Editorial / Unfair Achievements – is it even ‘achieving’ any more?

I have found a strange phenomena occurring as of late. Have you ever booted up your shiny new Xbox 360/PS3 game and bypassed everything only to go straight to the achievements/trophy screen? Let us see what we have got to do on this game to get fifteen points to expand the ever belated symbol of power and status that is our gamerscores (for the sake of this article I will be using Xbox terminology, but I am speaking of both).

So you have just finished the campaign on the hardest difficulty and lo and behold, you just got 100 gamerpoints for it. Not too shabby eh? That will go on the pile to fester, useless. Merely, gamerscore is for kudos only. So why does it have such a big stranglehold on the way we as gamers play? I do not think it is too far-fetched to say we are entering a new age of gaming. Online is taking precedence and people across the world can see what you have played and frankly either just how good you are at it or how long you have spent on it. Perhaps this is why we so desperately crave gamerscore?

You know people are going to see your profile all over the world and so you want to appear fantastic at the game by having all the achievements. Is this the case? I think, now, it runs a bit deeper than just an external inflated sense of schoolyard pride. ?? If anything, getting achievements is an addiction. It has been designed in such a way that you love to hear that jingle, that you want gamerscore even though you know it means utterly nothing. It won’t change your game, you won’t unlock anything for it and honestly, do people even care anymore? Yet I can ashamedly say that gamerscore has changed the way I play. I expect a reward now and as such feel somewhat let down when I finish the latest Mario only for there to be nothing there. No longer does the promise of new worlds and characters feel enough. It should unlock a character and then unlock an achievement for doing said thing.

It is almost as if we desire a sense of self gratification that comes in the form of this tiny, pointless currency. It is something material, something numerical to look at that forever builds. Honestly however, gamerscore is a plague. People will boost online to get certain achievements, subsequently ruining the game for others. I find though that gamerscore can do good things for a game, especially single player, in which it can encourage you to look around and find everything, such as orbs in Crackdown.

But therein lies the issue again, doesn’t it? Gamerscore helps to increase the longevity of games. How on earth did we once manage to finish a £40 game without it? Well it’s simple. We didn’t have it. So here, half way through my feature, I arrive at my main point of call. Unfair achievements. It is almost like the developers know how addictive getting achievements can be. I know people who turn on a game and just check to see what achievements they can get instantly. People play online to ‘boost’ their achievements and some achievements take ages to earn. Some achievements truly are worth their title and you feel a sense of pride at having to work hard to unlock them. Yet, this is not always the case.

Allow me to point you in the direction of Gears of War 3. Do not get me wrong, it is one of my favourite games of all time. However, with the addition of the recent packs of downloadable content, the achievements have become…well, unfair. How so? Some of them are fine and unassuming, innocent in fact. Others though are an almost unbelievably blatant attempt at blackmailing you into getting your friends to buy the content. Achievements like ‘Kill Locust (Like a Boss)’ require you to defeat a Boss wave as 5 Onyx Guards. Easy. That is an easy achievements, it is not really an achievement at all, you do not even have to do anything particularly difficult. So I will just go to…oh hold on. I cannot get that achievement unless I have four friends who have the content as well. The fact that it has to be a private match means you cannot go publicly online and find random players, no, they have to be friends. I know you can have at least two guests, but then at least two other friends have to have the content.

Other such achievements include ‘Come to Poppa!’ and ‘Locust, Forever’ as they each require you and your friends to all be the same character, a character only available by purchasing the content. Admittedly it does not have to be your friends, but accumulating an entire party of random gamers to get an achievement is no easy feat. So then perhaps that in itself is the achievement? No, I am certain that is not what Epic Games were going for. If, as I have mentioned above, achievements are an integral part of the way people play, why release paid for content that has achievements that are impossible to get unless your friends have the content too? Oh that is right, to make more money.

It is extremely annoying to pay extra money for downloadable content only to have some of it barely attainable. Gamers will buy the content purely for the achievements too, should they have exhausted the retail game of them. It is almost as if the popularity of a game got to the developer’s heads. It is as if Epic expected everyone who had the game to buy the downloadable content. Other achievements are almost completely pointless, such as Halo 3’s ‘Vidmaster Challenge: 7 on 7’ achievement which rewards you with absolutely nothing for doing a fairly complex, if also pointless task. However, the resentment is certainly more vented towards the aforementioned achievements from Gears of War 3 than anything else.

With achievements and trophies now being such a mainstream part of both single player gaming and online multiplayer, why make some of them so unfair? Unfair in the sense that they are actually impossible to obtain should other people pay for the content as well. I regret that I enjoy collecting achievements so much when something like this occurs but nevertheless, I am sure one day, maybe, my friends will purchase the necessary content in order for us all to get the gamerscore we frankly deserve for buying it anyway. Or not, either way, maybe I should have checked the achievements before buying the content. Or would that simply prove I am too addicted to the collecting of achievements? Either way, the game will remain uncompleted for some time yet.