What's your opinion on sidequests?

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Verdelite

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Sidequests are a common advertised feature of a RPG.


While having a large number of sidequests is impressive (they are a lot of work after all), I've been wondering how necessary they actually are.


I don't know if it's just me, but personally, but if a game implements a huge ton of sidequests it's more deterring for me than it is attractive.


I feel like they are often such a grind; I always do them to try and get my 100% completion, so I won't miss out on any special loot or bonus stuff,


but most of the time I'm annoyed with them, trying to do them as quickly as possible, so I can get on with the main storyline.


I do like sidequests sometimes, but only if they're memorable and give deeper insight into the story/characters/setting, but if a game advertises having a ton sidequests, they are usually more of a "fetch me 10 of this and that, so I can brew this medicine for my sick mother"-type of quests.


What's your opinion on sidequests? Are they fun? Do they add to the game? What kind of side-quests do you like? Or does the type not even matter since they're optional after all?
 

Matseb2611

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Yeah, I agree with you. I prefer if games have fewer but more meaningful sidequests, which clearly have effort and thought put into them and which offer some insight on the game's world or perhaps branch off from the main story in some way. Even better if completing certain sidequests affects the main story in some way (e.g. you helped this guy, so he later takes your side in a main conflict or something). They need to feel like they're part of the game and not just slapped on as filler content.
 

cabfe

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It often happens that some sidequests are stories that were not consistent/good enough to become part of the main story, but were not discarded either.


As a game maker, we have a lot of ideas but not everything can be mixed into one game, or long enough for a multi-hour story.


Sidequests are a way of reusing those ideas.


Bad sidequests are usually the MMO type (got get 10 wolf pelts, take this and bring it to that guy on the other side of the world, etc.) because they are uncreative and boring.


Remember to provide a reward for the player. They chose to leave the main story (supposedly a good one, or else they would've quit already) so give them something worthy of their time and effort. It can be loot, a cool story, a nice cinematic, XP boost, a bonus for later in the game... anything that will make them want to play more.


The worst thing that can happen is having the player look for a lost cat for 2 hours and only get a "Thank you, hero!" at the end. It happens IRL, but you're making a game.
 

lianderson

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Another down side is the need to track them all. Some are fine, but go overboard and your game will need a journal/log whether you want one or not.
 

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I love side quests. It was part of the Aveyond games that really appealed to me.
 

Lantiz

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I think it depends on how often you get them, and also if they add anything to your game.


A good way of doing it would be using it as small quest chains that tells some kind of lore, or the history behind something important in the game.
 

xdan

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Anyone ever played The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask? That's a masterfull use of sidequests.


That game has many events goin on at the same time through the duration of three days. You can't do them all over the course of the three days, but you can rewind time and have an agenda that tells you what is going on at which time and where. You pick a few sidequests that don't happen at the same time, complete of fail them and then go back to the first day to pick the sidequests you didn't do or the ones you failed.


As there are many events going on in other places and none of it requires your pressence, it makes you feel that you're not the center on that game's world. It makes the city feel like a real place, with people actually living their lives. They are not there for you, they are there for themselves. This world will go on without you. And having an agenda makes you feel invested in every character. You feel like a postman, with your programmed timetable, appearing in everyone's lives in the precise moment to help them where they need it.
 

VicWhite

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For example: I found some sidequests on ES5 Skyrim to be repetitive and meaningless... On the contrary I enjoyed most of the sidequests from Fallout New Vegas.


I think the important thing is, when developing, not thinking about them as "sidequests" but "quests the player doesn't need to play to finish the game". I don't know if the difference is noted here; what I mean is, in my opinion, when your sidequests are as well developed and meaningful as the main quests, that's a success. And the best part is the feeling, when playing, that you are undercoving some valuable secret from the game.


Another thing is the number...I am with you on that topic @Verdelite... too much of them overwhelms me and stresses me. In the end it affects my gameplay experience. So I'd say better a few, well developed sidequests.
 

