Quest Failed: 6 Annoying Level Design Trends That Need to Stop

By | 2 years ago 

Even our favorite games have flaws. Whether you’re into games for the story, the gameplay, or the competition, you’re bound to run into some aggravating level design on occasion. These irritating missions are some of the worst offenders of poor level design, relying on tedious gameplay or outdated mechanics to progress the plot.

Escort Missions Are A Test of Patience

Helpless non-player characters (NPCs) are the bane of everyone’s existence. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to follow an incredibly slow NPC around and protect them from harm as they do absolutely nothing to help themselves. BioShock: Infinite‘s Elizabeth and The Last of Us‘ Ellie (for the most part) were a breath of fresh air in this sense—both were largely ignored by the AI enemies, allowing the player to focus on eliminating the enemies without worrying about the health bar of an inept NPC. But the trope lives on, especially in big-name MMOs like World of Warcraft, making players feel more like glorified nannies than heroes.

Timed Missions an Unwelcome Surprise 

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

Mass Effect 3‘s Priority: Tuchanka mission was timed, surprising (and infuriating) many gamers with its unexpected consequences. Image Source: crazydriver1420 via Flickr

Having five minutes to diffuse a bomb is one thing, but the sudden intrusion of timed missions with only vague in-game warnings can be incredibly frustrating. Sure, it’s more realistic that Commander Shepard doesn’t know that dawdling will kill half of their crew or destroy an entire planet, but from a gameplay perspective—particularly for the completionists—it’s an incredibly frustrating part of level design. While timed missions have their place, do they really belong in RPGs like Mass Effect, especially as a surprise? Let us complete quests at our own pace, please.

Gatling Gun Missions: Power Doesn’t Equal Fun

Red Dead Redemption Screenshot

Red Dead Redemption was a brilliant game on many levels, but its Gatling gun missions were tedious parts of otherwise wonderful level design. Image Source: jackfrost23 via

Mowing down hordes of enemies with a superpowered weapon is the ultimate power fantasy, right? Sure, for about thirty seconds. But far too many games ship with a Gatling gun level dedicated entirely to parking your character behind a fancy weapon (machine gun, plasma cannon, or other variations) while the enemies just keep coming. After a minute or so it goes from exciting to tedious as you slowly rotate the gun to mow down another wave, interrupting otherwise fun gameplay with sections that usually amount to holding down the right trigger for five minutes and moving the thumbstick.

Underwater Missions Almost as Much Fun as Drowning

Super Mario Bros. Screenshot

Super Mario Bros. didn’t have the worst underwater level design, but platforming and swimming rarely work well together. Image Source: stone_rooben via

Swimming was the most frustrating part of many early platforming games, particularly in the Super Mario Bros. series. It was frustrating back then to dodge enemies who seemed so much quicker and more coordinated than you were, but it’s even worse now. These days, we have to watch our health bar so we don’t drown while navigating three dimensions of water-based torture, often while trying to solve a puzzle or find a missing NPC. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty had a particularly egregious quest in which you had to escort Emma Emmerich, an NPC who is afraid of water, through a level filled with water, making it a doubly annoying task. Being tricky doesn’t always translate to being engaging, and that’s why so many underwater missions can’t keep their heads above water.

Gather Silly Objects In Pointless Fetch Quests

World of Warcraft Screenshot

While World of Warcraft might be a blast to play, it’s one of the worst offenders in assigning pointless fetch quests. Image Source: binaryfaerie via Flickr.

Fetch quests are a level design staple. An NPC is brewing a potion to save the village from a deadly and needs seventeen newt eyeballs, and, of course, you’re the only person who can gather them for some flimsy, story-convenient reason. So you head out to gather the newt eyeballs, only to find that, inexplicably, only half the newts you slaughter have eyeballs, and the ones that do only have one, despite the fact that their character models quite clearly have two. It’s silly to the point that games have even started addressing how silly it is in game, but still requiring you to do the quests. It’s frustrating and uninteresting method of gameplay, but it works and they keep appearing, as much a staple of the RPG genre as healers and chests of loot.

Confronting Your Mortality In The Unwinnable Battle

Bloodborne Screenshot

While you can certainly make a case for unwinnable battles in games like Bloodborne, they usually feel more like a cheap shot than a learning experience. Image Source: bagogames via Flickr

Loss is inevitable in a game. But intentional loss, particularly at the beginning of a game, is a cheap shot more than anything. Sure, it does something to humble the main character and show them that they might be out of their depth at first, and it eases you into the concept of death in games like Bloodborne. While it might have been an interesting twist at first, it’s now a tired trope that induces eyerolls more often than awe. Worse, when you happen to stumble into a particularly difficult battle early in a game and you lose, it’s all the more soul-crushing to find out that it was just a normal fight and not the game trying to impress the reality of your own mortality upon you.

What are your least favorite quest types?