Inventing a Better Inventory

I take my good sweet time with games and have also built myself up quite a backlog of games to get through, but excuses aside, I am yet to finish Mass Effect 2, so if there are any late-on surprises that conflict with anything I say in this blog, please forgive me. In Eric Frederiksen's recent article he was spot on about almost everything, but he was so wrong about the inventory side of things. Now, I'm a hoarder. In Fable, I owned every item in the game, absolutely every piece of clothing and every weapon, no matter how powerful or weak. The traders had nothing left to sell me. In Oblivion and Fallout 3, I took over fifty hours in each just scrounging around for cool things to hoard, sell, trade, swipe and swap with before finally attempting the main missions. I have pretty much everything in Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2, Mass Effect, Resident Evil 4 & 5 and all the other appropriate games. I know my inventories.

However, for me Mass Effect got it all wrong. Naming everything the same with a different number on the end? B..o..r..i..n..g. Fable 2 was a confusing mess of items, that was near impossible to sort, sift through, prioritize or work out what the hell was of worth or what was useless and it took forever just to get to that screen. BioWare is the holder of the inventory-Holy Grail (well, a wooden goblet or something, until I find something that is genuinely fantastic) in the shape of KOTOR's swag and booty organizer, so I really was hoping for something special from Mass Effect 2. This expectation was heightened further as the original Mass Effect suffered a lot of criticism for its sub-par inventory system, so I thought it would be an area that BioWare would have been keen to improve.

The shocking news is that Mass Effect 2 employs the worst system of item procurement and management I have ever seen. Even Dead Space, a survival horror title, got the basics right. It lets you choose which stuff to loot, where to keep it, whether to sell it, which parts to upgrade and so on, and that is not a game I would call an RPG or even necessarily requires an inventory. Mass Effect lets you pick up odds and ends – some Element Zero here, a weapon upgrade there, but it is all rendered meaningless by a complete hands-off, don't touch approach from Bioware. There is no real on-planet exploring to do, and there are no unique or awesome items to find that aren't relegated to some type of upgrade status. There isn't even an inventory menu.

While I appreciate many gamers hate having to manage all of the items they pick up, and most hate having to bring up a massive menu all the time, I think that the streamlined systems of Fallout 3, KOTOR or even the Zelda series allowed players to either choose my style of play or they could simply run through the missions, picking up the quest items as they go and finish the game in a normal fashion, hardly ever having to use their inventories. There was however, room for those curious and freakish types that liked to loot, modify, sell, hoard and otherwise explore for the oddball objects available for procurement. The obtainable items can also be eaten, sold, used to poison others, upgrade equipment, modify appearance or any other number of things. Mass Effect 2 is disappointing in that it organizes everything for you, does away with all but the essential items and doesn't even give you direct access to the swag you've gathered from your travels. I want to be able to change my equipment or items whenever I feel like it, not through a series of computer terminals. I agree with Sascha Lichtenstein's review that Mass Effect 2 is epic, amazing and truly is a role-playing-game, but I would really love to have the 'completionist hoarder' role available for me to play.

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