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I agree with most of what's been said already. I kind of think of it from a point of view concerning pacing. Sometimes sidequests are invaluable at making the main quest/narrative seem more important, more difficult, or a bigger task. I like giving the player a wide range of sidequests that are the lead up to a main narrative quest, but the player only has to complete some in order to succeed. This not only leaves the choice up to the player, but also allows them to direct the course of the narrative a little bit by deciding what they want to do, and what they want to leave out. It gets even more interesting when the player is barred from completely all of them (like Majora's Mask or Dead Rising 1), so that they have to make tough choices about the rewards/narrative and information they have access to. 
 

chungsie

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side quests are perfect for showing more of the game's story line. for instance, you may have a main quest line that involves accomplishing an impossible task, but a side quest can help really tip the odds in your favor, while showing how other npcs in the game feel about the player or the quest line in general. it can also reveal the inner workings of the world you have created. like in Skyrim, they show the politics and alliances and diplomacy issues among races, as well as townships and factions. they can also show how individuals prolong or change diplomatic situations and/or relations between peoples. obviously they can be used to give you items that can only be acquired through side quest lines, which is nice. but also you can have side quests continue the story to particular people and items found in main quests. for instance, a main quest may have you find out about a location, but some of the loot is named items that are quest items, a side quest may reward for giving/returning said named item(s) to an individual or faction that is not mentioned in the main quest line.


I love side quests, because if you need that next level item or level up your character, a side quest offers ample exp and gear for just enjoying the world you have created. some games make it more difficult to complete a main quest line without doing the grinding of side quests for exp, and so it may not be impossible, but it certainly is easier to fight off enemies if you did the side quests. another feature they can offer, is informing the player on main quest objectives. ideally, you may have a mystery to solve, and it can overlap into other quests that are essential to solving the mystery (maybe not recommended) but even having an objective to find an npc and begin a new quest line can tip the player off as to how to solve the quest for that scenario.


rewards are critical however. ample quests may be present, but if all you get are cheap copper daggers, it makes no sense to grind them. I have even seen it that tutorial quests are side quests that really help the player if they are new to the game for instance.
 

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Side-quests work best, in my humble opinion, when they are not extrinsic to the main story, but rather help to fulfill and to enrich it. Hands down, the best use of side quests I have ever personally gotten to witness was Chrono Trigger. Not a single one of the side quests was necessary to complete the game (actually, if you were REALLY grindy and have a good tactical mind, completing the game wasn't even necessary to complete the game... you could skip to the final boss very early on). Nevertheless, all of them gave unique items to the player, opened up options that didn't exist before, gave background lore on the characters, and in a couple of cases, even changed the face of the world itself. It made side-quests feel less "side-questy", and more like another grand adventure to embark on for fun and profit. That is how I think side-quests should be used.
 

PsychicToaster

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I like side-quests that flow well, and give you more insight into the game world. The huge problem I had with Skyrim, for example, is how dead the world really felt. Everything was really far away from where you picked up the quest, but the journey never really felt worthwhile. The caves you had to dive into didn't have any real significance, the forts and ruins were bland, and everything in general just felt sort of empty. For a province that is supposedly dealing with a huge civil war, the world certainly didn't reflect that too well. Sure, you'd see a group of Stormcloaks fighting a few Imperials, but for the most part, everything was so open that it just never felt important. The only real information you'd get on Skyrim was through books, which is fantastic and all, but even Morrowind, released back in 2002, had NPCs that you could ask questions of that weren't just "where can I buy more swords?".  The whole "see that mountain? You can go there!" marketing didn't make a dayum bit of difference, because once you got to that mountain, you discovered it was just a part of the backdrop and meant absolutely nothing. Big freaking deal. You walked up a mountain with a demonic anti-gravity horse. Yay you. Go do something useful. 


Quests that make the player feel like he or she is making a difference mean so much. Look at Ultima VII:The Black Gate. Widely regarded as one of the best RPGs in existence and the grandfather of many the games we play nowadays, the side quests were enjoyable, engaging, and really brought Britannia to life. You actually learned to love or hate certain NPCs, feel sorry for them, etc. While there were plenty of issues with the main quest(what a huge nightmare that was), the world was alive. Breathing. Filled with people with a story to tell, an agenda, personality. Few games have come out like it since. 


There's a few flavors of side-quest that you really have to pick from, and if they stand on their own, they're god awful if you really think about it. Half of them your character shouldn't have a reason to be involved with in the first place. Why a guy with a problem would wait around for a specific group of weirdly dressed, murder-happy, loot-hungry strangers before asking for help with his problem is beyond me. Is everyone around really that useless? Is he just lazy? Or oddly trusting of complete strangers he's never met? The rewards usually don't outweigh even performing these mundane tasks to begin with. Not just item rewards, but the experience of going and doing a side-quest often feels like just another motion, a mechanical reflex of being a gamer, in the hope that you'll get something shiny for your efforts.


