tax refund this year.
So of course I blew it all on video games. Well, not really. Most of it went toward rent…and car insurance…and the electric bill…
Okay, fine, I only spent $20 on video games! Are you happy? You pulled back the facade of reckless immaturity to reveal the fiscally responsible man underneath. How’s that disillusionment taste, internet?
While I did not spend much money on video games, I did spend a rather exorbitant amount of time on them this week, playing through The Last of Us (rented from Redbox, powered through in 3 days), Fez (Xbox Arcade puzzle game, also available on PC), and Assassin’s Creed 2.
The one thing these games all had in common: collectibles. In The Last of Us, there were collectible comic books and pendants. In Fez, you hunt for cubes and anti-cubes to drive the game forward. And Assassin’s Creed 2 had codex pages, feathers, sidequests, treasures, glyphs, hidden tombs…let’s be honest, Assassin’s Creed is basically a things-finding game with a sprinkling of assassination thrown in.
I was talking with a friend this weekend about video games, and we started talking about collectibles and completionism. Because some collectibles are fun to collect, and some just aren’t. And these rules differ from person to person. Some people don’t like collectibles at all, and some people will look for every collectible they can find, for the sake of achievables.
And I think any of these gaming preferences are fine, as long as you really enjoy what you’re doing. But these are my personal rules for collectibles.
This is the first factor I think about, and it’s probably the most important. Is there any value to these collectibles? If so, it can override several of the other rules I hold. Value usually manifests in one of three ways:
The collectibles are themselves intrinsically interesting (they flesh out the backstory or provide puzzles to solve).
The collectibles upgrade your abilities.
The collectibles unlock additional gameplay (new skills or secret bonus levels).
Open world games are much better suited to collectibles, because you can look for them any time you want. I rarely pursue collectibles in linear games…it’s too easy to miss one or two, and if you can’t backtrack, you have to replay the whole level–or worse, the whole game. The only way to find them all is usually by way of a game guide, which, for me, takes away too much from the game’s enjoyment. Which brings me to #3:
Video games should be fun. That’s really the only reason to play video games at all. And if I’m not enjoying the game because I’m obsessively checking every nook and cranny for hidden bric-a-brac, the collectibles aren’t worth it.
I want to know how well I’m doing. How many collectibles are there? How many have I found? Did I find all of them in this level or area? Without any sort of feedback about my progression, I quickly lose interest. And the best kind of trackability is…
As I’ve said before, I don’t like playing video games if I have to look at a game guide every two minutes. So if you’ve given me an in-game world map, I very much appreciate having map markers to tell me where the last hidden gem of Unga-Bunga is located.
The locations of collectibles don’t have to be visible from the start…their visibility can be tied to finding in-game maps or progressing through the game. But eventually, after 12 or more hours of playing a game, I just want it to tell me where stuff is.
I’m not made of money. And since time is money, I’m not made of time either. I’m not going to spend 30 hours tracking down lost fossilized dinosaur poops in a game the size of NYC.
I might spend 3 hours doing that. If there’s a game like that, let me know.
But still, I have limits. I’ll do a little errand running at the end, but not indefinitely. In general, the maximum amount of time I’m willing to spend tying up loose ends is about 15-20% of the length of the game proper.
When I say “rewarding”, I don’t mean the emotional satisfaction of a job well done. I mean real, tangible rewards.
The bleep bloop of an achievement popping is gratifying, but when I’ve spent time tracking down 200 yak-hair yarmulkes through the digital Himalayas (again, can someone please make this game?), I want the game itself to acknowledge my accomplishment, not just the console.
Unlockable skins to dress your space marine like Liberace? Sure, I’ll take it. Access to a hidden temple filled with fountains of molten gold? Even better.
I’ll even accept a recorded bit of dialogue or simple text message on screen…anything that lets me know that the end reward for finding Nosferatu’s toenail clippings was more than just having Nosferatu’s toenail clippings.
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And now for some examples:
Assassin’s Creed 1: Flag Hell
There were a lot of things I liked about Assassins Creed: doing a leap of faith into a stone pathway…dying instantly at the touch of water…being constantly harassed by beggars…accidentally backstabbing an innocent civilian instead of your target.
Okay, so there were some things I didn’t like, too.
But the worst thing of all was the flags.
The Assassin’s Creed flags exemplified almost everything that is wrong with video game collectibles.
To start off with, I’ll allow that there can be an acceptable number of pointless collectibles. 50-100 is the max for this kind of game, though.
