I like a good Achievement, me. I think it was the City of Heroes badge system that crystallised it; Achievement-y elements had certainly been a feature of games previously, like medals or promotions based on mission performance in flight simulators, and in the Grand Theft Auto 3 series I’d always studiously collect hidden packages or similar for in-game benefits, but CoH badges were really the first thing I collected for the sake of collecting. There are a few Accolades that confer a tangible benefit, but other than that there’s not much reason for having three hundred badges other than to say “Woo! I’ve got three hundred badges!” With XBox Live really cementing capital-A “Achievements” in the “doing stuff in games” sense (to the point that “Achievements” in Wikipedia redirects to the Gamerscore section of “XBox Live”) they’re popping up a lot more in PC games now, Team Fortress 2, Audiosurf and Mass Effect being three recent examples that spring to mind.
Having completed one run-through of Mass Effect including just about every side-quest I could find, I picked up quite a few achievements: all the general plot missions, level 50, the Paragon achievement for being a generally nice chap, completing 75% of the game etc. I’d carefully rotated all four weapon types to get the 150 kills achievement for each. It’s a splendid game, and I was quite getting into the combat, so I thought I’d take another run at it, make a couple of different choices along the way to see if the plot changed at all, and grab a few more achievements. I rolled a Sentinel, to pick up the Biotic-use achievements, and set it to Hardcore difficulty level, which so far I’m not having too many problems with (I ought to check in case I thought I’d set it to Hardcore, but actually left it on Medium…) The new character is called Bastard Shepherd. Not “Bastard” Shepherd, it’s not a nickname or anything, no, he was christened Bastard, and in a shining example of nominative determinism is attempting to rack up maximum Renegade points. So far this mostly involves shooting whoever I’m talking to: an NPC has surrendered, claiming they were under mind-control when they attacked you? “I don’t trust you!” *BLAM* A cell full of prisoners who’ve had their minds wiped? “It’s a kindness, really” *BLAMBLAMBLAM* One of the crew has second thoughts about the mission? *BLAM* Even though it’s just a bunch of pixels, I actually feel quite bad about making a lot of those choices, I’m not sure if that’s a sign that I’m far too invested in something that’s only a game, or just confirmation that I’m not really a sociopath who’ll gun anything down that gets in the way.
Finishing off this second playthrough should net the “Complete Mass Effect twice” and “Complete Mass Effect on Hardcore difficulty” achievements, but I don’t think I’ll go for broke and play through the whole thing twice more, on Insane difficulty, just to round out every “finish the game mostly using this NPC” achievement (I’d chopped and changed too much the first time to qualify, apparently). It’s good that they’re there, as per a previous post optional additions are a much better way of prolonging gameplay than mandatory crazy-difficult bosses or missions. Some achievements don’t seem like such a good idea, though; news from WoW suggests there’s going to be a whole bunch of “first to…” achievements, which seems pretty odd behaviour to encourage; raid boss kills, I can see that, there’s already fierce competition over world and server firsts, and it takes a prolonged effort to get a group geared and trained for the dungeon. But first to level 80? That’s surely just an incentive for account sharing or crazy not-entirely-healthy marathon play sessions. You could say “people are going to race to 80 anyway, why not give them a title?”, but to delve into the wildly inappropriate analogy for a moment, you could say people are going to drink to excess anyway, why not hand out a t-shirt for the first person to down 20 pints of snakebite in a pub? What else, achievements for ganking 1000 players at least 20 levels below you? Maybe our biting satire wasn’t quite as bitingly satirical as we thought… First to 450 in each tradeskill I can sort of respect as a logistical exercise in calculating the necessary raw materials, amassing as much as possible before the expansion hits, then engaging in a furious craft-off in the bank, rivals staring intently at each other as piles of unwanted belts, boots and hats build up around them… And first to level 80 on a heavily populated PvP server, I’d quite like to see the almighty ruck in the final zone if each side has a candidate for the title, waves of level 70s flinging themselves into futile combat just to slow the other side down a bit. Still seems like an awful lot of effort to expend in the first week (day?) of the expansion’s release, when it’s hardly as if anyone’s going to need any extra incentive to be playing.