Category: Trophy Breakdowns
Many trophy lists find themselves butting heads with their games’ stories, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Since narrative advancement and story-based trophies are both used as rewards for progressing through the game, they find themselves scrambling to fulfill the same purpose, and often end up undermining one another. However, when structured carefully, a game’s trophy list can compliment the narrative, just like it compliments the rest of the game.
Games frequently treat narrative advancement as a reward. Often, this advancement comes in the form of cutscenes, brief asides where the story progresses with little to no input from the player. While they serve many purposes, their usage as rewards is most apparent in the way that they’re worked into a game’s structure. You’ll find them spread throughout the game as best serves the narrative, introducing characters and locations, establishing goals for the player, but the most narratively significant tend to come at the ends of levels or particularly challenging segments, like boss fights. This structure suggests that narrative progression is being treated similarly to explicit rewards like currency or experience points.
Similar structures can be found across all kinds of games. Take Gone Home as an example. Gone Home forgoes cutscenes altogether, but uses the player’s investment in the narrative to encourage her to investigate dark hallways or a creepy basement to find the next note from the narrator. You’ll even find this structure in games with relatively simple narratives, like Super Mario Bros., which ends levels with brief asides, even if it’s something as simple as Mario entering a pipe or finding out the princess is in another castle.
Trophies frequently overlap with a game’s narrative reward structure. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since trophies are, by definition, also rewards for engaging with the game. The most clear-cut example of this is when trophies are awarded for hitting particular story beats, but there are some hidden cases of it as well. Any trophy that will certainly be earned in the process of finishing the game would fall under this category. Take Fallout 4’s Commonwealth Citizen trophy, earned for reaching level 10. It doesn’t necessarily reward the player for progressing through the main quest line, but, since the experience gained for completing quests over the course of the game is more than enough to put a player above level 10, there’s still overlap. That doesn’t make it bad (it does a particularly good job of rewarding the player for interacting with the game without being tied to any specific play style), but it’s important to keep in mind when assessing the list as a whole.
Some overlap between story and trophy rewards can be a good thing. Trophies tied directly to story beats can serve several purposes. They often help players gauge their own progress through a game, and can provide useful statistics. For example, we can see that, as of this writing, 84% of Tales of Graces F players registered on PSNProfiles have completed Chapter 1, meaning that 16% lost interest before even getting that far. By comparing this to similar trophies over the course of the game, we can roughly map the points where players are most likely to stop playing. There’s also an argument to be made that, by the end of the game, players should have some percentage of the trophy list unlocked as a reward for their efforts, and story-related trophies are a straightforward way to ensure that happens.
There are two main styles of problem that affect trophies tied directly to a game’s narrative, the first of which stems from poor implementation. At their best, story-based trophies work like chapter breaks in a novel. They can quietly underscore important moments or provide a quick respite from a high-tension situation. If done just right, a quick reminder that it’s all just a game can even be used to the narrative’s advantage. Poorly implemented narrative trophies have the opposite effect. Consider a trophy that unlocks before, or even during, a cutscene. Beyond being distracting, the trophy popping relieves tension from the story prematurely. On a literal level, trophies often indicate that the gameplay portion of that chapter is over, so the player can relax. More problematic, though, is the implication that the chapter as a whole is over too. There is a feeling of completion that comes with unlocking a trophy, a sense that the goal has been achieved, and that can make anything that happens after it pops feel less important, story beats included.
The other kind of issue arrises when a trophy list skews too heavily toward story-based trophies. No matter how well-implemented they are, a list largely composed of narrative trophies isn’t very exciting. A trophy list should support its game, but should also provide some value of its own. If a player will get most or all of a game’s trophies just by playing through the game’s core storyline, then the list isn’t bringing much to the table. This is where being aware of implicitly story-related trophies becomes particularly important. A list might look like it has a fair mix of narrative and non-narrative trophies, but if all those trophies fall onto the critical path to the end of the game, then they probably aren’t living up to their full potential. This isn’t to say that a platinum trophy should demand multiple playthroughs, just that it should encourage players to somehow go beyond what’s required by the core narrative.
