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Critical Encumbrance Failure

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"You can't carry any more! One more item to lug around and you might just collapse in a heap of swag."

A video game trope, similar to The Last Straw, where you can carry hundreds of kilos of equipment until you pick up one thing that puts you over the limit, either slowing you down immensely or stopping you completely.

The reasoning behind this is that if a nearly-full bag slowed you down accordingly, the slower speed wouldn't change gameplay much, but would annoy the player to no end, especially where Space Filling Paths are involved.

The weight-related version of Critical Existence Failure. May be a form of Anti-Hoarding to encourage you actually using up the stuff you collect.

Video game examples:

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    Adventure Games  
  • In the first Quest for Glory game, the game outright warns you when you're over-encumbered, which makes your character move at a snail's pace. However, one can increase the encumbrance limit by working on the hero's Strength.
    • In the other four games in the series, however, being overloaded will drain your stamina, which is an eventual death sentence.
  • Averted in Boktai 2. Your character's movement speed was the difference between his speed stat and the weight of his armor. However, not wearing armor with a high speed stat made your character so unbelievably fast that it was actually better to go armor-less.
  • Averted in Reventure. Every item you pick up will reduce your jump height by 1 tile, so it's less of a shock when picking up a fifth item crushes you under the weight.

    First Person Shooter  

  • Halo helped popularize the now-standard FPS procedure of limiting you to two weapons, so it isn't an example, but the first game's novelization The Flood lampshades it; the Chief is trying to choose between a sniper rifle or a rocket launcher in addition to his assault rifle, noting that "Carrying all three of them would be impractical, not to mention damned heavy."
  • Averted (but notably straddling) with PAYDAY 2: you're not crawling at a slow pace because you picked up that one piece of jewelry, you're crawling because you're carrying about seventy pounds of solid gold while holding a gun in your hands. If you're even slower than usual, it's probably because of all that heavy armor. However, the weight of the gun you are carrying (from a Chinamo compact pistol to a FREAKING TURRET-GUN LMG) is negligible to movement speed. All non-boxed jewelries/single-stacks of cash are treated like zero-weight pickups. They're also not worth that much.
  • Averted by Borderlands: If you go over your inventory limit (only possible by getting equipment from completing quests) it doesn't affect you, but you won't be able to pick up any new gear at all.
  • Realistically downplayed in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. Your stamina varies slightly with weight, but the moment you're carrying a single gram over your max capacity, you can't run for more than a very short time, and endurance-increasing artifacts that would otherwise give you an infinite Sprint Meter will hardly help you; even walking tires you out alarmingly quickly. At exactly 10Kg over it, you can't move at all without a powered exoskeleton, which can be bad if you're stuck in a firefight or a monster attacks you while you're busy looting that last corpse. Some artifacts can increase your weight capacity, though they're not present in the first game, Shadow of Chernobyl.

  • Ragnarok Online plays it completely straight; picking up one tiny item can completely shut down all health and mana regen if it bumps you over half your maximum weight, or prevent you from attacking at all if it bumps you over 90%.
  • In Shattered Galaxy, which doesn't have random drops (being a Real-Time Strategy game,) units are equipped at the Factory and sent into battle. You have to meet two Critical Encumbrance Failure limits, “Weight” and “Space,” and a “Complexity” limit that is determined by which onboard computer you give the unit (which, of course, adds to Weight).
  • Trickster Online has this, as well as an annoying 300 item cap on your inventory. Once you hit 90% weight capacity, you are reduced to walking. Reaching 300 items merely prevents picking up more items, unless they stack on a single slot, like Healing Potions. There is also a character stat made specificly to increase weight capacity.
  • EverQuest has an encumbrance mechanic that expresses itself as increasingly reduced running speed until you're finally rooted to the spot unless you drop some items and/or money from your inventory. Due to the way the game handles fall damage, it's possible to accidentally commit suicide by walking off a small drop (like, say, a threshold) while critically encumbered, and having the game add the excess weight in your inventory to the effects of your "fall".

