Over the weekend, I beat the main story in 2010's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and got to work on side missions. The series had always featured various minigames used to unlock helpful NPC's or other rewards, and this edition adds some optional missions with chase sequences and vehicles that rival its main storyline. However, alongside these major undertakings are less elaborate outings that feel remarkably like the kill ten rats quest.
Unlike the optional plot-related missions, side missions for the thieves, courtesans, and assassins of Rome occur in the regular game world of the city proper. There is a brief load screen as the appropriate NPC's spawn, but you are otherwise free to wander around and collect other things - Borgia flags, treasure, building deeds - on your way across town. The other thing that set them apart in my mind was that they are less like unrelated minigames - e.g. the rooftop footrace against the clock - and more about the game's regular activities - sneaking around, stealing, and, yes, assassinating bad guys. Perhaps this has all always been there, but grinding out the last few percent completion needed to unlock the last story scene made me realize that this single player game basically includes the core of modern MMO's - and arguably as well or better than many MMO's themselves do.
(Aside: It occurs to me that I'm fine for now playing with a sleeping infant resting on my shoulder, but at some point I may need to consider not playing these games in front of my daughter. I'm not especially worried that she will grow into a Dexter-style serial killer who believes in killing people so long as they are bad. I'm marginally worried that seeing Assassins attempt to climb buildings will exacerbate the likely inevitable urge to climb household furniture. Also, perhaps most likely, I'm not sure if I need my first parent teacher conference to be about why my kid thinks George Washington enlisted the help of an elite order of Assassins to combat the Templar menace on both sides of the Revolution.)
One of the things that struck me about Smedley's own DC Universe Online - curious how his product failed to appear on his list of recent MMO's that peaked and dropped after launch - was how its closest competitors were in many ways console superhero games, rather than other online offerings. Single player games are getting larger and more elaborate in ways that erode some of the advantages of scope that larger virtual worlds once enjoyed. Moreover, the need to free up time for some more in-depth action sequences on the core storyline has created the same pressure for "filler" quests that utilize the existing engine and world. It's going to be interesting to see how these two types of games continue to collide.