WoW: Achievements

The Valentine’s Day event in World of Warcraft is almost over for the year. It was originally scheduled to last two weeks, but got extended a couple of days. The time-limited nature of the special holiday content has been my inspiration for playing so much lately — in particular, the Achievements. There’s a whole section of the game’s extensive and multi-tiered Achievements menu for ones associated with special events, and just this one festival has fifteen of them. I’m determined to get as many as I can at the moment, which isn’t all of them — one essentially requires a level 80 character, and a handful of others make you go to places that are only accessible with the expansions. (They just can’t pass up an opportunity to make it clear that basic WoW isn’t the full game, can they?)

Achievements get a bad rap, in my opinion. People object that they’re pointless, things that you’re encouraged to do without any real reward, but if you ask me, that describes most entire games. But assuming that you want to play a game, you probably don’t want to be distracted from it, and Achievements sometimes do just that. I think the problem here is that the Achievement system most familiar to people is that of the Xbox 1The very word “Achievement” is an Xboxism. Games predating Xbox Live that had their own Achievement systems used other terms, such as the “Skill Points” in Ratchet & Clank. , which handles them badly in a number of ways. For one thing, Achievements are a mandatory part of Xbox titles, regardless of whether or not the game is suited to them. Consequently, developers who don’t want Achievements in their games grudgingly jam in rewards for pointless and arbitrary actions at the last minute. Compounding this effect is the Gamerscore, a global sum of things that aren’t really comparable, let alone summable. It all seems like whoever came up with the system had a limited notion of what games could be.

But when a game is amenable to Achievements, they can enhance the player experience by adding another layer of intent. And a CRPG like WoW seems like the perfect place for such a thing. The player’s actions, in most cases, are fairly simple and uniform: you fight, you loot, you move on. The thing that keeps the player’s interest is the multiple things they’re working towards in the process. On the simplest and most direct level, you’re usually trying to physically move to some location, and monsters are getting in your way. The reason you’re trying to move there is to satisfy some quest or other — a goal that puts your immediate actions into a context. On top of that (and orthogonal to it), you’re also trying to level up, and to collect cash for upgrades. You may also be hunting for specific items, ingredients or components that will help you to practice one of your professions. Achievements are just one more optional thing for you to work towards in parallel.

Or rather, not just one more thing. Multiple things. WoW‘s Achievements are broad enough to contain consistent categories, things that you could imagine another game working into its basic mechanics instead of folding into the “miscellaneous” bin of Achievements. For every zone on the map, there’s an “exploration” Achievement for visiting all of its sub-regions, and also an achievement for completing a certain number of quests there. Every dungeon has an achievement for completing it — which provides another constraint for such as me, because dungeons disappear from the Dungeon Finder as you level up, robbing you of opportunities to Achieve. These are things that are rewarded anyway, with experience and treasure and opportunities, but Achievements prod you to do them thoroughly. And how can a completist like myself object to that?

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1. The very word “Achievement” is an Xboxism. Games predating Xbox Live that had their own Achievement systems used other terms, such as the “Skill Points” in Ratchet & Clank.

2 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 19 Feb 2011

    “Every dungeon has an achievement for completing it — which provides another constraint for such as me, because dungeons disappear from the Dungeon Finder as you level up, robbing you of opportunities to Achieve.”

    You’ll be pleased to know that if you find the dungeon entrance, you can enter the dungeon without the finder. This lets you e.g. do a dungeon that you’re incredibly over-levelled for, the way most players got these achievements when the system was introduced. It also allows you to explore at your leisure a few of the dungeons that the dungeon finder gives short shrift to – Blackrock Depths, one of the most famous ‘classic’ dungeons, is a sprawling affair, an entire (small) zone to itself. It’s not quite as expansive as it was when most of the end-game activities demanded a visit – among other things, smelting high end metals required a special forge halfway through the dungeon, getting to the Molten Core raid instance required a trip through, and gaining access to Onyxia’s Lair used to require a massive quest chain that started with rescuing NPCs in the prison. Still, it continues to contain its own inn.

  2. malkav11 on 20 Feb 2011

    Conversely, I think those attributes are exactly why the Xbox achievement system succeeds where most others fail – a comprehensive system awarding achievements in every game you play and building an admittedly arbitrary metagame score is much more satisfying to me than, e.g., Steam’s system. Steam achievements aren’t even awarded by most games (including games with a full crop of achievements available on 360 – you’d think that’d be a trivial thing to transfer), and as far as I know all achievements awarded remain segregated by game, without even an overview page to show off your overall achievosity.

    That said, it’s okay by me that WoW’s achievement system doesn’t tie into anyone else’s…after all, it’s a gigantic, sprawling game with an equally gigantic portfolio of potential achievements.

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