This Sword is Degrading…

It was an offhand comment on the superb Later Levels GameBlast Stream two weeks ago (Well done again!) about my dislike of QTE’s that got my thinking about game features that rub me up the wrong way. Surprisingly it isn’t the aforementioned QTE that bothers me the most. I can’t say that I’ve ever been sold a game on the promise of QTE; let’s face it, “NOW FEATURING QUICK TIME EVENTS!” isn’t the kind of thing that makes it in to the clipart rosettes featured in game box-art. Having said that, there are times when it is at least ‘functional‘ as a method of player interaction if not fireworks-in-the-sky-amazing. What does almost universally annoy me is weapon degradation; at best I tolerate it, at worst it will make me stop playing. With this convoluted train of thought in mind I decided to pick apart what I dislike about this increasingly common feature, but more importantly try to understand why designers feel the need to include it.

Most recently I’ve seen weapon degradation shoehorned in to the Resident Evil 2 Remake (RE2Make), a game that really doesn’t need it. Designers combined the traditional combat knife with the single use dagger from the Resident Evil Remake (REMake, originally for gamecube) resulting in a combat knife can be used to both counter and wield in combat but which ultimately degrades and shatters following an astoundingly tiny amount of use perpetuating the rumour that it’s actually made out of Jacob’s Crackers and not steel. It also neatly highlights my biggest problem with weapon degradation: lack of realism. There’s just no way the knife would shatter after slashing at zombies a few times; at most it would blunt, but probably still function for slamming in to a partially decomposed RPD officer in an adrenaline fueled wrestling match. As a player I find myself getting caught up in ripples of bizarre game logic that this spawns further adding to the problem; like carrying several knives for the moment the one I’m using shatters like glass and being totally OK that identical combat knives are littered around the police station for just such eventualities. In short; from a design point of view weapon degradation often has a clear function, but from a player point of view it can be immersion breaking. For me the former is rarely worth the price of the latter.

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Honestly Leon, stick to using that gun… the combat knives around there are made of uncooked spaghetti… 

Setting aside the breaking of player immersion, I’ve also been met with what I’d call the ‘urgh’. Take this typical scenario: You’re playing Silent Hill 4: The Room (a game with merits that are almost completely outweighed by its negatives), hacking away with one of Greg Norman’s cast off golf clubs at those annoying ghost enemies that go down but are never out for the count. Suddenly it breaks… “urgh”… “Urgh” is never a feeling I want to have playing a game. A game can be fiendishly difficult, convoluted, or terrifying to an incapacitating level, but not “urgh”. The same “urgh” can be found in ‘Breath of the Wild‘ – a game which in broad terms I loved, but was marred by the knowledge that finding a good sword would only lead to disappointment a few moments later when it shattered mid-way through vanquishing a Lynel. Sure, the design logic is sound; BotW is a game about exploration, completing quests, and … that glowing armour set… as a player we need motivation and at least 50% of the motivation is achieved through the desire to find cool stuff. So what do designers do when a game like BotW is too big to sufficiently populate with unique cool swords? They take the ones that we’ve found away from us as they’re used; they make melee weapons a consumable. The trade-off here is a sense of progression with the player running just to stay still in a constant search to maintain a decent weapon set.

SH4
There are some great bits to this game… not least of which the overall concept… 

The Fallout games make a valiant attempt to work around these problems with gradually degrading weapons that can be repaired either at a specific locations or combining with a matching weapon to rejuvenate it. This system allows for many of the same type of weapon and keeps a certain amount of immersion as the guns are all duct-taped-lashed-together pieces of post-apocalyptic pipe and whatnot so yeah, they’re going to need continuous TLC. Whilst this sits at the lower end of my degradation dislike spectrum, it does end up feeling like menu busy-work by the time you finally conquer the wasteland (or whatever it is that you’re up to) and I place it only marginally ahead of the continuous grind to maintain a functional toolkit in crafting games. Somehow worse than this was the approach taken by Dying Light which implemented weapon degradation so halfheartedly that I had to wonder why it was even there. Weapons ‘can’ be repaired but more often than not the player has long since abandoned that weapon in favour of a better one by the time it would be necessary. I barely repaired anything during an entire playthrough.

FONV_Dino
RAAAWWWRRRR!!!

In short degradation is there to turn what would normally be a fixed asset for the player in to a resource to be managed. It’s a device to motivate the player’s actions or inflate the challenge, but the costs in immersion, a sense of progression, and the added admin are rarely worth it in my opinion. It’s not like games are short of resources to manage they often include health, ammo, energy, mana, erm… Pokemon?… rolls-of-film, rings, style, so why do we need additional ones to worry about? I guess if I have to have weapon degradation then I want to see it implemented at least somewhat realistically with weapon performance dropping off as you might expect but never just shattering in your hands. Needing to take a sword back to a smith to have the edge honed back to brilliance or having to oil the mechanism of a gun once in a while to reduce jams… you know… rather than leaving a battle with a pile of peanut brittle that was once a mighty halberd because squishy orcs are magic. 

