I Love Achievements, I Hate Achievements

Lightning strikes: they hurt. A lot.

It is a good feeling to complete a game, the sweaty fingers tightly gripping the joypad as you hope that special ability your character just let loose will be the one to finally eat away at the big bad boss’ health bar. The frantic dashing about as, with his death impending, the boss throws everything it has at you. Then it happens, the screen blacks out for a second and the cut-scene begins…you did it! A warm afterglow filters through your body; after 8-12 hours of foreplay, the game finally gives you satisfaction. Yeah okay, so its been a year or two…

Times are changing though. No longer is it about just finishing the story or campaign, or levelling up, or winning the deathmatch. Now you need to claim all of the achievements too, after all, that is when it is really completed, right?

Achievements come in all shapes and sizes, with varying levels of difficulty to obtain and, just like a box of chocolates, “you never know what you’re gonna get”. I spent 8 hours on Terminator Salvation to get 1000G, yet Blue Dragon at over 200 hours for a depressing 360G. Titles such as Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, Final Fantasy or JRPG’s as they are collectively known are generally the worst offenders for the grinding and collecting achievements in my experience.  They not only require the levelling of all characters and abilities to the max (usually about 200 hours extra grinding more than the main storyline lasts), but also collecting everything possible to collect in the game. It’s almost as much work as levelling a character in an MMO!

Don't do it! We've all been to that dark 'flagspace'

Now, whilst most people enjoy a little treasure hunting, devoting hours on end or getting near the end of an 80 hour story just to realise the one missing collectible was only obtainable on the 3rd chapter is soul destroying. Likewise collecting 420 flags was a little overkill by Assassin’s Creed developers on the collection front.  With the choice now afforded to gamers in both the range of releases to choose from, as well as options on gaming platforms, the days are dwindling when I would spend weeks on a game like in days of yore. I played Elite and Wing Commander almost daily for significant lengths of time. Other than World of Warcraft (which is now relegated to my gaming past) I haven’t spent a month on a game or revisited a game after completion more than 3 times in a very long time. Mass Effect 2 will be the first where, having gained all of the achievements previously, it is a playthrough purely for the enjoyment of the game with no other achievement hunting purpose.

I don’t think achievements are to blame for lack of game replayability per se, I was heading that way before the Xbox360 brought about the revolution, but it certainly hasn’t encouraged a return to ‘completed’ games. When I complete a game there are usually two or three more out there I’d like to get my hands on. That in turn fuels new achievements and then replaying old games feels like I am not gaining anything.

When once I’d play games for the thrill of enjoying the game, it became an achievement hunt, especially with collectible achievements where I found myself playing a game via a guide and really not playing the game at all in the way it was intended. There are a few exceptions as always – Alan Wake was a straight playthrough for example, but I haven’t actually gone back to it to collect all of the pages. 6 months previously I probably would have, but I have recently come to a revelation regarding achievements. Basically, “I want my fun back”.

I find collections dull, it is rare that they actually add anything to the game – Assassin’s Creed’s flags being a prime example. I have my own collection puzzles when I try to locate my recently washed underpants in the bomb-site that is my living room, I don’t want to waste my weekends frustrated because a developer thought it’d be hilarious to place an object somewhere that can only be seen from one specific location when it’s midnight and a badger is in your inventory. I play games for the escapism, to get sucked into an alternate world where my actions mean something. I want to get whisked away from getting angry at the rise in Council Tax, VAT and fuel or sitting at a desk, mind-numbingly bored or disinterested in the job at hand for 38.5 hours a week. Unfortunately, with the advent of the Xbox360, achievement fever took grip and gaming became tethered to my reality. I had to get a better gamerscore, I had to complete the games, even if they were rubbish; I worked from a guide or something else that destroyed the magic of gaming. As soon as achievements became the sole purpose of playing I lost my way. Now though, I have my fun back.

Gordon threw a bitchspaz when he discovered that his hovelmates had erased the X-Factor final from the Sky box.

I know what you may be thinking, “Oh another achievement hater”, well actually no because achievements have brought about some great things too. I’m now a lot more open to co-op modes. I’ve never really liked player vs player and so I generally stayed within the comfy walls of solitude, taking my hero up against the forces of evil on his lonesome. But thanks to great games like Rainbow 6 Vegas, Gears of War and Borderlands, teaming up has never been more fun. Initially co-op was just a way to get achievements, but now I’d drop any game for a bit of Horde or a co-op playthrough because its just good fun. As most of my childhood gamer friends have spread themselves around the UK, the Sunday evening horde sessions became the equivalent of our nights out at the local boozer.

