Some Thoughts On Weapon Durability

Breath of the Wild has brought to conversation the topic of weapon durability. Although present across genres, it’s drawn out some harsh criticism in the land of Hyrule, and after playing Breath of the Wild for 15 or so hours, I wanted to give an opinion on it. That’s what blogs are for after-all, right?

botw-weapons

I think a good format to address the concerns over weapon durability are to look at some of the common arguments.

Common Arguments Against BotW’s Durability

It makes you avoid battle because you want to save your weapons.

What are you saving your weapons for, if not for battle? If anything, you should get into more battles, just go into each one with the right tool for the job. Monsters drop their weapons, and usually they are better than what you have. If they aren’t, either use a weaker weapon to fight them, or don’t fight them at all. You don’t want to burn through a powerful weapon beating up smaller, weaker enemies. You want to save the powerful weapons for the big guys: the boss battles.

Weapon durability doesn’t add any fun to the game.

Not every feature has to make a game fun. Sometimes a feature needs to exist to prevent specific features becoming OP (overpowered), which by itself could cause the game to become too easy, and thus, not fun. In fact, sometimes a big change like weapon durability can introduce the necessity to devise better strategies to take down a boss. Think about it – if there was a single weapon in Breath of the Wild that was leagues better than the others, once you found the strongest weapon, there would be no point to ever using another weapon. Not to mention, word of this weapon would spread all over the Internet mere hours from release, and everyone would treat anything else as a disposable means to get the greatest weapon.

Games remove realistic things all the time to improve the gameplay. Why leave this?

In my opinion, a sword that cannot break or become dull is like having a gun with infinite ammo. Weapons break. They wear down and become less powerful. And they run out of ammo. That wouldn’t be fun in a first-person shooter at all, right? So why is a mechanic that implores you to strategize as you would with a gun with a few magazines of ammunition considered bad?

Durability Mechanics in Other Games

Durability isn’t a new mechanic by any means, of course. Some games stand out more than others in terms of how good a job the mechanic does of enhancing the gameplay. One of my favorite games of recent years, Monster Hunter 4, uses a durability mechanic that weakens the attacks as a weapon loses it’s edge. You could use a whetstone, but in the heat of battle it is extremely risky to pause to sharpen your weapon. However, the weapon still worked just fine – only it would do a fraction of the damage. It never forced you to flee, but it definitely implanted the question in your mind, “how many more attacks do I have before this weapon becomes useless?” Given the multiplayer aspect of Monster Hunter, assuming you had a well-communicating team, you could rotate out attack sequences as each player had to pause to sharpen their weapons. It was a fantastic mechanic that made you play different; play smart.

The survival-horror game State of Decay required the user to maintain a small arsenal of weapons that all had a durability state. Both melee weapons and firearms would require maintenance when they were used too much. It made sense – this is a survival game and a katana is not going to last more than a few enemies. It added suspense when facing large hordes of zombies because you have to constantly be aware of your weapon status, and to pick and choose which zombies you’d take down and which you’d run past.

state-of-decay-gameplay

Of course, these systems aren’t always perfect. An example of where I couldn’t stand the weapon durability mechanic was the first Dark Cloud. The issue was that you couldn’t skip enemies because a random enemy on each floor held the key to the next floor. So invariably you would break all of your weapons and burn through all of your Repair Powder before you could finish the dungeon. It was very frustrating and is a big reason why I never finished the predecessor to one of my favorite games of all time, Dark Cloud 2, where this was fixed.

Like all game mechanics, weapon durability can seem like a pain at times, along the lines of encumbrance, “well-rested” mechanics, etc. But these games are tested heavily – if they play too easy, they simply aren’t fun. Part of game development and software development in general is getting the user to play a game in a certain way. If you design what you think is an important feature that no one will likely ever see, it’s not uncommon to change other features to make yours more prominent. What would be the point of battling enemies to steal their weapons if you already have the best one? Think about it!

