The RPG Scrollbars: Heroes. Don’t. Craft.

Few game mechanics right now make me ‘urrrrrrrrrrgh’ quite like crafting. Bloody, bloody crafting. I hate crafting. I hate that just about every game I pick up can’t wait to introduce its crafting system to me, with its long shopping lists of finnicky items to find, and about as much care for being believable as all those shotguns and medikits Lara Croft used to find littering ancient tombs. Crafting is the worst, and unlike something like the escort missions of old, it manages to be the worst regardless of how much it actually ends up wasting your time.

As ever when I complain, I’m not talking about literally every crafting system ever. It’s not something that interests me in any game, but I have more tolerance for it if it’s a fundemental cornerstone of the game, like a Minecraft. What irks, irritates and gets under my skin is crafting as a Feature That Games Like This Just Have, where every potentially interesting part of the process is stripped away in favour of time-wasting, out-of-character piffle.

I liked the old Elder Scrolls spellcrafting system for instance, because it gave you, the player, the chance to meddle with magic at a very primal level – to create ridiculous spells that stuck two fingers up at balance, no matter how hard the algorithms running the show tried to make them work. Oh, but that was far too interesting, wasn’t it? Come Skyrim and that was the kind of power you had to break open modding tools for, or simply sit back and play with boring Enchantment Lego.

I do understand why crafting is in games, obviously. MMOs need a player economy, exploration and loot needs to drop more than just whatever the local equivalent of gold is to keep it interesting, and players do generally like the ability to customise gear and so on. I just don’t think it generally works very well, with most games being a pure case of following recipes to get a specific thing, and then typically customising it in other much more useful ways, like gem sockets. On top of that, the levels the game can offer, the likelihood of a player staying on top of it, and its relative importance to the rest of single-player experiences that don’t focus on it pretty much guarantee it being left little more than a bloody nuisance at best.

Ironically, crafting would often be better if it did demand more focus, like in The Witcher III – a game that sets up the player character as an alchemist and dirty fighter willing to use any chemical advantage in a fight, only to render the whole system completely irrelevant unless you’re playing on one of the harder difficulty levels. Or the average MMO, where it’s not until the endgame that it’s usually worth bothering to make anything, leaving the majority of the grind to get to that point entirely pointless. What the hell is the point of sitting there churning out a billion useless weapons that nobody, not even the NPCs, actually want? Is this fun? On what planet?

And then there’s the recipe system in survival games, which I think have enough crossover to be mentioned here. I’m willing to accept the mental leap that somehow a completely untrained person can repair an AK-47 by hitting it with a rock, or construct their own firearm by laying out a few bits of wire and metal and not have the MacGuyvered death-trap blow up in their face. What tends to bother me is that despite the simplification, it’s rarely a particularly intuitive process. Instead you need wikis to lay out the various ‘recipes’ for you, with the game either not willing to say what it wants, or acting like a great big tease. Either give me something like Garry’s Mod and reward experimentation, or just tell me how to create a pointy stick.

(This, along with needing time to eat and sleep, is one of the reasons why I don’t bother with Early Access survival games any more. There’s leaving things to be discovered, and then there’s just being a dick. Don’t make me leave the game and find where someone has apparently pulled that information from the deepest resources of their ass, or expect me to sit there trying combinations like a human version of that SETI@Home program that everyone was briefly obsessed by a few years ago.)

Far more often though, the result is that crafting sits in what I like to think of as The Unsatisfying Valley, where you don’t actually need to do it, and the game will never actually challenge you to the point where you really feel like it might be a good idea, but at the same time the existence of the feature hangs over the entire thing like the Sword of Damocles. Better fill these bags up with ore, just in case. Better grind the skill, just in case. You never know when you might actually need it, except for the fact that you never actually bloody will. And that’s just the problem at its most generic.

One of my biggest problems with crafting is that the systems never really trust you. Not really. They know you’ll have read the wiki or whatever, so typically the bits and pieces you need will be scattered to the four winds just to make things difficult, or anti-fun features will be added just to make damn sure you work at it. It’s not an RPG, but these things don’t get much more obnoxious than the Combo weapons in Dead Rising 2. If you haven’t played it, basically you get to find weapons around a zombie filled mall and then combine them to create super-powerful, zombie-busting murder machines. Spiked gloves! Wheelchairs with lawnmowers on the front! Everything a budding psychopath could want, turning the zombie apocalypse into a field of splashing bubble-wrap.

Oh, except that if you don’t first get the ‘Combo Card’ that tells you how to get your Wolverine on, they all become rubbish. No heavy attacks, bad XP gain. Grrr. Even though Dead Rising is the absolute last series that should suddenly start thinking of balance, it completely kills the sense of having invented some great and wonderful murder weapon. That’s fun. Being reminded that it’s a carefully engineered option placed in the world for you to find… not so much.

Likewise, if I’m going to make my own sword in an RPG, let me actually do that thing properly instead of simply telling me what I’m going to get. Make it meaningful. Make it a memorable moment. Let me choose my style of blade, the curve of it, the runes on its surface, the style of the hilt and pommel, the style of leather on the strap. Then have the courage to let it be my blade for the duration; my Excalibur, my Glamdring, my Orcbonker 3000… something to look back on as fondly as any character or moment.

