Death to MMORPG side quests!

I am not one to badmouth the MMO quest system. It really was one of those features that put World of Warcraft on the map, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. I greatly enjoy both the stories and feeling of accomplishment at ticking off tasks (and getting rewards and XP bumps is not half bad either). But here is a question that I’ve been pondering lately: is it high time that we kill side quests once and for all?

While I can certainly defend main story quests — such as zone/planet-wide chains or a personal story arc that goes through most of the game — side missions lack positive qualities that make them desirable. Let’s call them for what they really are: busy work. Side quests are small tasks that offer no real story, no significant reward, and only serve to pad out your quest log and allow dev teams to be able to boast ridiculously high quest tallies for patches and expansions (“200 new quests! Of which only 15 are memorable in any way!”).

I don’t hate side quests, but they certainly do serve as distractions. Too many of these tasks can help me to forget the big stories that I’m presumably following. I’d much rather go through a single story start to end without having my attention yanked elsewhere, which is why I try to do all other quests in a region first and then devote a day or two to just going through the larger story.

Let’s think about it. If your favorite MMO one day yanked all of its side quests, leaving only factional, zone, dungeon, and overarching story arcs intact, would it really suffer for it? Would you bemoan their loss? Players are forever asking to be able to just play through the main storylines without all of these diversions down rabbit trails, so why not give it to them? Just increase XP for the main quests and work on providing other forms of much more meaningful content that can serve as a focus for players’ time.

Devs may not like that; they may see side quests as needed material to battle the ravenous player horde that devours content far faster than can be made. Side quests might be seen as a necessary evil, a sticky patch that slows the sprinting population from reaching the finish line too soon.

But really, it’s an old and outdated design that needs to die. Side quests aren’t content that we enjoy, need, or demand, and even what minimal resources used to create them would be better spent elsewhere. Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

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30 thoughts on “Death to MMORPG side quests!

  1. HiveLeader July 3, 2017 / 9:13 am

    For years I’ve talked about how questing should be tossed away. MMOs of old didn’t have thousands of quests. Just a few. And those few were truly a QUEST that would lead you around the land and typically provided a truly awesome item.

    But the idea of instant gratification won out and now we have thousands of quests that a truly just filler.

    That said I love mindless questing sometimes, so eh…

  2. Katriana July 3, 2017 / 9:22 am

    I can agree with the point for many games. For some though, such as TSW/SWL where your screenshot is from, I’d argue that the side quests often (though not always) help fill in interesting bits of the story of the area that don’t really fit in with the main story very well. Overall though I’d agree that too many games rely on them to pad out content and keep players busy.

  3. Sylow July 3, 2017 / 9:29 am

    True for many MMORPGs. But you use an image from TSW. (Or more likely the inferior new version. )

    And unlike in many other MMOs, in TSW sidemissions often served a one or another purpose. A lot of them lead you to new places and new missions. While there was no fixed and given order to do missions, the game made sure that you always were on a mission or close to one to pick up. So if a regular mission ended away from a questgiver, there -always- was a sidemission nearby to lead you to another regular mission.

    FC during the beta and shortly after launch asked players to report any mission which didn’t meet the criteria of ending either next to a mission giver or a sidemission. A few players found some and got in-game rewards, and all found gaps were closed. (I later still found one mission in the Carpathian Fangs which didn’t meet the criteria, so i reported it. But that was long after the described action, so neither did i expect nor did i get a reward. But a few months later i found a new sidemission there… 🙂 )

    As legends dropped all subtlety and rather prefers to put a chain around your neck and drag you from one place to the next, this point for sidemissions of course is lost.

    The next nice things about sidemissions in TSW was that they actually rewarded exploration. I think it was more than three years after the game launched, when i still found a very well hidden sidemission in the Kingsmouth area. I was both happy to have found something new as well as astonished how i could have missed that before.

    The new thingie of course puts everything on the map, so you can check them off instead of finding them. But hey, people seem to be happy about it, so it seems like that’s what they wanted. Once again my mental image about gamer degrades, but hey, i guess in total we’re not as good as i liked to think us to be.

    Last not least, if you paid attention then sidemissions in TSW also told a bit of their own story or added puzzle pieces to the big picture. I guess for SWL this still is true, at least for those which were not removed.

    So for the conclusion: in old TSW the sidemissions had purpose in terms of gameplay. In SWL, just like many other MMOs, their main purpose is being timesinks.