Most side-quests seem to be broken down as such:


Go Get Me a Thing-There's a book under that bridge over there. I really need it. I'd pick it up myself, since the bridge in question is about 20 yards away, but you see, I'm really enjoying this beautiful day. Please? I'll give you my lunch. Don't ask what I'm going to eat, just do it. I have to admire these bushes some more. 


These quests are often the bread and butter of an RPG, but why? Why the hell would you run off and do someone else's dirty work? How heroic is picking up a book some idiot left lying around? Not at all. You're saving the dayum world. You deserve to be treated better. 


You might say, "But PsychicToaster, there are plenty of these quests that feel important and make sense!". Sure, there are. If you like being an errand boy. go for it. But at least make sure the errand is actually meaningful...and for god's sake, if it's another "in a cave to the west there is a UBER MAGIC ITEM THAT WE NEED TO STOP THE BAD DUDE!" I'm uninstalling. Stop leaving your omnipotent magical artifacts lying around for any idiot with a sword to pick up. Another thing; if you knew this already, Mister NPC, why haven't you retrieved it already?


Make fetch quests worthwhile. They should be more than mundane tasks, they should be a part of their own story within the world. Even if the quest is fairly basic, at least try to make it more exciting than killing five creatures in the woods(or 30 if you're doing random battles) and picking up some iron bars because the blacksmith suffers from memory problems and somehow forgot he left them there.


Go Tell Somebody a Thing-We've all seen it before. The mayor is dealing with a lot, and needs you, a man he's never met, to deliver some information to his Captain of the Guard. It might be of sensitive nature, it might be because he really needs to berate the Captain for not dealing with those mischievous miscreants that have outfitted the local wildlife with plate mail and fireball casting orbs, or it may simply be to play catch up, because as you know, the mayor is a busy guy. He doesn't have time for tasks that are beneath him. His army of messengers? Useless. He needs you, hero! You're the only stranger in town he hasn't upset with a litany of ridiculous requests, and he'll be sure to unlock the West gate for your party if you do this. You know, that arbitrary barrier that has kept you from actually going out and playing the rest of the game. What a jerk. 


Seriously, stop with this. I get it. If it's actually part of a quest line where you've been established as a trusted individual and one that can handle his or herself in the heat of battle, then cool. Deliver the message. Run as fast as you can to the hills and inform the troops camped out there that they're needed. The town is in danger, and there's no way it'll make through without aid. But telling Little Johnny that his mother needs a word with him because he's been shirking his chores at home and sneaking down to the Old River Bridge is ridiculous. I would assume somebody might be available to let the disobedient lout know he's in for a spanking. 


An unestablished hero is not a hero. Nobody knows who he or she is. Why would people instantly recognize him or her on sight? It makes no sense. "HAIL HERO, I HAVE SOMETHING STUPID AND MEANINGLESS FOR YOU TO DO! What do you mean 'how do I know who you are? You saved that town forty miles down the road. I heard about it yesterday, literally a minute after it happened. For a hero, you aren't too bright!". 


There's Some Bad Dudes Over There-"Hi! I'm a guard! My job is protecting the citizenry from outside threats to their well-being! I am well-trained, well-armed, and have a large group of similarly skilled individuals at my call! Can you go and kill fifteen thieves for me? I've got to stand outside this shop and harass children. They've been sneaking in and stealing all of the naked drawings of elves." 


Just...no. Taking care of a threat that isn't a threat for the sake of doing it is not a quest. It is boring, insipid, and as demonstrated above, pointless. Something the guards could and should be doing just breaks my suspension of disbelief. If they're that incompetent, I fear for the town's safety. If they're lazy, they should be out of a job.


Again, these types of quests aren't inherently bad. It's the setup and the writing that makes them so. I can understand dealing with a dire threat to a farming community that can't rightly defend themselves, but having a member of a powerful military force send random people off to do their jobs seems silly. Or wrong. Perhaps you're more disposable than you thought. What a pack of morons. After you deal with the thieves, they're next, believe me. 


