triple figures, so what do I know?

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I feel when you develop a questline you want 1 solid main one that goes from the starting zone to the end, then in the regions / parts of the game without much of that questline interacting you want to throw in some "Kill Quests" like "kill x monster" "Collect X amount of Items" just to give players a extra guidance or reason to kill and level in that area. Then throw in some really cool short questlines that take you to parts of the game that dont have any activity from the main questline, hopefully giving the player a new item or access tool to other cool areas that the main questline wont grant access too.

 

However if its a game where its not built around killing monsters directly for rewards or experience then the lore / character progression needs to be more on point.

 

I actually really like this thread I took some useful information on what sounds reasonable and doesnt.

Cant wait to see some more replies!

 

EOS

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On 8/20/2022 at 10:02 PM, Kane99 said:

All I want are side quests that are fun. Not tedious and boring like some are. If all side quests are fun, it will make that game that much better. 

There's just a lot of games that have tedious and or mundane side quests that don't feel fun. 

It's not just the games side quests that needs and must be fun to play, otherwise it's not worth playing. The game's main story should equally be good and fun too because no gamer likes playing something boring. 

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