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?
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.
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!