Side Story Gaiden
Do you ever find yourself getting a little bit sidetracked in games? Some journey needs embarking on or some nefarious tyrant needs toppling, but you just can't summon up the interest to slog through the grand ordeal. On the other hand, helping this dude you met on the side of the road find his lost goat sounds pretty damn compelling.
Games like Chrono Trigger have awesome side stories that let you literally reshape the world just by checking out some stuff that's off the beaten path. Still, the journey to destroy Lavos was pretty epic itself. Instead, this week's Top 7 is dedicated to games with campaigns that couldn't help but be a little bit overshadowed by their tremendous side quests. Just make sure you read them all before you start the final mission, or else you're totally gonna miss out.
7. Mass Effect 3 - Citadel DLC
Lots of folks complained that the ending of Mass Effect 3 was too impersonal, that it boiled three games worth of choices and relationships down to a handful of color coded options. Whether you feel that way or not, you definitely can't say the same about Mass Effect 3's Citadel DLC, which adds a fairly involved side story concerning a plot to assassinate Commander Shepard. Fortunately, Shepard's made a bunch of friends along the way - and they're all quite happy to help him deal with his would-be killers.
That's not really the point of the sidequest, though - the point is that you get to throw a massive party at the end and invite everybody you've ever fought alongside (and hasn't been blown up/shot by Collectors/killed by Cerberus yet). It's cheesy, sappy, and fan-servicey, but it's exactly what you need to break up Mass Effect 3's apocalyptic despair. Plus, you can have a one-night stand with Vega and let him cook you breakfast in the morning. Turns out he's good for something other than coming up with shitty nicknames.
6. World of Warcraft - Tirion and Taelan Fordring
World of Warcraft is full of stories - literally, that game has about a bazillion quests, even if most aren't much more interesting than "bring me 10 murloc heads". But there are some seriously eye-opening events hidden in that huge pile-o-narrative, and my favorite is the sad tale of Tirion and Taelan Fordring.
For tragic reasons (those are kind of a theme with this guy) that I won't get into here, Tirion is banished from his home and family in Hearthglen. He stays nearby to watch his son Taelan (who thinks Tirion's dead) grow up and follow in his footprints as a paladin. Unfortunately, without his dear old dad to show him the ways of the world, Taelan joins the religious zealots of the Scarlet Crusade. That's where you come in - by collecting artifacts of Taelan's childhood, you can convince him that his father lives, allowing him to abandon the crusade and reunite with his long last pappy. Expecting this to end with a tearful reunion between father and son? Well, you're half right
5. Fallout 3 - Tenpenny Tower
There are so many different angles to consider about Tenpenny Tower that I'm still amazed it's entirely optional - just make sure you look for the tall (and oddly well preserved) skyscraper standing a few miles west of the ruins of Washington DC. Tenpenny Tower spins a subversive story of haves and have-nots in the nuclear apocalypse which makes the campaign to restore Project Purity seem one-dimensional.
Unlike almost everywhere else you go in the Capital Wasteland, the tower is pristinely maintained and reassuringly secure. That's because the owner only lets a select number of rich residents stay - even though there's enough clean water and electricity to house dozens more. A group of ghouls would like to see that policy changed, and helping them talk their way into the Tower seems like the obvious, goodie-two-shoes thing to do. Until you come back a few days later, at which point you'll find all the human residents gone. The ghoul leader mentions a "disagreement" and, oh yeah, don't worry about that rotten smell coming up from the basement. Whoops.
4. Batman: Arkham City - Riddler Trophies
The Riddler's always been a bit of a second-rate Batman villain. Unlike the Joker, the Penguin, and the other stars of the evil menagerie, he's more preoccupied with proving he's smarter than Batman (spoiler: he's not) than taking over Gotham. His endless schemes endanger some civilians here and there, but ol' Edward Nigma is usually as much of a threat to himself as he is to anybody else.
His talents finally get a fitting spotlight in Batman: Arkham City, where players can spend the entire game searching for hundreds of trophies that he's hidden in various nooks, crannies, death traps, and hostage situations around the chaotic streets and desolate buildings. You may think Arkham City is about taking down Dr. Strange's nefarious schemes for the city, but it's actually about collecting Riddler trophies. And when you finally get them all, you get to track down the Riddler and subject him to his one of his own sadistic schemes before taking him out. I'll take that over concept art any day.
3. Persona 4 - Social Links
If you try to play Persona 4 like an old-school JRPG, charging into a dungeon at every opportunity, grinding up your stats, and collecting all the Personas, you'll probably have a pretty awful time. It's all perfectly competent, but there just isn't enough to unravelling the mystery behind the Midnight Channel to keep you coming back for dozens of hours. What will really keep you playing are the Social Links.
Yeah, going out for steak skewers or attending basketball practice does come with a sort of XP system and some video gamey rewards. But that's not what makes Social Links fun. They're a surprisingly poignant metaphor - it's up to you how to spend the little time you have in Inaba (or in life, man) and you're going to get out what you put in. So let the next dungeon slide for a little while. It'll be there when you're ready for it. Until then, while away some afternoons hanging out with Yosuke and the gang.
2. Skyrim - Dark Brotherhood
The main quest of Skyrim is fine, if you like prodding at dragon corpses and getting wrapped up in the fictional politics of fantasy Swedes. But it still can't hold a candle to all the other crap you can do in that game, particularly the crowning non-critical path that culminates in the assassination of the emperor. Yup, the real emperor of Tamriel (though you do mistakenly kill his double first), not some podunk twerp who will be written off from the canon either way. But you've got to join the Dark Brotherhood if you want to do the deed.
Rising through the ranks of the brotherhood starts with taking a contract from a little boy to kill his cantankerous orphanage headmistress, and it only gets more twisted from there. You aren't just joining an order of assassins - the Dark Brotherhood has some seriously freaky stuff going on, of which you'll be well aware by the time you spend a night in a sarcophagus next to a shriveled, telepathic corpse. Y'gotta do what y'gotta do if you fancy some regicide.
1. Kafei and Anju - Majora's Mask
Majora's Mask is unlike any other Zelda game, partially because its main campaign is a bit more compact. While Ocarina of Time has eight huge dungeons between you and the credits screen, Majora's Mask only has four. But if you take the time to explore Termina and help out its many residents, this quest feels no less grand and yet immensely more intimate. After all, could you help a couple face the end of the world together in Ocarina of Time?
The process of reuniting Kafei and Anju is long and involved, requiring keen observation and multiple trips through the three-day cycle. Once you finally bring the young lovers back together, you're reminded that this is still just a side quest and the mad Moon is still going to destroy everything. There's no grand redemption through the power of love (even if it is tougher than diamonds and richer than cream), just the comfort of gazing into oblivion side by side. You want to shout at them to keep fighting, but it's midnight on the final day and there's nothing more to do but wait. It's sad, happy, frustrating, satisfying, and a more compelling conclusion than a thousand dead Ganons.
Those are some of my favorites, but video games have definitely made a habit of overshadowing their main stories with awesome offshoots. What side quests have kept you amused long after the thrill of the campaign wore off? Let me know in the comments!
Looking for more distraction? Check out 9 life or death situations that you can totally procrastinate on and 10 absurdly insane things NPCs do all the time.