365 Days of Pain: 21 of the hardest achievements from 2021

By Luke Albigés,
Around this time of year, chatter tends to revolve around what the best games of the year have been. That's been true here on TA too, with not one but two GOTY polls still running, but let's turn our attention elsewhere for a moment and drill down into some details. With every Xbox release worth its salt comes an achievement list, and not all lists are created equal. From major AAA releases to tiny indie games, 2021 has run the gamut of everything from games you can finish in seconds to single achievements that will take months to unlock. It's the latter and its ilk that we're more interested in here, as we chart 21 one the most demanding individual achievements found in 2021 Xbox releases.

There's something for everyone here — epic grinds, ridiculous collectathons, sky-high cumulatives, speedruns, deathless clears, extremely specific challenges... the works! We discovered over 1,000 achievements from 2021 games with ratios in excess of ten, so obviously we were spoiled for choice and there may very well be some even more brutal achievements out there than the ones presented here. As ever, if you've got any choice suggestions of your own, drop them in the comments and let the community know what to look out for. To kick things off, though, let's get cracking with the 21 achievements we picked out as some of the hardest from 2021...

Diablo II Resurrected

Diablo II: Resurrected Achievements

Diablo II: ResurrectedI'm gonna do what's called a pro gamer moveThe I'm gonna do what's called a pro gamer move achievement in Diablo II: Resurrected worth 3487 pointsReach Level 99 with a Hardcore Character

We might as well begin with an achievement so dumb that even three months after release, nobody on the site has unlocked it yet at the time of writing. A few brave souls are getting close, and 17 players have unlocked everything bar this and the standard level 99 achievement (also currently sitting at zero unlocks). If you think getting 3.5 billion experience on a permadeath character sounds rough, wait until you hear about the vastly diminishing returns in XP once you start pushing through the 90s — rewards get smaller as the targets getting bigger, leading to one hell of a grind, and one where all progress could be lost with a single mistake.

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite

Halo InfiniteHeadmasterThe Headmaster achievement in Halo Infinite worth 584 pointsComplete all main missions on Legendary with all Skulls active.

Halo Infinite's Legendary All Skulls On run is the easiest in the series for a few reasons, but it's still going to be a challenge that will prove insurmountable for a lot of players. One reason for this being a fair bit easier than previous LASO runs is the lack of the Iron Skull — which usually sends you back to the start of the level upon death when playing solo, but that wouldn't really work with Infinite's more open structure — and another is the inclusion of the Bandana Skull (infinite ammo/grenades and instant equipment cooldowns), but an even bigger one is the Scorpion Gun. This overpowered tank cannon one-shots most enemies, has crazy range, and you can't hurt yourself with its splash damage, pretty much trivialising most encounters in the game. You still need to be careful as enemies are extremely grenade-happy and blasts are much bigger than usual, plus your shields only regenerate on melee hits thanks to the Black Eye Skull, so pair that OP cannon with a sword for maximum carnage. It's unclear at this time whether the cannon is an Easter Egg or a weird glitch, but should it ever be patched out, Headmaster will become a whole lot harder to unlock than it is right now...

Evil Genius 2: World Domination

Evil Genius 2: World Domination Achievements

Evil Genius 2: World DominationYour Very Own MuseumThe Your Very Own Museum achievement in Evil Genius 2: World Domination worth 318 pointsSteal every available Loot item in a single playthrough.

The tricky thing about this one from Evil Genius 2 is that getting every piece of loot requires some extremely specific routing — you can easily lock yourself out of goodies without even knowing it, making it extremely unlikely that you'd unlock this without the aid of a guide. Even with a guide, there's still a lot going on here, and missing an item in a chapter will lock you out of the achievement for that run so you need to follow the instructions pretty much to the letter. We've got just 15 unlocks here on TA from almost 20,000 players, although that guide has only been up for a few weeks at this point so we'd expect that number to climb as others heed its wisdom and pick the game clean.

Nuclear Throne

nuclear throne

Nuclear ThroneNever Look BackThe Never Look Back achievement in Nuclear Throne worth 393 pointsDefeat Captain as Rogue.

There's no shortage of challenging achievements in madcap post-apocalyptic roguelite shooter Nuclear Throne, with a bunch of absurdly tough requirements and grinds on the list. The game's ridiculously late arrival does give us an interesting point of reference, too: Nuclear Throne has been out on PlayStation for over six years at this point, yet we've still only got 34 completions over on TT. It's not an easy game, is what we're getting at here. Never Look Back is troublesome for several reasons — secret character Rogue needs to be unlocked before you can even attempt this (naturally), then you need to loop the game with her (read: complete it then go right into a follow-up run with what you have) and find a secret optional stage and boss to beat. Oh, and Rogue is doggedly pursued by the IDPD throughout the entire game, meaning you'll have loads of dangerous agents to deal with on top of all the usual enemies. Fun times.

