Xbox 360: When Achievements Ruin the Game

I am a self professed achievement junky on Xbox. They are gamer-crack. Not only are addictive, but I find that well designed ones end up making you enjoy the game more because they encourage you to explore areas of the game that you may not have otherwise, or to play the game again to pick up some things that you missed, etc.

However, with this power comes a drawback. I’ve run into a number of games where the achievements actually harm the enjoyment of the game. Designers should be aware that many people are going to look at the achievement list before they start playing, and use it to guide their gaming. Therefore achievements should not be designed that actually harm the gameplay, or frustrate. A few games come to mind.

The most recent was Mass Effect, which while a great game, had a few aspects to the achievements that hurt it. First of all in order to get all the points you need to pick 2 (of the six) companions and use them all through the game, even though the structure of the game is designed around the ability to change your companions on a regular basis based upon the mission. Also, to get ALL the points you would end up needing to play the game at least 4 full times through, using varying character classes, etc. It becomes painful instead of fun. So I actually had to ignore one of the more interesting aspects of the game (companion switching) in order to get achievements.

Assassin’s Creed is another example. In the end of playing it, I had gotten so frustrated at the constantly repetitive missions that I had to do. Save the citizen, climb the points, run around collecting, backstab someone, etc. Of course, while doing this, I realized that I only HAD to do 3 missions per citysection, and then I could have gone on. Had I done that I would have enjoyed the gameplay much more as it would not have felt nearly as repetitive. However, I wanted those gamer points, and I didn’t want to have to play through the game again, so I was doing every repetitive mission.

Call of Duty 2 was a great example of achievements that frustrate. You got 50 points almost immediately for completing the training. Then you had to beat the entire game before you got any more points! Even then, you only had 200/1000, to get any more, you had to beat missions on the hardest difficulty possible. The equivalent of ‘ridiculous’ level.

I could go on, so I will. How about Guitar Hero III and the “Play the game using the gamepad instead of the Guitar” achievements? Or Project Gotham Racing 3 where it appears you need a few million hours of gameplay to earn a decent number of achievements.

So what is my point? My point is that my enjoyment of many games has been lessened by the existence of ‘bad achievements’. And some new games (Mass Effect) don’t seem to be learning the lessons from older ones.

So to any Xbox game designers out there. When you come up with your Achievements, please consider a few things:

  • That people WILL do specific actions and play in certain ways in order to get those achievements.
  • In my opinion, at least half the points should be obtainable via normal playing through of the game.
  • It’s fine to add in some very time consuming or really difficult achievements, but don’t make them worth so many points that people feel the need to achieve them.

Ok, this blog post is officially too long. Sorry, but I got ranting, and wrote this over the course of weeks.

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