Knights of the Old Republic did that really well. The scene in which you craft your lightsaber is almost exactly how I wish everyone else did it. First, it’s a one-time, special thing. You’re making your own sword, which is something your character would be doing in game. The whole decision process of making and later upgrading it is rooted in both the world’s fiction and your own personal tastes. Colour of crystal. Single or twinblade? The whole game has been leading to this point, making it feel special, and while afterwards you can pick up about as many lightsabers as bits of vendor trash, I suspect that most players did what the game gently indicated they should – keep upgrading that one weapon, not because it’s special in the grand scheme of things, but because it’s theirs. It certainly beats what happens in most RPGs; out-levelling about ten Swords of Legends and throwing them to NPCs for chump change. What’s that you’ve got there? Excalibur, fabled blade of the One True King? Two gold, mate.

Maybe the economy would be better if heroes put some more money back into the system, like actually paying trained blacksmiths to do the crafting for them? At some point I genuinely expect to get to the bottom of some dungeon somewhere… probably Divinity: Original Sin 2… only to find a blacksmith standing there over some dragon’s carcass and saying “How do you bloody like it when someone does your job for you, eh?” And it’ll be fair enough, really.

Not only should blacksmiths be able to craft better gear than my guy, who’s just taken a few experimental whacks at an anvil, they’re probably able to order moon-rocks and whatever at trade prices instead of having to scour the entire countryside in the hope of stumbling across some that aren’t too badly guarded by fire-ogres.

That hunt for resources would be a lot more relaxing too if you could do in games what you can in real life – find someone in the know and politely ask them where you might find some blofindo mushrooms or silverleaf instead of having to go to a wiki or just assume that they’re out there, somewhere. Sometimes it’s fun to explore the forest and simply see what you find, but again, when crafting is basically optional 99.9% of the time, having to pixelbitch through an entire map in search of what’s been presented as common as a daisy doesn’t help build my desire to keep it up when I’m done.

That said, something which will never, ever be fun in the average game that makes you glug down health-potions like mixers at an awkward office party should ever, ever require the player to do any of that crap just to make something as simple as health potions for questing purposes. Looking at you, Dragon Age: Origins. The only thing that ever, ever does is cause frustration while the player has yet to find the inevitable loophole that lets them make a thousand of them, and then stop the game in its tracks for a few hours while said loophole is abused for fear of not finding another one like it later on. On the other hand, Origins did demonstrate how the words ‘hero’ and ‘craft’ can frolic together – you as the hero going out in the wilds to retrieve things like dragon hide for actual craftsmen to make awesome armour and stuff out of.

I far prefer this kind of wrapping around crafting. It’s not functionally that different, but it feels like a very different transaction. I’m reminded of the cancelled World of Darkness MMO, which had very similar views. You’re a powerful vampire. You don’t stitch shirts. Instead the plan was that you’d recruit, by force if necessary, a network of human contacts to do all that fiddly stuff for you, and simply place an order with them. (Being a vampire, that’s probably the kind of order with ‘NOW!’ tacked on the end.)

Sigh. It might have been a terrible game, but I still wish we’d seen it.

In general, what I’d like to accept is that most games where you’re not specifically building things, like Fallout 4’s settlements (which I think work, even if that whole side of the game is hilariously at odds with what your character would be doing in that situation), you’re really paying and working for customisation. Crafting should be far more than that, with the ability to actually create things and put some imagination and even game-breaking moxie into them – a personal stamp on the world, an exploration of the rules, the chance to actually make things. If all you’re doing is giving people random items in exchange for basic unrelated options then that is what we call ‘currency’ and that is as far from ‘crafting’ as Bognor Regis is from the moon.

But I don’t hold out a lot of hope for that. The success of Minecraft and Fallout 4 and so many other games means that a game without crafting is like a new shooter without eSports potential. It’s expected, even when it adds nothing of real note to the experience and ultimately gets in the way of what could be a fun experience in its own right. The illusion of control and responsibility and discovery, because that’s way the hell easier than actually offering it. I miss making my own spells though.

I wince every time I think of a great combination of items that the latest game doesn’t care to recognise. And I growl every time I have to waste my heroic time picking flowers instead of being down in a dungeon. It’d be one thing if more RPGs cast you as a florist, but that doesn’t tend to happen. No. They’re games about being heroes. And in books and films and the myths of old, there’s a bit of a recurring theme on display.

Say it with me, people. Heroes. Don’t. Craft.

Well. At least unless they’re really going to commit.

90 Comments

  1. chuckieegg says:

    Batman crafts. He doesn’t just have a phone. He has a Batphone. BECAUSE HES BATMAN.

    • keefybabe says:

      Batman doesn’t pick flowers.

      • chuckieegg says:

        But if he did, they’d be Batflowers. BECAUSE HES BATMAN.

        • keefybabe says:

          Fair point well made.

        • LordMidas says:

          You forget about the Blue Flower in Batman Begins. Which was crafted into a fear inducing hallucinogenic smoke.
          BATMAN CRAFTS!!

          • GameCat says:

            Also, isn’t Tony Stark some sort of legendary blacksmith who makes The Best Weapons?

          • GameCat says:

            Spiderman crafted his web-shooters.

          • Press X to Gary Busey says:

            Don’t forget all the secret evening classes in leotard and cape sewing.

          • Krahazik says:

            Tony Star doesn’t craft, he designs and then orders the design to be crafted.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        He doesn’t need flowers for his recipes;

        prepaid mobile + superglue + bat ears = batphone
        Kevlar armour + superglue + bat ears = batsuit
        Morris Minor + superglue + bat ears = batmobile

        That’s why he’s always beating up junkies, people would ask questions if Bruce Wayne started buying superglue factories.

  2. DThor says:

    I don’t enjoy it either. I suspect it’s a way to add “depth” that is actually relatively easy to generate, compared to, oh, say, story arcs, plot points, genuine surprise, puzzles demanding a lot of thinking or something emotionally engaging. I don’t mind it as long as it’s something I can easily ignore if I wish and not risk the game.

