Variations on a Theme: An order of side-quests.

Once again I dare to put words to the thoughts provoked by Corvus’ monthly round table. The red thread for April 2008 is Variations on a Theme, what is your favorite, or least favorite games, and what do they have in common that might be the reason for this?

Now, side-quests are usually disliked by gamers. They are also by me. I spent a long time getting to the feature that will make or break many games for me. It will be easier going away from it and look at what side-quests tick for me.

Why do I like side-quests? I guess it may be because they let me roam a bit more in the world I am occupying at the time. I like a game with more space to move in than needed for running from point A to point B in order to get the plot.

Why do I like side-quests? Well, they tell me more about the world and it’s inhabitants. I can get to know more of the world without reading up on it.

Why do I like side-quests? I can get more story out of the game, when I want. If I want.

I love reading books, mostly fantasy and science fiction. I love story, worlds that make sense. Well, makes sense according to it’s own rules. Hyperdrives and magic is fine. Games have a story world, and they use and portray them with varying degrees of success. Some games rely on the world being made popular and known to the player outside of the game, before the player sits down and starts up the game.

This is a good thing. I want to have a world that is detailed, fleshed out. For worlds other than our own our knowledge vary. Star Wars’ world is one I am fairly acquainted with, both through the movies and through books and games. The story world of Planescape was less known to me; it still is. But it was a world filled with optional side-quests, it told me of Sigil, of the planes and a little about the Nameless One.

Coming to think of it; in open worlds it is not so much the quest part that counts. The quest is usually there for the player to take notice and bother. For my part some of those quests that take you out and about could be left out. What encourages me is the ability to wander about and discover something unique. The random encounters in Fallout were like this. No quest tied them in, just persistence and luck. I enjoyed Oblivion for a while too – wandering about encountering dungeons, ruins and caves. Sadly, they weren’t that unique, and they didn’t tell a story.

Betrayal at Krondor was the first game I played that let me roam the world, doing what I wanted to before moving on. It is still one of my favorites. When I come think of it; the roaming an looking for stories and side-quests is what I like. Looking for something that is hidden, meant only for gamers who care. Those who explore. Who flee into the game world.

Side-quests usually offer a reward that increase your power in the game. Magical items or experience in RPGs, More troops or items in strategy games. Bonus levels, more points, money, fame. Stuff that makes the game easier. For someone like me who are bad at powergaming; I make wrong character builds, do thing because it fits with the role I’m playing. For someone like me, these optional quests are not that optional. I need better equipment and magic and stuff to get through the plot. I don’t like those optional side-quests at all.

When it comes down to it, what I like in games are freedom, choice, richness of story… I want a story world I can lose myself in, one that makes me feel joy, frustration, happiness, hate. Take your quests, I’ll look at them and discard them. If they intrigue me or offer me something I like, I’ll take them.

Perhaps I should have gone with the original title for this post? Free will, or the illusion thereof. Side-quests really are something that destroys a game for me.

Please visit the Round Table’s Main Hall for links to all entries.

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  1. Good post, T. I think the overarching theme is pretty clear–complete storyworlds in which a game happens to take place. Ultima VII deserves a mention then. It was a vast sandbox and rich with history and story.

  2. Viktor

    Morrowind had some incredible sidequests. One of the minor guilds you could join required an undocumented sidequest just to find, let alone join. One, there’s a pair of criminal orcs who have you run notes back and forth detailing their crimes while insulting your intelligence, then pay you with a “shiny rock”(diamond). There’s a quest for a stripper traveler who tries to rob you when you complete it. I spent 30 hours playing before I even started the main quest, and didn’t even realize I hadn’t until then. Heck, finding Boetath’s shrine to undertake his quest is tougher than the entire main quest. (it is only mentioned by one person, who’s named M’aiq the liar, never tells the truth on any other topic, gives you poor directions, and is underwater to boot. Oh, and the statue doesn’t activate when you click it, only the [small] fallen head)

    Those were good quests. :)

  3. @Corvus Yes, indeed. I have planned on returning to the Ultima Games for a long time, it is just that they (imho) haven’t aged that well. I’ll probably start at number VI, though I might drop back to IV if I feel adventurous.

    @Viktor Quite spoily information there, if correct. :) I feel Morrowind is the turning point in the Elder scrolls – caught between bad and bad. The older games were too much random; Arena frustrated me, Daggerfall’s open world was just random. I spent most of the time training spellcasting with custom made minispells and robbing stores for clothing ;)

    Oblivion is better in it’s open world, but the voice acting, monster leveling and perceived / actual non-existing uniqueness of dungeons bother me no end.




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