Most developers in the industry will attest to the fact that it’s very hard to “find the fun” in gameplay while creating games- and while most of that obviously comes from the mechanics, almost equally as important is how those mechanics are used. Oftentimes, games stumble in this area, and end up presenting players with objectives that just aren’t enjoyable in the slightest, for one reason or the other. Here, we’re going to talk about a few such objective types.
Makes sense to start with the obvious stuff, right? Fetch quests are the very definition of cookie cutter- they’re the lowest of the low, the most inane and meaningless, and as such, the most unengaging kind of quest we can find in a game. And yet, they’re so ubiquitous. MMOs live and die by their fetch quests, of course, but even in single player games, we see more than a few examples of these. And sure, it’s not impossible to make a good fetch quest- with the right contextualization, it’s certainly possible. The Witcher 3 has a couple of good fetch quests, for instance. But those are, sadly, rare examples- exceptions to the rule, so to speak, the rule being that fetch quests categorically suck.
The age-old bane of most people who have enjoyed video games in their life, escort quests are, more often than not, an absolute nightmare. Because the last thing you want to do when playing a game is end up having to take care of another person who, annoyingly enough, is completely incompetent and totally incapable of taking care of themselves in even the most fundamental ways. Resident Evil 4’s Ashley sections are an infamous example, of course, as is the Metal Gear Solid 2 part where you have to escort Emma. And again, it’s not like escort quests are impossible to get right- The Last of Us and Ico are both basically Escort Mission: The Game- but more often than note, developers don’t seem to understand why players hate escort missions so much.
Another easy pick. Like fetch quests, collectathons seem to be a darling of developers in the industry- they’re everywhere. And they’re almost never fun. Well, they can be sort of fun in small doses, but more often than not, they don’t come in very small doses. Shooting all the pigeons in Grand Theft Auto 4, collecting all the bags in Marvel’s Spider-Man, collecting a ridiculous number of Riddler Trophies in the Arkham games, and worst of all, collecting 900 Korok seeds in Breath of the Wild, only to literally be rewarded with an actual piece of crap… yeah, we’d be perfectly fine with never having to go through a collectathon quest in a game ever again.
Video games sure do love their tailing missions, and it’s just so hard to understand why- they’re complete pace-killers. When all you have to do is literally just walk behind a character really slowly for minutes on end, you’re doing the opposite of having fun. Arbitrary restrictions on how much distance you can or cannot put between you and that character just make the whole affair that much more annoying. Objectives and quests in video games should be leveraged to highlight a game’s best mechanics- and walking is hardly ever a good central mechanic (unless the game is Death Stranding, I guess).
Timed missions can be a lot of fun when done right. They inject an added layer of tension, and in turn demand mastery of the game’s systems- but so often, they’re just a nuisance. They don’t add much of value, and either seek to add artificial challenge, or just serve no purpose whatsoever. A recent example is Marvel’s Spider-Man, which had several side activities that imposed time limits. Or, you know, any number of shooters that task you with doing certain things within a strict time limit.
When pulled off properly, a chase mission can be the highlight of a game- the Uncharted series has done it time and time again. But chase missions are clearly tricky to implement, and we’ve seen multiple examples of that over the years as well. The problem comes when games get too restrictive with these, when they require you to do very specific things at very specific times- and if you don’t, well, that’s game over then. Try it again, from the top. Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption and many other major franchises have been guilty of this over the years.
You saw this one coming, right? There isn’t a single person out there who has, at least at one point in their life, not groaned at having to go through a water level in a game. This doesn’t mean that any level or objective type with water in it is bad (if that were true, excellent games like Sea of Thieves wouldn’t be, well, excellent)- but more than a few times over the decades, we’ve seen games forcing water levels on players with some pretty bad results.
There’s nothing quite like a good stealth game (especially in today’s day and age, where stealth games have become increasingly rare). But on the flipside, there’s also nothing quite as bad as forced stealth sections in games where they just don’t belong. There’s an overabundance of non-stealth games that have been guilty of forcing players into insta-fail stealth scenarios, and without fail, it is always incredibly annoying (if we’re being mild about it). Take The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for instance- an absolutely stellar game, right? But that Yiga Clan hideout section? Probably the worst thing a mainline Zelda game has ever done. Yes, worse than Fi.
PROTECT THE CIRCLE
An overused trope that we have seen more and more of as time has gone on. The game highlights a certain part of the ground in front of you, tells you to remain within that area, and tasks you with defending it against constant waves of enemies until an invisible timer runs out. Fighting against waves of enemies in timed gauntlet challenges can be a ton of fun, but when you restrict something like that to an extremely small area that you absolutely shouldn’t get out of? That’s just an unnecessary restriction. Marvel’s Avengers is full of missions like this, but it’s by no means the only game that does this kind of thing.
“MOVE SLOWLY OR YOU’LL EXPLODE”
This one’s a bit more specific than other things that we’ve spoken about in this feature, and as such, a lot less widespread- but just as annoying. “Move super slowly,” the game tells you, “or this extremely volatile bomb or substance you’re carrying will explode and you’ll die.” This, or some variation of this, pops up in games every now and then, and it’s just baffling each time. Because the hook of these objectives it to… walk real slow? Resident Evil 1 does this thing pretty much word for word, where you’re tasked with carrying a bomb from one end of an area to another while moving extremely slowly and navigating past enemies- oh, and to make matters worse, you can’t even fire your weapons.