  3. Awesomeclaw says:

    Final Fantasy 14 has a fairly interesting crafting system where you’re using abilities to either increase how ‘finished’ an item is, or to improve its quality. Each action you take decreases the ‘hp’ of the item, and most actions have a chance of failure, so you have to balance the chance of creating a higher quality item versus destroying the item and having to start again.

    EVE’s crafting system is also fairly interesting – you plug blueprints and materials into factories, then once the production run is finished you can collect the goods. You can also improve the speed or material efficiency of blueprints. Also this probably doesn’t sound very interactive, it makes sense (why would a spaceship pilot be manually building missile launchers?) and also fits the real-time nature of the game well.

  4. chase4926 says:

    Don’t bother playing Factorio if you hate crafting.

    • Luringen says:

      Read the article, this is the seconds paragraph:

      As ever when I complain, I’m not talking about literally every crafting system ever. It’s not something that interests me in any game, but I have more tolerance for it if it’s a fundemental cornerstone of the game, like a Minecraft.

      In Factorio crafting is 99% of the game, and well implemented (no need for a wiki).

      • GepardenK says:

        Despite having a classic crafting GUI Factorio feels more like a managment sim than anything else. I would say the actuall experience of playing is closer to Anno than Minecraft

        • roothorick says:

          Ironically, Factorio’s primary inspiration was Minecraft mods Buildcraft and IndustrialCraft. It definitely plays like a greatly expanded 2D version of those.

          • GepardenK says:

            It does, but the extreme focus on practical machine building makes the genre come full circle and almost nothing of the “minecraft” sandbox gameplay is left. From a general perspective Factorio plays 100% like a classic managment/tycoon game except you get to move around as a character too

  5. Phrumptious Bandersnatch says:

    What I really dislike about crafting, especially in RPGs, is when this optional (and additional) bit of the game overshadows the loot you get from drops, rewards etc… So much so that you feel you HAVE to craft your weapons, armour etc, and that the super-duper special SWORD OF THE UNIVERSE that you went on an epic multi-part side-quest to get, is actually worse than the generic top level material sword with enchantments.

  6. JFS says:

    Crafting can be done tastefully or interestingly, Morrowind or Baldur’s Gate 2 come to my mind. Unfortunately, it’s mostly used as tacked-on filler or fanbait.

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      gritz says:

      BG2 crafting was great. It wasn’t “crafting” so much as building on the rewards of exploration that were already in the game, while also giving the player interesting new tradeoff choices to make.

  7. drewski says:

    I hate crafting with an absolute passion. I’d rather use a well designed unique sword than the world’s shiniest craftable.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Mirrors my own thoughts exactly. I absolutely loathe crafting in every game in which I have ever encountered it.

    • zal says:

      I’m largely the opposite, for instance one of my favorite moments in fallout 4 came when I took a laser rifle my character had no particular use for (he had no combat perks), made it a shotgun, made it a pistol, and made it automatic, thereby crafting a widget that would convert all his energy cells into 3-5 seconds of laser filled hilarity. Priceless.

  8. GWOP says:

    I usually hate crafting as well… but lately I’ve sunk a lot of time into Dragon’s Dogma’s weapons upgrade system. Most of the items required are drops from enemies, and since the combat is so much fun, item gathering is rarely tedious.

    And yes, very annoyingly, I have to keep the Dragon’s Dogma wiki tab open in my phone, because item sources can be so bloody arcane. Thank you XB360 and PS3 gamers, for gathering all the loot info in the intervening 4 years!

    • Butts says:

      Ah, Dragon’s Dogma. Probably my favorite action RPG combat system ever. Rarely did I ever have to hunt materials, because I already was spending the whole game repeatedly murdering every enemy I could find, in various fashions, and thus collected almost everything I needed incidentally.

      It was only for the goddamn quests that I had to go out and find “66 skulls” or “30 tufts of hair.” Yes, really.

      • GWOP says:

        There was a quest with a reward of 60 skulls beforehand.

        But of course, you need to hit the Wiki if you miss that.

        • Butts says:

          And a quest that gives 20 tufts of hair. But both are details you could have easily overlooked.

          It’s not even about it being arbitrary. I’ll any number of giant monsters all day long because it is fun to climb all over them and stab their stupid faces off but it there is absolutely nothing compelling about collecting piles of hair from the floor of a barbershop. Logical place to find them, sure, but not fun.

          A lot of the quests were fun, and gave you a reason to visit all different corners of the map, but the ones about pointlessly collecting crap could have been left out and no one would have missed them.

  9. malkav11 says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Crafting is so often tedious and almost never is it anywhere near as useful or interesting as simply buying the basics and then finding the fancy stuff as loot. Crafting in a lot of MMOs is basically vestigial even at max level because if you can craft dungeon or raid quality gear then there’s no point doing the dungeons or raids (for most people – I’ve never cared about the gear, I like the experience of doing them), and in singleplayer games it isn’t even a useful shortcut or addon. I completely ignored crafting in Skyrim, for example.

    I do have one sort of game I’d really like to see – one where you have to do the crafting and base building and so on of your early access survival title, but there are actual goals and stories to uncover, where your mastery of the environment and tools at your disposal is crucial to victory but there IS victory and an actual end. So far it seems like it’s either crafting/basebuilding as an optional afterthought (Fallout 4, say), or an aimless sandbox (Minecraft and half of Steam these days).

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      Qazinsky says:

      The “Minecraft but with some kind of narrative and endgame to build towards” would really be the holy grail of survival games.

