I think item carry limits might be the most universally annoying thing in RPGs today. It’s one of those rare things that almost no designer has gotten right and I almost never see anyone talking about a game that had a “good” inventory system. What is wrong here?
Just about every RPG I’ve played recently, especially western RGS, have had me running back and forth to sell loot and obsolete items. It’s a near universal problem.
Of course you can’t just carry everything (although many JRPGs let you do so) since that would be too easy and unrealistic (well, more unrealistic than RPGs already are). One might say that item management is part of the challenge of the game, but it still usually feels like a drag on the experience. It almost never feels properly balanced in my opinion. That’s why so many people mod the PC versions of these games to get infinite carry limits.
I can understand limits on how many weapons, pieces of armor, or consumables you can carry, but then all that crafting stuff you find everywhere takes up space too! In The Witcher 2 I just dump all my crafting materials back at the inn and haul them out to walk back and forth to the blacksmith. The weight limit discouraged me from ever engaging in crafting in Fallout New Vegas.
Being able to give items to your pet and send him back to sell them in Torchlight is a nice band-aid solution, but still and admission that the whole system is flawed. It’s the same with warping to and from the store in Diablo or Phantasy Star Online.
Strangely, the games where this annoys me the least are games with the smallest carry limits.
The best example is Resident Evil 4’s briefcase system. Every time you open the item menu you can see precisely how much space each item is taking up and how much space you have left. It made item management fun as well as intuitive. On the flipside, in a Bethesda game for instance you always have to look at each item’s weight, and when you do run out of space you have to spend considerable time scrolling through your list trying to figure out what to get rid of. The first Mass Effect was the worst of course, and they just got rid of it in the other two without even trying to fix the problem.
In Resident Evil, item management feels like an ever-present challenge – you can immediately tell it’s an integral part of the game. When I’m playing most RPGs, I never find myself thinking about what specific supplies I want to bring into a certain dungeon or quest. It only cones up when I run out of space because I have so much that I feel like it’s infinite.
The only “RPGs” I’ve actually seen use a system close to what RE uses are the Deux Ex and System Shock games with their own grid systems. A major difference I think though is that none of those games puts a big emphasis on looting or crafting.
The very fact that a game’s economy can be built on you carrying 10 swords to a store to be sold is kinda silly when you think about it. So is carrying all those materials and herbs. Whenever I see traveling merchants with all their bags on beasts in Fallout I think to myself “that’s probably what my character’s item pack would realistically look like”.