Struggling

struggling game review

StrugglingProfessional struggleThe Professional struggle achievement in Struggling worth 1084 pointsComplete the campaign without dying once.

Combining a deathless completion achievement with a physics-based platformer is pure evil, but that's exactly what we see in the accurately-named Struggling. Tom's accounts of his humiliation at the hands of some of the game's trickier sections made this daunting task sound impossible, but despite this one having been popped exactly zero times here on TA, it apparently can be done — this mad lad on TT is the sole winner over there (and is going for it again on the EU stack), and there look to be a few unlocks on Steam as well. The struggle, it seems, is indeed real.

Humankind

HUMANKIND (Windows) Achievements

HUMANKIND (Windows)There Can Be Only OneThe There Can Be Only One achievement in HUMANKIND (Windows) worth 406 pointsWin a game against 9 AI at Endless difficulty on the largest map.

You'll have your work cut out if you fancy sticking this Highlander reference on your tag, as attempting to beat out nine AI opponents on a massive map in Humankind is going to be an extremely hectic affair. There are just so many moving parts here that pretty much anything could happen, and who knows what the other eight will be up to when you're trying to interfere with one of the factions? It's hard enough just keeping tabs on all of your rivals and you'll need a lot of luck on your side as well if you're to avoid having several bloodthirsty opponents gang up on you. Even if you do pull it off and join the other 32 victorious folks here on TA, the completion will still be out of reach — sadly, Humankind has five unobtainable achievements.

R-Type Final 2

R-Type Final 2 Achievements

R-Type Final 2Secret AchievementThe Secret Achievement achievement in R-Type Final 2 worth 2529 pointsContinue playing to unlock this secret achievement

As a true tribute to the scrolling shooters of old, R-Type Final 2 is naturally a tough game, and there are a fair few achievements with unlock figures in single digits here on TA. Aside from the platinum-style 'unlock everything else' one (popped by just a single lonely pilot), this is the second-rarest on the base list, tied at a mere two unlocks on TA with the achievement for reaching Admiral rank, though that's more a tedious grind while this one is an actual challenge. Your task here is to beat the entire game on the challenging R-Typer difficulty — the hardest setting, until you unlock two slightly tougher variants of R-Typer by beating them sequentially — without taking a single hit. This requires encyclopedic knowledge of every stage, including which ships and weapons work best for each. Still, just like in the classic shmups, getting hit is usually a run-killer anyway as you come back with no power-ups, so deathless, tricky though it may be, is the way to go.

Last Oasis

last oasis

Last OasisUnnecessary violenceThe Unnecessary violence achievement in Last Oasis worth 1788 pointsHit other players 10000 times

It's high time for an unnecessarily grindy cumulative achievement and, as luck (read: excellent planning on my part) would have it, this one both fulfils the criteria and admits to its crime of disrespecting players' time in its name. Landing 10,000 attacks on other players is just needlessly grindy — the first of the mere three TA unlocks didn't come until six months after release — and to add insult to injury, one of Last Oasis' other PvP achievements is unobtainable.

Library of Ruina

Library Of Ruina Achievements

Library Of RuinaSecret AchievementThe Secret Achievement achievement in Library Of Ruina worth 304 pointsContinue playing to unlock this secret achievement

A complex RPG like Library of Ruina is exactly the kind of place you'd expect to find gruelling achievements of some kind or another, and in that regard, the list does not disappoint. Having racked up over 9,000 players on TA, Ruina has an impressive 36 achievements (so almost half the list) with ratios in excess of 20, which is pretty good going. Just getting to the true ending for this achievement will be enough of a slog, but then you've got to do the final fight flawlessly as well. At least there's a solid guide on here should you make it that far. While this strange game might seem appealing to ratio hunters, completionists will be less impressed — yes, there's another unobtainable here, and as you might expect, it's the 'unlock all other achievements' one.

Jurassic World Evolution 2

jwe 2 guests

Jurassic World Evolution 2You Call That a Challenge?The You Call That a Challenge? achievement in Jurassic World Evolution 2 worth 627 pointsComplete Challenge 5 (Jurassic difficulty)

The fact that this, the toughest of Jurassic World Evolution 2's Challenges, has a par time of 14 and a half hours should serve as a good indicator of just how much of a slog it's going to be, and everything is working against you here on Jurassic difficulty. The map is cramped and awkward, sandstorms will frequently knock out your power, terrain editing costs are through the roof, dino life spans are severly reduced, buildings cannot be upgraded, and you can only have a maximum of six power sources for the entire park. Seven management masters here on TA have somehow overcome this lengthy challenge, but building a five-star park under these harsh conditions isn't going to be something that just anyone can do (or will even enjoy doing), especially without some kind of comprehensive guide on how to pull it off — the game isn't entirely transparent with its grading mechanics, after all.

