No, Breath of the Wild’s durability isn’t good
I know, I know. Odds are you are one of those who think the durability system is perfectly warranted in Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately, you couldn’t be further from the truth, but I can certainly see why some people may think that. That shiny Ancient Sword you just picked up? It’ll be gone before the next dawn, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Nintendo certainly deserves its fair share of plaudits for the sheer freedom in Breath of the Wild which makes even the baldest of eagles envious. However, I think it has a perplexing design flaw that makes it hard to appreciate what Nintendo is trying to pull off here.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, I’m sure you’re well aware of what makes Breath of the Wild, well… Breath of the Wild. What you might be eager to forget, however, is the unruly weapon durability system. So let us have a quick recap: Every weapon (bar one) has limited durability, so they eventually break as you use them. Once broken, these weapons are permanently removed from your inventory with no chance of repairing them. This core principle applies to every single weapon you find in the game, be it from the clutches of an unfortunate Bokoblin or a chest found in a shrine halfway up a mountain.
Now on the basis of what I’ve described, you might be thinking, “hey that ain’t so bad?”. I mean the game has a plethora of weapons and it isn’t afraid to give them to you. You aren’t exactly going to be left halfway up shit creek without a paddle during a big fight. The game also teaches you not to rely on any one weapon for your journey. These are all valid points. Unfortunately, this system breaks like one of the swords in the game once you start weighing up the consequences of this design.
The systems-driven nature of Breath of the Wild results in the durability system cascading into other areas of the game. For example, because the player will have a constantly changing inventory, no battle in the game is designed with a particular weapon in mind. For the most part, players need to be able to tackle each battle with any weapon (or set of non-specific weapons). This freedom works in other open-world games since those games usually let you focus on a unique play style. You cannot experiment and settle on a given weapon or approach that you might find enjoyable as you simply can’t be certain that weapons will be readily available. Don’t like big clunky two-handed swords? Well boo-hoo that is all you have right now and you better like it. The end result of this one-size-fits all approach is it often leads to very unsatisfactory combat. My prowess in battle isn’t determined by my skill but is instead dependent on what random assortment of weapons I happen to be carrying, all of which feel equally disposable.
Unfortunately, this also manages to taint the sense of reward from completing some of the other challenges in the game. Each shrine in the game also has hidden chests that reward you with new gear or weapons. Whilst this isn’t the main appeal for shrines, I was very excited to try and find these chests. What new wonders awaited me behind my next chest? After a dozen or so shrines, I stopped caring. Why bother going out of my way to find a new chest if it just gives me another weapon that’ll break after a few good swings. Even if I did like the weapon, I was often left with a conundrum where I had to sacrifice another weapon in my increasingly limited inventory just to play with my new toy for a few minutes.
Speaking of inventory, Breath of the Wild has you collect many different ingredients. Would it have been so hard for Nintendo to implement a system wherein you could repair weapons in your inventory in exchange for a few crafting materials? Sure, you can technically already repair certain weapons in the game, however, the process you have to go through to repair them is cumbersome and not worth the hassle. Heck, just let me repair weapons at a campsite. Failing this, Nintendo didn’t even have to look too far to see better systems in place. Monster Hunter’s weapon durability system results in weapons losing sharpness after a battle. The key difference here is you’re able to quickly sharpen your blade and get it back to full durability. I can’t help but feel that Nintendo has missed a trick by not implementing a more consistent and predictable durability system.
At its best, the weapon durability system is a mild annoyance that is drowned out by Breath of the Wild’s sheer excellence in other areas. At its worst, it’s an unacceptable deal breaker for many a gamer. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a fantastic game, but it could’ve been so much better with the absence of weapon durability. I certainly hope Nintendo doesn’t dismiss the criticism that has been levied at this game since its launch in 2017. Here’s to hoping Nintendo rethinks its approach because after all, a survivor needs to get by, needs to innovate, and be creative; a Hero sticks things with the pointy end of his sword.