The best way to avoid these problems is to limit the amount that trophies and narrative overlap, and instead let each system shine in the areas where it is strongest. Trophies tend to do a good job of rewarding players for engaging with side systems, like finding collectables or looking for secret dungeons. This is an area where narrative often struggles, since systems like this rarely fit nicely into a larger story — finding all 50 hidden pirate skulls isn’t generally considered a compelling plot point. On the other hand, narrative progression is excellent at driving a player through lengthy games. Only the most devoted trophy hunters are going to play through a 100 hour Japanese Role-Playing Game solely for a platinum, but strong stories or casts of characters have been driving the genre on for years.
In games with a relatively even balance between gameplay and narrative focus, a bit of thought given to these strengths and weaknesses can go a long way. I’ve written before about how Bioshock generally does a good job of both balancing its story and gameplay trophies. I don’t expect all games to start giving their lists that kind of attention, but I do believe that a little time spent considering which systems could benefit most from a little meta game highlighting could help both the lists and the games to which they’re attached.
Games with such a strong narrative focus that there aren’t other obvious places where trophies can be added face a much more difficult design problem. They don’t have the luxury of dropping trophies entirely, but they can opt to make a boring list and own it. This isn’t always a bad thing. In some cases, I would even argue it’s the right call to make. Many story-based games just don’t have room to accommodate non-narrative trophies, and are better off without them. The developer/publisher Telltale Games, for example, tends to take this route. Telltale’s games often shine when played once and only once. Any trophies that don’t unlock naturally over a single session would encourage multiple playthroughs, thus putting the game in an unfavorable light. A list like this elects to add value by choosing to do no harm, even if it doesn’t do much active good either. It’s a strong choice, if not the most exciting.
On the other hand, there are games that subtly embed trophy-friendly systems into their existing narrative structures, like Life is Strange’s Collectable Mode, which solves the Telltale problem of not wanting to encourage replays by allowing players to revisit parts of each chapter without narrative repercussions. These games rarely have the most polished lists, but their experimental nature makes them very interesting.
At the end of the day, every game is going to need to find its own balance between trophies and narrative. There are arguments for letting the two overlap to some degree, but understanding that degree and keeping it within an acceptable range can be the difference between a list that supports the narrative and one that actively undermines it. This will be easier for some games than others, but every developer owes it to themselves to take the time to ensure that they, at the very least, aren’t undoing their own work.
One of the main goals of a good trophy list is to point the player to interesting in-game content and encourage/reward exploring the game’s fundamental systems. In single-player games, this ends up being a straightforward process, often resulting in a handful of trophies for things like cooking 50 meals or getting 75 kills with the rocket launcher. They’re not the most exciting trophies, but they make players practice important or underutilized mechanics, so they get the job done. However, I would venture a guess that most trophy hunters end up farming these either by reloading checkpoints, or, particularly for the latter example, running through large chunks of the game, firing rockets at everything in sight, consequences be damned. And, honestly, that explosive tear through what was supposed to be a stealth mission can be a lot of fun. But, that “consequences be damned” approach breaks down fast in a multiplayer game. A lobby full of friends working toward a “Get 100 kills with grenades” trophy can be a lot of goofy fun. A single trophy hunter wildly lobbing explosives when her team just needs a healer is not. The trophies in a multiplayer game should reward and teach strong play, and avoid encouraging people to play in a way that maximizes trophy progress while hurting their teams chances at winning. That emphasis is one of the areas where I think the Overwatch list really shines, and makes it a standout pick for our first foray into multiplayer trophies.
As a general rule, I don’t include DLC trophies for these writeups, and that’s still the case here. However, it’s worth mentioning that all of the DLC for Overwatch has been free (as of the time of this writing), and is automatically downloaded as content updates, trophies included. This makes it feel different from pack-based DLC, which requires the player to actively seek out the content, even if it’s free. As a result, the effective lists for both versions of the game might feel very different from what I’m discussing, depending on how far out you’re reading this from it’s initial writing.