  • NetHack has various levels of encumbrance, which increasingly reduce movement speed and restrict your actions - burdened, stressed, strained, overtaxed, and overloaded. At "overloaded" you can't move at all, and your only real option is dropping things. Even low levels of over-encumbrance make you vulnerable to "delayed instadeaths" that you would normally have time to interrupt, and can also cause more embarrassing deaths by falling down staircases.
  • Same with ADOM, except when you're Overloaded! adding one more thing can crush you. Normally not a problem if you're in a safe area, but if you picked up the (self-replicating) si - *squish*.
  • Castle of the Winds averts this trope as well; your movement speed progresses from full with a light load, about a quarter of your hard maximum carry weight, to snailpace at said maximum. It does this linearly with weight, broken only by rounding errors.
  • Furyband and ToME averts the trope. If for example you attempt to lug four Ancient Dragon corpses back to town for artifact-making (a total of 73,000 pounds) you can move, but at a glacial pace.
  • Dungeon of Doom: "You collapse under your load".
  • In Cataclysm, while you have to track both item weight and how much volume your equipment can hold, neither have any effect until you go over the limit. Going over the volume limit will add encumbrance to various body parts, each having some stat penalty associated with it. Going over the weight limit causes intermittent damage and pain, with potential for Yet Another Stupid Death as high pain levels can reduce strength further.
  • Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup used to have encumbrance ratings, which were based off of your character's Strength stat. Melee-focused brutes wouldn't have as much trouble unless they were using a lot of really heavy equipment or carrying around large rocks, but noodly wizard types could potentially have trouble carrying all the potions and scrolls they wanted to. As of version 0.15, item weight and encumbrance have been removed from the game as part of the Anti-Frustration Features.

    Mecha Game 
  • Armored Core is notorious of this. Being overweight either slows your mech down like heck or it is disallowed to sortie at all. The latter is common in the first series while the former is featured in games post 2 continuity.
  • The Naval Ops series does this with ships. While increasing weight will slow a ship down a bit, go just one unit over the hull's weight limit and the ship won't work. Probably because it can't float anymore.
  • In all Mechwarrior games, with no exception, Mechs will work perfectly fine up to their maximum weight limit and be completely disallowed from even being accepted into use if even *slightly* overweight. You'd think a nuclear-fusion-powered behemoth could at least plod at reduced speed if slightly overloaded, but no.
    • Additionally, actual weight - as opposed to weight class - doesn't seem to actually change a Mech's physical behaviour. Load a 100-ton assault Mech with a single laser and the roughly fifty tons of unused storage won't make it at all faster or more agile compared to the same thing loaded to the brim.

