Monday, March 9, 2009

Why I love/hate achievements

My opinion is that achievements are a mixed blessing, depending on what level you play the game.

I've talked with many PvP lovers that find it frustrating that people forgo basic strategies out of pure intent to only grind achievements. While its nice that the achievement system encourages players to try aspects of the game they usually don't engage in, they are trying it without interest of becoming good at it. Examples: Holy Priests attempting to run the flag in WSG, Assassin attempts in EotS/AB, busy looting for rare drops in AV instead of keeping people off flags, etc.. People work towards the achievements they can do alone and are only required once, as opposed to achievements are truly require work and skill on the part of the raid group. For PvP, the system promotes selfishness, and that is frustrating on the PuG level.

For premades and PvE raids, I love the achievement system. I play this game for the content and encounters, not the loot. The loot is simply a means to an end, though it doesn't mean I'm not happy to receive loot or the rewards that accompany the difficult achievements - they are symbols of my hard work and dedication that I'm happy to display without the intention of flaunting them. Achievements offer incentive to push the content, to make the grinds more interesting - not because you have to, but because you want to. Sure, you could have done these sort of things without the achievement system, but few did. Why? Because there is a psychological satisfaction by seeing that little box pop up and the chimes ring. Achievements are the 'gold stars' of raiding, the sprinkles on the cake of 5-mans, and the medals of PvP premades. Yes, they are trivial and for the most part bring nothing productive to the encounter... or do they?

The greater portion of the instance and PvP achievements require considerable quantities of communication and teamwork in order to pull off. This in itself is a benefit to the raiding guild: It makes people better raiders by recognizing the need to communicate, think outside of their own class/role, and find solutions to problems unique to the situation.

In addition, achievements introduce people to parts of the game they have never even thought to encounter: Lore and art. Players get drawn into stories of the WoW universe, and want to know more, so the delve further in out of pure interest. They find parts of zones and quests they never knew existed, and can be blown away by some of the details Blizzard incorporated, i.e. the portal to Mount Hyjal in Winterspring, the caravan site at Grim Batol, and the orphanage in Nagrand.

Of course, there is the typical amount of bitching that accompanies the achievement system, which is very annoying, but in some cases understandable. It does not help the addictiveness of the game, where many of the seasonal achievements cannot be completed by players with limited play time, and in addition to the aforementioned selfishness, players may be more interested in gaining their achievements first than helping other guildees with theirs. It can also be frustrating for players seeking to move to other guilds, as recruitment is now heavily based on achievement standings. If you go to the guild recruitment forums, posts are now headed by their greatest achievements instead of content cleared. Applicants have their achievements at full view for guilds to scrutinize: Does X not have Achievement #165 because he doesn't have the skills, because he doesn't have the ambition, because he doesn't have the time, or because he can't get a group? None of these may be true or all of them could be true, but it does bring another layer to be considered in raid recruitment.

For the most part, I believe that Blizzard did well with introducing the achievement system. The pros outweigh the cons in the long run, for in addition to introducing another layer to game play, it delays instance burn-out by allowing players to add complexity to farmed encounters, allowing more time for developers to create more content (though, I suppose this could be viewed as a cop-out >.<). I'll continue to enjoy my gold-stars and sprinkles for as long as I play.

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