Overwatch MISC Trophies
The Friend Zone is a bit of an oddball compared to the rest of the list, so let’s address it first. I have mixed feelings about trophies that require you to play with people on your friends list. If you already play the game with friends, then the trophy isn’t accomplishing anything. Same thing if you just don’t end up getting the trophy at all. The trophy seems to be targeted at players who wouldn’t usually play with friends, but want the trophy enough to find a partner and give it a shot. This begs the questions:
Whatever the answer may be to the first question, I would argue that the answer to the second will almost always be “no.” The scenario where the person on your friends list is effectively a random player, by definition, fails to showcase why the game is better played with friends. I have to assume that this is one of the more common scenarios among people who get the trophy and don’t generally play with a usual group of friends.
Overwatch is great when played with friends, so I’m glad that there’s a trophy that encourages people to play together. However, I can’t say that I expect it to be at all successful.
Overwatch Natural Progression Trophies
They’re not the sexiest trophies, but they are some of the most important. All of these trophies can be obtained by just about anyone who’s willing to throw time at the game. They don’t require any special skill, they’ll just come naturally over the reasonable course of playing.
I like these trophies for the same reason I like any progression trophies: they keep you motivated and moving. They aren’t always the most exciting trophies to get, but you always know how to work toward them. No matter how much trouble I’m having hunting down Symmetra’s teleporters, for example, I know that every game I play at least puts me that many experience points closer to hitting level 50. I always feel like I achieved something, even when I lose.
One of the really nice things about Overwatch’s natural progression trophies is that they end relatively early. I can imagine the temptation to include a trophy for hitting level 100, but I’m glad there isn’t one. Progression trophies are at their best when they feel achievable. When they fall too far out, it’s easy to end up focusing more on how far you still have to go than how far you’ve come.
At the same time, there are enough of these trophies that they still effectively introduce people to Overwatch. By the time you’re through them, I’d imagine you’re either interested enough in the game or list that you’re motivated to keep playing, or you know that it isn’t for you.
The list also benefits from the inclusion of progression trophies like Decorated and Blackjack. Both of these will come to a player, given enough time, but linking them to medals and cards helps them feel like they’re rewarding good play, even though I’d expect most people to be able to get them without going out of their way.
Overwatch Generic Skill Trophies
There are a handful of generic skill trophies which I’d call strong, but boring. With trophies like Undying and Shutout, I would say this is the most uninspired chunk of the list. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these kinds of trophies, they reward good play and add some extra excitement when you win big, they’re just not all that interesting.
I would have preferred to see a few more trophies like Survival Expert, which encourages you to explore some of Overwatch’s specific features. I found myself largely ignoring health packs when I first started, generally preferring to rely on the team’s healers. It wasn’t until I started trying to get the trophy that I started keeping track of where the health packs were on a level, which led to a clear improvement in my play.
The Path is Closed presents a conundrum. On one hand, it’s good encouragement to learn how to counter Symmetra, and can help teach players about strong teleporter/turret locations. On the other, it’s one of only a few of trophies (with Mine Sweeper and arguably Huge Rez, both of which are more flexible) that requires players on the opposing team to be playing in a specific way. This makes it much more of a trophy about taking advantage of an opportunity than aiming to consistently improve one’s own skills. At the end of the day, I think the drawbacks outweigh the positives, but trophies that teach you to examine and counter the other team’s tactics are an interesting idea that warrant some more experimentation down the road.
Overwatch Character Trophies
At 42 trophies, character specific trophies make up the vast majority of the overall list (a percentage that looks likely to increase as new characters get added). Luckily, it’s also the place where I think the list gets the most interesting, for better and for worse.
I really like almost all of these trophies. On the whole, they do a good job of both encouraging you to use each character’s abilities, and teaching you some generally strong ways to do so. For example, Hog Wild draws attention to a potential use for Road Hog’s ultimate that some players might not have considered, and teaches the player that some super moves are better saved until the opportune moment comes around.
Additionally, playing in a way that maximizes your trophy progress very often translates directly into playing the character well. Blocking lots of damage with Reinhardt’s shield for I Am your Shield, for example, means learning how to stay alive while absorbing large amounts of damage for your team.
One thing that I especially like about the general philosophy on display here is that, while the trophies encourage you to get good with each character’s skills, none of them simply require you to use that skill some number of times. That means you’re not encouraged to spam abilities or ultimates at inopportune times just to get your count up. Instead, you’re encouraged to use them at times when they can be the most effective, like when enemies are grouped together, or when an ice wall can block the most damage. I can imagine situations where someone trying to get 4 kills with an ultimate passes on an opportunity to get 2 more meaningful kills in exchange for a chance to maybe get 4 later, but I’d still say that, overall, the experience in using abilities efficiently is worth more than learning how to spam them.