    Role Playing Games 
  • Present in most of Bethesda's prominent series. To note:
    • The Elder Scrolls:
      • Present throughout the series. You can be carrying hundreds of pounds of gear right up to the limit, with the only downsides being a slightly slower running speed and/or jumping height (depending on the specific game). However, pick up one more item which puts you over the limit, and suddenly you'll be unable to move (or only able to move very slowly in Skyrim). Fast travel, in games where it is present, is also disabled when you're overencumbered. Made particularly painful with the Useless Useful Spell, Burden, which artificially increases a character's encumbrance. Sadly, no enemy is ever close to the tipping point so this spell only harms players.
      • As some kind of twisted Anti-Frustration Feature, Key Items (items, starting with Oblivion and present in Skyrim, that are associated with a quest and cannot be dropped normally) are considered weightless. Yes, even that giant ceremonial Orc warhammer. However, once the associated quest is complete, the items will suddenly have an appropriate weight. (Including said giant ceremonial Orc warhammer, which can be one hell of a last straw.)
    • Fallout
      • The series in general plays this trope straight. Depending on just how much over your carry weight you are, you will either move very slowly or be completely immobile. Fallout had an amusing bug where your companions would only check for weight when bartering — but not stealing or planting items. Thus, NPC followers became pack mules with an unlimited carrying capacity as the player kept planting miniguns and suits of metal armor on their person. It really sucked when they died — how are you going to move 500 pounds of stuff now?
      • Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas make this even more noticeable; there's only one level of over weight (really damn slow), and it only takes a single weight unit to put you over. Carrying 280 pounds of stuff plus one empty soda bottle is apparently too difficult. To patch the obvious workaround, you also become completely unable to fast travel, so no teleporting back to your safehouse to dump your stuff there.
      • New Vegas, however, has a perk that lets you fast travel while over-encumbered, as well as perks that reduce the weight of some of your items.
      • These limitations are also in effect in Fallout 4, although like New Vegas, there are perks to compensate, adding to your carrying capacity, allowing you to fast travel, and even allowing you to run for short bursts.
    • Starfield: You can still run if you go over your weight limit, but you run out of stamina more quickly, and you can't fast travel. However, there is an exception to the last point: if you are over-encumbered while on your ship, you can fast travel to locations on other planets.
  • Geneforge plays it straight, mostly. Once you hit the encumbrance limit, you are slowly drained of AP for every weight unit over.
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura averts the trope with an encumbrance system that imposed penalties based on the percentage of your carrying capacity that you are using. That spare suit of armor will slow you down pretty badly even if you could carry two.
  • In Mitadake High, your movement speed will take an extremely sudden fall if the total weight of your carried items goes over 20 - even if the last thing you picked up was a piece of note paper, and you could move just fine before that.
  • Nox plays this straight as well. Bonus points for animating the character who is encumbered while running, as if he were anchored to the ground or something.
  • Ships in Space Rangers will slow down slightly as the holds are loaded, but just one excess unit of cargo will keep them from moving at all.
  • Hydlide 3/Super Hydlide and Virtual Hydlide penalizes your character for carrying more than a certain weight. This game goes a bit nuts with this as even money has an associated weight and will cripple your character for having too much coin (there is a way to transform your cash into higher denominations in order to carry more as less but it's still an extreme example).
  • Dark Souls averts this with a vengeance. If your currently-equipped gear goes over your Equip Load stat, you can only walk slowly and can't roll. However, your character's mobility also changes depending on whether their equipment takes up less than 25%, 50%, or 100% of their Equip Load stat, from being able to sprint at full speed and make rapid consecutive rolls for as long as you have stamina, to clomping around and flopping ineffectually when you try to roll).
  • Evil Islands: There's a maximum of weight you can carry before you're unable to run, although you can increase the limit with a skill.
  • Most games based from Dungeons & Dragons ruleset, such as Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment.
    • Neverwinter Nights (roughly) tracks the volume of gear and loot carried (given items take up a certain number of tiles in the inventory) as well as the weight, but doesn't impose any penalties for being overloaded until you hit your cap. Neverwinter Nights 2 dispenses with the volume question.
    • The Temple of Elemental Evil tracked encumbrance, but only during combat. NPC hirelings would load themselves up with multiple suits of armor (since they got first dibs on loot), often ones that they weren't even proficient with because those were the most valuable, then the moment fighting started they'd be immobilized due to carrying more then half a ton of stuff they couldn't use and wouldn't part with.
  • Downplayed in Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, which calculate the equipped gear weight of each character individually and impose encumbrance penalties at medium and heavy weight levels. If any character is over encumbrance, the party can only walk on maps, cannot leave, and cannot move at all in The Overworld. However, each character in the party contributes to an overall pool of weight for unequipped gear, which is calculated separately from equipped gear and has different penalties (rather than combat movement and skill checks, it takes less time for the party to become fatigued or exhausted from travel).
  • In Zanki Zero, having a single character carry more than their weight limit in the active party prevents the player from moving at all, but backup party members can go over the weight limit without penalty. When a character dies while carrying more than their weight limit for the first time, they gain a permanent increase to their limit the next time they are cloned back to life.
  • In Legend of Grimrock, each character has a carrying capacity dependent on their strength stat. There is also a hidden limit, about 80% of capacity, at which the character is slowed down (slowing the entire party, since they are chained together). In the sequel, foot injuries drop a character's maximum capacity, so a character can be fine one moment and then get an injury and be suddenly slowed or completely unable to move....

