Overpowered crafting undermines the core role-playing game experience

The Heart of Ember: an awesome looking hammer you won't be using

If your RPG-esque videogame includes a crafting system that allows you to create gear that is better than 99%+ of drops, a lot of the fun and skinner-box-dopamine-draw of exploring and completing quests vanishes.

This is perhaps the most significant problem with Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning and an important one in Skyrim. Allow me to explain...

A recent article on The Verge about the testing of Borderlands reveals the truth of the situation in the aforementioned games:

"For instance, Borderlands is a game about wanting things," Armstrong explained. "But one of the common things we hear people say is 'Boy, I'd like to build my own gun.' Okay, you can build your own gun. Now the game's over, congratulations. The quest for the perfect gun is over."


Worse, in these games, especially Amalur, the unique items all have unique artwork and look totally awesome: this doubles the disappointment when they are unusably inferior to the generic looking sword you crafted a number of hours of gameplay earlier.

Why go to all the effort of designing badass looking unique items if a significant majority (blacksmithing is so obviously the most interesting skill in the game) of the players of your game will never be excited to find them nor be reasonably able to use them?

In addition to this, it breaks immersion in the world and storyline. In Amalur, the player is able (and must, for a time) wield a legendary weapon during one of the well written faction quest lines, but guess what? It's comfortably inferior to anything you could craft by that point in the game. After the quest I swapped back to the sword I'd knocked up on the anvil at a local village earlier: not especially satisfying.

Skyrim has similar problems and they're compounded by something that the Elder Scrolls series refuses to let go of completely: dynamic content. More on that in a future post, I think.

Blizzard, in Diablo and World of Warcraft mostly have this nailed. They solve it with a two pronged approach:

  1. The very best crafted items are worse than the best that can be obtained through adventuring.
  2. The level of effort required to craft items is on an exponential curve; easy and mid-level item ingredients are relatively easy to gather, whilst those for the very best items (those that rival some of the high level dungeon drops) are approximately as hard to obtain as their equivalents would be through questing. 

This second point is another area that Amalur and Skyrim fall down on: crafting endgame quality gear is barely any more effort than crafting basic gear. Yes, it requires more exotic ingredients but they are all readily available in shops or, somewhat ironically, via salvaging regular dropped loot.

Overall, Blizzard's solution works nicely: it allows the player to fill stubborn gear gaps (with some effort) but doesn't ever take the excitement out of completing dungeons. Considering Amalur appropriates so many elements from World of Warcraft (something I'm totally ok with, Everything Is A Remix and all that), it's surprising they didn't pay closer attention to the area that Blizzard has argubly spent the most time, years and years of iteration in fact, to absolutely nail.

If you're going to create a honed genre piece, for that is certainly what Amalur is: please try a little harder to properly nail the absolutely defining characteristic of that genre: the everlasting quest for that next gear upgrade.