- We are going to entrust you with a very important mission: you must save the world.
- And you have to do it now, you are the only one chosen for this heroic task.
- By the way, as you go, could you find me petals of five different flowers for a concoction that I am distilling?
- Well, let’s see, come on ok.
Rowing aimlessly to lost islands, combing unknown forests inch by inch and walking thirty times through the same battlements of the same castle because first they ask us for 5 spears, then 10 and then 15. A maxim of RPGs, those infinite role-playing games where the The stage is full of things to do that you will discover visually or textually, piling up dozens of commissions – which we will never give up. A museum of broken promises.
If your last vacation was spent as Glovo’s delivery man in ‘Death Stranding’ or if you think you are the only one who knows every pixel among the 80 caves of Skyrim , you know what I’m talking about. Now, are we facing a trick to extend the duration of the games, to sell the same rhetoric by weight , trapping us in a meaningless loop … or is it one of the reasons for the genre?
There is a logic in all this. Do you want the best sword that the master gunsmith’s hands can make? Earn it . Plain and simple meritocracy.
Although I don’t need an excuse either. I cannot reveal the hours that I have been in ‘Judgment’ and the whole of the Yakuza saga – games that boast of enclosing a real world within their minigames -, spending the afternoon in their arcades within complete copies of segueros classics like ‘OutRun ‘or’ Virtua Fighter 2 ‘. And we better not talk about ‘ Breath of the Wild ‘.
Nor can I count the hours I have spent reading stealth emails in ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’ or “making disappear” the thousands of problems in each tiny settlement of ‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a game with a 256 square kilometer map emulating an archipelago with more than 30 explorable islands – the real Greece has about 6000 -. But I wouldn’t if I didn’t like it. I am addicted to these micro stories. I do not hide.
And being a runner in video games is not frowned upon. I may even end up exhausted from kicking so much wasteland and end up dropping the game halfway. If my boss gives me orders, what is the fun of playing to continue being a virtual errand? But if someone dumps 500 hours shooting at putty in the latest ‘Destiny 2’ expansion, what is ignoble about rescuing the umpteenth pet from the clutches of the umpteenth villain?
Among my group of friends we like to define ‘The Mandalorian’ as “that series where the protagonist cleans the map of icons”. There is a clear main quest , take Baby Yoda – the kid , sorry – with his family; But Mando can’t thrive without running three hundred errands, saving the guy down to the last space monkey in the galaxy. I am a Mandalorian (with command).
Playing we are eternal nomads without a country or flag . When in works like ‘ Pillars of Eternity ‘ we define the character of our departure we only establish a conceptual framework, but our “cowardly” elf is perhaps the bravest of the clique. Through the high schools we record our honor (or dishonor). Furthermore, these idiotic errands define, in part, who is the person behind the controls. The errand that commands.
ere are many types of secondaries. Escort, delivery, errand boy, hybrids … and my favorites, syntax missions . A few days ago I finished 100% of ‘ The Outer Worlds ‘ —play it, please, I ask you, the latest situation comedy from the parents of’ Fallout New Vegas’—, an RPG that is not interested in the big themes, those that are only large through smaller ones.
Your secondaries connect with your principals, and while you can ignore them, it’s impossible to thrive without doing one. At one point in the game, the trunk branch splits into two: Alcyone’s route and Phineas’s route. As in any good Obsidian RPG, the sidequests open the communicating vessels in that gray scale between killing one faction or annihilating another. These footnotes overlap and underpin the true reason for the game. Without them, you will barely have lived a third of the game.
If you played ‘ Oblivion ‘ you will remember ‘The Dark Brotherhood’. Everything in Oblivion is accessory. Their speedruns say so . But the devil is in the details. The key phrase goes like this: “What is the color of the night?” “Sanguine, brother.” You can choose to be part of the most feared sect in the world or eradicate it to the ground, you can do twenty missions for them or not even be aware of their existence beyond the rumor that roams the cities.
The minigames in the first ‘Watch Dogs’ were far more fun than the central story by far. In ‘Dark Souls’, saving Solaire – yes , you can – is a sidequest in itself that may mark the very course of your game. Loyalty missions in ‘Mass Effect 2’ define our relationship with the rest . In ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ we can act as a judge in a totally ignorable high school, punish the villains by locking them up or exiling them and with it, condition the opinion of the people towards us.
In Final Fantasy, the secondary schools set the secular tone, that epic that tells us “this world was before you arrived and will continue when you leave.” And this is another of the tics of the genre: there will always be a stronger and more resistant secondary boss than the final Boss of the game itself.
