By Rock_Blackstone 1 Comments
Last night I did the video game equivalent of spring cleaning by plowing through the final few sections of the original Assassin's Creed . "Spring cleaning" is probably an overly harsh description; even 30 months after its initial release, AC still amazed me with its dazzling graphics, free-flowing mechanics, and intriguing storyline. That being said, the only thing driving me to scour the map for that one last Saracen flag or that one elusive Templar was an Xbox 360 Achievement.
Now don't get me wrong -- I don't regret the countless hours collecting 400+ flags and tracking down sometimes glitchy Templar locations. I've only played a handful of games to 100% completion, so it's worth it to try for 1000 gamerscore on a game I really like.
But the thing that bugged me most about my final AC session was that my achievement hunt overshadowed my enjoyment of the game's climactic ending. As the final cinematic played, I was actually frustrated rather than fulfilled because I thought I had failed to obtain a missable achievement (Creed of the Disciple) that would require starting over from the beginning! (In fact, I had unlocked that achievement with another one a few minutes earlier, and the final 50-pointer unlocked after the final scene of the game.) Should the possibility of finishing the game with 950 points instead of 1000 really have consumed my mind at that moment? At the culmination of more than 24 hours worth of playtime?
Growing up in the NES/SNES/Genesis generation, the only real (single-player) achievement that gamers sought was to "beat the game." Most kids could recite the list of games they had completed from memory. Some games tracked how quickly you finished the campaign, but the real bragging rights still came from taking down a game's final boss.
Fast forward to March 2008, when I bought my Xbox 360, and it was no longer "the play's the thing." Rather than just playing a game from start to finish, gamers could earn achievements (or trophies) for accomplishing tasks both central and peripheral to the story. I assume this was a byproduct of the Internet Revolution, which allowed gamers to see how they stack up with friends on gaming leaderboards. was never a PC gamer and kind of missed out on the online gaming scene of the late '90s and 2000s. All of a sudden, I found myself greedily pursuing achievements and comparing my gamerscore to my peers' as if I had been a lifelong achievement hunter.
Does the addition of Xbox 360 Achievements and PS3 Trophies undermine the gaming experience? I think in general that it enhances it, adding replayability to games that would otherwise collect dust on my shelf (Dead Space, for example). However, I do think achievement hunting can run counter to the true spirit of a game, detracting from the authenticity and immersiveness of a game's story. Would Altair really pause at the penultimate stage of his quest so that he could go collect his 100th King Richard flag? Would he risk exposing his identity to city guards in order to steal his 200th throwing knife?
I'm fine with suspending disbelief when it comes to these video-gamey side activities, but in the future I'm going to try not to obsess about achievements at the cost of a game's story payoff. My new mantra: Embrace your achievement greed so long as it's secondary to your enjoyment of the game itself.