My few complaints with this section of the list tend to fall on specific trophies. While I’m on board with some trophies being harder than others, I’m actually very much for it, my confusion comes mainly from trophies like Rapid Discord and The Floor is Lava, which seem not just harder than the other trophies, but frustratingly so.
The Floor is Lava is one of the few character skill trophies that isn’t tied to generically strong play. Wall running as Lucio is useful, but three kills in one life while doing so seems extremely specific at best, and actively counter productive at worst. The most common strategies I’ve seen for this involve bouncing opponents off the stage (good) and then jumping against a wall as they fall to their death (less good). Most of Overwatch’s trophies do a really good job of guiding you toward the core of a character. This isn’t one of them.
On the other hand, Rapid Discord does reward strong play, but largely on the part of the rest of your team. 4 kills in 6 seconds, plus time to re-apply discord, seems like a lot to ask from a single player. You’re either going to need allies putting out very targeted damage, or a particularly squishy set of opponents. None of which has much to do with your ability to play Zenyatta.
While I’m not against some trophies being more or less difficult than others, I’m always turned off when one or two trophies on a list are wildly harder than the others. As with any game, a smooth difficulty curve helps players build up to challenges they didn’t think they would be able to tackle. Jagged difficulty spikes, on the other hand, are more likely to drive people away. If every character-specific trophy was really difficult, I wouldn’t have a problem with either The Floor is Lava or Rapid Discord. Unfortunately, as it is, both end up feeling out of place.
Individual gripes aside, I really like that there’s a good-feeling curve that moves you away from the Natural Progression trophies and into this group. The gaps between progression trophies start to feel long roughly between levels 25 and 50, which was almost exactly the same time that my thoughts started to shift from “how do I play Overwatch more effectively?” to “How do I get better with Genji?” This, plus the handful of trophies I already had under my belt from the characters I’d started gravitating toward, made me feel much more confident and excited about branching off into new territory.
Overall, I really like this list. It does a good job of introducing new players to the game, and curves nicely with the transition from learning general heuristics into more specific strategies, even with a couple of uncharacteristically difficult trophies toward the end. I’m not sure every experiment pays off, particularly encouraging players to play with friends, but that’s largely made up for by a strong set of character-specific trophies that do an excellent job of spotlighting the strengths of each member of the game’s roster.
All trophy images pulled from psnprofiles.com
Interestingly, the lists are different across Xbox and Playstation, which is extremely rare. The achievement list omits two trophies (discussed under Difficulty below).
The least interesting part of BioShock’s trophy list are the story trophies, nearly all of which are hidden, so let’s take care of them first. To avoid spoilers, I won’t include an image. The game has 9 trophies strictly tied to story progression (10, if you count Toaster in the Tub, which you’re instructed to do, but isn’t technically required), accounting for about 17% of its list. I’d call this a good spread of story trophies, particularly for a game with such a heavy narrative emphasis, and they’re well implemented. They correlate roughly with the games chapters, and pop as you exit the level, making them pretty non-intrusive. Trophies are great, but having them pop during dramatic moments isn’t.
BioShock Difficulty Trophies
There are 4 trophies associated with completing the game on various difficulties. One each for finishing on Hard and Survivor difficulties, then another two for finishing on Hard and Survivor without using Vita-Chambers, the game’s rather lenient respawn system. All of these stack, meaning someone could unlock them all on a single Survivor playthrough without using Vita-Chambers.
While I’m on board with rewarding players for completing challenging content, I’m rarely a fan of encouraging / requiring a game to be played on it’s highest difficulty setting. It rarely feels interesting or inventive, and often feels explicitly out of place in games that aren’t otherwise about mastering systems or perfecting skills (a category that pretty clearly doesn’t include BioShock).