    Simulation Games 
  • Dwarf Fortress has encumbrance tiers that slow creatures down for each tier crossed. Dwarves can even carry stone boxes filled with heavy metal bars on their own, but take forever to do so. This is particularly aggravating when traders turn up with a large amount of heavy objects loaded onto one of their wagons; they won't allow trading until every wagon has been unloaded at the trade depot, and in some cases they've been known to pack up and leave again before the overloaded wagon gets anywhere near.
  • In Lost in Blue, each character has a twenty-slot inventory. This leads to bizarre occasions where the characters can somehow shove twenty logs down their ass, but only be able to carry twenty leaves.

    Stealth-Based Games 
  • The active inventory in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has a weight system that affects Naked Snake's stamina. You can put things in and out of your pouch via the pause menu and, depending on what you pack, you will feel the effect in stamina depletion. You can be a walking arsenal if you want but you'll be burning up energy at an alarming rate, chewing through your food resources constantly and weakening your health regeneration.

    Turn Based Strategy 
  • Jagged Alliance 2 subverts this trope, by increasing the "fatigue" cost of actions proportionally to the character's total carried weight. Having 134% weight means losing 34% fatigue points more than normal. However, you don't get a bonus for carrying less than 100%... On the other hand, carrying more than 100% also trains the character's Strength. It is not uncommon for people to load up weak characters with over 200% carry weight and have them move back and forth through empty road sectors.
  • XCOM and UFO After Blank have something similar - soldiers who are overloaded suffer a Time Unit penalty. However, since encumbrance is a function of improvable physical strength, eventually that penalty will go away.
  • In Makai Kingdom, some equipment (such as heavy armor, large rocks and oversized weapons) reduce your movement. If it reaches 0, the unit can't move. Curiously, the reduction only takes place when you're carrying the item in an appropriate slot - carrying a boulder in your weapon slot doesn't weigh you down at all, while a merchant can carry five gatling guns with no hindrance as long as she keeps them in her equipment slots and not the weapon slot.
  • 7.62mm High Caliber averts this by providing a set limit that mercs can easily carry and gradually slowing their movement down the more they carry. However, the game's relatively realistic inventory system will generally prevent them from carrying so much that they're unable to move (trying to make them carry three rocket-propelled grenades and a backpack full of ammunition for their M60 will most certainly turn them into a slug, though). Wearing any backpack will also automatically restrict movement by preventing prone mercs from rolling side to side.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • State of Decay has a few layers to this system. Aside from the limited inventory space, exceeding the character's weight threshold will put them in an 'Encumbered' state, where actions such as running, swinging weapons will consume stamina at an astonishing rate, leaving the person winded faster. Interestingly, carrying survival rucksacks (food, ammo, medicine, etc) does not contribute to the overall weight but will actually visibly slow the survivor down even when running, with the rate of stamina increased as well. A combination of this two will quickly turn the survivor into a panting mess with less then five seconds of running which in a Zombie Apocalypse is not a good thing unless you have a vehicle nearby. Characters with the 'Powerhouse' skill have a higher threshold then the others, making them valuable assets to the community, as well as entrusting them with the heavier firearms like light machine-guns or high calibre rifles.
  • In ARK: Survival Evolved, as a player or creature approaches their weight limit, they get slower and slower until they become unable to sprint and then, above the weight limit, they can't move at all. So I the safety of your own base, it might be okay to hobble around encumbered or even overload yourself and spin around to move it somewhere else. But in the wilds, getting anywhere near your weight limit can be a death sentence.
  • Valheim has a 300 kg limit to items carried on you, which can be increased to 450 with the Megingjord. Going over the limit slows your character, make him unable to jump, drains stamina with every step, and once you run out, you can't move. However, once encumbered there's no limit to the weight carried (be it 301 or 1,586), meaning you can drag a literal ton of metal from a storage chest to a forge, convert the metal into weapons and armor, and suddenly be under the limit.

Non-Video Game Examples

    Comic Strips 
  • In one strip of the Swedish comic Hälge, the two owls are sitting on a branch that is clearly heavily weighted down by them. The branch's single leaf then falls and the branch then suddenly jolts upwards, flinging both the owls skyward.