  4. othnieltcs July 3, 2017 / 9:32 am

    Much depends on alternatives! The alternative you suggest is nice, although then you have people completing storylines in 10 hours or less and complaining there’s nothing to do. Side quests can be interesting, all too often they are not. Still better than grinding mobs IMO.

  5. Bhagpuss July 3, 2017 / 9:43 am

    Why stop there? Do movies and novels really need all those sub-plots and supporting characters? Wouldn’t they be clearer, shorter and easier to follow with just the protagonist, the villain and the through-line? And how about songs? All those verses to get through before we get to the only part anyone cares about, the chorus.

    It’s not like MMORPGs aren’t already thin enough to see through. Let’s strip out some more content. We can always backfill with a few more dailies and lockboxes if the light starts to show through.

    What I would, with no irony, love to see is xp removed from quests and put back on the killing of the mobs where it used to be. Then the quests could be for entertainment and material rewards, there could be fewer of them and they could be better written and implemented. That would work for me.

    Until that happy day I’ll take all the side-quests I can find.

  6. Syp July 3, 2017 / 10:02 am

    I don’t mind side stories, but what I’m talking about are quests are so thin, so pointless, as to be nothing more than a barebones quest with no meat on it. It’s laziness. If a side quest had actual substance to it, then it would be worthy of inclusion. I’m just tired of the busy work and I would think that many experienced MMO players would be too.

  7. Stropp July 3, 2017 / 10:58 am

    It really depends on how the quests are presented.

    Kill x of y? Yeah, probably about time those are knocked on the head. It’s easy enough to move that sort of thing into some other sort of task. Most people do them for achievements or deeds anyway.

    But well done side-stories/quests I think can fill out a world and make it more 3 dimensional and give the inhabitants of the world more ‘humanity’ (for want of a better word.)

    Having said that, these side-quests do need to be well thought out to do that, and I suspect doing that is a lot harder than it sounds.

  8. Tanek July 3, 2017 / 11:03 am

    No elves, no side quests, no jumping puzzles…I’ll just say I’m glad you don’t have a hand in the design of the MMOs I play. 😉

    Some side quests are extraneous, sure, and we can probably do without some of the one-offs that are just kill-10-draug, but to just get rid of them all? They can tell the story of an area rather than just the “main” story for the game. For example, the one you picture is one of the many side quests in (The [Secret World) Legends] that shows what happened to the people of the area. For me, just racing through the main story and leaving the rest to rot might not be as interesting.

    Or look at RIFT. Many of the side quests there are basically a main storyline for every zone. I want to be able to explore and find these other stories, not just be dragged on rails through one locked line of missions.

  9. Tyler F.M. Edwards July 3, 2017 / 11:10 am

    As an entire concept, no, I don’t think we should do away with side quests. The way they’re implemented in most MMOs, though? Yeah, burn it to the ground. SW:TOR did it with KotFE, and it made the game vastly more enjoyable.

    I don’t think it’s an even so much an MMO problem as an issue with gaming as an industry. Single-player games are also becoming drunk on pointless chores that serve only to pad out the game. I don’t think that side content should make up more of a game than the actual main story, and if it doesn’t offer something interesting in terms of story or gameplay, it shouldn’t exist at all.

    That said, side quests can still be done well. As Sylow pointed out, TSW was a great example of how to do side quests right. Technically, almost all the content in that game was side quests, but they were so well done they never felt like it.

  10. Tyler F.M. Edwards July 3, 2017 / 11:12 am

    Oh, and ESO is another example of a game that does side quests well. It’s full of side quests, but they’re not cheap or lazy. Not all of them are masterpieces, but most have at least something interesting to offer.

  11. Forrestra July 3, 2017 / 11:20 am

    Going from early Everquest, more EverGrind than quest to FFXI (which had more quests, but just barely) to WoW, I’ve come to like good main and side stories. The pointless quest USED to have a purpose in early MMOs. The exp was so much slower back then, and often involved way more mob grinds than today. But modern MMOs give so much more exp, pointless quests (especially ones you can’t skip) don’t even function in that capacity anymore. They truly are pointless.

    But I’ve seen good side quests that fill out the lore of the world, or point to events in years past. My favorite is playing Alliance through WotLK content, after playing several Horde toons for years. I stumbled upon an Alliance only quest The Truth Shall Set Us Free which is a throwback to a Warcraft 3 quest where Arthas betrays his men because of his obsessions. Playing Arthas in WC3, and being the one to betray my men to finish the scenario wasn’t an impactful as going back to see the fallout of what I’d done. Putting a bow on a quest across 2 games was very cool. Something I don’t think WoW did much of back then (although probably more than I noticed).