      • GepardenK says:

        I suspect people have played it to death at this point and are consequently sick of it, but you are more or less looking for Terraria

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          Qazinsky says:

          Yeah, I’ve played and enjoyed Terraria, but for me personally, the first person view is kind of important too. I find it much harder to immerse myself into a sidescroller as such. The houses I build in Minecraft has some thought put into them to look good or interesting while inhabiting them, whereas my Terraria buildings are built to keep me and my NPCs safe from zombies.

        • malkav11 says:

          I am pretty sure I’m not, as I’ve played a fair bit of Terraria (although not since the most recent major patch or two, so there’s some margin for error). Terraria is certainly more to my taste than something like Minecraft because there is a definite progression and certain encounters to build towards and defeat, but it has zero narrative last I checked, and no overarching objectives or victory conditions.

          It also had relatively weak and vestigial base building and while crafting was definitely an important component, it reserves a lot of the coolest toys as found loot in, for example, sky chests and such. I don’t necessarily object to that as such – I like loot of that sort and enjoyed finding it in Terraria – but for a game to make crafting worthwhile the crafting shouldn’t be competing with a separate loot system. The loot should be special crafting resources and/or crafting recipes.

      • GepardenK says:

        I suspect people have played it to death at this point and sre consequently sick of it, but you are more or less looking for Terraria

    • Giaddon says:

      It’s 2D, and very weird, so not quite minecraft with a story, but Echo of the Wilds is a fascinating survival game that rewards your survival with a strange, compelling story. Or at least framework?

      link to store.steampowered.com

      • malkav11 says:

        Interesting. And apparently I’ve owned it since 2014, so I guess I should check it out.

  10. makute says:

    No mention at SWG crafting system? Dissapointing… :(

    • LimaBravo says:

      Quite telling of the authors failure to comprehend game mechanics while simultaneously forgetting to address the issues with non-crafting.

      Also Lokian Wild Wheat with 999 stats was hilarious in SWG :D

    • Chiron says:

      SWG was easily the best MMO economy as it actually had player roles that drove the economy.

      Everything else seems based on WoW’s “get 10 ratskins, craft something useless” and every slots neatly into DPS, Tank, Healer roles and thats it.

      SWG you had dedicated crafters, dedicated entertainers, a dozen wonderful little roles you could take as much or as little part in crafting as you wanted to with.

  11. Haldurson says:

    It had a horrible, horrible economic system, which killed crafting in a kind of back-door way. But the best crafting system I’ve personally encountered was in Fallen Earth. Crafting actually took real time, and research. Even if you gathered all of the materials, and had read all of the necessary books, you’d press that final button, and log off, and depending on what the item was, it MIGHT be done by the time you logged back on… or not. Crafting stations were not necessary — crafting continued while you were off-line, and went faster if you were positioned at the proper station. Furthermore, you could queue up, up to 20 crafting jobs in a row — going on vacation? Well, with good planning, your character could keep on crafting while you were gone.

    I remember when I decided to make a really fast vehicle — the whole project, from beginning to end, took months. And the final assembly took over a week.

    If only it were coupled with a decent economic system… The devs made the mistake of pretty much making any character who didn’t craft or didn’t have an alt who could craft to be at a huge disadvantage. It put a real crimp on crafting as a profession. But everything about the crafting itself, I loved.

  12. Hebrind says:

    Heroes don’t craft? No, but those who have friends who are heroes do. It’s going back a fair amount of time, but Ultima Online was possibly one of the best MMO experiences ever created, and your character never even had to see combat. You could sit at a blacksmith’s, surrounded by friends and hammer out weapons and armour for battered heroes returning from fighting that pack of liches, wyrms or ogres.

    Not only that, but it was satisfying. Being the only person in your friends group who thought to have “Item Identification” or “Arms Lore”, where you could identify what a sword’s magic power was, or what metal it was made of. The metallic clunk of a hammer on an anvil, the liquidy noise of smelting metal down and the genuine feeling of helpfulness, of being part of a world where not only are you playing diversely, but you’re being useful too.

    I spent the vast majority of the Elder Scrolls Online beta a couple of years ago sitting at a forge and making weapons and armour for people. Of the 30 or so hours I played that game, the hours I spent making weapons and armour for randomers was the most rewarding, social and enjoyable part of the game for me.

    I like swinging a sword and tanking mobs as much as the next person, but I absolutely think that there should be more non-combat roles among players, particularly in MMOs. Look at the popularity and success of EVE Online, a game where being an artisan or trader is revered just as much as flying the Titan into battle.

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      Harlander says:

      You might conceivably be interested by Chronicles of Elyria, which seems intent on creating an Ultima Online-esque degree of focus on crafting.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I had a lovely time in Wurm right after a new server opened, first wandering alone, then after somehow surviving the Desert Of Horrible Death For Everyone, blundering straight into the fledgling RPS camp while everyone was preparing to colonise a new, untouched continent.

      A lot of people were off practicing and gathering stuff to build a boat. I was happy to settle down and spend most of my time cooking, delivering food, and fishing while happily watching the camp and our neighbours, plus any wanderers, as they went about their business. At the time everyone had minimal skill, so specialising (relatively) in cooking became a nice little niche.

  13. Christo4 says:

    Crafting is something i hate in fallout 4.
    There are just soooo many things you have to gather, that a lot of time is wasted searching trash only for it and you have to get everything, otherwise you might need something and you won’t be able to craft until again you waste time trying to find it.
    Then when you craft, sometimes there are minor improvements, or if you want bigger improvements then you need to waste even more time.
    While it wasn’t perfect by any means, F3 and NV felt a bit better loot wise, you could search cabinets but you didn’t need to get everything, only what you needed and there wasn’t so much junk, but in F4 it feels like you need everything, so it takes much longer imo.
    I really wonder how survival will work with it… i don’t think it’ll be that good.
    A much better way to do it was to have separate modules that can be found, so you can pick up what you needed and not get what you already have, instead of having dozens of components to make just one thing.
    It feels like a waste of time for me anyway, but you also need it to get more powerful weapons…

    Why don’t games that have crafting also have a blacksmith or something that you can order a weapon from and then you have to wait a few days and you can get it at the cost of gold?

