Do RPG Weight Limits Need A New Approach?

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Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 have made me realize that one problem I’ve never seen an open-world RPG solve is that of carry limits and encumbrance. I talked about it a little bit in 2012 but developers haven’t really done anything significant about it since then and I think the common game mechanic needs to be reexamined from multiple angles.

I understand why we have carry limits of course. It’s not about realism at all, but more like a rule of games because being able to carry and/or sell literally everything could break the difficulty. In many cases managing an inventory is supposed to be part of the challenge. My issue with the system though is that leaving it up to an arbitrary number above which the game restricts the player to walking speed seems like simple and haphazard design. This is especially true when the rest of a game like Fallout 4 or Witcher 3 is so complex. Other, technically smaller games actually tend to have a more measured and nuanced approach.

For starters, why even slow the player down? Does anyone actually play these games at that restricted walking speed? Can they be effectively played at that speed? I haven’t seen anyone do it, so why don’t they just stop the player from collecting anymore items above the weight limit? That’s what they might as well do.

I’ve also only noticed this whole problem in RPGs where selling loot and gathering crafting materials are major elements. I mostly only ran into encumbrance issues in Skyrim when I tried to sell off every piece of weaponry and armor from every enemy I killed. In Fallout 4 I’m only running into encumbrance issues when I gather a lot of crafting junk. CDProjekt almost completely solved this problem in Witcher 3 with a patch that simply made crafting components weightless, but I think that’s a bit of a cop-out. You also have this problem in isometric loot games like Torchlight, and they usually just either let you send a pet back to sell junk or give you teleportation.

In my experience the games with the best limited inventory systems are smaller games with smaller inventory limits like Deus ExResident Evil, or System Shock. They tend to have visually-oriented systems where you can actually see how much space you have and how much each item takes up. Managing that inventory becomes a constant element of gameplay and feels like a natural part of the challenge instead of an occasional annoyance.

However, Resident Evil and System Shock in particular are survival games, open-world RPGs like Fallout and Witcher 3 aren’t, so they probably need a different solution, one nobody (to my knowledge) has ever really come up with. What if limiting the amount of weapons, ammo, or health items players can carry added an interesting dynamic to these games? At the very least I’d be interested in seeing them put crafting junk into a separate limited inventory. At least Witcher 3 let’s you buy bigger saddlebags for your horse. Couldn’t Fallout let you buy bigger backpacks or some kind of quantum container?

And rethinking inventories would go beyond the inventories themselves. I think another problem is that some of these games do a bad job of teaching players what’s most important to carry. It took a while for me to learn that Skyrim probably doesn’t want me to carry and sell every sword I grab off a dead enemy. In Fallout 4 I never really know how often I’m gonna need to use a big gun.

Another thing I want to see open-world games consider more carefully is the distribution of crafting materials. Before Witcher 3 came out I said it would be nice if developers deliberately made certain materials most common in certain areas to where players could actually figure this out and know where to gather then when needed, instead of randomly trying to find junk. Fallout 4 sort of does this a little bit — you’re more likely to find a biometric scanner or a microscope in a hospital, but most junk still feels somewhat randomly distributed.

The game that finally figures out how to properly balance loot and crafting with a limited inventory system that feels like a proper challenge in a game without feeling needlessly annoying will be hailed as an innovative step forward.

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9 thoughts on “Do RPG Weight Limits Need A New Approach?

  1. Two things I loathe in RPGs that need to die ASAP is encumbrance and vendors that have finite amounts of money. Neither of those are fun mechanics. Realistic, sure, but who plays a game with monsters, aliens, dragons, and magic for realism? Going to a vendor and having to rest for 3 days just to vend again, and again, and again.. it’s just not fun. At all.

    • RedSwirl says:

      I think they need to at least consider why those mechanics are there and rebalance them. I don’t think you should be able to carry everything and instantly sell everything. These all don’t work like JRPGs. You shouldn’t be able to carry every random broom in the world.

      Some of it has to do with the distribution of things like beds and shops and crafting benches throughout the world map. Some has to do with teaching the player whether or not they should be trying to loot every dead enemy’s equipment. I think it’d be better if that stuff was rebalanced instead of removed.

      • I can definitely see your point, I just don’t see that as being “fun”. Finite inventory space is fine, just not over-encumbrance. Maybe if they had an in-game storage chest like in Witcher 3, and if your inventory is at max everything you pick up goes there instead. Give the chest a specific amount of space to encourage upkeep, but don’t make me go to 12 different vendors to clean out my inventory.

    • Machocruz says:

      It is about realism in RPGs, generally speaking. This is a genre of simulation, that is what the rules and statistics are meant to facilitate. However, the concept of an open world is an element unique to video games. A pen and paper campaign usually consists of a sequence of town-dungeon-town, minus the step-by-step travel and aimless wandering you can do in a video game. Therefore, not only are you not going to have a lot of loot, because a dungeon will only hold a few valuable items and you are not “allowed” to wander all over picking up stuff, you are going to be able to sell/store it in town after the dungeon crawl is over, or one of many other solutions available to the creative RPG players.

      Frankly, I’m all for letting the player suffer the results of their decisions. No one is forcing us to pick up all that stuff. In fact, encumbrance is the developer telling us not to do that very thing. Rather than get rid of that simulation aspect, improve the economic simulation so that people don’t feel the “need” to hoard crap for sale. Maybe have kings and nobles stop paying your character a pittance for taking on dangerous and/or valuable tasks.

      • That’s an interesting way to look at it, honestly. I suppose I don’t *need* to loot every troll ear or dog tallow.

      • RedSwirl says:

        You’re right about the simulation element, but “simulation” doesn’t necessarily mean realism. It just means SOMETHING is being simulated, even if it’s a fantastical thing like fantasy or sci-fi. And I agree that the economic simulation itself should be improved so the encumbrance actually feels like it makes sense.

    • Machocruz says:

      You don’t have to go to 12 different vendors. Or fill your inventory. These games do not force this on you, your progress is not blocked, it is not your only source of currency. Something that has worked for the no-compulsive among us for 30+ years does not need to die.

      And a lot of people play RPGs for the simulation of logical choices and consequences. The Fallout series in particular was built on this concept.

      • I supposed playing an RPG like a munchkin isn’t the idea, and I definitely see your point. I’m not even sure why I feel the need to loot every corpse, pick every herb or ore node, or head back to town with 30 low-grade daggers just to vend them.. when I probably don’t even need the gold. The act of encumbrance and vending to me isn’t fun with my particular play style, I suppose, but I understand that I don’t *need* to do any of that.

  2. drakulus23 says:

    That’s why I love modding :].

    Seriously though. I actually deactivated the weight gain that you from Skyrim at every level. My weight is capped at 300 pounds in Skyrim. It never goes up and that’s how I play.

    In Fallout 4 though… I find too much interesting crap and I need more inventory space for everything :].

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