Ring of Pain

Ring of Pain Achievements

Ring of PainThe TicklerThe The Tickler achievement in Ring of Pain worth 176 pointsComplete a run with 0 or less Attack

Quick-fire card-based oddity Ring of Pain has loads of challenge achievements like this, and the random nature of the game means that you can't really aim for a lot of them... you just have to wait for the stars to align so a run gives you the tools you need. Most require a deep working knowledge of the game and might seem impossible to newcomers at first — how do you beat the myriad enemies in your path when your attacks do nothing? The answer is status ailments, and you'll want as many ways as possible to stack multiple damage-over-time conditions on your foes to pull this off. This achievement was only added in the Time Weaver title update in early December, but just 27 TA players have managed to tickle their way through this quirky little gem so far.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania

super monkey ball banana mania

Super Monkey Ball Banana ManiaComplete ConquestThe Complete Conquest achievement in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania worth 571 pointsCleared all missions! Amazing!

There are a grand total of 747 Missions in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, spanning every game mode and requiring you to pretty much do everything in the game to unlock the lot. 71 rigorous rollers on TA have managed to make a solid dent in the Mission list and ticked off 500 or more, but only 12 have managed to clear them all. Looking through the list, it's not hard to see why — most players wouldn't even be able to beat the late stages without the Helper, nor harder playlists like Master, Marathon, and Original at all, let alone within a finite amount of attempts, while some of the mini-games have very specific challenges that can be a pain.

Curse of the Dead Gods

Curse of the Dead Gods

Curse of the Dead GodsMemoirsThe Memoirs achievement in Curse of the Dead Gods worth 2216 pointsWrite all Bestiary entries with their complete sketches

Curse of the Dead Gods' arrival on Game Pass was unfortunately timed, with the action roguelike joining the service just a week before the superior Hades. This achievement is a pretty ridiculous grind, as completing a Bestiary page for an enemy involves beating them a bunch of times (both normally and without taking damage), which includes all of the bosses and the Elite variants of each enemy type. The latter only show up rarely so getting to 50 flawless kills on even one of those enemies will take a while, let alone doing the lot, and there are some bothersome additional challenges required for the last few entries, too. Just 20 players from the TA pool of over 22,000 have finished all these sketches, all with well over 100 hours in the game, and typically as the final achievement needed for the completion.

Gears 5

Gears 5 Op 8 Drop 1

Gears 5Seriously 5.0 - Chapter 2The Seriously 5.0 - Chapter 2 achievement in Gears 5 worth 2666 points50 Re-Ups, Inconceivable Campaign, Master All hives & Horde Maps , All Classes at Level 20

On the topic of grinds, it wouldn't be right to publish one of these articles without including good ol' Gears 5, and August's Operation 8 update gives us a perfect excuse to do so. Gears fans had been living in fear ever since the base game's Seriously achievement was subtitled 'Chapter 1,' meaning more pain was sure to follow. And follow it did, with Operation 8 adding the suitably absurd second part of the Seriously grind. Almost 2,000 players have managed to grab the original Seriously 5.0 achievement, but only 625 have done Chapter 2's gross shopping list of grindy tasks.

Jackbox Party Pack 8

The Jackbox Party Pack 8 Achievements

The Jackbox Party Pack 8The Poll Mine: Vs the WorldThe The Poll Mine: Vs the World achievement in The Jackbox Party Pack 8 worth 435 pointsIn Streamer Mode, play against an audience of 1,000 or more

Designing an achievement that only top streamers would be able to unlock legitimately is, to use the scientific term, a dick move. Thankfully, a tried-and-tested trick that has been used throughout the Jackbox series to get around player count requirements still works here, although spoofing 1,000 audience members is going to be quite the undertaking. You see, with Jackbox games letting players and audience members join from any device, you can just open multiple browser tabs yourself to bump up the player/viewer count. The issue here is that you can't exactly 'just' open a thousand browser tabs without your computer getting extremely angry about it. Both guides for this achievement suggest multiple computers are needed whether using scripts to launch hundreds of headless browsers at a time or (heaven forbid) manually opening tabs and logging in 1,000 times. 19 players on here have this one — wonder whether we have any secret celebs in our midst who got it legit?

Back 4 Blood

Back 4 Blood

Back 4 BloodAct 4 CleanerThe Act 4 Cleaner achievement in Back 4 Blood worth 285 pointsComplete Act 4 on Nightmare difficulty.