Assassin’s Creed 1 has 420 flags to find. This is in addition to the other collectible: 60 Templars spread out through the entire world.
They aren’t interesting. They contribute nothing to gameplay. There is no in-game reward for finding all of them. They don’t show up on your map. And there are ALMOST 500 OF THEM.
They aren’t even satisfying to find. If they were easy to find, I might have found most of them just by playing and tracked down the rest for completionism. If they were difficult to find, I might have enjoyed the challenge of reaching for them. But they’re not. They’re just placed haphazardly around the map in places that are just enough out-of-sight to be obnoxious. The only positive trait is that you can access them at any point in the game, which in this case is a downside, because it might actually tempt you to try.
Collectibles rating: 1 out of 420.
Assassin’s Creed 2: Surprisingly Better
The developers did quite an about-face on collectibles in the sequel. There are four times as many kinds of collectibles, but only a third of the total number to find. And each of them brings some sort of reward.
Statuettes: There are only 8, each one is unique, and they’re limited to one small section of the game. And they’re worth money.
Codex pages: Only 30, they show up on the map, and they unlock the final level
Glyphs: There are 20 of these, and though they don’t show up on the map, they are tied to historic landmarks, and thus easy to track. Finding them was an enjoyable challenge rather than a chore, and they unlock puzzles, which in turn unlock a secret cryptic video.
Feathers: These are the most similar to the original game’s flags, but even these are improved. For starters, there are only 100 of them, and you can track them by individual districts, which only contain 9 or 10 apiece. And finding them all does provide some in-game rewards, which, while primarily superficial, are at least an acknowledgement.
Collectibles rating: 4 out of 5 backs stabbed.
Bioshock/Bioshock Infinite: Would You Kindly Fetch Those Audio Diaries?
Some people may complain about them, but I love audio-diaries in video games.
Most games don’t have the graphics to capture the nuance of facial expressions, and even when they do, they have to pull you out of the game to let you appreciate the detail involved.
But audio-diaries is much easier to present in a game. Sound recordings are easier to produce, and you can keep playing the game while you listen. And in Bioshock’s case, they flesh out a city inhabited only by madmen.
Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are both linear, and thus make backtracking difficult, when not impossible. But I’m willing to let that slide, for the sheer value they added to the game.
Collectibles rating: No gods or kings. Just 5 out of 5.
Tomb Raider: I’m Definitely Staring At The Collectibles
The rebooted Tomb Raider was a load of fun. Cinematic through and through, enjoyably creepy, and the satisfying parkour-esque wall-climbing was what I’d really wanted from Assassin’s Creed all-along.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Tomb Raider without Lara Croft’s enormous booby trapped treasure troves.
There’s a fair number of collectibles in this Tomb Raider: documents, relics, GPS caches, and challenges. The locations of the first three are revealed by finding treasure maps inside the game’s hidden tombs, though you have to find the challenges without help.
I found tracking the mappable collectibles to be rather enjoyable, though there was no real reward for finding them all.
Collectibles rating: 3 out of
tank top 5. I said 5.
Batman: Arkham City: Riddle Me This
By my Assassin’s Creed standards, the Arkham games should have too many collectibles. With over 200 in the first, and 400 in the second, it’s quite a daunting feat to get them all. But for some reason, I really didn’t mind.
Here’s what they did right:
The locations of Riddler trophies do not show up on the map to begin with. Instead, they gradually appear on the map as you clear areas of thugs and interrogate Riddler’s henchmen. This keeps you from trying to seek out all these collectibles before you have the equipment to access them.
Unlocking new tools and gadgets lets you access more of the trophies as the game goes on. This leads to several satisfying Aha! moments when you realize you can now grab that trophy that was tantalizing you just out of reach.
There’s a lot of variety to the puzzles. Some just require you to take a picture of a landmark or signature characteristic of one of Gotham’s many baddies. Some are trophies in hard to reach places. Some puzzles require precision flying or remote controlled batarangs. Some collectibles are just things to break. This variety keeps the collectible-grinding from getting tedious.
You unlock hidden Riddler-room levels after every 80 collectibles. Inside is a gamut of traps and puzzles, with a hostage at the other end to rescue. Unlocking these levels, along with the Riddler’s increasingly flustered taunts throughout the course of the game, serve as a motivator to catch ’em all.
Collectibles rating: 4 out of I’M BATMAN
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What are your favorite/least favorite video game collectibles?