Can I Craft That For You?

For a new blog entry on Gamasutra, our own Eric Schwarz provides an analysis of the crafting systems that have been made available to us in both single-player and multiplayer RPGs, including those found in World of Warcraft, Risen, Sequence, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The piece calls most of them out for being an exercise in tedium, though a couple of the better-designed systems are sent some praise, such as the one in Risen:
Due to the scarcity of items in the game, crafting takes on a different role than most others. Whereas in some it's just a cheaper way to get health packs, in Risen it's outright required for many of the best items in the game, from potions that permanently boost stats, to powerful swords. In order to craft, raw materials must be hunted down, and their numbers are finite. Many of the best ingredients can only be gained by defeating powerful enemies, or by exploring the darkest and most distant dungeons. Thus, crafting isn't just a matter of putting puts into a skill and hitting a button, it's about venturing into the game world and putting your in-game life in danger.

The risk-versus-reward element doesn't end there. Risen is a deviously difficult game, and early on, death is often swift and almost impossible to avoid when going against certain enemies. It's only through training, mastery of combat and acquisition of better gear that the player even stands a chance against the more challenging enemies. Because of the challenge, the player is presented with a very real dilemma: go for the combat skills and ensure survivability out in the wilds, or put points and money into crafting to gain access to powerful healing potions otherwise unavailable, or new equipment? Both health items and gear are hard to come by in Risen, and the trade-off between those two and the combat skills is a compelling one.

Last, what Risen's crafting system highlights most of all, both about crafting and more generally about mechanics, is that context is everything. All the levels, recipes, ingredients, perks and so on in the world mean absolutely nothing if the decision to pursue crafting isn't relevant, interesting, valid or rewarding to the player. Even though the system is just about as bare-bones as it gets, the crafting is compelling because of all the other elements of gameplay around it. It's often true in game design that less is more, and Risen's crafting is proof of that.