Achievements That Aren’t

Before I start slinging my opinion like a Frisbee, I’d like to broaden the audience by stating if you’re in the ‘trophy’ camp, you can still indulge in this article. When reading, simply replace the word ‘achievement’ (in your mind) with the word ‘Trophy’. I hope you don’t mind doing a bit of work, because I don’t want to litter the article with a bunch of achievement/trophy text.  With a quick preface, I’ll simply say this: I like achievements. I’m well aware some people couldn’t care less about them, but I happen to enjoy the pursuit of these little awards.

I blame the compulsive game completionist tendencies I developed in my younger days. More often than not, I’m inclined (while I’m reclined) to wrangle up each and every one of the achievements for the games I particularly enjoy. Let me repeat that last part: …for the games I particularly enjoy. I’m not one of those nut-jobs that plays Barbie’s Fairy Princess Adventure to boost my Gamerscore. I care nothing for my score, it’s the completion of my favorite games that has a certain lure for me.

Now, on to the intended rambling. Upon glancing at the title of this piece, I’m sure many of you are thinking of the accused to which I’m about to point… accusatory fingers. For starters, it’s single player progression achievements. For the most part, I find achievements for finishing levels to be rather useless. Of course I’m going to finish the levels. I’m playing the game, aren’t I? To me these pop-ups only serve to let you know when you’ve finished a chapter. I can understand achievements for finishing the game and for doing so on the highest difficulty, but some games offer long and unimaginative lists of unlocks for finishing each level and then another string for each level in co-op or on harder settings.

Other games are guilty of handing out awards for doing absolutely nothing noteworthy. For instance, Soul Calibur IV had one for watching the intro cinematic. I’ve also read that a Simpsons game had one for pressing the start button. One game in particular I found overly generous with senseless honors was Prince of Persia (the cell-shaded one). By the time you finished the prologue, you already had four or five achievements just for following instructions in the tutorial.

While there’s a lengthy list of offenders for insignificant merits, there’s an equally generous supply of games that offer interesting, fun and challenging requirements. However, these achievements are usually only a handful mixed in with the standard level-based nonsense. Typically, the nuttier accolades in a game’s list offer more enjoyment than simply finishing a chapter. For me, the skill/planning/luck required  to meet the very specific demands of such achievements provide a nice distraction. In turn, I end up spending more time with the game and getting more bang for my buck. I’m also fond of those occasional gems you don’t even know how to obtain, but do so inadvertently by goofing around. It’s always nice to be rewarded for the stuff you do anyway.

At the other end of the spectrum, some developers take deviation from the standard a little too far and suggest you invest an inappropriate amount of time and effort to reach that virtual carrot. I’m sure Gears of War fans can easily think of a few examples of this, but what immediately begins to scratch its way out of my memory is Borderlands’ Robot Revolution DLC. I grew to loathe the search a buddy and I embarked on for those stupid pizza slices, 3D glasses, fish, bobbleheads and pairs of undies! Collectible-based achievements are okay sometimes, but randomly-occurring collectibles are okay… never.

Achievements that require extensive grinding are more of a chore than anything else. It’s like being blindfolded and throwing a hammer at a light bulb lying in your yard. No, you won’t be busting  it right away, but you will eventually. Will there be a sense of accomplishment when you hit it? Probably, but by then you’ll just be relieved you can quit throwing the hammer. I’m not sure where that analogy came from, but I like it.

Now I will take a brief stroll into the subject of multiplayer achievements. I know many despise even the idea of such tasks in their quests for game completion. I, on the other hand, rather like them (most of the time). In addition to the fun to be had in the online action, I enjoy having something to shoot for during said action. For me, it delays the burnout on a game that I might reach much sooner otherwise. However, multiplayer achievements are often churned out with the same bland flavoring of single player lists. You know what I’m talking about: “You have reached rank 5, 10, 15, 20…” etc. I prefer when developers go easy on the rank-based or ‘play on every map’ routines and offer something more interesting.

A recent example of what I like to see is the ‘Like A Boss’ achievement in Battlefield 3, which requires you to perform a roadkill with the skid loader (it’s a small construction vehicle – more commonly known as a ‘Bobcat’). What I find even more amusing than working on silly achievements like this one is when you spot others running around in pursuit of the same award.  Of course, it’s even more entertaining to foil their attempt with a rocket launcher and make them work harder next time.

Speaking of Battlefield 3, another favorite achievement of late was ‘Complete Warrior’. This little humdinger requires you to perform a jet kill, a tank kill and an assault rifle kill all in the same life. If you’re a Battlefield fan, you are familiar with the challenge that can accompany such a feat. Though it could be quite frustrating to get close and then have my success yanked away, deep down I still enjoyed working on it. After MANY  failed attempts, I had nearly given up on it until a later date. I actually became a decent jet pilot in the process, but it wasn’t until after I quit trying that I managed to make it to step three with time and tickets to spare. I was glad to see the confirmation pop up so I could retire from my jet pilot career and return to helping out my team. However, some of my countless plane crashes might have caused distractions that helped my team gain the upper hand. Yeah, that’s it… all the attempts before I actually got it were simply diversionary tactics for the good of my team.

So what’s my opinion of a good achievement list? One game that springs to mind as a good example of the point I’m serving up is Fable 2. Overall that list was the opposite of most games, with its story progression achievements contributing to the minority. I think Lionhead even won some kind of award for their list. That’s what I’m talking about here. Developers need to get away from the cookie cutter awards and get a little more creative. Even the most linear shooter games could increase replay value by having more actions to complete within the levels than just finishing it. I know some do this a little, but there’s always room for more innovation. Throwing in a dash or two more of silly, nutty, difficult or just plain weird would only be for the good. I know it would keep me coming back.

I know I would feel more pride in unlocking an achievement such as ‘Executed a headshot from a distance of 50 meters or more with a sword while riding a horse’ than I would in ‘You have completed Chapter 1′.

Last five articles by Joe



  1. Richie Rich says:

    One thing about Fable 2. All the horrible collectable shit they left out of the vanilla 1000 was put in for the DLC so fuck them.

    Borderlands did a similar thing. Nice 1000, awful DLC.

    Devs fucking up achvs is as bad as them fucking up the graphics in my opinion.

  2. Ian says:

    The Simpsons did the pointless achievement thing as a gag though. Although overall it’s a horrible grind to 1000. I couldn’t be arsed anyway.

  3. Richie richie says:

    Simpsons has it all. Long-term collectables, skill-based bastards and time limit horror.

    It’s rather hateful!

  4. Stu Stu says:

    I’m with you, Joe. After trying (and failing) quickly to max a lot of awful, awful games I lost all joy for the one hobby in life that was bringing in some form entertainment. Now I only spend time on the ones I enjoy (and maybe the odd one that hands them out like candy…usually games of the film types!). Once I’d got my mindset sorted gaming became fun again and I don’t think I’ll be swayed into hellector mode ever again.

  5. Rook says:

    Even though The Simpsons had the pointless achievement at the start, it did make me laugh. I did max it out but I don’t remember it being a grind, perhaps I have put it out of my mind. Pointless achievements can be funny as long as you haven;t found out about them by looking at the achievement list first – ‘Splosion Man had a funny one to for remapping the buttons.

  6. Edward Edward says:

    Before I buy or start playing a game, I normally make sure to check through the list of achievements the game offers. If more than 300 of the 1000 points can only be done via multiplayer, collectathons or grinds, then I don’t bother playing them. I’ve missed out on some potentially good games, but saved myself a lot of aggro in the meantime.

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