Crafting can be one of the most delicious parts of games, I won’t deny it. There are games where acquiring the schematics for better guns or working out a combination of tat to create something useful is a wonderful experience. I love it when a game has an extensive crafting system like The Witcher 3 or Minecraft, but equally one of my pet peeves is finding an obsolete crafting system in a game that didn’t need it.
Crafting feels like it’s become a box to tick rather than a mechanic that actively improves the way we play games. I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed the crafting elements of The Witcher 3. I felt as though I had accomplished something when I had the right ingredients to concoct a poison to taint my sword with, and have a small panic when I realised I was low on Dwarven spirit to make Swallow. You could face a beast with or without an oil handy, the choice was entirely yours. The Witcher 3 is the gold standard because though you didn’t need to engage with its deep crafting mechanics, they were there and they were rewarding.
The same goes for Minecraft. It’s kind of in the name, of course, but Minecraft’s system is deep and broad and creating objects in the game has a direct effect on your enjoyment. You have near-infinite options of what to do with your redstone outside of the crafting table—that creativity is the fundamental draw of Minecraft. Because I’m spoiled by these examples, I really notice when crafting is unnecessary, a waste of time, or even just boring.
The most recent display of this unnecessary clunk is Elden Ring. It’s a fantastic game, I love it to bits, and I have very few qualms with the finished product in general. But crafting wasn’t a necessary component for its success. In the other FromSoftware games I’ve played, the elements of collecting blood vials and smithing stones or using materials to kindle a bonfire were enough. You were collecting one object and immediately putting it toward a useful purpose without any crafting faff. In Elden Ring it just feels like side content that’s neither necessary nor engaging.
Either you craft some arrows on the go because you’re a melee build and don’t have the magic for distant attacks or you’re whipping up preserving boluses to snack on as you cross a hell-swamp. That’s about it. There will be people who used crafting a lot more than me but it’s entirely ignorable when the game’s focus is more on the weapons you collect and improve.
FromSoftware’s games are more like treasure hunts and that’s the way they succeed best. Finding a nice new set of bear claws or a meteor staff is fundamentally more rewarding, and pleasing, than making a set of arrows. That’s just a fact.
A more egregious example of this is Fallout 4. It’s peak mundane crafting to muck about with the six different sorts of workbenches and collection of retro-futurist refuse to make anything. Thematically it makes sense that you are struggling to survive in the midst of a nuclear crisis. But picking up 50 cake pans and a toy rocket ship to have enough aluminium for a modification is exasperating. As PC Gamer’s Ted Litchfield said: “I love having a game that incentivizes killing a bigass deathclaw and instead of looting it, the aluminium cans strewn around the boss room are what draws your attention”. If there was a deeper relationship between survival and scavenging—other than the frankly arduous task of building an ugly settlement and the odd grenade—it would make the system worth the hassle.
The more recent Assassin’s Creed games also have arduous crafting mechanics. I occasionally stream large RPGs like The Witcher 3 and Assassin’s Creed Origins and whenever crafting in The Witcher comes up, I’m happy to bring my chat along for the ride. But in Origins it’s a bore and I do it off stream not to waste viewers’ time. Killing a petting zoo’s worth of animals so I can have an extra few arrows feels like a lazy way to slow player progression. It’s not there to make you feel like an accomplished assassin, nor is it there to connect you to the world—it’s there to be a nuisance and nothing more.
When I asked the PC Gamer team about the topic, there was a collective sigh. My colleagues vented about some of the previously mentioned offenders and also had some unkind words for the Far Cry series’ crafting. However some members of the team shouted out games that get crafting right. Phil Savage thinks Arkane’s Prey is a game that nails its crafting system, “mostly because it’s fun to melt down your shit into the little cubes”. Richard Stanton on the other hand liked Monster Hunter’s because you can make a hat out of dragon extremities. Lovely.
The point is, craft has a firm place in gaming. It can be used for both business and pleasure, from wicked weaponry to groovy garments. But I beg game studios, especially the ones responsible for big releases, to stop adding crafting when it’s simply not needed. It shouldn’t be seen as a box to tick, it should have purpose and a reason to be there outside of just a way to rack up time in-game.
It’s gotten to the point where developers will proudly boast of a crafting system for their upcoming game and, rather than getting excited for another great system to play with, I brace myself for an added five hours of playtime collecting animal bones to make arrows. Please, devs, just stop putting crafting in games when we could just go buy a new quiver.