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Mass Effect 2: Achievements and the RPG Experience

I can honestly and proudly say that I am not addicted to achievement points. I am not one of those poor souls who dedicates his entire playing experience to squeezing out every last point possible and doesn’t give up until every tedious, impossible task is done.

That simply doesn’t appeal to me in the least.

I’m not immune to the allure of the points, however. I know how satisfying it can be. I am aware of the double edged sword they can present. At their best, they give you incentive to play the game in fun ways you might never have thought or bothered to otherwise. At their worst, they lure you into wasting your time doing boring, unnecessary crap just for the increased achievement score.

Basically, my interest in points extends exactly as far as that line of boredom and insanity. I will happily chase a few points for fun, as long as it actually remains fun.

But I have recently realized that even my merely casual affection for the points can have a greater influence on my game playing than I thought.

The original Mass Effect contained a good number of fairly interesting cast members. This should have been a good thing, but the game’s structure combined with those blasted achievement points actually turned it into a negative for me.

See, you can only take two of these interesting folks with you at any one time. They don’t play a huge role in the story even when with you, but they certainly feature larger than those left behind, who are out of the proceedings almost entirely except in exceedingly rare instances.

Where things really become devious is when you read the achievement list. In some insidious ploy to force poor saps to play through the game an absurd number of times, there are achievements for playing the majority of the game with each of the six potential party members in tow. Yes, that means you’d have to play through the game three times in full to get all the points.

Now, I’m nowhere near that dedicated. The allure of obtaining all of these points is not my problem with this setup, because that allure was nonexistent for me. My problem lies with the fact that, as a more “casual” player, one with no plans to play the game even a second time, I’m left with a dilemma. Do I go after the points I can get in a single play and stick with a couple characters exclusively or do I branch out and abandon the points in favor of a more fluid lineup?

The very fact that I am forced to consider this question is exactly my point. The dark lure of achievement points, however subtle it may be in me compared to others, has changed the way I play the game. I am no longer allowed to just do what comes naturally, thanks to the way Bioware has set up their achievements. I must instead consider and calculate my actions.

As it turns out, I’m rather ashamed to admit I went for the points. In my defense, I picked my two favorite characters and I likely would have played through most, if not all, of the game with Liara and Tali anyway. But my reasoning was corrupted, even if it did lead me down an admirable path nonetheless.

Things got even more frustrating when I finally reached the end of the game. Having shunned all other party members entirely for the sake of my blasted points, I received my reward for only one of the two characters. I was robbed. Despite getting Liara into my party as early as possible, not once letting her leave, and playing through every bit of the game I possibly could with her in tow, I didn’t get the achievement.

And thus my experience was ultimately soured, if only slightly, by what is a laughably trivial matter.

It didn’t amount to much, and I greatly enjoyed my time with the game, but it was a nice reminder that, innocent though they may often appear, these points we have so come to crave can alter the way we play and perceive our games.

This makes me all the more thankful that Mass Effect 2 seems like a significantly friendlier beast by comparison. There are few if any achievements that require multiple playthroughs and there are no achievements that force me to exclude interesting characters just for the sake of points. In fact, so far as I can tell at least, the vast majority of the points seem to be feasible to acquire simply through fairly natural gameplay or reasonable effort.

Major props to Bioware for that. It’s a movement I can definitely get behind.

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