The more interesting trophies in this category are the ones for playing without Vita-Chambers. Unlike many other respawn systems, a Vita-Chamber returns the player to the world exactly as it was when she died, rather than at some checkpoint in the past. Dead enemies stay dead, damaged enemies stay damaged. Removing this system adds consequences to combat, making each enemy, especially the Big Daddies, feel much more dangerous. The potentially frustrating threat of losing progress is offset nicely by the ability to save anywhere. A careful player will rarely lose more than a few minutes, but even the tension that comes from frequent saving goes a long way toward making Rapture feel as hostile mechanically as it does aesthetically.
I’m not sure that I agree with the decision to link one of the Vita-Chamber trophies to the Survivor difficulty. I’d have preferred to see a single difficulty trophy for beating the game on Hard or higher without Vita-Chambers, or even removing the difficulty requirements entirely. BioShock rarely, if ever, feels like a game about combat or player skill. Instead, BioShock is at its strongest when it is creating a world in which the player is made to feel unwelcome, but not helpless, and combat is one of many pieces that work together to create that. The trophy list should be encouraging players to find an appropriate level of difficulty, not ramp it up as high as it can go.
Interestingly, this is the area where the Xbox and Playstation lists diverge. The Xbox achievement list omits the Survivor difficulty entirely (though it is still included in the game). Instead, it contains only Seriously Good at This and Brass Balls. This distinction makes the Xbox version the stronger list, in my opinion.
BioShock Collection Trophies
BioShock has a handful of trophies associated with completing collections. (Note: Though “collectables” is often used to refer to items that somehow appear in the game’s world, I’m considering any trophy that requires the player to find, see, do, craft, etc. all of some set to be a collection trophy. For example, I am including Dealt with every Little Sister as a collection trophy, since it requires the player to complete the set of Little Sister encounters.) These are largely well done, but with one major flaw.
First, the successes. All of the completion trophies are tied to things with in-game significance. There are no collectables or upgrades that exist solely as padding or for the trophy list. Every one serves a purpose on its own. The trophies are either guiding the player to meaningful content, or adding rewards to things that were already rewarding. The audio diaries in particular are a standout here, largely because of the thought and care that went into their in-game design.
BioShock Intermediate Trophies
The trophies for completing collections are often accompanied by at least one intermediate trophy somewhere along the way toward the full collection. This has the benefit of both increasing the value of the final completion trophy (since it effectively includes all of the intermediate ones) and making the larger task feel less daunting by providing several rewards along the way. Lots of these intermediate trophies also do double duty as teaching trophies (see below), which makes me like them even more.
The chief failing in the completion trophies comes from the fact that several of the collections include missable elements. By and large, I don’t see much merit to missable collectables. But, if a game is going to have them, they should either be high-consequence but clearly marked, or low-consequence and easily missed (my personal preference). BioShock makes the unfortunate choice to make a handful of its collectables both high-consequence and easy to miss.
This issue is most obvious with the audio diaries. Though the player can return to almost any area of the game at will, there are two areas that contain audio diaries which become permanently inaccessible. The chief frustration here has two parts. The first is that stakes are extremely high, since the player will need to replay everything after her closest save to the closed area if she misses one of these diaries. The second comes from the fact that the vast majority of areas in the game can be revisited, and there is nothing to indicate that the player will not be able to return to the two areas that become locked. Together, these make for a very frustrating combination.
You can see something similar in the trophies for collecting all of the tonics and for purchasing every plasmid and tonic slot. It’s possible to get both of these on the same playthrough, but there’s a catch. There isn’t enough Adam in the game to purchase all of the upgrades. So, in order to afford all of the slots and tonics, the player must forego some combination of Plasmids, health, and Eve upgrades. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem arises when you consider the fact that this requirement isn’t made explicit. A player has no sense of how much Adam will be available, and is actually in a position to unknowingly lock herself out of one or both of those trophies by purchasing too many “wrong” upgrades pretty early in the game.
BioShock Teaching Trophies
With 19 trophies falling at least partially under this umbrella, teaching trophies represent a larger percentage of the total list than any other category. This is great, since teaching trophies are some of the most valuable trophies you can find in any given list. These generally low-value trophies are awarded for some initial interaction with one of the game’s systems. They can also be an effective tool for telling or reminding players about some of the options at their disposal, without being heavy-handed.
