The Allure of Story-Based Side Quests

Lately I’ve been playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and while I’m still in the early stages of the game, it’s already reminding me of another massive RPG: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The reason for the comparison is the way these games handle questing in an open-world (or at least partially open-world) environment.

Now, I’ve played a lot of big RPGs. I’ve also played a fair share of open-world games. And what I love about both The Witcher 3 and, so far, Mankind Divided is that they don’t show the seams.

While other open-world games tend to give you a lengthy list of short side quests, The Witcher 3 and Mankind Divided have you in more involved quests, where you speak to people face-to-face. This means you learn about your objectives in a natural way, through conversation. Pursuing one of these missions may lead to another, so you get lost in a compelling story instead of checking your codex entries to see what’s next.

For instance, if you help someone by talking to a police officer who is sympathetic to your cause, you might be able to go further in cleaning up the corrupt police force. This feels like a natural evolution of the first mission. Even though these are technically side quests, they feel like they all belong to a bigger story. It’s realistic.

Fetch Quests and Power Points…

The long list of quests in Skyrim

In Skyrim, I remember being overwhelmed my log of side quests, most of which I ignored. It was just too many things to do! There are all kinds of environmental triggers for quests in that game — not just speaking to people, but simply overhearing something, entering a new place, or finding something on the road. Sometimes I find a gem of a quest that I enjoy pursuing, but more often than not, I leave these side quests to decay in my backlog. Skyrim has a lot of fetch quests that involve delivering packages or finding loot, but I prefer to focus on the game’s main questlines, which have that feel of unraveling a greater story. For instance, I’d rather spend time progressing through a series of missions in which I start out as an apprentice mage and become the master of the academy. Those are the missions where Skyrim shines.

In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the places you unlock and explore are absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, there’s not much to do in them, except run around looking for collectibles and closing Fade Rifts in repetitive battles. To progress with the next main story mission, you have to gain a certain number of Power Points based on completing these side quests. But the way this is set up makes the quests feel like chores (at least to me). There were times when I felt my shoulders sag at loading up the game, only to realize I would probably spend the next two hours of precious playtime running around unlocking camps and closing Rifts again.

I don’t mention Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition to dismiss these games. They are both fantastic, and Skyrim in particular is one of my favorite video games of all time. However, the way they handle their quests is starting to feel antiquated now that we live in a world that has epic RPGs like The Witcher 3 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

Lost in a Story

nbegbudgpu19kztgorh5.jpgDeus Ex: Mankind Divided does an amazing job of keeping the player engaged with everything that’s happening. Stepping into the shoes of Adam Jensen, you walk up to people to experience face-to-face, cutscene-like conversations with them in which they express what they need from you. Dialogue options appear so you can accept or refuse, or dig around for more information.

Seeing the emotion on the other character’s face and responding to them in a natural way, as you see fit, makes the next mission objective feel all the more vital. I find myself wanting to complete the quest because it’s a real story to me, with real consequences — not because I need more points, or because it’s in my quest log somewhere.

I’m curious to see if this continues as I play more of Mankind Divided. So far, the missions are rolling off of each other in a way that leaves me lost in the game, forgetting everything else while I enjoy the story. The last time that happened was when I played The Witcher 3. These are the RPGs that make me most excited for the future of storytelling in video games!

— Ashley


9 thoughts on “The Allure of Story-Based Side Quests”

  1. I agree. In an attempt to create a truly massive world, there is a new trend with developers tending to neglect fleshing out the characters that populate said world. Don’t get me wrong, in games like Fallout 4 and Skyrim the missions where you go somewhere and kill some bandits are fun.. For a while.. Once you master combat its kind of cut and dry and you need something else to motivate you other than the promise of loot and xp.

    I enjoyed this article, thanks for posting it

    1. Thanks! Yep, I agree, those quests where you go kill bandits can be really fun, but they wear thin pretty fast. I have been thinking the same thing about devs building these open world games just because the technology allows for it now, but they don’t really justify it with a strong, rich enough story or enough content necessarily.

  2. Bethesda definitely has developed a complex with making soulless side quests. I used to think that Oblivion felt empty in comparison until I realized the way that those quests made me feel. They had more to them than the usual “Go here and find this”, like the quest where you unite the twin brothers in Cheydinhal and Chorrol… That entire side quest line evolved into a series that had you reuniting them with their family’s property south of Chorrol.

    Skyrim, like other games, just lacked that depth. Dragon Age: Inquisition even, like you said, had too many checklist missions that involved wiping out enemies in a section of the map with little justification other than “They’re the bad guys”.

    Whew… Ranty.

  3. I wasn’t really interested in Mankind Divided, but from how you’re describing it, I may actually want to play this! Well, maybe when a price drop happens or I could always hint at it as a possible Christmas/birthday gift! :) I definitely hate the fetch quests. It’s really pointless and I much rather have sidequests that actually mean something and adds to the story in smaller ways.

    1. You should! Haha yes hinting presents is a great idea. Mankind Divided had an awesome story so far, I’d recommend it for that! Though I’m terrible at stealth, I forget — are you into stealth at all?

      1. I’m actually bad at stealth too, haha! It’s right up there with platform games and driving in games. :P I think it’s because I get a little impatient having to sneak around in order to take down enemies or move from one place to another without getting detected. If Mankind Divided has a lot of stealth, I think it’ll take me longer to finish the game I believe. If it’s really good, then I’ll manage. Somehow!

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