Games give players countless tools to help turn the tide in their favour. But as players survive in a game longer, they unlock and gather more and more gear until their pockets are brimming with potions, antidotes, and bombs. The feeling of rummaging through your inventory in the middle of a fight is as tense as it is frustrating. I’d love to keep things simple, but most of the games I’m playing right now require as much inventory management as they do skilful combat.
This week in Monster Hunter: World, I finally hunted a Tempered Kirin. Kirin are a kind of massive unicorn capable of leaping around the battlefield and blasting their surroundings with lightning. “Tempered” monsters are among the toughest variations of creatures in the game, doing more damage than their normal counterparts. Fighting a Tempered Kirin requires high skill and proper gear. That doesn’t just mean tough armour but also a collection of potions, defence boosts, elemental resistant cloaks, and slingshot ammunition. To select these things, you either need to tap a button combination to scroll through your inventory or use a pop-out wheel to select items. This is done in real time, as the monster attacks you. As a result, much of my fight was spent rifling around to select potions and to alternate between two special cloaks that reduced the damage I took from the monster.
Dodging away from a monster to rummage for an item is a strange experience that is both exciting and laborious. There’s the tension of finding what you need before the monster knocks you out or interrupts the process, but there’s also myriad button presses that don’t exactly feel heroic. It’s more akin to those scenes in horror movies where soon-to-be murder victims try to find the right key to start their car as the killer lumbers closer and closer. Tools and nifty items are a cornerstone of Monster Hunter, but devoting more and more time to inventory management changes the pace of combat. I appreciate having to plan smart, but there’s definitely an uptick in busywork in higher level quests.
Earlier this week, I started streaming Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines on Kotaku’s Twitch channel. The 2004 RPG is a dark fantasy cousin to games like Deus Ex or Fallout, with hub worlds to explore and stat-based dialogue options. The combat is a mix of melee action and stiff gunfights. Inventory management is a hassle. Selecting a new weapon requires, as far as I can tell, pausing to enter the menu and manually selecting whatever gun or knife you want to use. You play as a powerful vampire with the ability to dominate minds, but when combat comes, you’re reduced to a clumsy buffoon digging through your purse for blood packs and shotguns.
The need to pick through your inventory is one of those video game actions that we all accept but is strange when you look at it. The juxtaposition between combat and finding whatever do-dad you need next can be harsh and comedic. Grand monster hunters desperately look for their beef jerky as dragons swoop from above. Blood sucking vampires silently curse as they try to figure out where the hell they put that powerful fire axe. All in a day’s work, I guess.