The most often criticized feature in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, is the weapon breaking system.
I like to put on my game designer hat and come up with ways to improve games, and this is a subject that I’ve thought about a considerable amount off and on since I played through BOTW, and am thinking about more now that I’m playing through TOTK.
So here’s my suggested solution.
I actually like the possibility for weapons to break. I think it does make combat more interesting, and I support Nintendo’s reasoning that the feature gives the player reason to use other weapons than the current best damage weapon in their arsenal, which results in the player experiencing a wider variety of combat mechanics that result from the different properties and behaviors of the different classes of weapons found in the game.
So we’re not ditching the system, we’re going to tune it.
First, let’s recognize that weapon quality should come into play, as it does, but durability should increase much more quickly as weapon quality goes up.
So, at the start of the game, we have what I’ll call “found object” weapons, like the tree branch. These should rightly be very easy to break, in just a few solid hits, as they are.
The next class of weapon above that should be “improvised object”. These are tools, such as brooms, shovels, pitch forks, and so on, which are capable of being used as weapons, and are designed to be durable, but are not intended to be weapons. These should break more easily than a designed weapon, because using them for combat is putting stresses on them that they were not designed for.
The next class of weapon above “improvised” is “crude”. Crude weapons have a primitive look to them, and are built by crude or less skilled means, and won’t hold up as well as a better made weapon. Crude weapons are made of roughly hewn wood, bone, and stone, and not refined metals. Crude weapons can be repaired more frequently, and can be repaired in the field at places similar to the cooking pots found throughout the world. This amounts to “duct tape” level reinforcement of the weapon’s shaft, or the attachment of the weapon’s head to the shaft, for things like stone hammers and stone axes
The next class is “Standard”. Standard weapons are in good condition and should last a long time if properly treated and cared for, but are subject to breaking when abused, neglected, or subjected to abnormal rough treatment. In the game, a Standard quality weapon would be given no “modifier” adjective, eg there would be a “Sword” rather than a “Standard Sword” or “Traveler’s Sword” rather than “Standard Traveler’s Sword.”
Above that is “Quality”. Quality weapons are a bit more durable, and last a bit longer. They are made better, and from better materials. They are rare, and are found only in places like Shrines or stored in chests found in places where they would be well shielded against the elements, such as inside of a cave or building, not out in the open or under water. Quality weapons are often used by enemies of higher status, and can be won through combat against them.
Above that, is “Magical”. Magical weapons are the ones that have special powers, like elemental properties, or the Master Sword. These weapons do not ordinarily break through wearing out, but may break when subjected to extreme damage or misuse.
In BOTW, the Master sword cannot break, but gets “used up” after a certain number of uses and has to recharge. I don’t especially like that solution, as it feels artificial, but we’ll come back to that. I think the Master Sword should be a special case weapon, maybe a level above “magical”. We might call it “Legendary”.
Another factor in durability should be its condition.
The bottom condition is “decrepit”. These are the weapons Link may find laying out in the open environment, which have been neglected and subject to weathering, rust, or rot. These will do in a pinch, but may be at their end of life. Decrepit weapons can be upgraded through repair, one time, taking them to a blacksmith shop or weapon shop in one of the towns or stables (which don’t exist in the game as they are, but could be added with a reasonably small effort) and it should cost materials and rupees to get them fixed. They cannot be restored to anything above Standard quality, regardless of how they started out in life. Fixing is not a skill that Link should devote time into learning, so he relies on skilled tradesmen and women to do this work for him, and he definitely can’t do it in the field. Decrepit bladed weapons do less damage and are weaker against armor than
Above “Decrepit” there is “Worn”. A worn weapon has been used, but is otherwise in good condition and functions as it should. Above “Worn” is “New”. There’s nothing better than “new”. A weapon in New condition remains in New condition until it is used, and then slowly degrades to Worn, and if not cared for, will degrade further to Decrepit and then eventually break in action.
You can check your inventory to see the current condition of the items you have, and the item in hand will visually give an appearance of its condition as well, to make it obvious when it is no longer New, and when it transitions from Worn to Decrepit. The “gonna break any time now” pulsating glow from the game-as-it-is can remain in place, but only happens with weapons in the Decrepit state on their last legs.
Using a weapon will degrade its condition from its current state down to Worn, then Decrepit, and then eventually it will break. There’s a risk of breaking at each condition level, but the risk increases dramatically as the weapon becomes increasingly worn out. As the weapon goes through these stages, it gradually diminishes in the damage it deals, becoming increasingly ineffective toward the end.
