What Makes a Good Achievement?

Few things have changed the landscape of gaming quite as significantly as achievements. Pushed into the mainstream beginning with the Xbox 360, the concept has been adopted by pretty much every major publisher and platform (except for those stubborn blokes at Nintendo). They add replay value to games by challenging the player to complete various tasks set forth by the developers. Those could include completing a game on the highest difficulty, reaching a certain rank in multiplayer, fully upgrading your character, or any number of other accomplishments.

But that doesn’t mean achievements are always a welcome thing. For those who love hunting these things, a good achievement will give them a huge sense of accomplishment, and a bad one can sour the quest to get that “pop” or discourage them altogether. But what makes an achievement good or bad?

Bad Achievements

Let’s get the doom and gloom out of the way so we can finish this piece on a high note. There are plenty of achievements that I would consider “bad,” but they come in all different forms, with varying levels of bleh.

Please Play Multiplayer. We Promise It’s Good!

Love or hate the rebooted Tomb Raider series, it’s been relatively successful. I personally enjoy it, but fully understand the cries to take us back to the original Lara (they kind of took away all of her badassitude). When the first game in this series was released in 2013, I had enough fun with it that I decided to try to get all the achievements. There were plenty that were focused on 100% completion in various locales throughout the game, along with those that challenged the player without being impossible. However, my quest was cut short when I went through the chievo list in more detail. Tucked into this list is one called “True Commitment,” which requires you to reach the maximum level in the game’s tacked-on multiplayer mode.

Look, I get that they wanted to give people an incentive to actually play the multiplayer, but seeing something like this is just disheartening to achievement hunters. Why? Because very few people actually want to play multiplayer in a TR title. They want to experience an adventure and, I dunno… raid tombs (something else the devs apparently didn’t consider with this particular title). Requiring these adventure seekers to hit max level just doesn’t sit well in a game like this.

After seething through the previous two paragraphs, I do recognize that there are plenty of games where MP achievements are welcome. This is because those games were made with multiplayer in mind. Take Titanfall, for example. That series is built around multiplayer, so it makes sense to incorporate cheevies there. The first game didn’t even have a campaign, so it was kind of required to smack them all into the competitive (aka only) part of that game. The Call of Duty series, while boasting plenty of quality campaigns, is undoubtedly MP-centric, so it would make sense to hear that pop or ding while battling it out with other players. Ironically, the series has a history of placing the majority of its achievements into the single-player campaign.

One last issue I take with these sorts of achievements is that it highlights a misplaced confidence in the developers that their afterthought of a game mode will keep players invested. With games like Tomb Raider, Dead Space 2, and even Doom 2016 (though that one still held a small playerbase for a while), those who don’t snag the MP achievements in the months following launch probably won’t snag them at all. When a game’s multiplayer is a ghost town, it becomes impossible to accomplish anything within it.

You Didn’t Have Plans, Did You?

Time is a precious thing. With so many hours in a day and so many other things going on in most gamers’ lives, developers are naturally competing for your time commitment. That’s why I get so riled up when I read an achievement description that basically tells me I have to quit my job and neglect my loved ones to get it.

Two such offenders come to mind, and I’m honestly not sure which one is worse. First, we have My Kung Fu is Stronger in Mortal Kombat. This monster of an achievement requires the player to gain mastery of all 28 fighters in the game. On the surface, it sounds like a simple concept if you’re unaware of exactly how much effort is required to master just one fighter. The prerequisites for this middle finger disguising as an accomplishment are 100 wins, 100 fatalities, 150 x-ray attacks, and 10,000 liters of blood spilled. Oh, and you have to clock in 24 hours of game time. For each fighter. All that math adds up to a minimum of 672 hours of gameplay required for a single achievement. For some context, I’ve never logged that many hours in a playthrough of any game. I don’t know the numbers, but I might have a total playtime above that number for huge games like Skyrim or The Master Chief Collection, but even those would be a sum of everything I have ever done in those games.

The other achievement that has no regard for your friends, loved ones, professional commitments, or even your hygiene is none other than “Seriously 3.0” in Gears of War 3. The first game in the series introduced “Seriously…” which requires you to get 10,000 kills in ranked matchmaking. A monumental feat, for sure, but doable for those who love the game and its multiplayer suite. Then Gears of War 2 boasted “Seriously 2.0,” which is where things started to get out of hand. It was similar its little brother achievement from the first game, but the required number of kills skyrocketed to 100,000. Say goodbye to your other video games. But then there’s “Seriously 3.0” in Gears of War 3. This one doesn’t have a simple “get X number of kills” requirement, but instead asks you to reach level 100 and acquire every onyx medal. There are 65 of them, and they have requirements like winning 3,000 matchmade games and earning 500 MVP ribbons. Bid farewell to your social life altogether if you want this one, folks.