I Can't Behave Like An Adult-another of the "go talk to X" quests, only this time, it involves a relatively childish or mindless conflict. So and so said something mean, Sally got pushed, and instead of contacting the authorities, letting bygones be bygones, or hitting the offender with a rake, the NPC asks you to step in and make things right. After all, master negotiators and experts in conflict resolution are often travel-worn and blood-spattered mystery men and women. Go on then. Go talk to Big Dan. He's waiting with three of his thugs, and despite the conflict not even involving you and your party in any way, you've got to fight and kill three mostly innocent people for a perfect stranger. Good job. Who is supposed to be the good guy again? 


I can't stress this enough. I've said it several times, but why are we doing this? That's the point often missed with side-quests in general. There's a difference between doing something because it's important and makes sense to do so, but being literally unable to deny a request and abandoning all autonomy in the matter of resolving a minor conflict is absurd. It all boils down to reasons, expressed in the writing of your game. Get your player involved. Not just because they can, but because they should. Make it worth his or her time, draw them in, engage them. Even the quintessential Lawful Good character would get sick of this nonsense. There's no way he can handle another stupid request from a toothless villager. He's not a doormat. 


Another thing to keep in mind is that side-quests should be wholly optional. Not "optional if you don't like winning", but actually optional. Unless they're a side-quest to the main storyline, which then might be necessary. But for god's sake, missing out on a gamebreaking item because you didn't do a side-quest and making the game more difficult for the player is a horrible move and bad design. 


I'd like to emphasize that side-quests like these aren't bad. It's their delivery that is bad, the how and why of going through all this trouble. Please, for god's sake, make it fun and at least somewhat related to the fantastic world you're trying to build for your game. That's all I've got for now, because I think the point has been made. Revolutionizing quests in general probably isn't going to happen, and I'm not trying to push that. But they should be fun. Games are entertainment, not a job. They shouldn't feel like one.
 
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Dr. Delibird

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I like how borderlands 2 side quests have a symbol corrorsponding to the type of loot + the rarity that it is. I just think it helps with the issue of feeling like you have to do every side quest so that you don't miss all of the special gear.

I also am of the mind that if grinding for XP is annoying and you can't really find a way to make it less grindy, then side quests can be a good way to ensure the player can access an "XP boost" of sorts.

Also you can through in additional bits of world building lore into side quests that just feel like you are talking too much in the main story line.
 

Tai_MT

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I think in most games, I've done the sidequests just because it's extra cash, extra XP, and extra loot.  I like them in the first Mass Effect because they all pretty much boil down to "go here, and kill everything in sight".  Which means, lots of free loot, very quickly, with no pre-requisites.  If you start asking me to go talk to people, go solve a puzzle, go escort someone, or anything else...  My eyes glaze over.  I found myself annoyed in the Fallout/Elder Scrolls universes with quests to do anything except kill things as well.  Mostly because anything else is so time consuming and not really worth the effort...


Personally, I've been designing my own quests as "Narrative" instead of "go here, do this, come back".  I like narrative.  I like telling stories.


I'll list a few examples of some of my favorites. 


I have a quest given out by a special shopkeeper who sells "good tasting" medicine (essentially normal restorative items with extra effects).  She's got a regular who comes in and buys her sweet health potions.  It's an old guy.  Well, he hasn't shown up for a few days.  That's really unlike him, and she misses the extra income he used to bring in.  So, she asks you if you could maybe find out where he lives and why he hasn't come in for a while.  This quest actually turns into a "Murder Mystery" quest where you gather clues, follow the trail, and find out why the old guy was killed.


Another quest I have has to do with the main character.  If you pick the path where you're in a party with your best friend instead of your wife, you get access to this quest.  Your character hears rumors that there's a Dragon somewhere about.  Well, Dragons are a myth.  Your best friend tells you so.  But, you retort that it doesn't matter, this one could be real.  And hey, you've always wanted to test your skills against a Dragon.  I mean... IT'S A DRAGON.  You'd be legendary if you managed to kill it!  So, your best friend humors you.  Away you go, tracking down the Dragon, FOR GLORY!  And maybe, there's some loot there too.


The last quest I'm going to talk about is if you take the path where you partner with your wife instead of your best friend.  It's the only way to get access to the quest.  So, you hear rumors that there's something strange going on in this mountainous area.  Rumors of elements not behaving like they should... water flying through the air, the wind always being dead, fire not cooking, and random earthquakes.  So, your wife, who is an Elementalist, wants to investigate.  If she convinces you to go check it out, you begin investigating the area and discover a series of trials that, when completed, reveal the mystery of the place, and when the quest is finally completed, you get access to a Level 2 version of one of your Elemental Spells.


