I'm not sure how Marie Kondo would feel if she took a peek into a random gamer's inventory. Maybe we're only supposed to save things that spark joy, but in games we tend to collect absolutely everything, stuff it in our inventories, and carry it all around with us. Sure, we may never actually use all of those eight different knives and fourteen different guns and two dozen pairs of gloves and 336 various potions, but we can't bear to leave them behind, either.
Since we spend so much time in our inventory, sorting, arranging, and examining, it's important that an inventory system operates logically, that it's visually pleasing and lets us quickly identify what we're carrying, and is easy to use (or even complicated to use—but in a satisfying way).
Which brings us to our question this week: Which game has the best inventory system? We've got some answers from our writers as well as some from members of our new PC Gamer Forums below. We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments and here on Twitter as well!
Escape from Tarkov
Steven Messner: I'm quite in love with Tarkov's very granular inventory system at the moment, which takes cues from Resident Evil's grid-based inventory but, like all things in Escape From Tarkov, ramps the complexity up a few dozen notches. Instead of just having a backpack like in most survival games, Tarkov divides your inventory between your backpack, pant pockets, tactical rig, and a small case that only has space for a few items but anything inside can't be looted by other players.
Each type of inventory has specific uses you have to be mindful of. Spare magazines, for example, should always be stored in your tactical rig because you can't reload using one if it's in your bag. Medicine, likewise, needs to be in your pockets or rig before you can bind it to a hotkey. Like in most survival shooters, a bigger backpack means more space for loot, but Tarkov does something cool with its tactical rigs where the pockets will have different shapes depending on the rig. The SOE Micro Rig, for example, has two 1x2 slots for your standard 30-round magazines, but it also has a 1x4 slot that can store a bunch of different shapes of items. The DC3RX, by comparison, has more 1x2 slots so you can store more magazines, but instead of a single 1x4 slot, it has four 1x1 slots that actually restrict what you can carry a great deal. It might sound overly complicated, but it makes looting a much more active process. Instead of just dragging items into a bag and moving on, I have to think carefully about what goes where, and the limited space coupled with the abundance of valuable items means I'm constantly having to mental calculations about what to keep.
Lauren Morton: I love a good in-world inventory system and Dropsy's isn't just a believable part of the game's story, it's literally inside a clown's trousers. Dropsy is an equal parts weird and amusing adventure game where you play as Dropsy the clown trying to bring a bit of cheer back to town with the power of friendship and sweaty hugs. As with other point and click adventure games, Dropsy collects a bunch of odds and ends you'll need to use for puzzle solving. He hasn't got any pockets though, so every time you need something from the arsenal, Dropsy pulls out his suspender straps and takes a look at everything laid out on his belly. Handy! There's no text in the entire game either, just images. So you've got a crotch full of random items and you'll just have to remember what they are by look alone. Good luck!
Jody Macgregor: I think you should try any game vanilla before you give in and start modding it, but the closest thing to an essential Skyrim mod is SkyUI. It takes one of the worst inventories in modern RPGs and turns it into the best. You can sort your overflowing hyperspace bag of junk by weight or by value or by value per unit of weight. It also displays the value and weight of items in the crafting, looting, and favorites menus. It has a full-text search bar. It is pure chef-kiss perfection from the most humble of beginnings.
Robin Valentine: To be honest I'm pretty down on inventories in games, despite being a big fan of fiddly RPGs and their ilk. It's very rare that I have any fun at all managing my stuff, and as someone who can get a bit obsessive and completionist in games, I'm usually really frustrated by any system that forces me to leave stuff behind.
Moonlighter is one of the few exceptions that comes to mind for me. You play a shopkeeper who delves into dungeons at night to pick up stock for his business, so items are very much the star of the show. The developer cleverly made shuffling stuff around in your bag a mini-game unto itself. Certain enchanted items affect other items around them when you take your haul back to down, based on where you put them—so, for example, this valuable gem might turn the item to its left into a copy of itself. Stick a dirty old twig next to it and you're onto a winner. Whereas this monster eyeball might destroy the item to its right—you have to make sure it's up against the edge of your bag, or next to an empty space. You also have a device that allows you to convert any unwanted items into a bit of instant cash, so even when you're chucking stuff it feels like you're still getting some benefit from it.
I'd give an honourable mention, too, to Outward. Overall I'm not a fan of the game, but I liked what it was going for with its super grounded take on travelling across a fantasy world. One idea I thought was cool was that your inventory is a physical object—a big bag on your back—that's cumbersome and awkward to wear in combat. If you want to dodge around freely, you have to take it off and stash it somewhere safe before the fight. It definitely gives your inventory a bit more presence in the world, and there's a nice tension to having to be apart from it at key moments.