Weapons of Standard and Quality quality can be repaired a finite number of times at the places where that service is available, and if maintained (brought in for service before they become Decrepit) they can be restored to their full original quality level.
Weapons of different types will progress through their wear states differently. Bladed weapons will become dull through use, and will do less damage as a result. High condition, high quality bladed weapons will do much more damage than a crude weapon or a weapon in poor condition. Likewise with stabbing weapons such as spears, as their tips become rounded with use, they will likewise do less damage. Blunt weapons, on the other hand, remain just as effective regardless of their condition, which is an advantage that they have over sharp weapons. Offsetting this advantage, blunt weapons are heavier, making them slower to swing, slower to recover, and slower to windup when using a long-press attack move.
Weapon damage doesn’t have to happen every time the weapon is used. When a weapon is used in the intended way, weapon damage should be minimal to nonexistent, with perhaps a small change of something more happening due to an unlucky strike. But when a weapon is misused, or strikes a durable surface like armor, a shield, stone, or wood, some damage may occur.
So if you swing your weapon and connect to do damage, if the enemy is a normal flesh and blood creature, the damage done to a weapon will range from 0-1 durability points, with 1 being a rare unlucky hit.
When you parry with your weapon, or when your attack is parried by the enemy, or when your weapon strikes the enemy’s shield or an armored enemy, or when the enemy is made of something more durable than flesh and blood, such as skeletal enemies, stone enemies, elementally infused enemies, hitting them does more damage to your weapon. Parrying with your weapon does less damage than when your attack is parried by the enemy.
Depending on the material the weapon strikes, and the type of weapon, it will take more or less damage. Hitting rocks with a hammer, pick, or drill will use up very little of that weapon’s durability, while hitting stone with a bladed weapon or spear will do significant damage very quickly.
Hitting wood with an axe blade will cause only slight to no wear, but hitting wood with a blunt weapon or a bladed sword will do more damage to those types of weapons. So misusing weapons, abusing them to hit the wrong type of material than they were designed to be effective against, will cause them to wear out and become damaged or ruined very quickly, but using the right type of weapon for the material being struck will result in slow, gradual wear.
This is already implemented to a degree in BOTW, where weapons like hammers and axes do get a durability attrition bonus when used to chop wood or mine ore, but my proposed solution goes further, and the wear to properly used tools and weapons is reduced, particularly against softer enemies, while abused weapons take greater damage, and most weapon wear happens when the weapon hits a shield, armor, is parried, or is used to parry, or when the player hits a rock or tree in the midst of combat.
This means that your weapon could last a long time, if you know how to use it properly, and are skillful with your aim and don’t make ineffective attacks that hit the shield, or if you only mine ores with hammers and only chop wood with axes.
To adjust the adjacent systems in the game to accommodate for increased weapon life and the ability to repair weapons, weapon drops would be less frequent, and enemy’s weapons would tend to be in worse condition, reflecting that it is in all likelihood a used weapon, as well as any additional wear done to it while wielded by the enemy. It also means that an enemy’s weapon might break in their grasp, which I think would potentially make combat a little more interesting. Special weapons of Quality, and Magical weapons, would be correspondingly higher in rarity, reflecting their increased durability and capability of being repaired. We might also do with fewer inventory slots for carrying weapons. This would have a further advantage of being a bit more reasonable and realistic. When you consider how many things Link is able to carry in his inventory slots, it’s a bit ridiculous. Being forced to choose between 2-3 weapons at most, one of them being a bow, and a shield, would be an interesting constraint and force the player to choose, sometimes opting for a weaker weapon that has a useful ability or property, and storing their other “keeper” weapons back at Link’s House in Hateno Village.
It would definitely be interesting to see how the game feels with these changes. If a weapon broke only once every few fights, it would go a long way toward making me more willing to engage in battle. And by “every few fights” I mean every few encounters, not every few enemies. So if I’m fighting 4-5 bokoblins and a moblin, that is what I would consider a single “fight”. Weapons breaking every 3-4 encounters of that size, I think would be much less annoying, and feel more reasonable, while still providing the types of incentives that Nintendo’s designers were going for, to encourage the use of different types of weapons, rather than reliance on the single best weapon that you’ve found so far. I think I would enjoy combat much more if weapon breaking wasn’t something that happened in nearly every fight, especially with the better weapons you can find later in the game. When the weapons break so frequently, it makes me want to avoid combat in order to preserve my better weapons for use in fights that I want to have.