Sunday, July 20, 2008

Baseless Speculation: Achievements

So Blizzard finally had to announce the Achievement System for Wrath of the Lich King, hours before starting the beta and thus letting the cat out of the bag anyway. What is known so far is that the game will track many statistics, from the number of quests completed to the amount of the game map explored, and award players with Achievement Points for meeting any of a wide variety of goals. This is not unlike the Deed system I have repeatedly decried in LOTRO, or the "Tome of Knowledge" Mythic is planning for Warhammer Online (indeed, Syp of Waaagh! was not amused by the similarities).

What isn't clear so far is how the "achievement points" will function. Blizzard claims that the rewards for achievements will be cosmetic, and I believe them; tying gameplay benefits to a system that awards just about every style of play imaginable (pacifist exploration, solo grinding, battleground PVP, raiding, arena PVP) is a recipe for trouble. That leaves several possibilities:

- Will they be a currency used to buy cosmetic rewards? I kind of doubt this approach simply because you'd be getting the same rewards for points regardless of what activity you earned them with, and Blizzard has specifically stated that they want PVP and PVE rewards to be visually distinct this time out.
- A generic number that increases permanently as you achieve stuff, like an XBox Live score that states how much in general terms a character (or perhaps account?) has accomplished without really distinguishing how the points were earned?

- A very specific "complete X achievements, get Y reward" system like LOTRO's deeds? (Many of the battlegrounds have achievements that call for players to complete all of the other achievements for that battleground.) The result would be very specific titles/tabards/non-combat pets/etc for each and every significant achievement (perhaps in addition to the generic "score").

- How will alts be handled? My main would hypothetically be in line for several hundred retro-active points the moment he logs in based on past non-repeatable accomplishments (e.g. "obtain exalted with X faction", "get Y mounts", "complete all the quests in Zone B" etc), while most of my alts would have very limited point values. Will we have an aggregate score for all characters account-wide (encouraging progress on alts), separate scores for each character, or a mix of the two (with some account-wide achievements, e.g. "get to level 55, unlock death knights" or "get attuned for Y raid zone", something the devs have said they want to make account-wide in the future, and the rest being character specific)?

All this rambling is before we even consider the social ramifications of achievements. For example, Larisa ponders whether in-game achievements fail to reward valued out of game behavior (such as helping run your guild, being nice to others, etc). I can also imagine some of the PVP goals having a highly negative effect on the PUG battleground scene; for example, an achievement in the Eye of the Storm battleground calls for players to "Personally carry and capture the flag in Eye of the Storm". Many players may disregard broader strategy in the hopes of crossing off a few achievements from the list.

Point being, we've got some information now that the NDA is lifted, but there are many questions yet to be answered.

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