Too Many Side Quests
When I purchased Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, I approached the game with a few assumptions. I expected to do a number of things related to climbing up tall towers and stabbing people in the face. I also expected a cryptic, byzantine plot involving Templars in a picturesque locale. And it has that… plus some fat on the side.
Along with the primary missions, I can run my own assassin office in which I deploy miscellaneous assassins throughout the Mediterranean. I can renovate the city, spending cash for the reward of extra incoming revenue. I can also collect little blips of fractured light called animus fragments. The Assassin’s Creed series has always had some sort of collectible item, and animus fragments are now the item of the day.
The side mission, unlike its primary brothers, can never truly be as well crafted. There’s just not enough time in the schedule for a developer to make amazing story missions and then still be able to detail the outer fringe of the game. Revelations puts too much weight into its diversions, making its lesser activities worth far too much.
On one hand I can choose to avoid playing Mediterranean management. It’s a mini-game presented in the style of a database, filtering all the numbers I need to be a successful handler. If I decide to skip out on this, what I really lose is the secondary Master Assassin missions, in which Ezio mentors his various pupils, of which are actually interesting.
I could also forget about renovating the city, of which this time around has become a slightly bigger pain. Every time a shop is renovated, it adds 25% to your notoriety. Buy too many shops, and you risk having to play a game of den defense, a tower defense reject that’s so poorly done it makes Final Fantasy VII’s appear playable. And then there’s the added revenue: in order to buy the better weapons and armor, you need money. In order to get money, you got to renovate a bank or two. Or ten. Or fifteen.
And then there’s the animus fragments. In previous Assassin’s Creed games I wandered around without caring about the collectible doodads (usually in the form of flags). This time they actually unlock something meaningful: Desmond’s story. But, in order to unlock the episodes, I have to run around and find them. And then, in order to experience Desmond’s history, I have to play through an awkward first person mode in which I make paths with blocks. This is why I bought an Assassin’s Creed game. To make paths with blocks.
A side quest should always be meaningful. It should add to the primary quest in a way that the main story arc could not. There have been a few games that have made a practice of attaching unnecessary, shallow side quests and making them near-requirements for playing through the game. The first two Saints Row games required playing its side missions in order to play any story mission. Mass Effect 2 required the tedious chore of scanning planets in order to acquire the resources necessary to achieve the best ending.
Do these thing really make the overall product better? Because if they don’t serve to make the game better, but rather exist as nothing but filler material, the delete key is always available.