It has to be said that achievements have been the cause of many email conversations in our group and the source of rivalry and banter as well as some astonishing feats of gamer prowess and determination. Nothing has yet beaten the look on my friends’ faces as my brother aced the Veteran difficulty CoD4 plane level to get a couple of them the ‘mile high’ achievement. Jaws were dropped, almost as if Kate Beckinsale or Gemma Atkinson had just wandered into the room naked. Likewise, four of us held down a horde marathon for almost 24 hours to get our Gears of War 2 level 100 achievement. Naturally, the following weekend Epic announced another XP bonanza, but I didn’t care, it was a great weekend with exhilarating highs and soul-crushing lows – a true gaming roller coaster.

Maybe I am a spoilt gamer. Games have been getting easier, relatively speaking, for a while. Back in the day there were rarely save points. If you died, it was game over.  No restart from checkpoint an unlimited amount of times. But at the same time, the level of complexity and AI back then didn’t offer up the challenge you get today. I certainly didn’t remember the Goomba circling around Mario and looking for a flanking manoeuvre or Mario requiring a fast moving quick time event or 8-button combo to defeat Bowser. Obviously I am exaggerating a little, but you get my point.

As I said earlier, not all achievements are created equal and my most hated of achievements are the non-achievements. Those that require nothing to unlock. Microsoft Games Room issues 5G on the first time you enter. This permanently added 5G to my gamer score. 5/1000G instantly, meaning that, unlike most games which you can turn off with disgust before it taints your profile with a pitifully low score, it was there forever, unable to be removed. It instantly messed up the gamerscore/completed game ratio and caused completionists everywhere to cry out in pain and anger, much like when Vader destroyed Alderaan. Likewise, achievements such as ‘reading the credits’ are just insults. They require no effort. I have no place for gimmick achievements in my perfect gaming world.

Achievements when done well are excellent at adding longevity to good games. Dragon Age: Origins for example has achievements for taking various factions sides, encouraging a different track through the story.  One that I much prefer to the Fallout 3/Mass Effect 1 method of reaching level X with good/bad persona, etc. Playing a game just to be nasty is less fun than playing how you’d like your character to act but taking a different path through the story, being rewarded for the choices made at forks in the road rather than how you acted in those situations.

Multiplayer is another bugbear of mine. Naturally, not liking competetive multiplayer, I’m an obvious spot on the rare occasions I do venture into player vs player environments. I find myself either muting the TV, making a party of 1 or getting killed every 3 seconds because I was in the menus blocking and muting every player that is hurling abuse and generally being a **** (what I did there was allow you to place your own rude word into the fray. This article just got interactive!). The animosity coupled with the volume of games/wins required to obtain the achievements just makes it the worst gaming experience possible. There is also the time factor. Wait too long on an unpopular game to get online and there is no-one to do battle with (Blood Bowl on 360 for example), or even worse, the publisher/developer pulls the plug (LOTR: Conquest – a shameful act on EA’s behalf there). This makes those games impossible to complete and, in my opinion, shows a very poor implementation of achievements.

The robotic equivalent of destroyed shuttlecocks...not quite what Skynet had in mind

But before I get too deep into foaming at the mouth, Daily Fail levels of anger and hatred, I’ll move onto the conclusion. I both love and hate achievements. They add a great value to a lot of games, enhancing the experience and encouraging players to break their usual mould and really explore the various game modes or worlds inside the games. Equally they can cause frustration, anger and just plain suck the fun from a game. Arguably we are replacing the singular ecstasy of completing a game with a whole bunch of mini-highs.

Achievements are ever-changing and evolving and good developers are learning the best ways to inject achievements to enhance the gaming experience, not distract the player or cheapen the immersion into the games universe.

Last five articles by Stu



  1. Michael Author says:

    For the most part, I love achievements. But I can see what you are saying. As an achievement whore, I find myself playing through some really fun games so many times, they actually become boring, all because I kept missing the chance to get one achievement. And then when I finally get said achievement, I ask myself, was it really worth the hassle?

  2. Richie rich says:

    I just maxed out Virtua Fighter 5. The majority of that is winning 1200+ fights against the AI. At this point I’m broken.

    That said, achievements are king. If they carry over gamerscore to the next Xbox, the PS4 won’t get a look in.

  3. Splicer261 says:

    i’m an ex achievement whore. i washed my hands off that life and now i’m trying to enjoy games..but no..NOO!! the former life is calling out to me

    I’m slowly going back to my whoring days..damn you MIcrosoft, my pimp daddy!

    Great article and i do wish more developers took the time to put some thought into their achievements (i’m looking at you EA with your fight night achievements!).