  14. harley9699 says:

    I love crafting. :P””’
    I’ve been playing computer games for a very, very long time.
    Hate all ya want.

  15. fco says:

    i hated crafting before it was cool

  16. Christo4 says:

    Also, why is crafting so boring and tedious in games?
    In dark messiah of might and magic, if you wanted to make a weapon it was a bit more complicated, you had to heat it up, hit it with a hammer, cool it etc. And it was pretty good and fast.
    Why don’t they make a better blacksmith system for example, where if you heat up a sword, depending on the ore used, for 10 seconds it will be hard or soft, for 15 seconds it will become brittle or take the fire element etc.
    There are so many stuff you can do and no one did it…

    • Sonntam says:

      I agree! I love physicality of crafting in games.

      In Gothic crafting was incredibly unbalanced way of getting lots of ore (aka money). But the process itself was incredibly satisfying, from heating up the iron bar, to hammering it out on the anvil and then sharpening it on the grindstone.

      If crafting is done purely through interface it loses out on meaning. There is no feeling of achievement, like you made something with your own hands. Ideally each step in crafting would create something useful (either because it can be sold for higher price or because it offers better benefits) and in the end you can arrive at something truly great (healing powder => healing potion, sharp sword => enchanted sword, epic armor => legendary armor).

      • Christo4 says:

        Exactly.
        There are so many things you can do, instead of just selecting something from a menu.

  17. TΛPETRVE says:

    While I generally don’t care much about crafting, I did like the system in Underrail, where it tied nicely into the skill system, most important ingredients could be easily found on the go, and the weapon customisation did actually make sense.

    • Herzog says:

      Speaking of Underrail – was there any review for it? I can remember a newspost by Alice mentioning someone working on something…

  18. Unsheep says:

    I’m so with you on this one, there are few things more boring than crafting in an RPG. Conan and Kull never stopped to pick up seed and blossom.

    Thankfully the majority of RPGs I’ve played don’t actually force you to do any crafting, and I always pick a warrior or rogue class in these games. So you can avoid it in most games.

    However I !do! enjoy crafting in games like Stranded Deep and The Forrest, because I think they actually make crafting fun in these games, addictive even.

  19. ScubaMonster says:

    My main problem with crafting is 90% of everything you make is garbage. You’re just crafting worthless junk to raise your skill so that you can max it out to make stuff that might be useful. In MMO’s most crafting items will never be as good as what you can find elsewhere making them even more worthless, unless it’s something like consumables or gems that you add to an existing item. But all that leatherworking and blacksmithing stuff you make ends up being pretty mediocre. It’s really only worthwhile at all if you’re going to give it to an alt character (for games that allow that, like mmo’s. Single player games it’s even more worthless). Even then, an alt character can usually level up fast enough and get enough gear through questing that crafting doesn’t keep up.

    • DrakeDwarf says:

      This! It gets really depressing when you know you are making junk most of the time.

  20. aircool says:

    You always have to spend loads of time, effort and materials crafting useless stuff before you get the chance to craft anything useful.

    Then, when you’ve crafted everything that’s useful, you have to grind even more… like every day if you ever want to make ‘Legendary’ stuff, what with daily limits on the number of ‘whatever’s’ you can craft before you convert it into ‘more whatever’s’ that are required to craft ‘etc… etc…’.

    The whole MMO system is long overdue a dignified death. It’s all about grind and raiding… I don’t know why MMO developers go to all that trouble with background, levelling, quests and whatnot when most people (I said most, not all), just powerlevel to the grind.

    Right… I’m just off to find a tank and healer so we can go kill ‘Beelzebutt’ as the raid has just reset after a week. Poor Beelzebutt, destined to suffer dying and resurrection for eternity as heroes take turns to kill him, loot him, then do it again until he drops the right piece of armour.

    Yet no matter how many Beelzebutt is killed, nothing changes. It has no effect on the world. In fact, the ‘standard’ MMO world never changes until some added content arrives.

    Elite: Dangerous had the opportunity to improve the MMO with a persistent universe but fluffed its lines big time by making the galaxy immune to an player influence and not being an MMO.

  21. lagiacrux says:

    i really enjoyed the “crafting” in swtor. you dont do anything. you have your crew of assistants who you send out to gather and craft.

    “you there, grunt … go out and gather more supplies, and dont bother coming back until you have enough of them.”

    • malkav11 says:

      The narrative context is a nice touch, but the actual crafting mechanics are very much grind to max level and then maybe you might get a few useful things out of it, and don’t really do much else novel. (Other than you mostly not having to bother with gathering nodes on the ground, though they existed for a few professions.)

  22. ohminus says:

    I liked how in Morrowind, all you could do with your weapons and armor was repairing it. That makes sense – it doesn’t mean you know how to forge a blade, but you can take care of your equipment. The later crafting system went seriously over the top. That they dropped spellmaking in turn was ridiculous – shaping magic is what magicians do.

    I think Witcher 3 struck a good balance – Witchers can do basic alchemy and craft potions because that’s part of their training. They can, again, repair weapons and armor. But they cannot make new ones and wouldn’t, given how their lives depend on having proper equipment.

    The Skyrim adventurers more capable than eorlund greymane was ridiculous.

