I’ll get around to finding my lost baby in Fallout 4 when I get around to it. Right now, I’m helping Cate kick her drug habit. I couldn’t care less about rescuing some captured rebel leader in Homefront: The Revolution — what was his name again? — which frees up plenty of time to liberate patches of territory. In Dying Light, uh, something about secret files. Who can be bothered to care when there are safehouses to be cleared, parkour races to run, and skills to level up? Name a game by Ubisoft that isn’t called Far Cry 2. I probably can’t tell you the first thing about the main storyline. All the better for all the Ubistuff that needs doing. There’s hardly a game with as rich a setting for side quests as Watch Dogs. One of the best things you can do for the side quests in an open-world game is a lousy main quest.
After the jump, ciriously cidetracked
Conversely, one of the lousiest things you can do for side quests in an open-world game is a good main quest. Grand Theft Auto V, Saint’s Row IV, Far Cry 2. Bully’s main quest was the school year. It didn’t really matter what you did, because class was going to happen anyway, and fall would turn into winter, which would turn into spring, which would inevitably dump you into an endless summer where you could faff about to your heart’s content with whatever side quests you felt like doing.
This is bad news in Witcher 3 for all these monster slaying contracts, for the Bloody Baron’s wife, for that one hunter’s wife, for some soothsayer advertising her services, for those shrines that got knocked over, and for all the stuff that isn’t trying to find out what happened to Ciri. The Witcher 3 has made the mistake of successfully creating a sense of urgency. What do I care what notices villagers have pinned to their local noticeboards? I’m tracking down my imperiled daughter!
Although really the urgency is more a matter of me, the player, wanting to find out what happened to Ciri, who she is, and what’s going to become of her. As I’ve seen from the playable flashbacks, she’s quite capable of handling herself. She’s no damsel in distress. In fact, Geralt feels a little peripheral. Like a detective investigating a case that’s already been solved. I guess that’s the rationale for doing side quests. Ciri obviously has everything under control, so why not go over here and investigate this strange beast under a bridge that needs killing? Why not hunt down this suit of armor? Why not get a shave and haircut? Why not see what’s in this bit of the map over here? Ooh, horse races? Don’t mind if I do.
But I have my limits. Gwent, for example. What kind of witcher plays nerdy collectible card games? What kind of witcher spends his hard earned money buying singles? What kind of witcher sits around building a deck? Don’t get me started on Gwent.
(Thanks to my friend Tony Carnevale for the “Siri, find Ciri” line. We were all thinking it anyway, right?)