    Fan Works 
  • Subverted during Chapter 5 of Super Paper Mario X, when the teams are trying to press a red button to go onward. Their combined weight isn't enough to do the job, but this turns into success when all they needed was the weight of a Cragnon.


  • Starbomb parodies this in one of their "Zelda Raps". Before he has a chance at saving Hyrule, Boat tells Link he will need a ton of stuff, most of which seems to have no purpose. Link complains it's getting too heavy, but Boat keeps piling it on.
    Link: It's getting kinda heavy.
    Boat: I don't care. Here's a Chevy, and The Wacky World of Mini Golf starring Eugene Levy.
    Link: Oh my god I absolutely cannot carry one more thing!
    Boat: Don't you worry, all that's left is this single piece of string.
    Link: [crunch] Ghaa!
    Boat: Whoa! You see, this is exactly why I also packed a spinal surgeon.
    Link: I hate you, Boat.

    Tabletop Games  
  • In Burgle Bros., some of the loot cards have this negative effect, like the Gold Bars (each character can carry only 1 of them), the Mirror (actions per turn reduced by 1), and the Painting (cannot use Secret Doors or Service Ducts).
  • Dungeons & Dragons, where an increasingly large load slows you down more and more, and even a load of up to 5 times your encumbrance limit can still be dragged.
    • Not that it matters, seeing as encumbrance is one of the first rules that a DM is likely to ignore for the sake of a smooth game. No-one likes to have to micromanage the weight of every single coin the party picks up, especially with the prevalence of weightless extra-dimensional storage space.
    • Interestingly, detailed encumbrance management seems to have been a deliberate part of the D&D experience in the game's earliest days, when the focus was less on high-action fantasy adventure and more on, well, "dungeon heists" with the intent of coming out with the most valuable and portable treasure while avoiding fights, traps and other dangers as best possible. This is also at the root of the "experience points for gold" paradigm found in early editions.
    • The most recent (fifth) edition of the game plays this straight instead of gradually slowing the character as a deliberate anti-frustration feature, to the point of having the simple encumbrance cutoff scale linearly with strength rather than requiring reference to a chart. The multiplier is also intentionally selected so that even minimum-strength characters will be able to carry an order of magnitude more than even the heaviest arms and armor in order to minimize how often it comes up in-game.
  • In GURPS progressively heavier loads make you slower and easier to hit (none, light, medium, heavy, extra-heavy). There's even one step beyond that but it costs fatigue every second.
  • In the original Heavy Gear game, the customization feature included the "load" limit, where the "load" was how heavy all the stuff you were tacking on the Gear was. The "maximum load" was determined by the Gear's parts, i.e. an Assault Gear like a Kodiak or a King Cobra would have a higher maximum load than a Scout Gear like a Cheetah or a Gila. One could approach the maximum load limit as close as they can without any consequences, but as soon as that limit is breached, even by a small amount, the top speed of the gear drops exponentially. You could have a Gear that can reach 72KPH suddenly have its speed reduced to 16KPH after you bolt on that machine gun. The manual also states that if the load exceeds the maximum by a substantial amount, the Gear would also incur stress on its internal structure, which probably means more damage if the armor is penetrated.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • This scene in My Little Pony: The Movie (1986). That damn 0.01 pound feather!
  • Yogi's Gang: When Snagglepuss tries to become a circus strongman, he does a fine job supporting the combined weight of several of his friends until Atom Ant joins the group and everyone falls down.
  • Stitch the genetically engineered alien creature from Lilo & Stitch: The Series is capable of lifting "a thousand time his own weight". This is an explicit limit, as one feather more will drop him.

    Real Life 
  • A purse or backpack only needs an additional 300g (10oz) to go from safe to carry to being heavy enough that it'll cause fairly severe back and shoulder pain after a short amount of time, not to mention being as good as a cinder brick on a chain in a bargain brawl.
  • The idiom "The straw that broke the camel's back" alludes to this, when referring to any sort of critical threshold failure.
  • Real life weightlifters often learn the upper limit of their strength the hard way, as when they try to pick up more than a certain amount, they suffer a dislocation, badly torn muscle, or other severe injury.