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The unbearable pointlessness of PlayStation trophy hunting

How to sap all the joy from PlayStation’s brilliant Star Wars: Battlefront? By ticking off a checklist of useless achievements and mundane chores. Daniel Rutledge joins the ranks of gaming’s extreme trophy hunters.

It’s hard to imagine a world more hyped for Star Wars’ return than ours was at the end of 2015. With fans ready to drop serious cash on anything even tangentially Star Wars-related, it would’ve been easy for a humongous games publisher like EA to use their licensing rights on a cheap, shitty game that simply cashed in. But they didn’t. They entrusted the task to virtuoso development studio Dice and generously gave them years to get it right. The result: the most fun multiplayer shooter of the year and the best Star Wars game yet released.

Since its November release, I’ve spent dozens of joy-filled hours with Star Wars Battlefront, in epic and complex 20 versus 20 battles on Hoth, in smaller scale tactical team combat on Tatooine and pitted against waves of challenging AI enemies on Sullust.

There’s so much to love about this game, from bringing down Imperial walkers with an airborne tow cable, to declaring victory in a Supremacy match, to Temuera Morrison growling “dodge these” as Boba Fett fires wrist rockets at rebel scum. What I love most are its little nuggets of gameplay magic that combine what makes multiplayer action games great with the brilliance of the Star Wars universe. Just check out this dude as Luke Skywalker force-pushing an imperial soldier off a mountain and into the path of a Tie Fighter, or me piloting an AT-ST and wasting a T-47 airspeeder with it:

But over the last month or so, I’ve been playing the game for a very particular goal – its PlayStation platinum trophy. This is an almost entirely pointless award, which contributes to a pointless global PlayStation points score that I don’t care about at all. I don’t get why anybody would. A platinum trophy is awarded to players who achieve every possible bronze, silver and gold trophy in a game. Each of those is awarded as the player completes in-game goals, triggering a notification in the top-left of the screen to alert them that they unlocked it.

STAR WARS™ Battlefront™_20151126014619

STAR WARS™ Battlefront™

Unless its something I’m reviewing for work, I play games to have fun, to blow off steam and for the thrills they bring. I’m not interested in carrying out a series of mundane tasks to cross off some insignificant checklist – and I sure as hell don’t care about any other player’s progress through the same insignificant checklist.

But for many, achievement is all. Some players decide to buy a game based not on whether they’ll enjoy it, but on what trophies it has and how easy it is to achieve them. This is insane. Those people won’t play the game as it was intended to be played. They’ll have a guide open as they play, making sure they do everything possible to get those trophies on their first go through, as dictated by someone on the internet who already has. Forget movie plot twists – this is how a pop culture experience really gets spoiled.

playstation trophies

PlayStation trophies

That’s extreme trophy hunting, though. Most people will play through like a normal person, then go back for all the collectibles and such, regardless of how mundane that is. A friend who does this describes it as “kind of an OCD thing… I’ll do it if I just like hanging out in a game. Noodling around collecting trophies in Batman: Arkham Knight or Far Cry 3 is choice as. Lots of crazy shit happens you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

I guess that’s understandable, but there are so many brilliant games out there that once I’m done with one I’m right into the next. In 2016, games are like TV shows – there are too many great ones to keep up with. It’s crazy how many hours you could spend in terrific games that came out in 2015 alone – as well as Battlefront there was Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Until Dawn, Halo 5, Tales from the Borderlands, Mortal Kombat X, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Batman: Arkham Knight, Rocket League and Bloodborne, to name but a few. I’ve still got to get into some of them before I start pissing about on meaningless trophies.

The Last of Us

The Last of Us

Before Battlefront, the only time I’d gone the trophy-collecting route was with The Last of Us, what I consider the greatest game of all time. On about my 5th play through the main storyline, on the ‘remastered’ PS4 edition and the ridiculously hard Grounded difficulty, I thought I’d have a go at the trophies as I’d already knocked off a fair few of them. So I found myself pausing it every minute or so to watch a YouTube clip locating each of the collectible items, then playing the next minute or so.

