If I was playing a video game this year, odds were high that I was also dealing with some sort of crafting system. Sometimes I was fighting off zombies in a large open world. Or killing monsters and bandits in God of War Ragnarök. Or fighting bad guys on the mean streets of Gotham City as Batgirl. Once I was just chilling with Disney characters like Mickey. Didn’t matter what game, in every case they had me crafting shit, and I’m so, so tired of crafting shit. Please, make it stop.
You know, crafting: collecting items that you then turn into other items. It’s existed in video games for a long time. Using Giant Bomb’s wonderful (though admittedly not comprehensive) wiki, I was able to find games from the very early 1990s that had some kind of crafting mechanic. For a long time, crafting was mainly relegated to MMOs and RPGs. There were exceptions to that rule, of course, stuff like Dead Space had some basic crafting mixed with its cosmic horror. Then, following the 2013 release of Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed PS3 action game, The Last of Us, I noticed a growing trend. More and more games across numerous genres started including crafting. Now, in 2022, most big AAA games (and even a lot of smaller ones) include some kind of system involving materials and extra currencies that you have to spin into other random crap. And I’m so tired, y’all.
Earlier this year, I played Dying Light 2. I liked its open world and parkour system and found the zombie combat to be fun and gory. But you know what I didn’t care about: having to craft everything. But like, I get it. The game is set in a world ravaged by a zombie outbreak so folks are forced to scrounge for everything. In that way crafting works, I guess. Then Horizon: Forbidden West also included crafting and again, I get narratively why it makes sense, but it still doesn’t change that I’m collecting boring resources to build stuff that I need, adding extra grind to everything. Then God of War Ragnarök made me craft stuff. Then Gotham Knights, a game about superheroes, made me loot resources and craft new suits and weapons. And then…I just…don’t want to do this anymore.
Again, even if the people making a game work really hard to ensure crafting “makes sense” and “fits the narrative,”, I’m just not sure it adds anything. In all those previous examples of crafting, I can’t name one that I found fun or enjoyable, or interesting, or anything beyond a chore I had to deal with for hours and hours. A barrier between me and fun.
When I talk to other people playing God of War, not a single one of them has stopped and been like, “Oh, and the crafting system! All those resources you have to manage and collect…man, good shit!” It’s not that the crafting in Ragnarök is bad or ruins the game, it just doesn’t really add anything beyond one more thing to grind out. Yes, sometimes crafting leads to cool shit. But that cool shit is what I like. Not the boring, tedious crafting system I interacted with to make it.
I get that crafting can be a useful thing to include in a game—especially open-world titles—as it provides a bunch of resources that you can use as exploration rewards. It also lets developers give you more freedom, in theory, to create the gear you want, when you want it, and at your own pace. But now that every game under the sun seems to include some kind of crafting system that’s tied into some boring resource economy, I’m just over it all. I’m not having fun. I’m not learning more about the world or the universe of the game. I’m not enjoying my time at all. I’m just looking at which gear has more green arrows or bigger numbers, holding X, and trading away scraps of leather, iron, and silver for a slightly better thing that I’ll soon replace with something else I craft. What a great time!
Outside of a few rare exceptions, like Minecraft, whenever I start to think about a game’s crafting system I usually have another, follow-up thought about how much more enjoyable the game would be if I just found a cool sword instead of having to gather a list of ingredients I needed to forge it. How much more fun would some already-great games be if you didn’t need to stomp around a large field grabbing every piece of clay or mud you find?
The answer, for me, is “probably a lot.” And if your counter-argument to me asking that more games ditch crafting is, “Well, it’s usually something you can mostly avoid,” that just makes me wonder why it’s even in so many games at all.
Many of the biggest games of the last few years, critically acclaimed blockbusters that have sold millions of copies, included crafting systems, so naturally a lot of studios might be tempted to say, “If it ain’t broke…” I get that. But alternatively…what if you do break the mold and try something different? A lot of recent success stories surround games that did something completely different than everything prior. And while I understand that crafting systems and all their trickle-down details solve various game design problems, there’s got to be a different solution to these issues, fresh approaches that won’t condemn us to collecting random crafting shit in nearly everything we play in 2023, 2024, and beyond.
Let’s give it a shot, shall we? Worst case, some games ship without crafting nonsense and fewer people enjoy them. Best case, you discover a whole new way to engage with players and flesh out your big open worlds. I’d say it’s worth trying. I know my thumbs, sore from all the collecting and crafting I did this year, would thank you.