    Achievements should enhance the experience and a clear example for me was Call of Duty 2, if it wasn’t for the achievements i would’ve never played that game on Veteran mode..and man, did it enhance the experience. I now refuse to play a COD game without it on veteran mode..it just made the game so immersive.

    i do disagree with jrpgs being the worst contenders for achievements though, jprgs have always contained side stories and hidden quests, you can’t beat certain of these bosses without being levelled up and accessing the ultimate weapons. The achievements simply prove you did it, but then again my view could be biased as i love JRPGS

    But online multiplayer achievements? yeah they are a bane, especially the ones where you have to play 100,000 matches on ranked! (F U epic! no no..i lub you). It doesn’t add anything, and to an achievement whore, it’s like being forced to do something they don’t want lol

  4. Jimmy says:

    I’ll be happy if all collection achievements die in a fire. GTA4 had 200 god-damn pigeons. 200! – Nobody in their right mind could find all 200 naturally – without a guide unless you played that game 24/7. It’s the cheapest way to artificially lengthen a game.

    Also multiplayer achievements need to die – too many variables can make some near impossible to achieve.

  5. FC360 says:

    I don’t really care for Gamerscore and achievements, well apart from recently where I want to complete Harry Potter and the order of the phoenix and get all achievements but there is 1 that I know I won’t be getting anytime soon so not really bothered about that. I actually find the announcement that appears saying you unlocked this achievement press the Xbox button to see it, although please note if your in a multiplayer game you will probably end up killed, sorry went a bit of topic there. I do like finding things like finding all chess pieces or something like that, makes me play the game longer and I always have fun screaming at the screen telling the ppl blocking the way to move out the way before I hit them with a flipendo spell. Sorry I’ve been playing way to much Harry Potter recently.

  6. Rook says:

    I have found achievements had added more life to my games and I know replay the games on higher difficulties to unlock achievements. I would never have played any COD game on Veteran if it wasn’t for the achievements. And as others have mentioned I’m not a fan of online achievements either. I like playing the games my way and at my own pace; I don’t wnt to play and win x amount of matches on every multiplayer map and/or gametype. COD4 did it best I think with giving you the ability to max the game through single player and reward multiplater with perks and weapons; rewards that you could use in multiplayer.

    I do enjoy getting achievements and building my gamerscore, I just don’t like what you have to do for some.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    I’m one of the pro-achievement crowd, but I couldn’t agree more with Jimmy – fire would be too good for collectathons. Those Assassin’s Creed flags still hurt. I dread going back to the Saboteur for ALL of those targets to take out. *frazzle*

    This was a well written and superbly reasoned piece, Stu. The balance between grabbing cheevs and actually making sure that you enjoy the game is a tough one. Bad achievements never help, but I think these days, devs are becoming a touch more sensible…none of this cruel Bullet Witch nonsense for 1gs for example. Though saying that, this sort of stuff will likely never die out completely, not while these points can bring longevity to an otherwise excruciating title.

    It is odd though, that persuing achievements can actually help you (or me at least) to see a game in a better light. I was pissed off by the problems in Fairytale Fights for example, but after a long slog, battering it for the various achievements, I began to appreciate it a lot more and eventually fell in love with it, despite the flaws (granted, after it was patched).

  8. Edward Edward says:

    A great article.
    It’s a weird balance, as some games can have ones that encourage you to explore the world more without having to grind like fuck (Fallout 3), but some are filled with retarded collectathons when that trope should have died out with the N64 era (Prince of Persia ’08, Assassin’s Creed).
    I don’t whore, but I tend to go after achievements I can reasonably get without having to spend way too much time on it. Like the Modern Warfare games, all I’m missing are the Intel achievements (and Mile High), but to go get them and max the game out would just be too much effort I could spent playing another game instead.

  9. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with Achievements… I hate them, and I love that I hate them. If I think a game is absolutely kick ass and the achievements are such that I could get them all on one playthrough then I’d seriously consider maxing them out, like I did with Two Worlds and Borderlands… but as soon as they’re based on reaching a particular level with a particular status (like Fallout 3) or they’re based on completing all the quests, some of which are closed off if you make particular decisions (like Fallout New Vegas) then I immediately lose interest. I adore both of the recent Fallout games but there’s no way I’m going to go back and play through them both several times JUST to get achievements.

    Also, grinding achievements are a pain in the arse… adored Borderlands but having to just keep going around the same circuit in the Claptrap DLC just to pick up the oil cans and bobbleheads was a real pain. There was no fun involved, just running around shooting for christ knows how long… also the “Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains” achievement in Borderlands was shit.

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