Tobold's Blog
Sunday, June 16, 2024
Less is more in the inventory

I stumbled upon an interesting playthrough of The Witcher 3 on YouTube. Interesting, because while the game was already good at release, there is now a prettier “next gen” graphics version, and two DLC, that make the game even better. So I looked at the 20 hours only that I played The Witcher 3 back in 2017, and considered whether I should give it a more serious go.

The reason I didn’t stick with The Witcher 3 the first time was action combat. I don’t like action combat in role-playing games very much. I can never get the difficulty settings right, so that pressing the button at the right moment still feels like an achievement, without being either too easy nor too frustrating. I also always feels very dissociated from my character during action combat: I press a single button, and my character on the screen makes a complicated combat movement. I don’t really control what exactly my character does, only when he does it. Ultimately it is an extremely simple game of reading a timing signal from a monster animation right, and pressing a button at the right split-second moment. I much prefer the much greater complexity of a turn-based combat, like in Baldur’s Gate 3.

But besides combat, watching some The Witcher 3 played reminded me of another issue I don’t like in many modern role-playing games: Garbage collection and inventory management. In many of these games I feel like a homeless person collecting cans and bottles from trash cans to make a little money from the recycling deposit. In Fallout the currency is actually bottle caps. In a typical modern RPG your character opens thousands of crates, barrels, and other containers to search for loot. And the large majority of that loot is totally boring and uninspiring, junk to be sold to a vendor.

I like the quantity and quality of the loot in games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom. Everything you find has at least some use, and the weapon breakage system makes carrying less good weapons around not totally useless. I also like systems like in Borderlands, where weapons with a mix of different properties make several different weapons viable. But many other games first multiply the number of locations you can search, often leading to your “hero” rifling through some civilian’s underwear drawer, and then multiply the number of items you can find. 

In The Witcher 3, some of the items you find by searching all those containers are useful for making potions and similar items. That is marginally better than collecting trash, but there frequently is no logical connection between the ingredient you were looking for and the location you found it in. The crate in the abandoned farm contains amethyst dust, why? If you were looking for that ingredient to make something, why would you search that particular farm? In reality, there is simply a huge list of possible items one can find in containers, and somebody (and in some games a random algorithm) distributes all that junk over all the containers in the level-appropriate locations.

I would say that for containers and items in role-playing games, less is more. I don’t want to spend hours opening every cupboard and drawer. Just put a few very visible treasure chests with actually interesting loot somewhere. I’m a hero, I don’t want to deal with mundane objects in mundane containers. I feel ashamed when I turn up at the vendor with a bunch of rusty weapons and used household items.

I completely agree with this for all the reasons mentioned. And there is an extra reason: I’d like to have the decision in an RPG on how to play my character. If I decide to be “lawful” (to use that term here) I still find myself pillaging peoples homes and possessions for loot as there often is no choice.
Being able to open, collect and scavenge is a big part of these games. It gives you a better sense of interaction and it makes the world more "real", in some way. Things that you see are things that you can "touch", "move" and "steal". They are not just 3D props to make the scenery look better. And you can leave them alone. I usually get some loot for the initial money and then I stop scavenging entirely, unless I need some mats (potions, crafting, etc).

This is something I loved in Ultima VI and Ultima VII, for example. Every little thing could be picked up. It felt great. And I think it still feels great.
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