The scale of 2015's biggest games frustrates as much as it amazes

I’ve done it again. My tenth platinum trophy appeared in the corner of the screen with a resoundingly satisfying pling and I loved it. Master Assassin. Again. It took over 70 hours of Assassin's Creed Syndicate (opens in new tab) and I’m frankly elated. I don’t even feel remotely guilty. Even the hour I spent on the phone to my mother, with the TV muted and a finger glued to R2 while circling the same square over and over, ploughing down market stalls and sending barrels and innocent London civilians flying in order to net the 5000 destructibles Trophy, was a joy. I’m sure she’s so proud of her 30 year old daughter.

Look mum, I took an omnibus for a few spins around the block to mix things up and made a small group of Victorian commuters wish anti-travel sickness wristbands had been invented. And yes, I especially enjoyed shooting the horses of enemy carriages for the ‘WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?’ accolade. The answer? Potentially everything.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was my first platinum of this year, and while I’m hoping to tie Telltale’s auto-plat-able Game Of Thrones (opens in new tab) in a nice gory bow by the end of 2015, Syndicate’ll probably be the only open world game I manage to truly triumph over. As a fan of pixelated shiny silverware, it’s a shame. I bloody love checking off lists for Trophies, especially if that includes completing every Sound Shapes level in Death Mode, or hunting down every last feather in Assassin's Creed 2 (opens in new tab) with an iPad and a drawing app in hand to clumsily smear off the ones I’d collected. Incidentally, if you also slaved over hunting down poor Petruccio’s feathers, you’re not alone. Assassin’s Creed 2 is the most platinum-ed game of all time according to this (opens in new tab), now admittedly three years old, post from the PlayStation Blog. Oh and you don’t need to feel ashamed of a single Lego game plat. I have three. Long live Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 (opens in new tab).

The problem now is the sheer size of games. 2015 has seen so many massive open-world titles that it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps with the 242 Riddler trophies of Batman: Arkham Knight (opens in new tab), or The Witcher 3 (opens in new tab)’s 66 accolades that have only been attained by 0.1% of players on PS4? What about the history relics of Mad Max (opens in new tab), the illustrations and flowers of Syndicate, memento photos of Metal Gear Solid 5 (opens in new tab), or the Bobbleheads of Fallout 4 (opens in new tab)? Do we have enough time? Or is the question, do we still care enough to try? It would be easy to dismiss and say that it’s surely impossible to get them all, but I posed the question to editor in chief of PlayStation (opens in new tab) and Xbox (opens in new tab), Dan Webb, to see if he still thinks people are as passionate about their digital silverware collections.

“I think so, yeah, but because there's so many games out these days, people tend to be more selective,” he explains. “It's no longer the case where people will pick up every game possible to get every Achievement or Trophy they can - there just isn't enough time in the day these days to get them all... that doesn't stop some people trying though!”

Yes, I’m looking at you with the Hannah Montana Trophy.

Webb doesn’t see the number of games as an inherent problem, but instead thinks it’s all about choosing your battles. “[The lack of time] affords people the luxury to be selective and play games that they might actually be interested in, and that tends to be the good games,” he says. “If you've got a good game, like Fallout 4 or Metal Gear Solid 5, for instance, I think people are just as motivated now as they were 5 years ago to chase down the elusive platinum or max them out Gamerscore-wise. At the end of the day, it's still a good bragging right to have amongst friends.”

Yet looking at the sheer number of hours it takes to fully complete some of the latest open world games is frankly terrifying. The listing on PS Trophies for the Witcher 3’s platinum suggests an average time frame of 100-150 hours, Mad Max at 50-75 and Metal Gear Solid 5 at over 150. AC Syndicate is one of the very few with a guideline of under fifty hours. Clearly I got distracted by tackling thieves and hijacking trains for funsies. Taking into account these averages, it would take more than 400 hours to gain every trophy in just these four games, and I haven’t even started on Just Cause 3 (opens in new tab).

But games aren’t about hours and lists. They’re about experiences, and a well designed Trophy list isn’t meant to be a chore. Bar ploughing down those 5000 destructibles, Syndicate’s requirements are largely fun and that’s what platinum hunters are looking for. Dan agrees. “Gamers on both of our sites for years have been after interesting lists, lists with creativity, originality, but more importantly, plenty of thought gone into them. That hasn't changed, I don't think,” he says. “Whether developers and publishers have stepped up to meet that though, well I'd argue that a lot haven't. In fact, some of them discount them as mere distractions, but if they view them that way they've lost the battle already. Achievements and Trophies should be used by them as a tool to maximise the fun and experience of their games. Too often they are just afterthoughts, which is a true shame.”

I’d batarang Batman: Arkham Knight straight into this category. It has the infuriating and somewhat careless addition of a Trophy that requires you to complete the whole game again on a new difficulty. Given Gotham’s open-world nature, this is a counterintuitive decision that made me immediately reject the quest for completion. ‘Oh yes, having spent tens of hours rooting around for collectibles, mines, and multitudinous hidden puzzles, let me just take the time to finish the same story again’. Said no-one.

*Casually paints Batman disc with explosive gel*

Dan Webb is optimistic and even says it’s possible to get the Fallout 4’s shiny pot under your belt relatively easily with multiple saves, but I’m not convinced. It’s not even just a Trophy issue - they only list what’s there in the first place after all - it’s an indication of exactly how big games are altogether. Does every open-world game have to appear utterly unconquerable? If I’d had to get all the chests in Syndicate I would have given up long ago. I understand the size, investment and value proposition issues faced by AAA games, and would always rather there was plenty to do but can’t help but feel we’re all simultaneously gaining yet somehow losing out. Look what you could do if you didn’t have any other things to do.

But hey, I’m ready to pick my battles with certain games but I know when I’m beaten, I know when it’s too much. For now, I think I’m happy to take that Syndicate trophy as this year’s prize. At least I’ll only have one to dust.

Louise Blain

Louise Blain is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in gaming, technology, and entertainment. She is the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming show and has a weekly consumer tech slot on BBC Radio Scotland. She can also be found on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, Netflix UK's YouTube Channel, and on The Evolution of Horror podcast. As well as her work on GamesRadar, Louise writes for NME, T3, and TechRadar. When she’s not working, you can probably find her watching horror movies or playing an Assassin’s Creed game and getting distracted by Photo Mode.