If I had to choose a videogame archnemesis, it wouldn’t be a boss or an enemy. It would be a completely benign figure in the ecosystem of game design conventions: the inventory system. Alternately both friend and foe to the RPG completionist, the limitations it imposes on the tools and necessities we can carry in a game are often more of a curse than a blessing. It doesn’t give us enough space to hold everything we want, just what we need. And sometimes not even that.
Until I recently got back into Borderlands 2, it had been a while since I ran into the problem of low inventory space. I used to use console commands to get past the low carry weight in the last few Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. And the recent Pathologic 2, which uses the gridlike space management system seen in older games (like my beloved Diablo II), encouraged hoarding by necessity rather than completionist fixation. The conflict of having limited storage and a desire to cherish every unique item in the game hasn’t come up for some time. But Borderlands 2 did something in the years that I’ve been away, something I did not expect: It fixed the drop rates. Whereas once it felt impossible to get a Legendary or farm enough Eridium to purchase the slots to store it, the game now is like an open treasure chest. I get Orange items with every boss raid. The new Effervescent tier has a trio designed for Haderax the Invincible, reminding me of my set hunting days in Diablo II. And as usual, I barely have the room to carry them.
And so I find myself in a position I haven’t been in for years. I’ve been using mules. Whereas I’m generally a law-abiding citizen in terms of game rules, when faced with the prospect of dusting off something special but neglected and give it purpose, I cave. In Diablo II, I achieved this with the help of a friend, someone who could hold my spot while I hopped in with another character and picked up my drops. In Borderlands 2, I abuse the mailbox system. I have a level 6 Psycho carrying level 50 guns and Legendary gear, holding onto them despite their obsolescence because they bear promise. The promise of that one great run, the file where you come in, guns literally a-blazin’, tearing a path through your enemies with the confidence that you’ve manufactured the perfect build. How could anyone let that fantasy go?
Of course, there are all sorts of problems with using a mule. It can be time-consuming and unreliable, and there’s always a chance something could disappear. There’s also something to be said about having some limits on what you can drag along with you in the game. Weight management can be a fun strategic consideration. My Skyrim inventory is also an illustration of how difficult finding a single weapon in a sea of hundreds can be.
But a mule, for better or worse, doesn’t ask me to let go. While the items I store often represent a sense of safety, reflecting my need to feel prepared for any occasion, my mules buy me some time. They let me put off the process of assessing the value of each gun or piece of armor and cherish the forgotten and unused. Through them, everything I collect can receive the love it deserves.
And so, I want to celebrate mules. They’re that wonderful person created to hold your purse during a fight. They are the placeholders you create for RPG-class specific loot but by neglect become pack animals, potential unfulfilled. They’re the reason you can keep that one special gun for that one particular fight. And in the end, they let you hold on to the hope of making every Legendary drop count. Let’s hear it for the mules.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.