  23. ishmael says:

    Crafting is the new Bullet Time.

  24. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    “Likewise, if I’m going to make my own sword in an RPG, let me actually do that thing properly instead of simply telling me what I’m going to get. Make it meaningful. ”

    Yes! Forging the Black Sword in U7 is always going to be the high-point of RPG crafting for me.

    I would say though, that crafting has a place in RPG’s when it’s there to reinforce the interactivity of the world. It’s cool to bake bread because you can see the flour and the water and the oven and the NPC baking it, all in the game world. It’s terrible to bake bread because you need some lame mechanical benefit and have to open some sort of tedious crafting interface.

  25. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Quiet liked the way Morrowind did the potioncrafting. First you need the pieces of the apparatus, masterwork. Get some ingridients. Create and cast a ridiculous short-lived +alchemy magic-buff (optionally a +alteration buff beforehand) then hurry to make some potions of actual game-breaking.

    But yeah crafting is usually a chore, having to lug around tons of trash because it might be useful one day and when you can actually complete a finished product it’s a weak upgrade or like in Fallout 4 gimp your character to gain access to the crafting perks instead or pointlessly kill dozens of wolves for furs. Or combine an almost useful crafting like in Dragon Age:Inq. with a useless console GUI.

  26. Cvnk says:

    Timely article for me since I just finished the Witcher 3 and many of the issues mentioned here were floating through my mind the entire time.

    It’s good that the game required you to find the right smiths to make your equipment and getting them to work for you often involved an elaborate series of side quests but the problem was that most of equipment in your recipe list was junk. I pretty much just used stuff I looted, only occasionally upgrading, until I was able to acquire the top-level gear which I was then only able to use for a mere fraction of the game. Geralt (your character for those who haven’t played these games) at over point even turns down some merchant’s offer to sell him a weapon or something saying “I don’t use dead men’s equipment” what? That’s all you do.

    That part in the article that suggests your character’s weapon should feel special and significant is exactly what was going through my mind. Witchers are supposed to be defined by their swords yet in the game it feels like you’re some moocher constantly grubbing around in the lost and found bin for sunglasses.

    Never mind the issues with crafting. I’m tired of games that expect me to dedicate all my time to comparing numbers and decided which to equip. Maybe that’s part of the reason I liked the Gothic games so much. Once you settled on a fighting style you pretty much used the game equipment through the whole game. You got more dangerous by learning new moves and skills but the loot was never a distraction (they also never limited your carry weight which takes another bit of fussiness off the table).

  27. maerduin says:

    I agree! In most cases (I like your Stars War exception), it’s cumbersome, it’s absurd, and it’s unheroic.

  28. kament says:

    That’s a glorious rant; gave me quite a few belly laughs, expecially the bracketed paragraph. All points extremely well made. Thanks, Richard.

    As things stand I wouldn’t mind if crafting would be just gone completely, like a bad fad. But then, people seem to like this kind of busywork in their games, so yeah, it’s probably not going anywhere and not going to change either.

    Unless some brilliant designer finds a way to make such systems interesting without adding to the workload on that front, which I suspect is already heavy enough.

  29. maninahat says:

    It’s all part of this bloody transactional nature of RPG weapons and kit. In a story, getting a new weapon or horse or whatever should feel like a big deal, but the bulked out nature of these games means that getting a new weapon is so easy, you are constantly switching them out for new ones with marginally better numbers attached. There is no passion or value placed on these interchangeable things, so it is fine to literally throw them away or sell them at the first opportunity. Borderlands bangs on about how many billions of guns it has, but all that does is ensure I stopped caring about guns. Crafting is just another facet to this shitty disposable approach to story items. A good FPS makes you earn a new gun, so you grow some attachment to it. Then feel excited when you can find attachments for it!

  30. roothorick says:

    Tales of Graces had an interesting take on it. The game outright tells you what combinations work (via the “Dualize Book” in the library menu) so long as you have found at least one of both required items at some point — even if you don’t presently have any of that actual item. And once you had that initial one item, you can use the eleth mixer to make as many as you please simply by walking around and playing the game. This proved oddly satisfying, to the point that I spent hours micromanaging the eleth mixer to fill out that book.

    Graces could use a PC-port. It could accurately be called the “Un-Tales” and so much of what it does different works very well. (Especially the combat camera; shame on you, Zestiria.)

  31. bluenine says:

    Pretty sure crafting is a developer’s way to increase a game’s duration and make a selling point.
    Otherwise, it’s clearly designed for manic compulsive personalities.

  32. SealedSun says:

    *insert thank you gif*

    I know some people really enjoy crafting in games. I don’t.

    I do like re-configuring things, though. Especially if you are free to experiment (no big cost attached to changing your mind).

  33. trooperwally says:

    Whilst I agree with the central point that crafting is often a net negative in a game I still think it can add something. Specifically it can make the world feel a lot more interactive, full of stuff that I can pick up and make something of. I loved that feeling in skyrim that all around me was a world I could interact with beyond merely killing things. However, looking back at fallout 4 I realise how much of my time was basically sacrificed to the crafting god.

    So the question is: how do you avoid the world feeling empty if there are no crafting components to collect?

    There must be many ways to do this but if all you pick up is useful loot (swords, guns, potions,etc.) then it stretches plausibility when you only ever find that stuff in the most humdrum places. Equally if you can collect tonnes of useless crap which can be sold but not crafted then essentially it’s all currency and we still encourage the mighty Player Character to spend her time picking daisies en route to they next boss fight.

