Murder the Fetch: One Mans Hate for a Timeless Gameplay Mechanic

You enter the main gate to the courtyard of a monolithic keep that stands defiantly on a cliff edge, overlooking the sea. As you enter the courtyard, your armour catches the afternoon sun, the enchanted runes scrawled on your cuirass shine a fiery red. What a journey that was… fighting your way to hell and back to recover but a handful of Hellstone to etch into your armour. As you pace into the courtyard a maid is startled by the grim figure adorned on your shoulder, the goblin leader’s skull which you took as a trophy after storming their den to rescue the trapped townsfolk. You pay her no mind and continue towards the keep. Wandering through the market you hear the whispers and gossips of merchants and tradesman.

“I hear he threw that necromancer from his own tower…” said one. “That sword he carries, it’s said it eats the souls of its victims…” said another. As expected, after the perils you have been through to get here, your reputation has preceded you.

You arrive at the entrance to the main hall, as you place your hand on the door to make your way into the King’s esteemed company, an honour you’ve been fighting for all this time, a voice says…

“HALT! The King is not receiving guests, for he has fallen ill with the dark plague.” Said the Captain of the Guard.
“He is expecting me.” You reply as you smugly hand the Captain your written invitation, endorsed with the King’s seal.

“We’ve been expecting you. Our castle alchemist has been working on an antidote for the king, but he needs seven pearl mushrooms, a branch of wormwood and sap of the ice tree. Bring us these items and only then will the King receive you.”

Bugger THAT! You stand up from your seat in frustration… WHY DO GAMES DO THIS!?!? I have slayed dragons, braved dungeons and foiled apocalyptic plots only to be yet again, turned into a F#@KING courier!

Fetch quests. I hate them. As an adult gamer I have limited time for games and despite my desire to play them all, I pick and choose the ones I want to play most. So when the devs populate their games with fetch quests I get frustrated! Fetch quests are an antiquated gameplay mechanic that serves purely to increase the total amount of time you spend clocking a game, so that developers can claim their game is “huge”. Give me quality, not quantity.

In case you’re still unclear, a fetch quest is a shopping list of chores often involving the genocide of low threat enemies or wanton pillaging of the environment, chores that any serf within the kingdom could accomplish. How the hell am I supposed to feel like the Dragonborn when a game treats me like a paper boy? Hasn’t gaming evolved to the point where monotonous, shallow and unengaging quests such as these should have long been relegated to the past?

But Tom, I like games with lots of quests! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy questing as much as the next guy, but questing implies a long, hard journey against great perils. Derivative quests that see you participating in some mundane activity completely break the immersion! You play a Role Playing Game (RPG) to assume the role of some incredibly influential character within a fantastic or historic setting, which is why we don’t see RPG’s where we play the role of a janitor.

There is nothing more deflating...

There is nothing more deflating…

From a design perspective, basic RPG mechanics involve moving from one area to the next steadily becoming more powerful. Questing is crucial to the player’s growth as they receive experience, loot and currency for the completion of each quest. This is something we all have come to accept as gamers, for example; I’d wager many of you out there talk to all the townsfolk to maximise the loot and experience opportunities when you enter a new area. This is where we see a lot of fetching. I recently attempted Kingdom of Amular, a game which held the promise of a flexible action RPG with great combat. I found after 10 hours that I was so sick and tired of generic conversations with generic Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) about their generic problems that I would solve with a generic style that I gave up and uninstalled the game from my PC. If I am supposed to be some all-powerful boof head that can cheat fate, surely the devs could have been more creative in their quest writing and maybe, just maybe created a bit more variety. Amular (like many others) had great core mechanics but was ultimately ruined as everywhere you went you were hailed as the greatest ERRAND BOY in all the realm.

I don’t claim to have all the answers nor do I have a cure for the fetchus-questus disease, but I offer the following ideas as ways to enhance or eliminate fetch quests:

  1. Instead of relying on fetch quests to encourage character development, exploration and time sinking. Why don’t the developers create an intriguing world where the player’s own curiosity achieves that, eg: Dark Souls. No journals and no maps, only obscure hints and mysteries. Anyone who has played it knows that it pays to be daring and explore.
  2. Give the main character their own errand boy/girl/goblin. As a mighty warrior or powerful mage, you have bigger fish to fry than to kill the rats in the basement (lols). Why not have a gameplay mechanic where you approach NPCs (or they approach you depending on your renown), receive jobs and subsequently send your own followers off to do them, similar to the sidekick mechanic in Star Wars: The Old Republic. That way you can take care of the harder quests worthy of your skill while your lackies maintain your cash flow and bolster your fame.
  3. If fetch type quests are required, disguise them well so as not to break immersion. Write them cleverly, have mini-twists such as ulterior motives, betrayals and room for multiple outcomes. Unique enemies, insurmountable odds, mind-bending puzzles, great risk and great reward. You’re the HERO, not the post man.

So in closing, I wish to issue a plea to the devs. No one aspires to be the world’s greatest package boy so please, create quests befitting of the heroes we portray and above all else…cast the fetch into the depths of the Laurentian Abyss, where it can wither and die for all eternity!

Tom

Tom is a scientist. He is a man shrouded in mystery and intrigue who wants to share his thoughts on games, movies and technology with you!

  • Michael Hobbs

    “Why don’t the developers create an intriguing world where the player’s own curiosity achieves that”.

    So I’m currently studying game development, and to be honest, it comes down to marketability and designing games for the lowest common denominator. Dark Souls is a great game, but it’s not main stream like other games because it punishes the player endlessly, and most people who like you only have limited time don’t want to spend it frustrated or lost without some form of objective in front of them.

    Unfortunately, like you, we’ve been unable to really find a cure for the fetch quest, it’s a staple these days, but I agree it needs to be jazzed up to the point where you don’t realise it is a simple fetch quest.

    • Tom

      Hi Michael, thanks for the comment.

      You make a very valid point in that the success of a game will very much depend on how accessible it is to a broad range of audiences. From a business perspective you’re spot on.

      A more hand-crafted approach to quests would likely incur greater costs to the devs, but I don’t think in all cases it’d come at the cost of players, as I don’t believe unique quests will necessarily limit the audience the game appeals to.

      A lot of RPGs with strong story elements use a lot of references to real life to get players to relate with and even empathise with characters and events. That being so, when a high level character receives a fetch quest, it is the equivalent of a high court judge providing legal representation to someone who is contesting a parking ticket.

      …out of curiosity…As a student of game development, do you investigate issues like this often? For example, what ingredients go into the making of a successful game?