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In-game collectables, how I loath thee

In-game collectables are the bane of many gamers' experience. But there's good execution and then there's bad execution.

In-game collectibles have sparked several debates on forums regarding their true merit and purpose. Many gamers feel that they are a gimmick in making the game seem longer, while others find them fun when done right.

After years of considering myself a completionist, I can truly say that collectibles alone have ended that. A few games with fairly easy battles, ridiculously fun mechanics, or engaging stories were cut short of my 100% completion rate due to arbitrary collecting.

While grinding to level is equally annoying (for the often same reasons), it at least serves a purpose to furthering your gameplay. 

Too often we are expected to spend hours mindlessly collecting while developing carpal tunnel or a migraine. However, there are examples of both good and bad collectibles.

The bad: time consuming crap

The first game that comes to mind is Assassin's Creed (and especially Black Flag). It has a cool storylines, interesting gameplay, and at the time, innovative mini-games, like whale hunting. However, those damn Animus fragments... all for a trophy and a cheat. While that sounds like it might be worth it, that's 200 fragments. And in Black Flag, most are on individual little islands with no other incentive to stop there. So, get on you ship, sing a shanty and head to a tiny island, jump off, swim to shore, grab your fragment, swim back to the ship and off to the next island. 100 times.

No thanks. The rewards are kind of cool, however, 200 is a lot and by the time you're finished, it's the end of the game. This was one of the first franchises that actually made me reconsider my completionist tendencies and I'm glad I did because...

Basically, every GTA game hands out trophies/achievements for collectibles. When I was younger and only had one new game a year, I appreciated the "expanded" game - hunting pigeons, stunt jumps, now spaceship parts, whatever. But rarely does the player ever get anything unique or useful. Rockstar likes to throw some cash or weapons your way and if everything is done, here's a trophy. However, to adamantly seek each hidden package as an adult with s*** to do, ain't nobody got time for that. 

The good: world-expanding nuggets

Far Cry 4 has a unique system of collecting where the objects are placed in areas you would go anyway and there aren't a million posters to destroy. Every time you do collect, you get rep that later benefits your gameplay by opening up weapons and tools while it's still relevant. That's fair. 

Wolfenstein is another great example. The structure of the game makes it easy to see what you've collected and what you need. Because the game is set up as levels, and not open world, you can go through the level as many times as needed to find what you're missing. You'll never ask yourself, "Where the hell is that one painting in all of Skyrim?"

Mass Effect's collectors (pun intended) are my favorite. They give you lore and deeper information about your universe. The objects are rarely shoved in your face, there is not a ridiculous amount of them, and there isn't a map showing you exactly where they are. Collecting insignias, finding keepers, and locating Asari writings actually encourage you to explore the areas while learning about the war that you, as the player, were just thrown into.

........

So, you're probably saying, "Just don't get them. No one is forcing you to collect anything. You're just lazy." And that's fair. However, we can't let the game devs off the hook completely. If it's obvious that the collectibles were used to make the game seem longer, then that's not very cool. No one buys Assassin's Creed because they want to play a 40 hour game of I Spy. 

However, if the collectibles actually do, in fact, add depth and engagement to the game without feeling disjointed and half-assed, then that's awesome and I'd gladly hunt down every piece.

What are your most loved and hated collectables?
Published Sep. 24th 2015

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