In the first part of this examination of collectibles in modern games we took a look at games that get it right. Not every game that implements collectibles well does it in the same ways, but the one thing they all have in common is a favorable trade-off between the amount of effort it takes the player to find the items in question and the reward they receive for doing so. The games that find this balance are the ones that compel more players than just achievement hunters to seek out collectibles. It may seem like an obvious concern, making collectibles worth the player’s time, but so many games fail to make collectibles all that compelling. There are quite a few different ways the balance between effort and reward can be upset, so let’s take a closer look and see just where so many games come up short.
One of the more classic ways in which collectibles can feel more like work than fun is when the game simply requires you to find way too many of them. Some of the more egregious platformers of old were referred to as “collect-A-thons,” with one in particular that comes to mind being Donkey Kong 64. DK64 featured tons of different kinds of collectibles, with each level having a set number of bananas, medals, and blueprints in five different colors to denote which character could acquire them, and the reward for getting them never felt worth it. The collect-a-thon moniker may have fallen out of favor along with 3D platformers, but there are plenty of modern games that share the idea.
For as enjoyable as the orbs in Crackdown are to get, there is certainly an argument to made that there are too many. Another one that was a little much are the hidden treasures in the Uncharted games. The Uncharted games are fantastic so more people may be willing to go for these, but having 100 collectibles spread out over a linear 8 hour game is simply far too many, and your only reward being an in-game model to look at isn’t a very compelling reason to seek them out. One of the most notorious games when it comes going overboard with the amount of collectibles is the first Assassin’s Creed. That game’s collectible were flags, of which there were 100 in each of the three main cities. Not only were there way too many to find, but the reward for doing so was absolutely nothing, which brings us to the next main area of offense for bad collectibles.
It’s one thing for a game to have too many collectibles to find, but another entirely when your reward for finding them isn’t only lacking, it’s nonexistent. Before the advent of achievements and trophies, collectibles always gave you some sort of in-game reward, even if it turned out to be something really lame like concept art. With most major platforms now having a standardized achievement system, there are many games that throw in tons of collectibles that grant you nothing other than achievements. For those gamerscore junkies that is likely more than enough to incentivize collecting everything, but for everyone else there is almost no reason to bother. Assassin’s Creed falters on both the volume and rewards fronts, but there are many more games that suffer from a lack of reward.
I mentioned Alan Wake‘s manuscript pages last time as being a good narrative collectible, but sadly those aren’t the only collectibles in that game. The game also features thermoses as another form of collectible, and they serve absolutely no purpose other than an achievement. Another game that was mentioned last time in a positive light but now returns for a helping of shame is Grand Theft Auto IV. I praised the stunt jumps the series has had in multiple installments, but the pigeons of GTA IV were quite the opposite. Whereas the stunt jumps were collectibles that offered interesting gameplay opportunities, the pigeons, of which there are far too many, give you nothing but an achievement for finding them. The only gameplay involved is shooting stationary targets, which is hardly exciting, and there is no in-game reward whatsoever. Some other examples of collectibles that exist for no reason other than achievements are the cog tags in the first Gears of War, and the film reels in L.A. Noire.
Being awarded with nothing but an achievement or trophy can certainly be frustrating, but sometimes being given an in-game reward that is absolutely pathetic is even more insulting. Many games that try to entice the player with narrative or gameplay rewards come up short when the rewards in question aren’t compelling in the slightest. The Call of Duty series is an example of games that come to mind as meeting this criteria. Several of the Modern Warfare games featured hidden intel scattered throughout the levels, but this was never interesting in the slightest. Those games were never known for story, so getting new bits of info about the Modern Warfare fiction wasn’t much of a motivator to seek these items out.
When it comes to bad collectibles, games that provide you with almost insultingly unsatisfactory rewards for your efforts are probably the most common. The golden bolts in the Ratchet and Clank games are not easy to find, yet they only reward you with concept art and goofy bonus skins. The Assassin’s Creed series may have learned its lesson after the first game somewhat, but rather than having no rewards the later entries just have bad ones. An extra little bit of dialogue with a practically nonexistant character was your reward for finding all the feathers in ACII, and the trend of pointless rewards would continue with each subsequent game. The various types of collectibles in Killzone: Shadow do little more than flesh out the story and lore, which is not the reason anyone plays a Killzone game in the first place. I could go on and on listing off games that grant you paltry offerings for your collecting efforts, but this article would be pages and pages long. Suffice it say, nominal gameplay rewards and supplemental story content in games that don’t have strong narrative elements are far too common as collectible rewards in games.
One final area I’d like to touch on is sort of the opposite of unwanted rewards. This is a tough line to identify, but sometimes it often feels like content of too much significance is locked away as collectible rewards. I’ve already mentioned how enjoyable it is to track down the riddler trophies in the Batman games, but one of the less than stellar aspects of these collectibles is the fact that you need to find them in order to unlock more challenge scenarios. It’s one thing to reward the player with audio logs or power-ups for taking the time to find collectibles, but hiding actual gameplay content away as collectible rewards seems somewhat counter productive. If you’re the type of person that doesn’t enjoy finding collectibles but you would like to try all the combat and predator challenges, you’re out of luck. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance also suffers from this, locking away the VR missions as collectible rewards. Feeling like your collecting efforts are rewarded adequately is important, but if some players are feeling like they’re being punished by opting not to engage with collectibles, it’s gone too far.
So, this concludes my look at collectibles, both good and bad, in modern games. This is by no means a definitive examination, as there are many factors that can arise on a game by game basis that would take too long to get into. Even if a game manages to avoid all these missteps and do many of the good things mentioned in the first piece, that doesn’t necessarily mean its collectibles will be a success. A game can have the most appropriate rewards for the perfectly tuned amount of collectibles, but if they’re hidden in obscure places no one would ever find, it doesn’t really matter. Collectibles certainly aren’t going anywhere, but hopefully as they continue to become a core part of pretty much every genre more developers will start thinking carefully about how they’re implemented.