Anyone out there big fans of degradation? Any games that do it really well? Feel free to jump in to the comments!  

14 thoughts on “This Sword is Degrading…

  1. Alright, a topic I have talked many hours into the evening with friends about (plus myself a few occasions).

    Weapon degradation is probably one of the most stable design aspects in RPGs since we were able to make a character and go on a dangerous quest. Most often we see this is Fantasy settings, since it often makes sense from a design, mechanic and player perspective to work.

    “You just died in / won a battle in which your armor and weapon used have now degraded in its durability. Unfortunately you know that if another encounter happens you might have it break and make you even more vulnerable. Only thing to do is to find the nearest blacksmith to fix it for a price, it will be expensive since you’re at the breaking point but worth it.”

    One of the reasons why I personally didn’t enjoy the weapon breaking in Breath of the Wild was because the developer haven’t put anything in to show you that your weapon is about to go out… it just suddenly does. Which as you pointed out, leaves you having to use something else or take something from the ground…or run away. While understandable why it is so, a simple colour or having the weapon show cracks could help you understand where it is.

    Far Cry 2 did the great thing with weapon degradation where the more you used your weapon, the more it would rust, which in turn meant higher chance of being easily jammed when trying to reload. That in the end could explode in your hand, damaging you significantly as it happened.
    While going back to base fixed this or if I remember correctly ammo caches too… anywho, the point is there was always a risk going into battle.

    When it’s done right you don’t really question it, but when done wrong you can’t unsee it and therefore might ruin your experience with the game being played.
    All in all, I suppose it comes down to what the developer wants to achieve with implementing weapon degradation in their game. If going for realism and it’s put in there… then they have to show it in a real way for you to not question it. If not, then leave the weapons alone and work around how they can use the various equipments in the game (multiple playthroughs, enemies weak to certain types etc).

    Sorry for the ramble, I agree with you and also know why a developer might go with it in their game. As long as it makes sense within the game’s design itself.

    Stay Cozy!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It’s been a while since I’ve played BotW, as it fell victim to my open-world syndrome. But I believe weapons did have a degrading health bar under them that would show current “health.” I also thought it had a pop up right before your weapon would break.

      I would have loved a blacksmith option to repair/reforge your degraded items at a cost. That would have been an amazing option to keep those weapons you loved.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. BOTW’s Weapon Durability System seem to be not fully realized.

        I agree with your point about a blacksmith option for repairing/reforging wearing items at a cost.

        Maybe Nintendo meant this to showcase the game’s survival and farming aspect, thus having Link constantly searching for new weapons.

        There are games that I know of that is as equally impressive and fun as BOTW—Kingdom’s of Reckoning and Dragon’s Dogma.

        These two action-adveture hack and slash RPGs have a brilliant Weapon Durability and Repair System.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Ramble on good sir! Not being much of an RPG gamer I hadn’t really considered that – yeah, I guess it all makes more sense in that setting.

      Sounds like FarCry2 didn’t do a bad job of it – I’ll have to take a look!

      Like

  2. This title is an 11/10, sir.

    I don’t mind weapon degradation as a game mechanic but I get how it can be frustrating if immersion is a key aspect of video games for you. Having your magical legendary champion weapon break apart after using it for a few battles is definitely ridiculous. I think in Breath of the Wild specifically, I would have preferred them to have all the legendary weapons work like the Master Sword, where it runs out of charge but can be used again later once the energy is built back up. You still get the same resource management effect, but without having to lose your cool stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, thanks! Yeah, sometimes a title just works! 😁

      Yeah, the master sword method wasn’t too bad. I think I’m taking a very non-rpg perspective really as several people have noted that RPGs tend to deal with weapon damage better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it makes more sense in RPGs, too, since they tend to be very focused on mechanisms that add layers to the game. Since all I’m doing is pressing “Attack” or whatever, may as well go ahead and give me something else to think about. Like whether or not my sword will turn into a jigsaw puzzle when I clobber this weird dog I found in the woods.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I despise weapon degredation. At best it is an annoyance that I can tolerate. At worst, it makes me quit a game. I played about 10 hours of BotW before shutting it down because the weapon degredation was so off-putting to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Weapon degradation systems drive me nuts. I really liked the way it was handled in Dark Souls – some weapons (like katanas) are more fragile than others, but there are ways to slow the breakage, as well as to repair them. Having it as a mechanic that you need to be aware of (i.e. occasionally taking it back to the blacksmith to repair it) is wayy better than having an entire game orbit around the fact that you’re constantly scrambling for weapons. No wonder the Hyrule army lost to Ganon, when apparently their weapons are made of glass? Anyway great article!

    Liked by 1 person

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