Chris Livingston: Robin hit the highlights of Outward's inventory, but I love it enough to keep hyping it. (Unlike Robin, I'm a big fan of the game.) What you can carry and how you can carry it plays such a big part in the fantasy survival game, to the point where buying a new backpack that let me carry just a few additional items was more exciting than finding a new sword or learning a new spell.
In addition to your inventory being this physical item you can drop when you need to move and dodge more freely, you also had a pocket with just a few slots where you could keep your most important items—when you remembered to swap them from your pack. Sometimes I'd dump my backpack and realize in the middle of a fight that I didn't have a healing item or particular weapon or spellcasting component in my pocket. Disaster. And that's just what a good inventory system should do—make you think carefully about how you use it rather than just being a bottomless sack of loot.
From our forums
Rensje: One of the most entertaining inventory systems I have ever used in a game is that of Astroneer. The space-based survival game doesn't have the most original premise, but its almost Playmobil-like art style and tactile world are quite unique.
In Astroneer you have an 11-slot backpack that functions as your inventory, but it's an actual physical object in the world rather than a menu screen that appears on a button press. What you carry on your backpack can have a profound impact on gameplay. If you put empty canisters on it, you can gather biological materials with your terraforming tool. If you carry a light on it, you can navigate dark caves. Just make sure it's powered or it won't function. Will you use one of your precious backpack slots to equip a wind turbine or a solar panel? Neither will function in a cave. Better equip a battery, then. That will deplete, though. Make sure you bring enough oxygen tanks too, or you might run out of breathable air long before your light runs out of power.
It doesn't stop with your backpack, either. Every machine, every vehicle, they all need resources and all of those are represented with in-game objects rather than abstract meters and icons in some menu screen. The way they all slot together and everything can be hooked up to everything is just the best thing ever. Inventory management is the game in Astroneer. Good job then that it's a fine inventory system!
Frindis: If I had to pick one, it would be the Path of Exile. While inventory management is not as easy without the microtransactions, it does a good job of giving you the ability to make your own inventory slots with customized name tags. This is quite handy when you sort through your items and especially helpful when trading items or making a particularly build.
DelirusRex: Best inventory system? What has the absolute best inventory system?! Does yanking a minigun, RPG, railgun, golf club, and a whole damn sniper rifle out of your front pocket on the streets of L.A. count? Cause if it does, GTA V.
Round: If you're looking for the hyper-real, likely Tarkov or Arma. I love how you have to root through backpacks, identify certain wares, and use the inspect tool to see just what you're really dealing with in EFT. Figuring out how to play inventory tetris to drag enough loot out is also a fun little mini-game.
Joe Pishgar: I saw this thread and the title, and I came here specifically to say Astroneer wins hands-down. I see you've beaten me to it. Astroneer has folded in the most elegant and seamless inventory system. The way you can see stuff you've got in your pack even if you don't have it open is perfect. The modularity, the pop-in/pop-out, the sound effects that provide almost an audible version of haptic feedback? It's really quite grand.
indigit51: I really like the Witcher 3's art in the inventory. I think the detail in the items is great, but still not a perfect inventory. I love when inventories have grid and everything must fit in a proper way, like in Deus Ex or RE.
I guess I have to go with Tarkov. It's pretty, efficient and interesting.
Krud: This is a tough one. Most inventory systems are pants (figuratively and often literally). I know what I like to see in an inventory system, but can't think offhand of what game best exemplifies it. I almost said Skyrim, until I realized I only meant the SkyUI version, as the base game's inventory system is wonky and gamepad-centric.
I'm also not a fan of the ones that make you play an arbitrary form of Inventory Tetris. It's a weird decision that usually makes no gameworld sense (why would there even be a grid to deal with in your backpack or pockets or whatever?) I realize that's partly to keep people from carrying around a dozen ridiculously huge items, but unless there's also an Auto-Arrange function, it creates more problems than it solves.
I do like it when inventory is partly dictated by strength or stamina in RPG's. The ideal inventory system is intuitive, and not a hassle that demands constant micromanagement. Games shouldn't be about inventory management. Having said that, I also like having as many options and tooltips as possible, which is why I keep going back to the SkyUI mod. Despite not being the default inventory system, I think it wins my vote as best inventory system in a game. You have plenty of category tabs, can sort by numerous item attributes even gold-to-weight ratio, and everything is legible and recognizable.