Artifacts, coins, orbs, or audio tapes... a rose by any other name would still be a collectible! When done right, collectibles can breathe life into a game's world, reveal character secrets and bring the story full circle. But when the concept is abused all together, we are left with a special brand of tedium that chips away at your immersive bubble while leaning heavily on the metagame in the worst way possible. What is it then that creates the satisfying middle ground found in some of our favorite games?
Here Are Some Ways That Collectibles Can Be Done Right
While the appeal of any game's collectibles could be debated on the subjective level, there are definitely certain types of collectibles that are pretty objectively conducive to giving a game more depth. Let's say, of those types, there are three main ones that seem to produce the better collectibles in the bunch.
Some of the best collectibles are the ones that help to flesh out the game environment. It's all too easy to be pushed out of an experience by the grind of getting through. Whether it's stocking up to prep for a boss, fetching or escorting, immersive collectibles help you remember that you've got two digital feet in a completely different universe and that this universe does in fact exist beyond the limits of your screen.
#Uncharted's artifacts are a great example of this remember-the-world move. It's actually pretty easy to forget that you're a treasure hunter when you're walking from shootout to shootout but the ancient trinkets and their accompanying factoids throw your right back into the space. Until Dawn features a similar implementation of this variety—postcards and photos give you a glimpse into the lives of the missing sisters and double as clues for your next moves. The Until Dawn pieces even alter character behavior in some cases.
While there are plenty of other impactful variations of this type of collectible, the best of this category for me would be the BioShock Audio Diaries. You don't have to collect them—if you happen to want the achievement/trophy for collecting them, you can do that without even listening to them. But if you did that, you'd be missing out because the diaries are some pretty high-quality finds.
When it came to immersive experiences, #BioShock certainly didn't need any help; its writing, music, and gameplay continues to be unparalleled in the first-person-shooter genre. However, one thing that Rapture was missing was its inhabitants. The audio diaries give voices to the ghosts of Rapture's past and enlighten us about the things that Jack, the silent protagonist, will go through in the game.
With that being said, keeping your head in the game isn't all that a great collectible can do. Sometimes the incentive at the end of the rainbow is a little more straightforward... or should I say, rewarding?
Reward collectibles are great because they bring a sense of improvement to the usual warm and fuzzy feeling you get once you've found the objects. Sure it's cool to find out why Villain X has a stick up their ass all of the time by reading their diary... but increasing your ammo capacity on that coveted shotgun just feels so much more badass sometimes.
This type of collectible honestly gets it kind of easy. It's hard to hate something that is going to make your adventure a little simpler. That's why a game populated with pickups like these is probably going to do well for itself... in terms of collectibles anyway.
Among the best of the best in rewarding collectibles would be the bobbleheads from the Fallout series. It's rare that such a perfect union of game culture and functionality can be seen in a game. Boosting your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. with these little guys is like holiday time in the Wastes. S.P.E.C.I.A.L. traits are presented as being fixed and final from the beginning of the game, so having the chance to boost a trait feels like a miracle every single time. The bobbleheads are even customized to match the trait that they'll boost—talk about attention to detail!
Detail-oriented pieces are always welcome in a game. Especially games as atmospheric as #Fallout. However, there is actually a category of collectibles that is dedicated to this sort of appeal that I think is also worthy of mention. These are the Novelty Collectibles.
Novelty collectibles are actually a lot like immersive collectibles in that they are usually products of the environment. The main difference for me is that novelty collectibles tend to provide information that has little to nothing to do with the story—and that's actually totally fine. Why? Because stumbling upon these things paints a picture of the game world that takes your mind off of the grind in a good way.
One of my favorite games for this is Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Ghostbusters isn't really a creepy game, but some of the artifacts make me reconsider that assessment. Artifacts are inanimate objects tainted by the spirits that haunt them. They glow, move and sometimes stink with lives of their own and they're some of the most gratifying collectibles around. Each artifact comes with a story about its origin and some of them are even references to the films. Neat, right?
I personally hate the Playboy Magazines from Mafia III, but I do think they are a particularly well-done example of this category of collectible. There are also a few other magazines in play here—all with similar content—that include a range of photos and even scans of articles from the issue in question. You could actually mark these off as immersive as well, but I think that they better serve as novelty pieces. The high quality scans keep these rags on the radar for many players out there.
So we've talked about the best but what about the rest? You know... those collectibles.
What About The Collectibles That Don't Work?
When there isn't a lot of thought behind their implementation, collectibles can be pretty damn annoying. In situations like this, you may find yourself burdened by the task of searching every nook and cranny on the map in an effort to collect all that there is to collect. These days it's for the trophies/achievements... but it wasn't always like that, right?
I would actually say that the worst of this category would be the games that leave you collecting non-monetary coins, rings, and things. I realize that this includes most of the classics which are truly products of their time. However, you can still catch this happening in a few modern games and it simply isn't cool.
I know I praised this game earlier but... Alan Wake's thermoses definitely belong in this category. They're not worth much but you always find yourself picking them up anyway. Why is this a problem? Well, there are a few reasons...
Half-baked Collectibles Hurt Gameplay
More and more, we see games that feature collectibles, not with the intention of fulfilling the above types, but with the intention of expanding upon otherwise unsatisfying, ephemeral experiences that would appear to be less than worth it without them.
Every second you spend thinking about how stupid coffee thermoses are when you collect them is another second you spend forgetting to get to the lighthouse. Sure, these things are optional... but they become a little hard to forget when the one trophy you haven't earned is the one for the 1276 commemorative blocks of cheese you didn't find while trying to keep your character alive.
There's a certain emptiness in fulfilling the quota for collection when the reward is simply the acknowledgement that you've spent the extra time doing that. That same emptiness doesn't tend to be here when your collectible rampage leaves you feeling like you got the whole story, or were equipped with the best weapons possible. As we escape to larger and larger worlds, we should begin to see more of this. Well, not the Playboys... but you get the picture.
Which game had the most collectable collectibles for you?