May the Stars Align

Sometimes you read an achievement description and simply think, “were the developers on drugs?” The text before your eyes is asking you to do something so specific or out of your control that you wonder if all the good ideas had left the creative brains of those in charge of the game. Or maybe they were being too creative? I don’t know, but the point is that some achievements are best left on the cutting room floor simply because they are stupid and not fun to work towards.

I love the Halo series, but sadly, it’s one of the worst offenders of this. You have the standard campaign achievements tied to beating missions and besting the games on certain difficulties, but there are also plenty of multiplayer ones to be had. This in itself is fine by me, considering the MP of Halo has major staying power and isn’t a tacked-on mode like the ones I was outlining earlier. What I take issue with is the few that have oddly specific requirements that you just need to keep trying and trying while hoping all the stars align.

Take “Special Delivery,” for example. It’s an achievement in Halo 4 that requires you to get a melee kill on an enemy player while landing from a man cannon jump. Every man cannon pretty much has a set landing zone, meaning the player has no control over their trajectory. That means an enemy has to be right at that spot when you land, and you have to have done enough damage to them in flight for the melee attack to be fatal. As if that part wasn’t silly enough, it has to be done on one of the Crimson DLC maps. That’s only three maps out of over twenty that you can get this achievement on. There’s also a similarly frustrating achievement (in the same DLC pack, I might add) that requires you to get a kill from the Warthog… while airborne. Seriously, guys?

Slogfests

Forget the ones that take up a lot of time, or those that require the stars to align. Some achievements are a full-blown slog to get. Nothing about them is fun, and should you attempt them, your soul will slowly wither away. “Tedious” doesn’t even begin to describe most of these.

One particular achievement comes to mind. It’s called “Hail to the King,” and it’s in Final Fantasy IX. Within this RPG classic is a jump rope mini-game, and you must complete 1,000 consecutive jumps without messing up. This isn’t just a matter of getting the cadence down, either. The speed of the rope changes from time to time, so you need to have lighting-quick reflexes and not lose any smidgeon of focus, or you’re screwed. HAVE FUN!

Another form of tedium comes in a type of achievement that could easily warrant its own section, but I’ll keep things brief. Games that require several playthroughs to get every achievement can go to the deepest depths of hell. I have all but one achievement in the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, because the expansion ends with you making one of two choices. And yep, there’s an achievement tied to each choice. I realize this could be cheesed with save-scumming, but anyone who misses that window and saves their file after the fact needs to play through the whole game again if they want that sweet, sweet 100%.

Perhaps the worst offender of this “play, beat, repeat” type is, sadly, one of my favorite action games: Ninja Gaiden 2. There is an achievement tied to each weapon that requires you to play through the entire game using only that weapon. There are eight weapons…

Good Achievements

I could rant on and on about poorly designed achievements in games, but I’ve already said enough. Let’s get to the reason behind why this whole gaming mechanic became so wildly popular in the first place. Let’s talk about the goodies.

Collector’s Dream

Look, I get it. The market is saturated with open-world games that rely heavily on using points of interest on the map as a checklist. Maybe I’m part of that “problem” because if the game itself is good enough, I enjoy doing this. That’s why I view achievements like these in a positive light. I like collecting stuff and completing said collections. That’s why Ubisoft’s open-world games are so popular (despite what online comments sections would have you think). There are plenty of people like me! Now, this endorsement comes with the caveat that the time required to complete certain collections in certain games could push it into the second category under “Bad Achievements” above. There are right ways and wrong ways to ask players to “go here and collect or kill X number of things.”

Collections aren’t limited to open-world games, either. There are plenty of more linear experiences that have replay value thanks to the extras you can find. Take Halo: The Master Chief Collection (or any individual one of those titles). There are gameplay-tweaking skulls to find throughout the campaign, creating a fun scavenger hunt that rewards you with that satisfying “pop” sound that so many Xbox players recognize, along with some gamerscore. Then there are the terminals that not only give you achievements for finding them, but provide a huge amount of lore for the player to feast their brains on.

The Funnies

Sometimes game developers include some great humorous moments, and if you happen to find them, you may get an achievement along with your chuckle. I’ve already mentioned the silly grunts in Halo, and MCC does have achievements for those, but there are plenty of others that deserve some praise for their efforts.

Perhaps one of the funniest achievements I’ve ever unlocked requires a bit of pop culture knowledge outside of the game. Everyone has their own thoughts about the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but not many opinions are as unanimous as the collective hatred of Jar Jar Binks. Traveller’s Tales, the developers of LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, recognize this. There are a few missions where yousa travel with the annoying Gungan as a companion. If you happen to break (AKA kill) him twenty times, you’re rewarded with an achievement called Crowd Pleaser. That’s not the only joke this developer has up their sleeves. In LEGO Lord of the Rings, there’s an achievement called One Does Not Simply… and it’s awarded for walking into Mordor. Touché, Traveller’s Tales. Touché.

