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The Value of In-Game Collectibles, Should They Exist?

Recently, I’ve been playing through Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Grand Theft Auto V on my Xbox One. The games are excellent, though there’s an underlying factor that displeases my experience with each game: in-game collectibles.

As of late, collectibles in video games – whether it’s a triple-A title or a small indie/arcade game – have become a staple. That is, you’d be hard pressed to stumble upon a single game that doesn’t have some sort of collectible set or two worth grabbing. Such collectibles usually consist of items that are unique to the theme of the video game in question. This includes ancient relics in Far Cry 3, Riddler trophies in Batman Arkham City, and the beautifully crafted oil paintings in Dishonored. Other times, however, these collectible sets are a much more random – if we may call it that – set of items. UFO parts in Grand Theft Auto V or even the game’s letter scraps? Even stranger, bobblehead toys in Fallout 3?

Despite the intentions behind some of the aforementioned collectibles, video game developers have turned collectibles into a massive chore for gamers. What’s worse, game completionists, achievement catchers and trophy hunters are, by their obsessive “perfection-is-a-must” mentality, required by their unwillingly relentless behavior to grab every single hidden collectible in the game.

In my mind, collectibles can have their place, but only when the following four considerations are in place.

Primarily, collectibles must have a reasonable limit. Four hundred and forty collectibles in Batman: Arkham City is completely absurd. There comes a point where you are about twenty percent through with hunting down the “harder-to-find” collectibles – by following video or text guides – and you realize what a chore the task has become. Sure, The Riddler loves to mentally destroy Batman, but why in Gotham’s name has he gone through the trouble of hiding such a grand amount of trophies throughout the city?

In Halo, the skull collectibles are gameplay modifiers that greatly add to the replayability factor of the Campaign. Nice!
In H alo, the skull collectibles are gameplay modifiers that greatly add to the replayability factor of the game’s Campaign. Nice!

 

Must we really be required to hunt down fifty golden film reels in L.A. Noire? Other than completion purposes and a small achievement or trophy, they offer absolutely nothing in return. Why on earth are we looking for fifty playboy magazines in Mafia II? Would, say, twenty-five, not suffice in both these open world games where the narrative and activities are far more important that exploring obscure locations just to track down insignificant items? When considering the limit of collectibles, I believe Halo 3‘s skulls, in which there are only a mere thirteen, are an example of the collectible limit done right. Right on, Bungie.

Secondly, the existence of collectibles must make logical sense. In a game like Fallout 3, there is absolutely no reason why bobbleheads are scattered around the ruins of Washington D.C. and why we are, by the game’s logic, “required” or “encouraged” to find them.

On the other hand, in The Elder’s Scroll V: Skyrim, the existence of collectibles (Daedric Artifacts) make more sense. Its retrieval is tied to a logical purpose behind a highly significant quest, thus becoming one of Bethesda‘s greatest example of including “collectibles” correctly in their 2011 critically acclaimed RPG.

Hmm, those Daedric Artifacts are great. From daggers and shields to staffs and armor, there's a bit of everything!
Hmm, those Daedric Artifacts are great. From daggers and shields to staffs and armor, there’s a bit of everything!

Moreover, collectibles must reward the player with an actual reward. To ask players to find an absurd number of collectibles, only to have it unlock an achievement in return is not entirely satisfying to the general population of gamers, and even at other times, to the dedicated achievement and trophy hunters. Collectibles must offer an in-game incentive; again, one that makes sense to the game.

Despite their illogical existence, Fallout 3‘s bobbleheads provide players with a permanent skill boost or S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute boost. For example, finding the “Intelligence” bobblehead will raise your Intelligence attribute by a single point, thus leading to a greater availability of additional skill points each time you level up. Likewise, finding the “Repair” or “Energy Weapons” bobbleheads will permanently boost the Repair and Energy Weapons skills by ten points, meaning you can spend skill points elsewhere next time you level up! All in all, this is a prime example of collectible-rewarding done correctly. When such an example is compared to Rockstar‘s mindless task of collecting fifty UFO pieces, only to give you a “unique” car…well…no. That simply isn’t rewarding enough. Right on, Bethesda. That’s two thumbs up for you.

Look, Mom! I collected them all!
Look, Mom! I collected them all!

If collectibles are to exist within the game world, whether or not their existence is justified and whether or not they are limited to a reasonable number, there must be some sort of in-game map that reveals their locations on the larger world map. That, or NPC dialogue should reveal hints towards the locations of these collectibles.

Let’s look at another Skyrim example. Upon entering a small tavern in the center of town, asking the lone Nord, or Argonian, or Dunmer standing behind the counter, “Heard any rumors lately?” will reveal a miscellaneous task or significant quest that shoves you in the direction towards the location of a collectible. I’m aware the Daedric weapons in this game aren’t technically considered in-game collectibles, though for argument’s sake, I strongly believe they fit the definition of the aforementioned term. With that said, three thumbs up Bethesda…if I had three thumbs.

Hey, you! Yeah, you! Let's talk…I hear you give hints on how to obtain those legendary Daedric Artifacts.
Hey, you! Yeah, you! Let’s talk…I hear you give hints on how to obtain those legendary Daedric Artifacts.

So let’s recap. In-game collectibles have turned into a mindless and ugly chore in video games. To remedy this, they must have a reasonable limit, make logical sense to why they exist and why we are retrieving them other than for achievement purposes. Collectibles should reward the players correctly and there needs to be a “shove” or in-game map that pushes you in its direction.

Despite my considerations towards “collectibles done right,” I do not think such considerations will ever see the light of day in the future of our video games. Collectibles will continue to be spread out in numbers of the hundreds, have no logical reason as to why they exist, why we collect them or whether or not they hold a valuable reward.

I would be lying if I admitted that I’ve played more than a single video game that has followed all four criteria outlined above. In retrospect, I think Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim may be the only game where collectibles were established and crafted correctly. The sad part is that the game’s artifacts aren’t even technically considered collectibles.

But let us know what you think. Drop down into the comments below and let us know what games you despise – or maybe even love – in terms of collectible-hunting.

And with that, I’m off to collect more letter scraps in Grand Theft Auto V. Oh, the joy of being a completionist.