In ‘Final Fantasy VIII’, if Ente Artema knew you little, you could try your luck with Ente Omega – an inheritance of Omega and also present in FFVI or FFX. Facing him means deviating from the main story during a specific point, reaching all the statistics at maximum. A formula that inherits ‘ FFXV ‘ with its “very biting Emperor”, in which you have to defeat a Behemoth Kaiser.
Parishioners call that 100% completion goals a “perfect game.” Of course, there is a certain unrepentant honor in looking at that perfect save file. Although if there is a game that encapsulates this formula and raises it to unimaginable heights, it is ‘The Witcher 3: Wind Hunt’, that 50-hour game that any completist will have dedicated more than 200 .
In Crookback Swamp we have seen things that many were ignorant of. It was one of the first open world that made those special missions fashionable on misty islands and lighthouses with difficult access. Missions that lead to others, like Keira Metz’s. And ‘From the magic lamp’ to ‘A tower full of mice’ we could have lived twenty hours of adventure. A totally accessory and alternative adventure.
Actually, what is the official plot of ‘ The Witcher 3 ‘, a beast hunter to the highest bidder ? Geralt De Rivia is the epitome of a formula where the urge to find your father (‘Fallout 3’) or save the world from extinction (‘Dragon Age’) is not as crucial as driving a child back to his worried home. When you return to the main mission you have already forgotten what you were doing there. But, and what we have laughed while?
Let’s get serious. ‘Red Dead Redemption’ has two of the best secondary in video game history. And they are like that because of their intention, because of that desire to disconnect from the routine.
‘ I know you ‘ could be a reference to the cowboy from ‘Mulholland Drive’: a strange guy appears in symbolic places and tasks us with no apparent correlation. Fixing an infidelity, inviting a kleptomaniac to let go of their hands… The strange thing about the event is its calm tone, its elaborate language, which seems to know our past better than we do. There are those who have speculated with his figure, is it the Angel of Death, is it God?
After completing the assignments, he decides to settle down, declaring that “this seems like a good place.” Fed up with his cryptic tone and ignoring him, John Marston curses him – many have cursed him before, he replies – and shoots up to three times. Both day, the strange man continues walking slowly, until he disappears into the undergrowth . In that same enclave, Beecher’s Hope, we will live our last days.
‘ Flowers for a lady ‘ is another one of those situations that Rockstar describes as a ‘random event’. An old man approaches us asking for help: to collect several flowers to make an anniversary bouquet to give his wife, who is waiting in the cabin, presumably angry with her husband. The old cabin is located on a quagmire, on the side of the stream. The flowers are hardly far from their destination.
Once collected and delivered, the wiry Billy West invites us into his woody abode. The old man delivers the flowers, placing them on the knees of the corpse of his mistress . He assures us that he liked them and that, after decades of marriage, he still retains that pubescent shyness, excusing his silence. It smells of putrefaction but not of sadness. The compliment of compliments and we as players feel that rejection of having been wasting time.
If we return several days later to that crazy shack we will be answered to an unspoken question: the old man lies a few meters away, floating on the river. His lungs full of silt and the house in absolute stillness, now home to native birds. His wife is not there. Light enters through the only window, taciturn and thick. And that’s it. A hidden micro-story, a lyrical exorcism. An eternal rest between so much unworthy death.
Thousands of players have missed all of this . I’m not saying it, those statistics say that only 17% of users have finished the game. Which raises a new question: what is the price of creating all this content? Is it worth creating? We have already seen that the human cost is terrible and can only be assumed by majors , by megalodons like Rockstar, with about 2,500 people on staff.
The RPG component has become the secret ingredient in all recipes, the bargaining chip that stretches the longevity of anything. Unfortunately, not all secondary schools are created equal and where Rockstar, CD Projekt, Obsidian or Arkane Studios (‘ Prey ‘, ‘Dishonored’) draw the lines of a rich and living world, others are limited to procedurally generated random contracts .
Anyway, the Rockstar formula seems the ideal strategy to present accessory material without overwhelming, without awakening that anxiety that those of us who need to “clean the map of icons” have. Just take a look at the new ‘Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’, where the levels have been replaced by an item-based skill tree, the settlements help us to develop a certain emotional bond with our progress and the secondary ones have died in favor of encounters punctual.
When I saw that leading a drunken warrior to his checkpoint was over, plain and simple, I felt an inexplicable calm. Another no-draft side mission grants you the ultimate goal: for a kitten to stay on your boat . Ubisoft seems to have learned a lesson that drunk maps of colored icons are not the best solution for those of us bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder in gaming.
A few days ago it was news that one of the developers of ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ had played 175 hours and still had a lot to complete. Seven and a half days living inside Night City. Few seem to me, knowing how these Poles spend them.