There was some tiny amount of satisfaction in locating hard-to-find Firefly Pendants, but it was a generally wretched experience that threatened to sully my immense love for the game itself. It breaks my heart that extreme trophy hunters would ruin the experience by playing it like this on their first go.

Even extreme trophy hunters themselves know the wrong of what they do. In these three tiny paragraphs, a Reddit user expresses the pain of an addict – and the elation of breaking that addiction. The conversation that follows represents trophy addicts in denial, making excuses for their habits while chattering about the typical frustrations that come while ticking off their checklists.

The Star Wars Battlefront diorama

The Star Wars Battlefront diorama

When I forked out cash to EB Games for Battlefront, I couldn’t have given less of a shit what the trophies were. But built into the game itself is something very clever, capitalising on the obsessive fandom that is unique to the Star Wars franchise. It has a diorama. Once unlocked, this digital collection of 20 Star Wars character and vehicle models can be zoomed in on as appropriate sound effects are played. According to an in-game message from the developers, collecting them all signifies “true mastery” of the game.

For some reason this appealed to me, as if compelled by The Force itself. When you play a multiplayer game like Battlefront, there’s no story or over-arching quest to get through. You choose what game mode you and your mates want to play, then you play it. But playing to unlock the diorama figurines gave extra meaning to those multiplayer sessions. Winning each and every game and having fun doing so was still the primary goal, but now there was also a set of longer-term objectives to work toward.

Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker

As I played, PlayStation trophy notifications kept popping up. After setting my sights on clocking that diorama, I couldn’t resist checking out the trophy list as well. Lo and behold, I’d achieved many of them already. There were only about six to go, all fairly easily achievable. In a multiplayer game, trophies are awarded for things like killing a certain amount of enemies in a certain way, or finishing a level within a fixed amount of time. It’s a lot more fun than finding some object in a godforsaken corner of an enormous open-world game’s map. There are boring search-the-map-for-collectibles trophies to unlock in Battlefront, too, but they don’t take long. With every other achievement almost within my grasp, taking care of this dull gameplay chore didn’t seem too bad.

mission
Somehow the lure of the diorama had become an obsession with trophies. Many were very hard – one in particular was excruciating thanks to genuine flaws in the game’s construction that EA refuses to fix. But slowly and surely, I knocked off each and every one. It all seemed to be working toward a grand prize and I was hugely excited to see what that would be.

I shouldn’t have been.

The completed diorama.

The completed diorama.

As it turns out, when you climb that mountain and achieve those goals, nothing happens. There’s a moment or two of elation, a bog-standard notification pops up and then that’s that. Sure, the diorama screen says 20/20, but it doesn’t say “Hey Daniel, you are a true master now!” or give you anything special. My final trophy was for trampling 25 enemies to death with an AT-ST. On that final kill the victim was Luke Skywalker himself, a suitably epic way to score a platinum trophy. But then that was it. Again, nothing special happened.

On the PS4 trophies page I can see that I’ve won the platinum for Star Wars Battlefront and so can anyone else who browses my profile, but so what? That doesn’t mean anything at all, or at least it shouldn’t. I guess the same mammoth excitement that sent me to the cinema to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens five times so far also compelled me to complete the diorama and platinum the game, fooling me into becoming the sort of gamer I don’t understand. A trophy hunter. That ambition to achieve everything possible in the game consumed me. In its wake it left a pitiful emptiness.

STAR WARS™ Battlefront™_20160206022508

 

STAR WARS™ Battlefront™_20160206022512Now I feel aimless. Playing the game is still fun, it still has those magical moments, but mostly it feels hollow. There’s no goal to work towards. Even if there was, I now know that achieving that goal would be just as pointless as I always believed it to be.

Stuff it. Back to Call of Duty as my regular multiplayer fix, I guess, at least until the first expansion pack comes out for Battlefront. When it does, I’ll probably have to check what new trophies are offered with it. Just having a look won’t hurt, will it?


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