I’m curious what you think about weapon durability! What games have you played that used that mechanic and used it successfully? Which games drove you crazy with a bad durability mechanic? Let me know in the comments!

13 thoughts on “Some Thoughts On Weapon Durability

  1. Pingback: The Breath of the Wild Critique: The Exhaustion Phase (part 2/4) – nostalgia trigger

  2. I never considered weapon durability a problem in Breath of The Wild. There’s always something good near me and the only time I bother fighting lower level mobs is when they’re in my way when I’m trying to get to a shrine or shoot a dragon to get it’s scale.

    Breath of The Wild’s durability reminds me of Dark Souls 2. In Dark Souls 2 I had to carry around a lot of repair powder and some back up weapons because they would lose durability very fast. You couldn’t go through an entire zone with a weapon without using some repair powder or switching to another weapon. I feel the same way in Breath of The Wild and I love it. And the better weapons in the game can be used for quite a while before they break. I’m still using my royal claymore that does 54 damage that I found hours ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man the royal claymore is terrific! Come to think of it, I have had mine quite a long time..

      I don’t mind the mechanic at all and I think overall, it was a great addition to the game. Like you said, there are plenty of weapons around to help you out!

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  3. When weapon durability in this game was announced, I thought it felt weird to be living in an era where Zelda weapons break but Fire Emblem weapons don’t. I think that if there was a way to upgrade/fix some of the better weapons, it could work more in the favor of the player while still emphasizing an importance in strategy of weapon preservation.

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  4. I’ve played only one game that featured weapon durability so far, and that was Final Fantasy Legend II on the Game Boy. I don’t remember being annoyed by that feature, and my tolerance was mostly due to the fact that it was so well-handled. Weapons didn’t break randomly and without warning; instead, the game let you know at all times how many hits were left. On top of that, acquiring new weapons was piece of cake. There were also neat added benefits, such as the fact that some weapons’ last hits were incredibly powerful, which obviously prompted the player to use said weapons and made a lot of room for strategy. For instance, it was quite convenient to keep a nearly-used weapon in your inventory and save the ultimate powerful hits for a boss fight.

    All in all, I think the relevance of weapon durability boils down to how well it is implemented. If breakable weapons are there just to generate fake difficulty and fake longevity and don’t come with added benefits, then they’re going to generate more frustration than enjoyment. I didn’t play Breath of the Wild and cannot comment on the game’s own brand of weapon durability, but the many complains regarding that feature make me think that maybe it could have been better implemented. That, or 2017 gamers have become totally intolerant to frustration. 😛

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  5. I love the way you presented these arguments so eloquently! Well done! As for weapon durability, I don’t like it, but I respect it, mostly because it’s implemented in a great way, in which stronger enemies carry better weapons. Without it, there’d be no reason to fight stronger enemies. Playing the RPG comparison card, I didn’t like Paper Mario: Sticker Star because you used up your own stickers to fight enemies, but only got the same stickers in return. In BotW, you explore and fight stronger enemies (sometimes as a must) and get better weapons, some uniquely wielded. But the only way to beat them might be to have a good set of decent weapons. If you didn’t have weapon durability, you’d just have to somehow get the best weapon and keep it for the entire game. Having to decide when to bring out the big guns (pun matching your ammo analogy) works excellently in this survival-focused game. This isn’t even mentioning that foes also drop materials, which are important for many reasons, including upgrading armor or making money. Insightful article!

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  6. I can understand including weapon durability mechanics in games, as some like Dying Light have done so rather effectively. However, by the looks of things, BotW’s weapon durability system seems too extreme. Some weapons I can understand being fragile, like basic clubs and mops for instance, but there’s no reason that a brand new warhammer or greatsword should break after a dozen strikes.

