During my holiday travels, I’ve been messing around with the Switch port of The Witcher 3, partly out of morbid curiosity and partly because I’ve never actually played its two expansions. Much like the Complete Editions on other platforms, the Switcher lets you jump straight to the DLC by generating a save in which the main quest is over, but the sidequests are undone. When I saw this option, I blinked for a minute, and then thought: Every big game should do this.
Lately I’ve been getting more into side quests, otherwise known as going Full Totilo. It’s the result of something a colleague of mine said during a discussion of Yakuza 0. He compared big, open-world games to magazines, with their main quest as the big cover story, and then an assortment of articles of all types and lengths throughout. Crucially, he argued, you’re not really meant to read a magazine cover to cover. You flip through and sample, read what interests you.
Most games, however, don’t offer a full menu of activities from the jump. You play through the story, which gradually opens more of the game up, like spokes radiating outward from big plot beats that function as hubs. There are a whole host of reasons why games are built this way: people work hard on video games and generally want you to experience them a certain way. I get it! I’m just saying it would be neat to open things up a bit, just for giggles and ha-has.
That’s what Witcher 3's complete edition does. If you want to skip the main quest and get into the DLC, it will generate a save where the main quest is finished and Geralt is boosted to level 32. This is ostensibly for you to start the DLC right away, which is for high-level characters and can’t be started at level 1. But the save also leaves all of the main game’s sidequests undone, there for you to take on if you like. To me, having all these sidequests ready for me any time I like is the main draw of this mode.
Yes, I have my original copy of The Witcher 3 and its save game happily chilling on my PlayStation 4, and have no intention of deleting it. It’ll stay there because, even after the main story, there’s so much good stuff left to do. But what if something happens to that copy or save file? What if something happens to my PS4? Or I can only replace it with an Xbox One someone gave me? If I get The Witcher 3 Complete Edition, I can still keep playing! I won’t have all my stuff, sure, but I can still go hunt that ghost in Novigrad I was thinking about doing on my original save. Or I can go off and do some other sidequests I was thinking about doing some other time. The game becomes a collection of short stories to flip through, and I love that about it.
A lot of games open up this way after completing their main story, and while I always appreciate that, I’d like it more if I had the opportunity to do that from the menu screen. Sometime over the last five years, I lost my Arkham Knight save. I’d love to just go back to a post-game state and just solve some Riddler puzzles, but I can’t imagine playing through the whole main story again just to do that. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish Grand Theft Auto V, but I’d love a version of that game – or Red Dead Redemption 2 – that just lets you boot up a save where every sidequest is there for you to immediately launch into, without having to go through the story missions necessary to unlock them. There are several Assassin’s Creed games that I will never attempt to finish, but a save where all the sidequests are open and I can play a bunch of weird side stories throughout history? I’m down.
Self-directed games – think MMOs and the games inspired by them, or Bethesda games – are already pretty good at this, mostly because they are designed to accommodate players who don’t really care for the main quest. They also overwhelm. It’s neat that I can start up a second Warframe character and go in a completely different direction than the first, but I also don’t want that staggering amount of options sometimes! Instead, I want the well-crafted authored feel of an open-world game, in bite-size chunks I can enjoy at my leisure. Enough people already ignore many sidequests as it is, so let’s show some love to the people who want them as the main event. In fact, let’s cater to me, specifically, so I can do that Jack the Ripper mission in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and literally nothing else.