The Trouble with Trophies (and Achievements)

I don’t like the Trophy/Achievement system that Sony and Microsoft have shoved into our gaming. [I’m going to keep saying Trophy since I’m mostly a Sony guy, but really they’re the same thing.]

At least, I don’t like Trophies in my favored genre, which is (broadly speaking) narrative-driven action-adventures. For MP games, or sports games, or puzzle games…games that don’t have a beginning and an end, trophies are OK, but not for narrative-driven experiences that are ‘finishable.’

I just finished Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition. Great game, and I enjoyed playing it and I enjoyed the satisfaction of finishing it. But did I really finish it? Thanks to Trophies, that’s not clear.

Tomb Raider has a system where you’re ‘graded’ for every area you work through. This grade indicates how ‘complete’ the zone is, based on things like hidden relics, documents and GPS caches that you find while exploring. At the end of the game you get a ‘score’ based on how much you’ve leveled up Lara and on how thoroughly you explored all these areas.

At the end of the game I got a score of 84%. I’d completed the story, explored all the optional tombs and did a fairly good job of recovering relics and such. I didn’t bother with “challenges” since I found them tedious. Challenges are things like shoot 10 ‘dream catchers’ hidden in trees in a forest.

But 84% was pretty good, and I knew that if I wanted to bump that score up there were some areas where I was too caught up in the story to stop to find all the things. The game lets you keep exploring after the story is done.

And then I made the mistake of looking at the Trophies for the game, and I found I’d earned only 34% of the Trophies. 34% seems terrible! If I completed the game and uncovered 84% of the secrets and explored all the tombs, how did I wind up at just 34% complete when it comes to trophies?

I looked at trophies I missed and some of them I just randomly missed, like kill x guys using the shotgun (I tended towards rifle and bow). With the game finished there’re no more guys to kill so I’ll never get that one unless I start a new game and play until I get the shotgun and then shoot lots of guys with it. Others are “Hidden” Trophies so I have no idea how to earn them, without looking at a guide.

Then there are a bunch of multiplayer trophies; I was only vaguely aware Tomb Raider even had multiplayer. How about we start setting up two separate Trophy/Achievement categories: one for single play campaigns and another for multiplayer?

And on the Playstation platform there’s always (??) a platinum trophy that you earn by earning all the other trophies, and I’ll never get that because I have no intention of accessing the multiplayer aspect of the game.

It’s a little bit annoying to me.

On the other hand, with the PS4 Sony has added a rarity rating to trophies which is pretty interesting. It measures, roughly, how many players have earned a given trophy. So the trophy for taking X number of headshots, that’s a common trophy (everyone takes headshots whenever they can). The trophy for using rope arrows to yank 5 guys off of cliffs so they fall to their doom (I didn’t get that one) is a rare trophy.

What’s interesting about this is that every one of the multiplayer trophies are “Very Rare” which pretty much tells you that NO ONE is playing this game multiplayer. What a waste of resources that was!

I know a lot of people love trophies and achievements and for measuring how much time you’ve put into Call of Duty multiplayer or how many seasons of Madden you’ve played, I can see their value. But asking players to play through a game like Tomb Raider and rather than soak up the story of the game, to worry about whether they’ve shot enough crows and sea gulls to earn that Trophy (yes, that is a real example)… that’s just disrespectful to the writers and actors and animators who crafted this tale.

What? Lara’s friends are coming under fire and she needs to save them? OK but first I need to kill 10 rabbits to get that “Tastes like chicken” trophy. Her friends will keep. And of course they do which just bursts through the 4th wall and screams “This is just a stupid game, not a real narrative art form!” at you.

I wish they’d just remove the Trophy system from narrative-driven games altogether. Or make them “opt in.” You can turn off notifications but as far as I know you can’t completely turn off the systems. Maybe they should allow that so a game never even shows up in the “Compare Trophies” listing.

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