Certain games have achievements for doing things that are embarrassing rather than impressive. While some people scoff at these, but I think they’re rather hilarious. Take Dark Souls II, for instance. It features an achievement called “This Is Dark Souls,” which is awarded upon your first death. It’s a funny way to remind the player that this series is a pretty punishing one, and unless you’re a gaming prodigy, you will get this achievement if you play the game.

Little Challenges

Okay, so technically any achievement is a challenge. The words are almost interchangeable in the gaming space. But what I mean by “challenges” is the achievements that get you to have a little fun with the game mechanics, or handle a situation in a certain way. These offer small incentives to replay the game and experience it differently.

One of my favorite examples of this is “Party Pooper” in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Near the end of the game, Joker invites you to a, uh, party. When you arrive, a bunch of his thugs have lined up to cheer you on, party hats and all. This is the only group of enemies in the game that won’t attack you. You can just walk right on by and confront the Clown Prince of Crime himself. But what if you don’t just walk on by? Nothing is stopping you from putting an end to their joyful cheers by beating them to bloody pulps. Due to the sheer number of enemies in this small arena, it’s one of the harder standard enemy encounters in the game, but pull it off and you’ll get that lovely achievement.

I appreciate when these requirements get you to step outside your comfort zone. Bioshock Infinite’s Hazard Pay, while mostly forgettable, provides plenty of value to a varied playstyle. It requires you to kill ten enemies by utilizing environmental hazards. This gets you to think beyond bullets and grenades, and get crafty for your kills.

That Was Incredibly Difficult. I Loved It!

Let’s talk about the achievements that perfectly encapsulate the definition of the word itself. The ones to be proud of and brag about. The ones that are a badge of honor for those who put in the effort to hone their skills. These ones are the real deals. They are incredibly challenging to unlock, but not so much that they’re unfair. While plenty of these could take so long to complete that the time commitment could compare to those I mentioned earlier, that time is based on the player’s skill rather than an extremely long exercise in repetition.

I know I keep coming back to Halo. It’s one of my favorite series. I’m not apologizing. The Master Chief Collection runs the gamut from bad achievements to great ones, and there are plenty included that are only for the best of the best. Each title within the collection has an achievement for beating the campaign on Legendary difficulty in under three hours. While it sounds ludicrous, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. It tracks it based on the sum of your best completion time for each mission, so you don’t have to restart the entire campaign if you miss the three-hour mark. Even so, it’s a challenge that really does feel satisfying to conquer.

If that wasn’t enough for you, maybe the LASO campaign playlists are for you. For those unfamiliar, LASO stands for “Legendary All Skulls On.” Hardest difficulty. All the tough modifiers. Shattered soul. I don’t even have any of these achievements, but it’s one of those things where you know what you’re signing up for, and even though it’s tough as all hell, it’s still possible.

A not-so-brutal version of this type of bloop would be the more common occurrence of beating a game on its highest difficulty. Dead Space 2 is a great example of this. The hardest difficulty is a one-life affair (with only a couple saves), but make it through this gauntlet and not only do you get the achievement, you also get the foam finger, a powerhouse with infinite ammo that technically doesn’t make any noise when you fire it (Isaac just says “pew” and “bang” when you shoot). I personally never got this achievement, either. I’d say the hard difficulty achievement I am most proud of is Mass Effect 3 (screw that Kai Leng fight, man).

So… What makes a good achievement?

I realize this is hugely subjective. Maybe some people really enjoy getting achievements like “My Kung Fu is Stronger,” but I’m not one of those people. To me, a good achievement is simply one that enhances your experience with a game, rather than souring it. A good achievement is something I either had a lot of fun working towards or felt great after completing.

At the end of the day, achievements and trophies are arbitrary outside of bragging rights, but what hobby-related things aren’t? Unless you’re lucky enough to turn a hobby into a living, everything boils down to the personal value you find in something. I know my gamerscore doesn’t mean shit, but I love the hunt for some of these things. There’s small pleasure in hearing that oh-so-familiar sound (and even more pleasure in hearing the shimmery chime of the rare achievement). In a perfect world, every one of these milestones would be fun to get, but you can’t please everyone. I’ve recently taken to just working for the ones I know will be fun and blocking out the rest, which has made gaming a lot less stressful.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, so I have to ask… In your opinion, what makes a good achievement?

Looking for more? Kevin recently gave a rundown of his all-time favorite PC games.

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