Side Quests in Gaming: Love-Hate Relationship (by Carl B.)
November 22, 2011, by Carl B. - There's no doubt that most games that have released this generation are tragically short. That doesn't mean that those games are bad, it just means that developers have, by in large, ignored the single player experience in favor of online multiplayer. Luckily, there are still developers that fully embrace features that are meant to be in single player games: side quests. Four very different games released over the span of several months, each one of which is single player based and utilizes side quests in very different ways.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one of my top releases for this year, is the first of the four titles. Human Revolution lacks any sort of online connectivity – other than DLC – and features a decent sized single player campaign, which happens to be riddled with numerous side quests.
Out of these four titles I've chosen to target, I feel that Human Revolution handles side quests the best. These quests are given to the player in the game's various hub-worlds only if they choose to seek them, and the rewards are well worth it. Gaining experience is an essential part of Human Revolution – something that is sped up through completing side quests – as it allows players to unlock new abilities for their character. Coming across weapons and ammunition is a rare proposition in Human Revolution, and side quests usually offer players a good opportunity to stock up on both. Not to mention the side quests make perfect sense in the world: they aren't fetch quests, like one of the three remaining titles.
Batman: Arkham City was rather short, but it features a surprising amount of side quests, some good and some bad. The best side quests in Arkham City are ones related to Zsasz and Deadshot, while the more mundane ones are reserved for The Riddler and Catwoman. The Riddler has an interesting character, but in order to complete his quest, players are forced to scour the whole of Arkham City for 400 Riddler Trophies. It's the ultimate fetch quest, and I have no idea how looking for 400 trophies could be fun, especially when the novelty of gliding from rooftop to rooftop has lost its appeal. Catwoman is similar, only her quest lasts about 30 minutes long and features a fetch quest where players have to recover 16 stolen items from Two Face's men.
A piece about side quests – good and bad – wouldn't be complete without including the latest Elder Scrolls title. Skyrim features the most side quests out of any title released this year, but many of them are low in quality as a result. The good ones are actually quite fantastic, particularly the Dark Brotherhood. Side quests in Skyrim are much larger in scope compared to Oblivion and most other games, yet there are still plenty of boring fetch quests. Side missions in the Thieves Guild are all fetch quests that take five minutes to complete, with minimal compensation. Most side quests – and even parts of the main quest – in Skyrim feature plenty of "go here, talk to this guy, and then come back" moments that make me wonder why they're even part of the quest.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the final big release that makes heavy use of side quests. None of the side quests in Skyward Sword are as deep as anything seen in Skyrim or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but they do manage to provide players with rewards worthy of the quest – something that past Zelda games failed to do. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess featured plenty of collection side quests, and they were about as mundane as collecting Riddler Trophies in Arkham City. There are still collection quests in Skyward Sword, but instead of bugs and materials sitting there doing nothing, they're used to upgrade Link's equipment. Even fetch quests in the game yield useful rewards for players.
This year in gaming has provided two very different versions of gaming: the online multiplayer behemoths, and single player experiences that make use of player choice. One Skyward Sword review criticized side quests as pointless adventures given the fact that an evil demon king is trying to take over the world – but that's exactly what side quests are: something for players to do on the side, because if it was an actual real-life situation, there's no way that someone would save Mr. Freeze's wife when the Joker is on the verge of releasing a deadly virus throughout Gotham City.