Apparently, the XBox 360 Achievement system is loved by console gamers, which has always confused us. In short, the Achievement system is a way to get recognition for accomplishing a particular task in a game. The recognition comes from Achievements being viewable to anyone able to see the respective XBox Live! gamer profile. Furthermore, these Achievements appear to be linked to one’s Gamerscore, which is a numerical portrayal of one’s accomplishments across many titles. In reality, however, given that Achievements can often be unlocked by completing walk-throughs, they are not a true illustration of skill, and instead, the Gamerscore merely indicates that someone has played a large number of titles.
Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (WAR) is shipping with an achievement system built into the game. Blizzard recently announced that World of Warcraft (WoW) will similarly offer an achievement system when the second WoW expansion, Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK) ships later this year. The big difference between WAR and WoW’s achievement system is that WoW won’t retroactively flag achievements completed, even if players did actually complete them in the past. That’s because many of WoW’s upcoming achievements simply weren’t tracked, which means that many players will have to complete a number of now banal exercises if they want the completion of the task to be identified to the community. Why they would want this we’re not sure, but undoubtedly, the “gotta catch ‘em all” segment of the player population is already foaming at the mouth to maximize their show of glory.
In some sense, the achievement system is reasonable, since it effectively mirrors many of the more basic, mundane quests in massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). For example, the stereotypical “kill five boars” quest is nothing more than a very basic achievement, and can easily be reflected as such. In other words, why would a developer complicate the quest system? At the very least, the achievement system can replace non-story quest elements, which would not require one to “pick up” the “kill five boars” quest in the first place. Rather, upon a player reaching the boar quest-giver, if the player has already killed five boars, the accomplishment would be recognized immediately.
This follows excellently from the supposition that Blizzard and Mythic will give players rewards for character achievements. While the idea with these rewards is to offer purely aesthetic items/improvements (which we think is fine), the idea merely further conflicts with the already-strict quest system. In WoW’s case, this means that the achievement/quest clash is more obvious, whereas we’ll have to wait and see how well Mythic differentiates between the types of quests offered by NPCs. Hopefully, WAR’s quests will be meaningful to the plot and PvP scenario, whereas achievements will be offered exclusive to the quest system.
At this point, it may be clear that we don’t hate the achievement system if integrated properly into a game, but things get more complicated with linked achievements. That’s the case with XBox’s Gamerscore, which is a poor basis for bragging. Microsoft decided to take this even further by allowing player’s to unlock things in games based on achievements in other games. For examples, Gears of War 2 will have content unlocked depending on the Achievements characters completed in the original Gears of War. Similarly, the upcoming XBox Live! title Castle Crashers will allow a playable alien character if the game Alien Hominid was also purchased. Not an Achievement per se, the idea of linking content from one game to another is poor form, particularly if the titles are not linked in other ways. For instance, being able to import a character from one game to the game’s sequel is one thing, but arbitrarily giving players special content simply because they spent more money in the past is poor form. Perhaps the idea here is to reward players for being long-time fans of a particular developer’s products, but moving across game genres, or IP, is simply poor form.
Take for example Blizzard’s recent announcement that they intend to implement a Gamerscore-like system across all of their titles, leveraging the achievement system presented in WotLK. This will further enable bragging among hardcore gamers, and somehow manage to keep Blizzard gamers from straying to other products. After all, why play the Diablo III clone when one can just buy Diablo III and earn Blizzard Gamerscore points?
The whole Gamerscore system will merely drive a further divide between the hardcore and casual crowd, and unfortunately result in poor conversation online. For example, hardcore gamers will dismiss casual gamers purely on the lack of the latter’s Gamerscore. We’ve already seen this on Blizzard’s WoW forum, where people’s commentary is dismissed merely on account of the fact that a person may not have posted with a level-70 avatar. Similarly, despite a player’s knowledge of a game, their commentary will be dismissed because they may not have a particular achievement unlocked, or their Gamerscore is not “up to snuff”. Sorry Billy, but having amassed an enormous Gamerscore because you have 30 more hours per week to game than we do doesn’t mean you’re anymore skilled at the games you play than we are.
As it stands, the concept of a Gamerscore is a decent one, but poorly implemented in its current state. It may serve the purpose of gaming companies who can leverage it to earn a few more bucks from players, but for the gamers themselves, it’s a poor measure of comparison for player skill. Similarly, the achievement system is a solid idea that ought be incorporated alongside the quest system with no cross-over. Still yet, the achivement system should reflect accomplishments that take true skill, rather than encompass arbitrary goals like downing a particular boss, or discovering a basic land-mark. Until the day comes where these issues are ironed out, however, at the very least, please forget about this whole linked-achievement nonsense, and level the playing field for all gamers, not just the hardcore fans with too much money ti burn.