Bars, pubs, cinemas, and restaurants are back open, in some capacity, and with this lots of folk are back to work. Getting told to do seemingly random shit for little-to-no thanks – this is something that some gamers love doing in the virtual world.
A fetch quest is a quest or side-quest which sends you across the map, chasing some MacGuffin (a random item which only exists to further the story) – that’s if you’re lucky. You fetch it, you bring it back, and that’s it. These quests usually function to let the player see the world, and check out some set pieces. In the grand scheme of things, leaving some of these missions incomplete will not impact your enjoyment of the game at all. Big, large -scale RPGs, or games that use lots of those game mechanics are often the worst offenders in getting it wrong.
As with real world jobs, some games make it easier to do these little quests – sometimes they’re a great way to explore the world and spend time in the game, sometimes not so much. Dragon Age Inquisition was rife with quests that amounted to the general ‘get five fantasy metal, five fantasy cloth, and kill two monsters’. This turned what could easily be a 30-hour, tight, fantasy RPG, into a huge sprawling chore. But hey, this game has so many quests.
Other games have the fetch quest down to a fine art; take Stardew Valley for example, which is made up almost entirely of busy work. While there is obviously a farming system in the game, and a dungeon-crawling combat section, all of these mechanics work towards ticking boxes and filling up bundles.
Stardew Valley does a good job of making these tasks fun: if you go and make a gold bar for Clint, the town’s blacksmith, he will appreciate it, pay you, and possibly send you a recipe for an item to help on your farm. Sweet – it’s nice to be appreciated.
If you fill one of the bundles in the community centre you will receive a gift. If you fill each bundle, a bridge will be repaired, or a bus will get fixed, which opens up whole new sections of the game. Here fetch quests expand the game as a whole, not just giving you an item incrementally better than one you already have.
Stardew Valley turns the agency of fetch quests on its head, making them the key way in which the game progresses, which completely flips around the expected way these work in games.
This idea of improving quality of life for the player and actually furthering the game is what is usually missed with the worst in fetch quests; they waste the players time, eating up time and giving you nothing in return.
Animal Crossing for example does fetch quests the right way – it makes use of these to allow you further your own experience on the island and let you do more to suit it towards yourself – it is a means to an end.
Skyrim makes use of them to show you parts of the world. For example, when you head to Bleak Falls Barrow to grab the Golden Claw which functionally kicks off the main quest, and can be picked up at the first village the game leads you to, this furthers the whole game. But when the scripted quests have been used up you begin to get randomly generated chores, which have so much less depth. You end up repeatedly going somewhere, killing some dudes, collecting something, and heading back to where you started.
I suppose, in a way, my considering these thoughts on fetch quests is just a way to distract myself while doing the kind of busy work now expected of me going back to the service industry. Funny, that.
No matter how pointless it can feel, you do them because you enjoy playing the game, inhabiting a world which brings you joy and distracts you from the woes of modern life. This is why we are happy to fetch and walk in games; because we do enjoy them – isn’t escapism what video games are kind of about?
Finding a good comfy game to sink into and just enjoy is a great feeling, and realising there’s plenty more content to get into can be like hitting a gold mine. Play games you enjoy, and soak them in as much as you can, cause even a padded-out game is better than a good day at work.