The Fatal Flaw Found In Almost Every Video Game
Video Games are the greatest modern art form. A spicy take I know, but hear us out. They’re the newest art form we’ve had since the advent of television. Where else can we truly interact with art in the same way? For anyone who doesn’t think a video game is art, we really can’t help you. Just take a look at the 30 minute credit sequence of any AAA game and you’ll see the hundreds of names who worked thousands of hours writing, animating, coloring, etc. on the finished product and you’ll see there are some Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees at work. Games welcome us in, giving us heart pounding challenges, new ideas, and emotional peaks and valleys worthy of Shakespeare. But there is one deadly flaw that prevents most video games from achieving true perfection: the inventory management system.
Otherwise flawless games are laid low by bulky, nonsensical inventory systems. Ideally, a game’s crafting and inventory system helps tell the story, helps define a player’s style, and propels the narrative and emotional arcs of the story. So why are we cramming 56 potatoes in our mouths during a boss fight? It just doesn’t make sense. Pounding a red potion to heal is one thing, but most RPG’s go about inventory totally wrong. Let’s look at some of the biggest games around and see what we can learn to fix this unwieldy system.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
This game’s gorgeous graphics and extremely wacky side quests don’t make up for the fact that inventory seems like an inscrutable puzzle. While some games make you preciously nurture your favorite weapons, AC Odyssey chucks spears and daggers at you like you’re a side show in an old timey traveling circus. And the ancillary items found in the world are useless except for selling for coin, which is also abundant if you’re completing even a fraction of the approximately 975,634 side quests available. It breaks our hearts that there were designers who spent time naming, illustrating, and coding in items which the player never sees due to the “sell all trade goods” button. Also, the fact that you can carry around 7 two handed axes but are limited to 50 normal arrows is brain breaking.
Once you do find the perfect helmet or piece of gear for your playstyle, you can change the cosmetics of it. But you can’t do that after you’ve selected the item to go into its detailed stats, you have to go back to the prior menu to customize the look. It’s a small but very tedious detail that makes no sense and makes and already unwieldy game even clunkier.
Breath of the Wild
Link does it best probably. This game’s crafting is not only satisfying, it’s tied into the mechanics of the game beyond just getting Rupees. The cooking feels like a true mini-game and the animation is mouth wateringly satisfying. Plus breakable weapons mean players must know what they’ve got on hand in case their favorite sword breaks during a boss fight. The game also incorporates expanding your inventory slots into actual game play. Any chance to interact with Koroks is a win.
Red Dead Redemption 2
This game takes realism a little too far in some places and not far enough in others when it comes to crafting and inventory management. Storing a certain amount of outfits and weapons in your horse satchel makes sense. And it’s pretty satisfying pressing a button and making the classic American dish uh… *checks notes* minty big game, sizzle over a campfire. But not knowing what small items you found in a cabin are important and which ones are trash is frustrating, despite the unique item label, it's unwieldy when selling to vendors.
Most games let the player carry a ton of stuff. And while Skyrim is definitely one of those games (what kind of adventurer can really carry around 40 books and a whole outfit of “fancy clothes”?) it also puts a cap on what your PC can lug around due to its weight limit. Also nice that your stamina stat can be increased to lug more sh*t around. Crafting items, which is in most games closely tied to your inventory, is a joy in Skyrim. The devs at Bethesda made it part of your character's journey, and every blade you craft ups your skill level. There’s a reason that this game holds up over a decade after its release.
The perfect game would at least give the player a magical bag of holding so they can carry around an Idaho farmer’s worth of potatoes or 20 spears at the same time. As games aim for more and more realism, is it better to make everything in the world pick-up-able? Or is it better to make fewer items in game able to be carted around? If you’re really the greatest hero of the age, why are you spending so much time rooting through the pots in front of people’s homes? So what does the perfect inventory management system look like? It’s got a limited number of slots, it doesn’t require the player to go into multiple menus to manage, and it incorporates crafting into the story. If you hear of any such game traveler, let us know.