Crafting is Required
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (DOS2) has a terrible crafting system.
At first, I felt like this was okay. Crafting in the original game was often a bit overpowered, such that most of the time you were better off crafting upgrades than you were trying to loot them. This was a problem in Skyrim too, which I talked about back in 2012:
Short of the sandbox-esque nuclear option of destroying gear and/or permanent durability loss, I do not see a worthy payout for the costs of strong player crafting. I just completed a long questline to reconstruct a 1,000+ year old amulet whose power started a war and led to it being split into three parts and sealed away; the names of amulet keepers were to be forgotten under the pain of death. After finally reforging it, I held it in my hands and… oh, +30 to Health/Mana/Stamina? I created an amulet with +67 to Health and +40% extra Bow damage nearly 50 hours ago.
I am not sure any game has gotten the craft vs loot tension correct. If the best items come from looting, players are incentivized to kill things for loot and ignore crafting. If the best items are crafted, players craft them and don’t care about killing stuff. Sometimes you can make hard enemies drop exclusive crafting material instead of loot, but that’s just loot with extra steps.
The problem is when game designers decide to have a weak crafting system, then seed their game with thousands of random pieces of debris. There is shit everywhere in DOS2: flowers, mushrooms, plates, cups, parchment, individual keys that exist forever for some reason, nails, hammers, and so on and so forth. Well over 90% of it is completely useless, despite it being integral to some crafting recipe or another. The existence of these items and your ability to interact with them is an invitation to their collection. Which, ultimately, just serves to pad game time and make inventory management a chore. It’s all a designer trap, outside maybe 2-3 arrow/scroll recipes.
So why not just get rid of crafting, if it’s going to be nigh-useless? Well… what are they going to do with all these cups and silverware so meticulously seeded on every table? Seems as though if you want interactable widgets, you need a crafting system of some kind to justify it. We’re well past the Metal Gear Solid 2 days when breaking single wine bottles or watching ice melt was an innovation.
Just because it’s an RPG doesn’t mean you have to be able to pick up all the things. But you damn well better have a useful reason to pick stuff up, if you allow it. Which makes crafting required.
Posted on March 19, 2019, in Commentary and tagged Crafting, Divinity: Original Sin 2, Gotcha, Loot All the Things, Newbie Trap, Skyrim. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.
The obvious tweak is to have looting and crafting occupy different spheres. For example you loot your bow but have to craft the arrows. I don’t know if this is better than just buying arrows directly though. One option is to have stronger arrows that are craftable by relatively rare materials. This is difficult to balance though. Most games seem to give you too many or not enough of a particular item.
I have also thought about systems where you can deconstruct loot for crafting materials to customize the item you really wanted to drop in the first place. Like maybe a good magic sword drops, but your character uses a mace, so you need the sword + other items to reforge it into a mace. That does kinda get back to the whole “loot with extra steps” piece though.
On the other hand, you might be right about the different spheres bit. Crafting could maybe govern consumables only, and the rest of the loot is just gear. If you want potions or scrolls or special arrows though, you need to collect plants and monster parts, etc. Hmm.
I have never understood the point of crafting in single player RPGs. back when I used to play offline rpgs I just used to skip anything to do with crafting altogether. I wouldn’t even have known crafted stuff could be better than dropped because I’d never have seen it.
I always refer back to my five years playing tabletop RPGs before I moved to CRPGs: I can’t recall one single time any GM tried to introduce any form of crafting or that any player asked for it. AD&D did have some kind of crafting system I vaguely remember seeing in the books but I never saw it used. About the closest we ever got was taking something to an NPC, asking them to make something out of it, going away to do something interesting, then coming back later, paying them and buggering off again.
It took me years to see the point of crafting in MMOs but I did, eventually. If there’s not a need to prop up an economy and create social bonds, though, surely it’s completely redundant?
One reason to have a crafting system is sort of explained in the post: it gives you a reason to make a bunch of items interactable within the game itself. Not every broom in Skyrim has a purpose, but the fact that you can snatch butterflies out of the air and turn them into potions opens up the world in a “realistic” way such that making brooms collectible makes sense. Crafting also allows you to tailor your items in a more customizable way, e.g. crafting Fire Wands instead of Ice Wands simply because you like the debuff better, etc.
That’s typically a very fine needle to thread though, and most games swing too much one way or the other. Hard to be motivated to do quests when there isn’t an item in the game more powerful than one you already crafted hours ago. Thus, weak crafting is “safer,” but it comes with its own problems too.
Crafting in a sRPG is generally an included option. In a sandbox like Skyrim (and less so in DOS:2), those games also give you the option to min/max the game to absurd levels. This is then sometimes ‘balanced’ by absurd difficulty levels. But again, all of that is optional, and if I had to guess, they are options taken advantage of by a small subset of the playerbase.
The majority of players likely play on normal difficulty, without min/max, and maybe craft a little just as something to do. Through that lens, is what DOS:2 does bad? Not saying its perfect or even great (the amount of junk you can pick up is silly), but for most I don’t think its a real issue. And then for the hoarders and the min/max crowd, the system is better than not having anything at all (again, still not a great system).
Personally I realized pretty early on that junk in DOS:2 is not worth bothering with, and that crafting was too much effort for the reward, so I just ignored it all. It’s a 60+hr game even when you ignore all of that anyway.
There is a difference between “optional” and “completely useless.” Every single time you open the crafting recipe interface, it defaults to weapons. All of which are 100% useless, in any capacity. There are cooking recipes that take one ingredient (Dinners – Heal 20%, +2 Strength), combined them with another ingredient (Beer – Heal 20%, -1 Intelligence), and result in a less useful item (Dwarven Stew – Heal 10%, 1 Strength). How is that remotely possible without active malice? Did they divide up the job of creating recipes and the actual output?
It is a jarring bit of evidence of extreme sloppiness in what otherwise feels like a well-designed game. But being confronted with these “decisions” suddenly makes me question the rest of the game’s design. Are so many Skills beyond useless on purpose too? Were the devs trying to smartly seed certain areas with higher-level monsters to create an organic progression flow? Or were they just fucking morons smearing shit on the walls and certain parts of it ended up looking like Jesus Christ if you squint hard enough?
Suspension of disbelief is critical in any piece of entertainment, and I guess irrational game design decisions are what send me over the edge. It’s difficult for me to take any part of this game seriously anymore. I just found out how broken Thievery is, for example, so now even the loot system is a joke.
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That food crafting example is a pretty clear indication of bad attention to detail, which sadly I do think DOS:2 suffers from a bit. Not enough to overall ruin the experience IMO, but yea, it has rough/dumb edges. The thing that saves it for me is you just ignore crafting, don’t abuse broken stuff like thievery, and enjoy the rest for what it is. Don’t blame you if you can’t though.
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