Side quests in Star Wars: The Old Republic don't get much love. People complain that they get repetitive quickly, and others even claim that they are outright dumb. Last year Syp even made a post to suggest that they should be removed from the game entirely. Yikes! It's funny that people clamour for MMOs with more "worldly" aspects to them, but at the same time campaign to have everything removed that doesn't personally entertain them.
Time for some facts: It's true that doing the same quests over and over again gets boring, but it has never been necessary to do all the side missions on every character. You can go back to my levelling diary from launch and read about how I skipped several planets pretty much entirely on my first playthrough. No, just doing your class story wasn't going to do it at the time, but there were always options in terms of where to get that extra XP. If you decided to follow the exact same path on every alt, that's entirely on you. (My personal pet theory is that many of the complaints about repetitive side quests originated from players who couldn't decide on a class, kept rerolling, and therefore burnt themselves out on the starter experience in weeks.)
And if you consider the side quests "dumb", I can't help but wonder if you space-barred through all the conversations and focused on nothing but your quest tracker. No, killing x space baddies isn't revolutionary, but it isn't the point either. The point is the world-building done by the dialogue.
When it comes to Bartle types, I score about equally high as explorer and as socialiser. Some people think that being an explorer in an MMO means that all you ever want to do is wander towards the horizon and see new lands, but there are more things to explore than geography, and for me the background and the lore are one focus. I'm not usually someone to read huge walls of texts about lore, mind you, but I love it when the NPCs around me bring the world to life naturally, and that's exactly what SWTOR's side quests do. It seems quite appropriate that they were officially renamed to "exploration missions" in 4.0.
Let's take this one from Ord Mantell for example. No, the task of fetching two holodiscs by itself is not very exciting, but within the space of only a few minutes we get: insight into the tension between loyal civilians and the local military, the story of someone who decided to convert to the side of the separatists, and a taste of how the duration of the conflict as well as just spending too much time being exposed to this kind of thing can emotionally harden someone. Personally I also think that Lamalla is kind of funny.
On my Cathar trooper on the Ebon Hawk I decided to do all the side quests again for a change, and it really adds so much context to everything. How much do you really learn about Coruscant during your class story, no matter which one? Generally speaking, you tend to be too focused on your main objective to pay too much attention to the kind of scenery you're running through. Also, in a somewhat bizarre move (in my opinion), Bioware has decided to label the Black Bisector storyline as Coruscant's main planetary arc in 4.0... Don't get me wrong, I like these quests very much, but I would have thought that the stuff with the senators and the gangs would have been more relevant. Because yes, there is a lot going on: popular senators conspiring with gang leaders, Coruscant security being overwhelmed on all fronts, vigilantes deciding to claim whole sectors for themselves, infrastructure breaking down, and so on and so forth. Plus, some of it is just plain fun. How cool is it to help out a struggling security officer by sending a known thug off to jail with a simple wave of the hand?
Same thing on Taris. Funny thing, I never liked that planet much, and I can't help but wonder if that's at least in part due to me skipping most of its content at launch. During my brief visit to progress my class story, my main impression was that it was an icky swamp full of rakghouls, a type of mob that was simply annoying.
But when you listen to all the dialogue in the side quests, there is so much more going on: conflicts between old and new settlers, official recovery programmes clashing with greedy scavengers, and all kinds of exciting discoveries, such as that the Tarisian government decided to freeze itself to survive the bombardment, or the sad story of the refugees who built up a primitive society of their own underground after everyone else had been wiped out, until their offspring became infertile from radiation poisoning. There's more to the rakghouls as well: they may at least have some semblance of sentience...
... oh, and some of them have learned to use the Force. OK, I always thought that particular story idea was a bit dumb, but I figured there were only so many ways they could think of to make rakghouls more interesting.
The point is that a lot of what makes the planets in SWTOR interesting places to be comes from the side quests. I'm actually really excited about redoing all of those exploration missions now after skipping most of them on my more recent Republic alts and dealing with the single-mindedness of the KotFE storyline. (Chapters ten and eleven have tried to give a bit of background about the civilian population of Zakuul, but it's still quite thin compared to what could have been done with some simple side missions.)
Do you have any favourite exploration missions? I might do a "top ten" or something eventually...