Western RPGs Have a Weight Problem We Should Really Talk About
There are a lot of things that set western RPGs apart from JRPGs, some of them good and some of them not so great.
Over encumbrance happens to be one of the worst staples of the western RPG. The logical argument here is that there has to be some way to keep players from picking up everything under the sun, thus creating a pseudo-scarcity within the game world, while at the same time forcing players to strategically organize their inventories. But by end game, this usually ends up being a terribly irritating thing to deal with, sometimes even creating a frustrating meta game of inventory roulette.
Fallout 4 and Skyrim are infamous for their encumbrance mechanics. These are two titles that like to put it under the guise of the aforementioned "strategy" department. "Oh, this is just another part of the game's strategy, something for players to have fun figuring out."
No, no, no, developers. Comparing time wasted deciding which piece of treasure to leave on the side of the highway is not in the same category as choosing where to spend our skill points. Using our companions as pack mules more often than we use them to fight monsters is not strategy -- It's broken.
Half of any one player's exploring time shouldn't be spent in their menu screen, unless they've pulled it up to tweak gear or stats. The "logistics manager" job appeal doesn't apply to over encumbrance. Nobody has fun figuring out the best way to transfer, store, or leave items behind.
So what's the solution? The issue of loot regulation doesn't have a clear fix, or we wouldn't be stuck with current systems. Systems that seem to be repeated adnauseum in each "new" RPG that's released. What can be helped is the cumbersome UI.
However, what can be immediately helped is the cumbersome UI found in most WRPGs.
Encumbrance is not a terrible solution to many RPG's extensive loot mechanics. Tthe problem is the tedium of managing it.
It is not outside the realm of believability that our character might be able to make some decisions on his own about categorizing loot. A little bit of method to the madness would make it easier to dump items we don't need in a hurry. Loot categories, auto clean up, and quick dump features should be mandatory in loot heavy RPGs.
It's also curious that we're always stuck with a fixed amount of loot space, that usually doesn't make any type of sense realistically.
So, if this is a necessary evil, at least give us some leeway or warning. Something along the lines of, "Hey, that flower looks pretty cool, but you picked up 20 brooms at the last village, want to dump them?"
Whether this is a timer on items (to make it really visible when you've been hoarding something for too long) or a dialogue box that provides a quick dump option, there could be a host of different ways to keep the player from going overboard, while also helping them better manage their inventory of loot.
Lastly, companions packing our treasures around is a wonderful thing, but how they do it could be far more intuitive. Why can't I send Piper back to the shelter for me? Why does she ask a million times to carry stuff when I know she doesn't have any space left? Why could I not craft myself a little wagon for Shadowmere to pull around Tamriel for me?
These are all kind of ridiculous questions, but the point remains that many of these issues could be reworked to make loot management a little more bearable.
It would be a mistake to make loot too easy to manage. Games that provide too much help organizing loot often encourage players to completely ignore what they picked up. If the game has already told me I don't need it, why even bother looking at it? But leaving player's mired in the game world because loot management is obtuse and often hampered by cumbersome UI isn't the answer either.
In any case, it's easy to see the system is tedious as is. I've got high hopes that future western RPGs will hear the public's feedback on this and come up with some really creative solutions.
Now, if I could just find that giant I stashed all of my dragon bones in.