Side quests are an important element in role-playing games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Final Fantasy XV. These games use side quests to fill out the game, making up the bulk of the content and giving the world more life outside of the main characters and plot.
But between these two games, one uses side quests to display a living, breathing world ripe for exploration and discovery, while the other uses them for padding. This is because each takes a different approach to side quests and what purpose they serve for the overall game.
Final Fantasy XV‘s side quests more often than not are structured in a very simple manner. You’ll encounter an NPC, who informs you of something they are interested in, then gain a marker that leads to the local tipster. The tipster marks the new quest location on the map, and the quest begins. The quests, at their core, can be boiled down to either kill quests or fetch quests, which isn’t too different from most side quests in any game. But where FFXV runs into issues is that the quests are all very simple missions. After a few missions either killing, fetching or (on occasion) collecting what is asked for, quests become repetitive and not worth the gils or new item you receive from completing them.
The Witcher 3 approaches its side quests differently. Each of The Witcher‘s side quests feel vastly different from each other, and, while they can also be boiled down to a series of fetch, kill or delivery quests, as a whole, they become something much more. A side quest in The Witcher starts similarly, with the player speaking to an NPC and learning new information, but instead of being sent on a simple quest, they’ll have to do some investigating to figure out what needs to be done. Players will have to explore the area, gather more information and speak to new NPCs before being met with a dilemma and having to make a choice.
This formula can contain fetch or kill quests within them, but there’s a coherent narrative here. This prevents side quests from becoming repetitive, as each one feels different and more involved. There are often item rewards for completing side quests, but the real reward for completing them has to do with the story and new developments players will get to witness.
This is the fundamental difference between the side quests in the two games. In one, side quests are only there to give players something to do, like grinding for XP. In the other, these missions contribute to the story outside of the main plot. FFXV‘s side quests end up feeling like inconsequential errands for Noctis to complete between plot events, while The Witcher‘s feel like a game of its own, becoming memorable occurrences on Geralt’s journey towards his main destinations.
This is why The Witcher 3‘s world feels so alive and real in contrast with FFXV‘s empty-feeling one. Its side quests actively contribute to the lore and worldbuilding of the towns and cities Geralt visits, giving life to its NPCs and making it feel like a place that exists beyond what the player sees. Many side quests also expand on Geralt’s character and gives the player context that adds to the main story. These additional tasks aren’t divorced from the rest of the game as if they were only put in to give the player something to do. The choices you make in side quests have tangible and lasting consequences, making them feel consequential and more than just a method for earning XP.
In Final Fantasy XV, choices rarely have any consequences or make a difference in story outcomes. It has a large, vibrant and beautiful world, but that same world is pretty hollow without any side stories to add life to it through lore or worldbuilding. A simple thing, like a quest to fix a wall to prevent monsters from entering a city, would have gone a long way towards making the world feel real and immersive.
In reality, most of the game’s cities don’t even have walls despite the dangerous monsters roaming outside. Little things like this, which could have vastly improved exploration in the game, are replaced by errands that help Noctis get better equipment or reach the next level. The main story itself is burdened with carrying the entire plot without any build up or context to help. Various important plot details are even relegated to paid DLC, a spin-off anime series and a feature film separate from the main game.
That content could have been incorporated into the game and fleshed out the vast world of Eos, but instead, Square Enix made it optional and excluded it from the main game. Without it, Final Fantasy XV fails at providing an open-world worth exploring. Future Final Fantasy titles, and open-world games in general, should take some lessons from The Witcher 3 on how to get side quests right.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Final Fantasy XV are two of the biggest open-world RPGs in recent years, but only one of them does side quests right.