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…
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
Deus 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!