This one was made a little easier a few weeks back when the Back 4 Blood devs adjusted the game's various difficulty levels to be a little more manageable, but it's a little soon to tell just how much of an impact the changes will make on completing the co-op shooter on the hardest difficulty. You're still going to need a tidy deck and a premade team of skilled co-op buddies — while you can now get achievements while playing solo, don't expect the AI partners to be able to carry you through Nightmare difficulty. We're currently seeing 412 unlocks here on TA, with 70 of those coming since the balance update, so not actually that much of an uptick yet but the ratio is sure to drop further.

Astria Ascending

astria ascending gameplay

Astria AscendingWeapons ConnoisseurThe Weapons Connoisseur achievement in Astria Ascending worth 204 pointsCollect every Weapon

Why do so many JRPGs insist on doing this? Although scouring the entire world for every possible kind of whatever item you're after is a chore in itself, it's perhaps even more frustrating that the rules for achievements like this are never clear — do you just need to have picked up the weapons once, or do you need them all in your inventory at once? Astria Ascending isn't even content with making you do this mass fetch quest just once, either. You also need to round up every item, shield, armour piece, hat, accessory, token, hunt mark, and more. A good few haven't even had a single unlock on any platform, so they might even be broken for all we know. Ain't nobody got time for that nonsense, Astria... no ascending for you.

Disjunction

disjunction

DisjunctionNo WitnessesThe No Witnesses achievement in Disjunction worth 588 pointsComplete the game having killed everyone

This suggestion came from one of our Walkthrough Managers, Dang3R Gaming, who describes it quite succinctly as "not fun." That certainly checks out as a description for an achievement in a stealth game that asks you to go loud against every enemy in the game, and the silent melee takedown counts as incapacitating rather than killing, voiding this achievement for that run if you use it even once. It turns what is otherwise a pretty solid and entertaining cyberpunk stealth title into a trial-and-error mess where even running out of ammo will stop you from being able to unlock No Witnesses, as your melee attacks are non-lethal. It can be really cool when achievements task us with taking a different approach to games, but not so much when they're awarded for playing the game wrong.

I Am Fish

i am fish

I Am FishYou Thought This Game Was Easy?The You Thought This Game Was Easy? achievement in I Am Fish worth 1352 pointsComplete the game in Iron Fish mode with Bossa Standard controls

After I Am Bread turned out to be a deceptively devious completion considering its 'meme game' nature, we had a feeling that this fishy follow-up might also bring with it a punishing list. How right we were — despite its colourful cartoon visuals, I Am Fish is currently worth a remarkable 18,000 TA Score thanks to almost half of the achievements having a sub-1% unlock rate. It's more physics-based tomfoolery, this time with us attempting to guide a selection of fiddly fish to their destinations without suffocating them in the process. Which, it turns out, is really bloody difficult, especially when playing on Iron Fish mode, which removes all of the game's checkpoints. Barely 0.05% of tracked players on TA (just 14 persistent soles souls) have successfully set their fishy friends free without the aid of regular checkpoints, which is sure as hell not something I'm going to be attempting any time soon...

Savage Halloween

savage halloween

Savage HalloweenHardcore PlaythroughThe Hardcore Playthrough achievement in Savage Halloween worth 816 pointsComplete the entire game in Hardcore Mode with any character

This 8-bit-style run-and-gun indie title might not hold a candle to tighter retro throwbacks like Shovel Knight, but it's certainly better at making us angry. Wait, that's a bad thing! Beating Savage Halloween on Hardcore mode means saying goodbye to normal mode's health bar — welcome to One-Hit-Kill City, baby. It doesn't exactly feel like the game was balanced around this mode, so you'll need to go in armed with perfect knowledge of enemy locations and movements, stage hazards, and of course boss patterns. You can Game Over here and you'll 'only' restart from the beginning of the stage, but there is an achievement for a deathless run too (because of course there is). With just two unlocks of Hardcore Playthrough on TA, this one is more than a little spooky.

Super Meat Boy Forever

Super Meat Boy Forever

Super Meat Boy ForeverSecret AchievementThe Secret Achievement achievement in Super Meat Boy Forever worth 349 pointsContinue playing to unlock this secret achievement

Oh look, a Super Meat Boy game on a hard games list... what are the odds? Forever's reimagination as an auto-runner means skilled players of the older games won't even have too much in the way of transferable skills to fall back on, while the randomly generated nature of the game's stages means that getting through levels cleanly will be much easier for some players/seeds than others. This is just one of five Dark World deathless runs, all of which have single-digit unlock counts here on TA at the time of writing, and only ten players have even managed the Light World equivalent of this achievement. That's coming from a pretty small player base of under 1,000, mind, which is kinda understandable — Forever was something of a monkey paw wish sequel, seemingly losing a lot of fans by shifting away from the tight traditional platforming that made the original so popular.

And that's your lot! Got any of these bad boys to humble-brag about, or any others not featured here that you think rank among 2021's most difficult achievements? As ever, swing by the comments, drop in those achievement panels, and let's keep the (polite) conversation going!
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.