  12. Jeromai July 3, 2017 / 11:39 am

    I’ll do you one better. Death to quests in general. I’m tired of the “here’s the object/NPC that starts this linear chain,” “here’s the tasks you need to do in order,” and now “here’s your reward of a sizeable amount of xp and some color of loot” when you’re done. Oh, and there was a short ‘story’ in there somewhere providing a rationalization for doing said tasks.

    I want more sandboxy stuff. Kill something? Harvest something? Practice a skill? Ok, get some xp. Talk to NPCs all you like to get side stories. Maybe they’ll hint at something you can do for them, without highlighting in bright bold shiny UI that this is a QUEST, and if you do the thing and talk again to them or give something to them, you get a reward for solving that mini mystery.

    I want dynamic events like in GW2 where you can drop in or drop out as you choose. I want GW2 collections or ATITD principles/tests where you choose the order in which you do the tasks, and where you choose in the first place if you want to do them, not feel obliged to finish every last side quest because a) you won’t get enough xp without doing them and/or b) if you don’t do them, there’s no more game content because the whole game is quest hubs or quest chains.

  13. Shintar July 3, 2017 / 2:44 pm

    Déjà vu! I distinctly remember writing a sort of “rebuttal” about how much I love side quests in response to a post just like this that you wrote some time ago… ah yes, here it is, but back then you “only” wanted to abolish SWTOR’s side quests.

    I still disagree, just like I did back then. I couldn’t think of a single MMO that I’ve played that would be better off without side quests. They just add so much texture to the world! In fact, I also disagree with Tyler above that KotFE was better for having no side quests. Despite of having been the focus of two expansions, Zakuul remains fairly lifeless to this day simply because there are no NPCs with side quests bringing it to life.

    I don’t even get the hatred for the “kill ten rats” type of quests. Sure, they have lost their original purpose, which was to provide direction in an environment that was still heavily focused on mob grinding. (Just think of the Nesingwary quests in original Stranglethorn Vale and how they encouraged you to seek out tougher and tougher mobs down south.) But people will happily grind away at mobs in much higher numbers for the sake of “deeds” and achievement badges, so what is it about the quest format that offends the sensibilities so much?

  14. tithian July 3, 2017 / 3:00 pm

    I don’t mind side missions as long as they are done properly. Secret World’s missions are fine. WoW’s “gather literally 10 shit” quests, are not.

  15. Azuriel July 3, 2017 / 5:49 pm

    I’m kinda shocked at the responses here, and questioning whether most of you should bother with themepark MMOs in the first place. If you want a sandbox, go play in a sandbox. If you want to zerg stuff for no reason, go play GW2. If you want to grind the same mobs for hours, Everquest is still available.

    Sidequests offer pacing. They also offer an incentive to explore all four corners of a map (for us non-Explorers), which would otherwise feel heavy-handed if forced by the main story. Same deal with showcasing encounters with different mob types. And, as we all know, there are sidequests out there that let the writers explore the setting, introduce minor NPCs (which can develop into story hooks later), or just offer light-hearted pop-culture humor.

    There are bad sidequests, of course. Specifically, any of them that do not do any of the aforementioned things. But that is a deficiency of that specific sidequest, and not sidequests in general.

  16. required July 3, 2017 / 10:28 pm

    A game is a pastime, and pastime has the primary goal to pass time. The secondary goal of pastime is for the participant(s) to enjoy the past time by the pastime.

  17. Ettesiun July 4, 2017 / 2:14 am

    I would do the opposite. Coming from GW2 heart and dynamic event ( quest basiaclly) are thevgame for me, and i cannot care less for the main quest. In fact i would prefer a world where i am not the savior but just a good hero – as i can clearly see from looking at the hundred player around me.

    This is one of the big advantage of MMO over srpg : the freedom to do whatever i want and not to follow one way. Remove the secondary quest and you will create an empty and lifeless world.

  18. atherenlightrunner July 4, 2017 / 2:43 am

    I love all quests and can resist none. Pay me a bit of gold or give me a new hat, I don’t mind. For me they enrich the world, they’re an additional way to advance. I’ve seen in in single player games that people skip all the side quests, or want to be able to, but in MMOs it feels different (not that I’d skip any quest in a single player game either.)
    I think in Secret World Legends all the little quests tell more of the story of the terrible events that over took each area, personal stories. Do you think that now that they sort of make you reach a certain level before giving you the next bit of the main story, almost requiring you to go back and do the smaller quests, that this is what is really getting to you? That you don;t get to choose so much anymore?