    Random suggestion #1: all the usual places that you’d normally food crafting components you instead can learn more about the detail of the world around you. Eg you can’t pick the daisy and craft something from it but you can have a good look at it and get sooner flavour text that tells you what it is and gives you more of an insight into the world. Perhaps this could be done procedurally, hook up with skills (so the herbalist skill allows you to learn more about the daisy) and possibly fling the odd quest your way (if you notice that some daisies are growing in the ‘wrong’ place might it indicate that some local wizard has been up to something).

    I’m sure there are better alternatives to my half baked idea but I think crafting would leave a hole of removed and not replaced.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Crafting in Skyrim was utter shite and I’m a stickler for crafting in games (I blame my ASD).

      In fact, crafting epitomises everything that was wrong with Skyrim.

      For a start it was tacked on and half arsed. Compare it to the crafting in WoW, a game far older than Skyrim. In WoW you had to buy or find recipes. It built into other side jobs as you needed ore from miners, special cloths from tailors or leather from leather workers. There was an entire economy around this.

      In Skyrim you got the recipes as you leveled up, with the exception of materials like daedra hearts or dragon bone you just clicked on an ore deposit or bought the stuff at the shop. Once you had the materials you just clicked on the anvil, accessed a menu and watched an animation and voila, an item you could buy in a shop. I spammed making iron bracers to get those last few levels.

      It was a boring, dumbed down MMO mechanic with no variation or originality, that did not fit within the game lore, offered nothing special, gameplay wise and broke that suspension of belief by having you better than masters within a short space of time without having to put any effort in.

      If you condensed every criticism of Skyrim and made a game mechanic out of it that abomination would be crafting.

      • trooperwally says:

        I think you missed my point. I agree skyrim’s crafting was poor. What it added though was a sense that all around was a real world of stuff that could be useful. Whilst picking up crafting stuff gets boring without it the world feels emptier.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          I didn’t miss your point, I disagreed with it.

          Skyrim’s crafting is extremely mechanical and does not integrate into it’s world building. It makes the world feel emptier as a result.

          You don’t interact with that world in a meaningful way. The majority of flowers sprout in seemingly random locations. Mining nodes have no rhyme or reason to where they are situated. Most importantly, nobody else in that world is using them. They are there for your use and your use only which separates you from the game world.

  34. kud13 says:

    In Witcher 1, alchemy was crucial, even on Normal, at some point (early on, and in the end game).

    In Witcher 2 Dark Mode the dark armour set quest made the game a geind-fest (I did not have the patient to craft the third one. And I HATED the “make screen go grey” effects).

    I played Witcher 3 on the normal difficulty, and I often struggled with the combat. I used alchemy on a regular basis.

    I felt alchemy was decently-well done, both in terms of implementation and scarcity (it was actually interesting: there were multiple recipes that required troll hearts. But majority of trolls Geralt encountered could be dealt with without violence, so I never did complete those).

    Crafting weapons+ equipment, otoh, was over-done. Largely because there were so many types of weapons and armour you could randomly find or loot of dead enemies, and ALL of them were made craft-able. There were few truly “unique” weapons, and they weren’t even as good as the master-crafted Witcher gear.

    Still, the economy was slightly better than most games- merchants had limited money, and limited supply. It reduced the point of collecting infinite bandit swords, since you wouldn’t have enough buyers.

    • Clarksworth says:

      I think you’re spot on about the over abundance of crafting (weapons and armour) in TW3. The “School” gear, is literally the only stuff worth having once you can wear it. They tried to create something interesting with that side (and create some sense of simulation of the game world) but there was just too much stuff, and not much point of it besides getting the right bits for the “School” gear, and transmuting the rest into money. There was definitely something to the feeling of having to scrounge to get by early on, by later on I had this definitely feeling of “oh, god, not more crap I have to drop or sell.”

      I tend to like crafting, until I get to a point in a game where it’s starts feeling a chore. I think there’s must be a “right way” to add the concept to a game without making it feel like your hero would rather collect flowers than, you know, save the world or whatever.

      IMO TW3 almost gets it right with the other crafting system in the game: Alchemy. Alchemy felt just about right to me in TW3, with the exception of the White Gull speedbump. Playing on B&B, I really liked the way you only needed to craft potions once, and restore them all through the use of a consumable. The fun of finding the right exotic ingredients wasn’t a chore, since you got something you could (and would) use the whole game. So with alchemy, there was this nice balance of character emulation where it really felt like Geralt approached most problems through alchemy, exploration rewards, and character improvement without feeling grindy.

  35. NiftyHat says:

    Not many games seem to think that hard about how crafting fits within an overall narrative structure, which is simultaneous strange and unexpected given how the mainstream games industry fascination with action. Even Minecraft seemed to lose it’s way over time as more complexity got added for the sake of building and combat.

    A lot of games just work from a point of “Oh, crafting, so you collect lots of stuff and turn it into other stuff over time” rather than deciding “We want resources to feel scarce, so lets force the player to pick between making a weapon or a healing item with what they have.”

    It doesn’t help that good crafting systems that use items are hard to design since they are built on a lot of player expectations that don’t make for flexible mechanics. There is a pool of ‘assumed knowledge’ about how say…’wood’ or ‘steel’ should work; which kills design flexibility. If you go the other way and make crafting really abstract the player feels no connection to the system since they can’t bring their foreknowledge in to give themselves an edge.

  36. sosolidshoe says:

    You could have just typed “Stop liking what I don’t like!” and saved yourself the time and us the bandwidth.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      Thank goodness you’re looking out for the sadly endangered bandwidth.