I just like games where there really isn't a "side quest", but just a regular quest.  Something that delivers its own self-contained story.  Where the story itself is the reward.  Though, actual rewards are pretty good too.  I don't care for optional bosses that are uber...  I don't care for mini-games...  I don't care for "collect x amount of y" quests...  I care about, "Hey, some bandits killed my family and I'm out for revenge.  Come with me and help, since there's no way I'll be able to do this myself" type quests.  Quests that tell me a story.  Quests that flesh out the world.

The real issue with "sidequests" is that developers think they're a sign of "how much content" they've packed into the game.  While, I guess that's true, it's often the wrong kind of content.  When your game contains 10 main storyline quests but nearly 300 sidequests... You're doing it wrong.  I prefer a system where you only have 3x as many "sidequests" as you have "main story" quests.  I think this strikes a fine balance between "I need a break from the story and a place to level up for a bit" and "I want to learn more about the story, I want more twists, turns, and big quests that take me a while to complete that make me feel accomplished".


That's just what I prefer.


But, we live in a world where sidequests tend to outnumber storyline quests nearly 10 to 1... and then there's also "collectibles" which make up the vast majority of your game time by nearly 500x what the storyline is.  Collectibles are their own kind of "sidequest", except their rewards are usually much worse than not doing them at all.
 

Hoppy

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I just have fetch quests that require the player to get items which are either blocked by of obtained from a powerful monster or person that has to be defeated as it either the drops the items upon defeat or is blocking the items or was taken by said monster.  Since my sidequests have a style similar to later Metal Max games (You get EXP from sidequests on top of the experience that the player receives from defeating the person or monster and other item drops), it's a good incentive to have the player to do the sidequests.
 

Marillmau5

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I like what @Hoppy said.


Fetch quests should be simple and give players an edge here or there just for completing them.


Now sidequests should be very well thought out. It should be like a sidestory in a movie, where if you follow it you get a little more out of the story or world. Almost Like a side-story.


once the game is completed,  you should then add more or less of the above to fill in the game.


On thing i cant stand is when games are nothing but little missions like dead island. in 10 minutes you could bring in like 20 side missions and trying to complete one little mission will give you like 15 more. 


That being said I think most side missions shouldnt come up to the player while youre given a side mission already and some actually should interfere purposely for that story.
 

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@Marillmau5


" That being said I think most side missions shouldnt come up to the player while youre given a side mission already and some actually should interfere purposely for that story. "

That would create a horrific amount of backtracking and going around in circles, not to mention making it more difficult to actually create a decent flow to side-quests. A lot of side-quests can be completed in relative proximity to one another. If I can't do one unless I'm not on one currently, it'd get frustrating really fast.Imagine going out, doing a quest, coming back, turning it in, getting another, and having to go right back to where I was within a two or three screen distance of the first one. I'd get pissed off pretty dayum fast. 
 
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Marillmau5

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For example I mean like getting a sidequest to find a potion for a dying woman, and then going to the inn and someone is talking to you to do yet another side quest to help his friend. I dont want you to have to do sidequests in any order, but if youre on a semi important one everyone should wait. maybe you can bring up the choices menu when talking to another npc and the choice to take the side quest is disabled. Letting you know you can come back after youre done. 


I may be wrong but I'm against side quest hoarding. Just going around the map collecting goals and then doing them whenever like in most open world games.


I may be thinking about this in a linear way but if theres an important sidequest i think you should be semi locked into it if you accept. Unless they arent important at all.
 
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PsychicToaster

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I think the easiest thing to do in that case is not make pointless side-quests. Every one of them should be meaningful in some way. 
 

jameswestbrook351

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I recall some of the side quests in paper mario the thousand year door being interesting. Some involved backtracking to each level looking for someone, but some were good and involved going back to previous areas with new abilities that allow you to interact with the environment to reach new areas.


In final fantasy x-2 the sidequests were decently interesting. Some involved boss fights with characters or mazes. In each one you unlock something new like a garmet grid or a item. 


For me sidequests would depend on if they are 1 fun, 2 add to story 3 serve some sort of purpose. 


There isnt one set way to do a sidequest, its one of those things that depend on how it's executed. 
 
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