  19. Sylow July 4, 2017 / 5:05 am

    And there i disagree. In old TSW all the side missions helped to tell a story and build the world. Then when i look at the new legends: i get a new kill 10 rats mission every few meters. Sure it’s not always 10, it can also be 15 or 20, and it’s not rats but zombies, wisps and whatever other monster which resides in the next 150 square meters area.

    Somehow i don’t really see how those add anything to the atmosphere, story or mystery of the game. They only add to the tedium. So in the point of changing the pacing, that quite certainly is true. It slows you down, but it does nothing else.

    That’s why seperate strongly her between TSW and SWL. In the first one, it was hard to find a side mission which didn’t add to the game. In SWL, those which actually add to the game have become a minority. 😦

  20. stroeb July 4, 2017 / 6:11 am

    As other’s have mentioned, surely it’s not side quests themselves, it’s the quality of the side quest. Something that forces you from one side of the map to another merely as a time sink is worthless. But something that enhances the story or world or just provides a fun mini story is worthwhile. Warcraft is pretty good at the latter.

    Your screenshot is a good example of a side quest done right – despite sending you way out to the end of an isolated pier, it’s a strong bit of world-establishment and quite powerfully illustrates the horror of what’s happening to the population of Kingsmouth.

    I agree with @atherenlightrunner – side quests can become objectionable when you *have* to do them, as with the SWL gating below Level 12. Suddenly you’re scrounging around for any quest just to get to the right level to continue the main thread. That’s bad design and should be discouraged.

  21. atherenlightrunner July 4, 2017 / 9:05 am

    Note to Sylow, somewhere above, those new Area Kill missions ( I don’t know what they’re calling them) aren’t meant to be side quests, they just give a bit of xp and some small reward if you’ve run out of things to do to level up. They have the same sort of thing in Rift and Guild Wars 2. They are just non story fluff.

  22. Matthew Pacchione July 4, 2017 / 2:27 pm

    The best kind of side quests are the ones which are very obviously some kind of errand; either a task-board, wanted poster, or a fetch/kill quest. Side quests give me the feeling of being an actual “adventurer,” just someone trying to make a living without actually working a real job. This is actually why I enjoyed Wildstar’s quest system. Everyone in town and beyond gave me something to do!

    I’ve never tried Syp’s method of questing – doing the side quests first and completing the main quests after. I think I will try this and see how it might fit my play style better. The one thing I don’t enjoy about side quests is that they distract from the main story.

  23. DDOCentral July 4, 2017 / 10:14 pm

    Disagree. There should be content with shorter completion times for all schedules and moods. Sometimes I would log into TSW, run 2 or 3 side quests, and then log out for the evening.

  24. tithian July 5, 2017 / 3:57 am

    @Sylow

    Hyperbole at its finest. I’ve been 100% all zones I’m going through, and the “kill X” objectives that occasionally pop up are miniscule compared to the real content of the game. They are only there to hand out an additional reward for killing things you would be killing anyway, and for making it easier to complete the Dailies. They are also not required for the competion achievements of each zone, making them the definition of optional, and easily ingnored.

  25. Sylow July 5, 2017 / 5:55 am

    @Tithian:

    Why hyperbole? Did i not futher above mention the positive qualities of the old side missions? The later posting only refers to those “kill X” missions, and if they are something else than many iterations of “kill 10 rats”, then please tell me the difference.

    Sure they can be ignored. Maybe the games progression is built around it, maybe not. Everything is so easy, you can’t tell anyway. But they exist and keep popping up everywhere. So i guess their mere existance can not be denied, so their quality may be considered. If i went somewhere wrong in this, please explain where.

  26. Telwyn July 6, 2017 / 8:05 am

    I think I’m somewhere in the middle on this. Good side quests, like some of LoTROs smaller quest hubs tell really nice isolated stories quite different in tone and impact from the ‘MSQ’. Rift illustrates polar opposites though: the entertaining and often comical little quests of the vanilla era and the ghastly carnage quests, which stripped any pretense of narrative in favour of bare mechanics.

    As others have mentioned pacing is an important role for side quests, just MSQ all the time often leaves me feeling rushed or too ‘heroed-out’. It’s nice to see tangential stories or too learn more about the lands we wander through…

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