  37. vahnn says:

    I feel like Witcher 3 got it right. From the outset of the game, you’re an alchemist of sorts, making potions and oils to aid you in your monster slaying. I rather hated having to find recipes before being able to craft more advanced potions and such, as I felt a witcher would be one to experiment and discover new ones on his own, or figure them out by reading up on ingredients’ properties and putting them together. But I got over it when I realized that I,as well as many others, would be tempted to simply google the ‘good ones’ right away.

    Then there were the concoctions. They, along with more advanced tinctures and oils, required ingredients a little more difficult to obtain. A necrophage tongue, or the heart of a werewolf, or harpy feathers, for example. In a world where such creatures are ferocious and kill the common man like it’s nothing, posing a tremendous threat and incredible risk even for most trained fighters and soldiers, there was great appeal to gathering these materials to make your advanced pots.

    They also handled weapons and armor crafting rather well. As you said in the article, you have to find people in the game who are actually blacksmiths and armorsmiths to craft things for you. For higher quality gear, you had to find more reputable smiths. For more advanced gear, there are recipes you can find and have a smith of appropriate skill make it. It was good stuff.

  38. mattevansc3 says:

    I do like the Kingdom of Amalur’s crafting. Nice, easy and simple. Here is a sword, it has a handle, a hilt and blade, feel free to put together whatever combination of handles, hilts and blades you like. Each component has positives and negatives, these will all be applied to your finished weapon. As you get better you can add fancy attachments to it. Got a stockpile of old gear? You can break it down and try to get as many parts from it as you can.

    There are no recipes you need to wiki, there is no specific Min/Max setup and most importantly there are no right or wrong builds. Just build and have fun.

    • amadeus9 says:

      Amalur’s crafting is great. It even has the possibility of total abuse – if you put 3 “+1” components of the same stat on a weapon, you can deconstruct the weapon for a chance of getting a +3 component. The chances are low enough that this doesn’t drastically unbalance the game – you have to put legitimate amounts of work into it – which is as it should be.

  39. Turkey says:

    I hate how absolutely cluttered with garbage every rpg world has become since crafting became a thing. Before you only had to worry about finding outdated equipment, but now you open a crate and there’s like 5 different kinds of wood and a pile of rusty rivets.

    It’s hard out there for a pack rat.

  40. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    While it’s probably the worst game in the series, Fable 3 had a good approach to making weapons personal; you’d pick one early on and it would grow in power along with your character.
    I seem to remember the actual implementation being a bit shit, but that core idea, that’s a good one.
    Combine that with Dwarf Fortress’ kill history, where every kill a weapon has made is recorded in its information page, and you’re starting to get close to how legendary weapons should be implemented in games.

    Then again, I’m of the opinion that weapon damage scales are out of whack in games anyway and mostly exist just to give players a false sense of “progression”, the Skinner Box at its lowest implementation.

    A sharp sword, be it shiny and ornate or dull but functional, will stab you either way. To that end, I’d love to see someone make an RPG where all weapons of the same type, no matter how ornate the are, have the same damage. The quality of the weapon should determine durability. Damage should be determined by your character’s abilities.
    This would also help players form attachments with weapons.

    • Chiron says:

      Nice ideas

    • davethejuggler says:

      That last part is not really true though. An expensive well cared for sword will be better weighted making you faster in combat, higher quality/treated materials will mean it keeps it’s edge for longer, it will be less likely to break in combat. Etc etc. Same goes for firearms, armour and all that. I mean hell, i bought an expensive kitchen knife and it blows every other blade i’ve had out of the water.

      Agree with the other stuff though, especially with the weapon keeping a history of its endeavours. That would be neat. You could then even build up a collection of your favourite weapons in your hand crafted house filled with crafted furniture and nicknacks…

      • Premium User Badge

        Mungrul says:

        Oh sure, I was just simplifying the idea for application in a game’s mechanics. I’m well aware build quality and material can have a drastic effect on the effectiveness of a weapon, but that range of effectiveness is nowhere near as wide as the difference between a basic weapon in, say, Diablo 3 and a high level equivalent.

  41. Zephro says:

    It never seems to work well.

    I liked BG2, when Cromwell made you a weapon it was normally totally over powered and amazing. So you never really sold them for chump change. Also it took in game time, rather than somehow being instant when it should be taking days out of my URGENT adventure to smith something.

    Pretty much everything I crafted in Divinity I just sold on for cash.

  42. namad says:

    @author…uh? oblivion? spellcrafting?… are you high?
    oblivion removed 90% of the spellcrafting options from morrowind and then skyrim removed 2or3 more % :-p

  43. Krahazik says:

    I am a crafter, love crafting. That being said, he has hit most of the major issues I have with the useless crafting systems in most MMOs. As a crafter I want to be the guy who makes that really awesome one of a kind monster bashing sword the hero is running around with. I want a crafting system which is integral to the game world and not only necessary, but maybe vital to the game world and the adventures and heroes who don’t craft because they are adventurers and heroes.

    EVE Online does an excellent job with this. Crafter’s are not necessarily resource gatherers either. Even something as simple as ammunition. In EVE some one has to mkae the ammo the combat specialists are using in thier guns. And if the crafter isn’t mining the metals himself, well he need to buy it from some one (another player) who does do the mining. In this way the roles of crafter and resource gather become an integral and vital support roles to the adventurers and fighters and heroes who need the services they provide.
    I wish more games did this instead of the current trend of time wasting useless crafting we see in so many cookie-cutter MMOs.

  44. ffordesoon says:

    I was at the beginning of a long vacation when this article went up, so I doubt I’ll get any responses, but I did want to thank Richard for articulating why crafting is so consistently frustrating. “The Unsatisfying Valley” is also a term that should be used in game design courses the world over, because so many features of so many games fall into that category.