My game du jour is still StarCraft II. As I mentioned in my recent review of the game, I tend to play co-operatively; “Linithiari” and I have a run of around 150 games logged now, almost always playing against the AI. It continues to be an exciting, amusing and educational experience for both of us, having played with each race in turn.
While the single-player campaign teaches players how to play with Terran forces, the Zerg and Protoss are left largely to individual experience. Co-operative play really helps in this regard, as two players can easily share new insight and support each other when exploring new and dangerous tactics, all within a social environment. Toying with the game and its rules is a much more frustrating experience when playing alone. Given my overall lack of skill with RTS (real-time strategy), this is why I consider co-operative modes to be a must in this type of game.
Events during our 4-hour play session last night shed some new light on the way I play this game: uniquely, because no other RTS has offered me achievements in the same way StarCraft II does. “Lini” and I are well-accustomed to achievements, having played World of Warcraft together for over a year too (I reviewed his achievements as his “Coffindodger” alias back in August). We’re as guilty as any other ‘achiever’-type player when it comes to chasing these achievements down. Why else would we subject ourselves to ‘/hug’ emoting on every critter we see, or gathering countless cooking recipes in order to be declared “Lunch Lady”? This sort of behaviour continues in StarCraft II, but in such a way that it literally keeps us hooked.
Achievement-rich World of Warcraft has the benefit of generic convention: role-playing games are designed around character and guild progression, and so that is what keeps players hooked. RTS games do not share this objective, and instead they rely on competition or a storyline. Because stories are finite (StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty can be completed in under 8 hours) and because not everyone enjoys player-vs-player combat, it falls to these achievements to help players like me stick with the game. It does this by challenging us to persevere, to expand our gameplay styles and ultimately work towards shared goals – a particularly powerful tool in a genre which may not, at first glance, have much to offer by way of social play.
Our most recent accomplishment is a streak of 10 wins against the medium AI in co-operative play modes. It’s a simple enough achievement – win 10 games in a row – which actually afforded us a lengthy challenge. While we could have set ourselves this goal as some sort of emergent task, such play feels pretty shallow and meaningless after a short time. It’s likely that, based on our experience with prior RTS games, StarCraft II may have lost its flavour and so sapped us of our motivation. Something about this built-in achievement has directly caused us not only to aim for a 10-game streak, but also to pair the challenge up with other goals.
StarCraft II does offer rewards for some achievements, such as for completing the single-player campaign or earning all of a group of achievements. These come in the form of décals and character portraits, serving as avatars for the player’s presence on Battle.net. The majority of achievements have no reward beyond bragging rights, displayed on that player’s profile. Each achievement also carries a point score, the sum of which is displayed under the player’s avatar on these same profiles. In short, most of these achievements are desirable simply because they are there.
StarCraft II is a fun game, but the fun might have waned a long time ago were it not for the fact my friend and I can work through a series of challenges, above and beyond the basic digital toybox. Though I’ve no wish to examine individual genres and declare achievements appropriate or not for each, I strongly believe they’re a worthwhile addition in this particular case.
What are your thoughts on StarCraft II‘s achievements and rewards?