Trophy Design in The Last of Us

I should say upfront that this article will contain no spoilers, in case you haven’t finished The Last Of Us yet!

I’ve written before about the importance of trophy and achievement design and the effect it can have upon the player’s experience. I recently played The Last of Us, and noticed that they made some interesting decisions in their choice of trophies which are worth discussing.

The most obvious thing is the lack of trophies – I’d played through 50% of the game before I’d earned one, and finished the game with only three. Compared to the typical experience from other games, even including story-driven games like Heavy Rain, this is incredibly restrained. In contrast Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 gives the player a trophy just for starting the game.

The effect of this is to make trophies irrelevant to the game, and improve immersion – without the meta-game, it’s easier to forget that you are playing a game at all.

The game does give some trophies for levelling up; however they are not achievable during a single play through of the game, which lessens the effect they can have upon the player’s behaviour. Because the trophies are not accessible, the player is discouraged from altering their behaviour to earn them.

Other trophies in The Last of Us relate to collectables, for example finding all the comic books hidden throughout the levels. These are extremely missable, since the game doesn’t inform the player where to look, or if they’ve missed one, which I’d previously listed as an example of poor achievement design for Alan Wake. However while playing TLoU I found that I was ignoring the collectables entirely, and that I’d internally given up on collecting them all, so didn’t explicitly change my behaviour to find them. Upon completion, the game allows the player to revisit specific areas, and gives an indication on whether all the collectables in each area have been discovered, making this trophy much more relevant for subsequent playthroughs.

Because of these design decisions, it made a radical difference to my freedom while playing. When playing previous Uncharted games, the existence of trophies radically altered how I played. Uncharted’s achievements included many weapon based ones, such as “Defeat 70 enemies with the FAL” or “Defeat 50 enemies with the Dragon Sniper”, which encouraged me to play using the same weapon until I hit the trophy, then move onto the next weapon. This led to completely inappropriate choices, such as using the shotgun over long range battles. Despite this, the existence of these trophies encouraged me to maximise my efficiency – playing like this reduced the time it would take to “complete” the game by achieving all the trophies. I assume Naughty Dog must have looked at the data from the Uncharted games to influence their trophy decisions for The Last of Us.

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