Undoubtedly the most divisive feature in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been its weapon degradation system. The discussion over it has gotten me looking back at how I’ve reacted to weapon degradation in previous games only to find it hasn’t been a uniform reaction at all.
In short, weapon degradation is one of those things that in the context of game design is just a tool to be used in different ways. Different developers may use it to different effects for different kinds of games. Like open-worlds in general or quick-time events or whatever else, I don’t believe weapon degradation is universally good or bad.
In Breath of the Wild in particular I’m fine with it. Sure weapons break very frequently, but weapons are also extremely abundant throughout the game. One positive aspect in my opinion is that it has been a relatively simple way to convince me to use a variety of weapons instead of just sticking to one I like. There’s a sense that you’re using whatever you have available to you. I also think this makes the plentiful low-level weapons remain useful throughout the game as it’s more efficient to use low-level weapons on low-level enemies instead of wasting the durability of better weapons on them. I’ve never found myself low on weapons, and I’ve been using different kinds throughout my time with the game so far.
The game Breath of the Wild’s weapon system feels most similar to is Far Cry 2, where any weapon you picked up off the ground was going to be dirty and likely to fall apart within the next few clips. I think Ubisoft tried to elicit a similar feeling in that game but I was able to completely side step Far Cry 2’s weapon degradation because I could get fresh weapons for free at any store unlimited times after buying them only once. It became a non-issue as long as I frequently stocked up.
Weapon degradation has been a contentious issue in each of From Software’s Souls games. I felt like I had to worry about weapon durability the most in Demon’s Souls even though I remember the system in the original Dark Souls being similar — always having to return to shops to get weapons and armor repaired. In Souls games however lies the extra dimension of player-versus-player, in which many weapons are actually designed to break an opponent’s gear. Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III are where From Software switched to weapons repairing automatically at bonfires but needing to be repaired more often. Personally I almost never had weapons break between bonfires. The most striking change in my experience with weapon durability in Souls occurred when I finally started using katanas in Dark Souls III. I’d stayed away from all of them since Demon’s Souls because of their notoriously low durability, but I guess something happened with the balancing in Dark Souls III because I only ever came kinda close to running out by the time I hit the next bonfire.
One RPG where I was never really sure what effect weapon degradation had on the end experience was The Witcher 3. Weapons “break” in that game but I always seem to have enough repair kits to immediately remedy that. I never experienced having to run back to a shop for weapon repairs or scrounge for repair kits. Maybe repair kits in this game are too abundant. I guess weapon durability ultimately has no real net effect on Witcher 3, but I still question its necessity given how otherwise overpowered the player feels throughout the game.
Having gear durability makes sense in a game like Fallout 3 that’s set in a post-apocalyptic world. Maybe Bethesda should have included a better repair method than simply carrying around extra guns (which gets into the problem of weight limits in RPGs). One interesting quirk of weapon degradation in that game though was that you can shoot an enemy’s weapon out of their hands, destroying the weapon and forcing them to go grab a new one.
The one game where I couldn’t deal with weapon degradation was System Shock 2. I understand that game wants you to constantly think about what resources you’re using — a game where simply pulling the trigger is a big decision, but I just couldn’t deal with futuristic weapons breaking so often. The fact that there is an official patch that got rid of weapon durability legitimizes that frustration, and I’ve never played System Shock 2 without that patch.
Weapon degradation is one of those things that’s implemented to impart a feeling upon the player based on limits instead of allowing them to do more (except in that Fallout 3 case). It’s to force players to think a certain way by giving them another resource to worry about. Maybe the problem is that many games don’t balance it correctly, the same as inventory weight limits.
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- I had planned to do a blog post on this game. It’s really neat: https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/explore-the-colorful-surreal-world-of-the-endless-express-for-free
- A Stet In the Night, Complete: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/bal-a-stet-in-the-dark-complete-20170309-story.html