Annoying Game Mechanics are those that just make you groan when you see them in a game. You’ve seen them at their best but you’ve also seen them at their worst. You can’t love them but you can’t hate them either, but you can definitely be annoyed!
This week the mechanic I’m having an issue with is Subquests!
Secondary objectives, side-quests and contracts, call them what you want. Subquests are optional tasks you can do as well as fulfilling your main story objectives, for profit and or ‘physical’ rewards, be it money or items. Subquests are there to expand the game-time, to add more to the campaign content, to explore some hidden side of the world—one you would never go to in the main story—or know more about certain characters or cultures. Subquests may present additional challenges, sometimes greater than the main story’s, or they might introduce a secondary play-mode, something new and refreshing to break up the monotony, or just a one-off minigame.
But Subquests are dependent on rewards. You are following the main story because you need to, but nothing forces you to pursue secondary objectives. You need proper incentives, something to make the trek and the challenges worthwhile. And that is where the annoyance lies, where the mechanic can be a good one or just insultingly bad. The good ones will offer substantial and/or significant rewards for your efforts, making you feel as if it’s a part of the game as important as the main campaign is. The bad ones will offer minimal rewards and often leave you dissatisfied with their conclusion and what you got out of them. This last bit is in both content, the story resolution of the secondary objective, and the reward.
The staple of an annoying mechanic is that it’s seen both good and bad days. The following are some of the best and most disappointing uses:
- Xenoblade Chronicles lives on subquests. Every new zone has at least two hubs with dozens of these, some of which you can only get at certain times of the day. Even the shortest sidequest gives a substantial amount of experience and money in addition to the stat gems and gear you get out of them.
- The Witcher Series has always had subquests, and the bulk of your experience and currency comes from them. The first two games were a bit tight on the monetary rewards, but often had repeatable ones where you could exchange monster drops for more money. The monster hunter contracts on the other hand, the actual Witcher work, paid a substantial amount of money.
- Deus Ex Human Revolution has a limited amount of sidequests per hub, but they all had strong rewards. In a game where every credit and every praxis point count more than the bullets in your weapons, getting a 50% discount on a black market shop or one more praxis kit made a huge difference.
- Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (and its successor Tomb of Osiris) had challenge tombs and secondary objectives. Completing these would give you upgrades to your weapons, stats and some new gear to try. The better you performed, the more powerful the rewards.
- Shadowrun Returns, much like Deus Ex, has a few sidequests in every area and the rewards are often Karma (aka XP), money and weapons. And in this game, with how bad some missions can go, those rewards are lifesavers!
- Dark Souls has side-quest-chains with minimal signposting. You often don’t even know if you’ve progressed on a secondary story. But that’s not a problem, it’s part of DS’ charm. The problem lies in that the rewards are horrendous. Since XP and currency are the same thing and only acquired through killing, it means secondary objectives give you nothing. As for material rewards, what you get is the OPTION to purchase new gear at stores. You do an entire quest just to unlock purchases…no, just no.
- Bravely Default has a limited amount of subquests, all of which involve getting a new Asterisk—which contain new jobs. That might make them seem worthwhile, but in truth, every sidquest is the same. One mini-boss fight and the new asterisk. There is no variance, no break from the monotony, and when you defeat the boss, you get a minimal amount of job XP—annoying considering how grindy the game is—no money and no other rewards.
- Bound by Flame is perhaps the worst game in terms of subquests. There isn’t a single one that provides a valuable reward. At best, you get a bit of money. Only about two of these quests, per act, provide a good gear reward.
- Dragon Age Inquisition has a fantastic main story, with intriguing and compelling objectives and progress and most end with an amazing and highly rewarding fight. And then you have the generic sidequests that give you nothing whatsoever but some influence points for your Inquisition, a power point for your REAL-TIME inquisition strategic missions and a tiny amount of experience. They are almost completely pointless.
- Rage showed me that you can have a Borderlands-like setting and gameplay and still be boring as hell. The sidequests have you returning to areas you once vowed never to return to, to kill some of the same enemies you did when the game started, for minimal rewards. Some of the sidequests have you taking part in the game’s convoluted racing system for pretty much nothing. Money is mostly pointless in this game. Bullets you can find everywhere. Only those that give you new crafting recipes as a reward are worth it, but they’re the absolute minority.