In BioShock, the teaching trophies focus primarily on hacking and research. After some straightforward trophies for experimenting with each system, the list goes on to provide a list of potential targets for the player’s newly learned skill. For example, the hacking trophies effectively begin with One Successful Hack, awarded for successfully hacking any machine. After that, a group of trophies are available for hacking a security bot, a turret, a security camera, a vending machine, and a safe. Since the trophies are public, they encourage people to experiment with each of these targets at least once, introducing them to some of the game’s intermediate combat mechanics.
I’m always a fan of teaching trophies, but it would have been nice to see BioShock’s require a bit more actual engagement. Rather than requiring the player to hack a turret, I would have asked her to kill 5 splicers with hacked security (I believe that this is even the route BioShock 2 takes). I also might have consolidated hacking safes and vending machines into a single trophy, and increased the required number to 5 or 10. Trophies like this really shine when they are forcing players to actually explore the systems they’re teaching, instead of just brushing up against it.
I would also argue that there’s a bit of a missed opportunity here. For a game with a fairly expansive and creative list of combat options, I’m surprised that there are so few trophies related to actually using the weapons and plasmids at your disposal. I don’t mind playing with Winter Blast and the chemical sprayer just for kicks, but a handful of plasmid- or weapon-related trophies could have been a welcome push to try some of the less immediately useful tools the game provides, instead of falling into an Electro Bolt rut.
Setting aside some differences of opinion in implementation, this is one of BioShock’s stronger categories. They focus a lot on hacking and research, and probably leave some other options on the table, but they do a great job of guiding players through two of the game’s strong underlying systems.
BioShock Other Trophies
There are a handful of other trophies that either don’t fall into a clear category, or whose categories are so under represented that they don’t warrant an entire section. A handful of these are generally nice to have, just to keep a list from being too homogeneous. I’ll be taking a look at some of the more interesting ones.
First off, Avid Inventor, awarded for successfully inventing at least 100 items. Broadly, I’d categorize this as a goal trophy, which sits somewhere between teaching and collection. These generally require more thorough exploration of a system than a teaching trophy, but don’t have the completeness characteristic of a collection trophy. Skilled Hacker is another good example. I would have probably liked to see a couple of the teaching trophies transitioned into something like this.
Second, Lucky Winner, awarded for hitting a jackpot on the slot machines in Fort Frolic. Arguably, this teaches the player about the slot machines, but I don’t think there’s much of a case to be made for the slots being a significant system within the game. So, instead of teaching, I would categorize this as a diversion trophy. These can be a good way to point players toward minigames, easter eggs, or other small places where the game does something small and special. Trophies like this can be tricky to pull off, since a few of them can add some fun variety to a trophy list, but too many can make the trophies feel out of touch with the game. Having just the one doesn’t hurt the list, but doesn’t add much, though it is a fun reminder to play with the slot machines.
Finally, I’d like to talk about two of the secret trophies, so SPOILER WARNING for the next few paragraphs!
Irony and Found Cohen’s Room are what I would tentatively call event trophies. They are tied to performing a specific action or being at a certain place at a certain time. They’re similar to collection trophies, with only a single collectable.
There’s a lot of potential for these to be very frustrating. Found Cohen’s Room requires the player to NOT kill Sander Cohen in Fort Frolic, and puts the payoff/realization of a potential mistake several levels past the point of no return. Irony is a bit better, since any save from shortly before a Cohen fight could be used to quickly obtain it, but that’s not saying much.
However, unlike Historian or Tonic Collector, the effort for these trophies on a replay is relatively low. For example, if a player kills Cohen in Fort Frolic and fails to photograph him, she’ll have to replay the first few levels, but at least she doesn’t need to recollect dozens of audio diaries to correct the mistake. She doesn’t even need to finish the game. These kinds of caveats are what make me say, if you’re going to have missable trophies, at least tie them to events rather than collectables.
A really good set of trophies enhances a game, while remaining an interesting challenge unto itself. BioShock’s list gets halfway there, doing an excellent job of drawing attention to some of the game’s strengths, but lacking the depth to go much further than that. Most of the credit goes to thoughtful game design that gives generic trophies something strong to highlight. Unfortunately, the trophies that do stand out are often held back by some central implementation flaw. It’s a fine list, but doesn’t show nearly the care or inventiveness on display in the game itself.