    You’re right, in a way, about how durability mechanics can help encourage thinking differently about weapon use. However, I can’t help but think that other mechanics would’ve worked better. Giving slashing weapons extra damage against unarmored targets and less against armored ones, blunt or piercing weapons extra damage against more heavily armored foes, with piercing weapons doing better against armored living enemies. Perhaps weapons becoming functionally unusable, rather than shattering and disappearing when they get worn down.

    With me though, if I get a nice weapon, I want to be able to use it without worrying about needing to replace it completely after using it for a little while. It isn’t like ammunition, where you just need to find more ammo for your gun if you run out. Your gun doesn’t break when your ammo reserves run dry.

    Personally, durability mechanics don’t make the game fun, they make games tedious. In some cases it can be a little more tolerable when it isn’t a nagging issue, like with Dying Light or State of Decay. To me though, the point of playing games is to have fun, and if I’m getting frustrated because shit keeps breaking when I need it (like in Dead Rising), I don’t exactly want to keep playing.

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    1. >I can’t help but think that other mechanics would’ve worked better. Giving slashing weapons extra damage against unarmored targets and less against armored ones, blunt or piercing weapons extra damage against more heavily armored foes, with piercing weapons doing better against armored living enemies.

      This is awesome and sounds way better than what we have now. It’s kind of like how it was handled in Ys: Memories of Celceta, where certain weapon types did hardly any damage, and there was always exactly one type of attack that would harm each enemy type.

      Furthermore, like you said, large blunt weapons should have a way higher shelf life, and powerful weapons should be just that – powerful, meaning more durable.

      Good points and I agree! The system could use a mild overhaul. Perhaps I just haven’t run into these issues yet 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t even take full credit for it. I saw it in the comments section on Jim Sterling’s site. It does however seem like a more interesting take on the mechanics of diversifying combat though, rather than imposing the current system on players. Regardless of the durability issue though, as long as people are having fun, that’s all that matters. It seems like a divisive issue though, and there isn’t a right or wrong in it.

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  7. Robert Ian Shepard

    When weapon durability in this game was announced, I thought it felt weird to be living in an era where Zelda weapons break but Fire Emblem weapons don’t.
    I have no issues with weapon durability in Breath of the Wild. It’s part of the survival aspects of the game, and you get SO many weapons it has never gotten to the point where it legitimately screwed me over. The durability of gear contributes to the strategy of the game, and those strategic elements are what make this open world survival game still feel like Zelda.

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  8. Imtiaz Ahmed

    good job in pointing out Monster Hunters durability. I think that’s probably waaaay more annoying than Zelda’s because you have no other weapons to swap out to, and as you said, sharpening during battle is risky, if you are playing single player that is.

    For me, I don’t think it’s annoying in BOTW, just way more challenging. As you said, weapon durability is not something newly introduced by Breath of the Wild. It’s been in many games, including other Zelda game. Take the big Goron sword for example, before you do certain quests, it breaks very quickly leaving you with a stub of a sword. Skyward sword from what I remember had shields that broke.

    I think BOTW is just way more extreme by how it goes about this. But again I think it helps because it forces you to think of other ways to kill enemies without using weapons sometimes. Rolling bombs down hills is great and hell… I even tried chopping a tree down to fall onto enemies once, which didn’t work btw

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    1. I think that if there was a way to upgrade/fix some of the better weapons, it could work more in the favor of the player while still emphasizing an importance in strategy of weapon preservation.

      Good call on the Biggoron Sword btw! I had totally forgotten about that. Zelda games have had small things like this before, burning shields are another one.

      So far it hasn’t bugged me in the slightest – just adding some inventory management into the game 🙂

      BTW I added my Switch friend code to the sidebar if you’re looking for some multiplayer pals. Currently I only have one friend who has a Switch lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Imtiaz Ahmed

        Yea I only remember the big Gordon sword because I exclusively used that sword instead of the master sword

        I don’t have a switch yet but ill be sure to add ya whenever I get one, may be a while though

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