There’s a lot to love about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, from its expansive open world to its unique characters, full of personality. It’s one of the best games released in recent memory and stands as quite possibly the best Zelda game of all time (Ocarina of Time notwithstanding). One element of the game that received significantly less love than others, however, was the weapon durability mechanic by which nearly every sword, axe, and magic wand you picked up in the game would eventually break down.
This design decision was controversial when the game first released. After all, no other game in the series featured weapons that wore out. There are several reasons behind the weapon durability feature, though, not least of which because it leads to more interesting gameplay experiences. When you’re forced to switch from your favorite sword to an awkward boomerang in the middle of a tense fight against swarms of Moblins and Lizalfos, it creates a uniquely exhilarating experience that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. There are also narrative implications created by this mechanic, which is what we’ll be focusing on here. The weapon durability system – and indeed, the weapons in general – reflect the state of Hyrule and Link’s journey throughout this fallen kingdom.
Journey Through a Ruined Kingdom
The most obvious parallel between Hyrule and the weapons is that both of them are falling apart – quite literally in the weapons’ cases. This Zelda game in unlike any other, as Link is faced not with a bustling, thriving kingdom, but with a ruined world where people are just barely surviving, all with the threat of Calamity Ganon hanging over them. Hyrule is in decay, as we see from the numerous ruined structures that dot the landscape. It only makes sense, then, that the weapons you find in this land are equally as decayed and broken down. Nothing lasts forever in this world, be it the tools in your arsenal or the very kingdom itself.
The weapons in the game can also be used to track Link’s own journey through the world of Hyrule. When you start your quest, Link is freshly awoken from the Shrine of Resurrection, weakened and adrift in a strange land. Fittingly, most players’ early weapons will consist of tree branches, rusty swords, and wooden clubs. Link is still weak, and so are his weapons. As you progress through the game and Link grows stronger, you’ll find better tools to help you combat your foes. By the time you’ve freed all four Divine Beasts and are ready to take on Ganon, you’ll be kitted out with Great Flameblades, Royal Broadswords, and all manner of other powerful weapons that reflect your empowered status.
Speaking of the Divine Beasts, there are several weapons you receive as rewards for freeing them: the Lightscale Trident, the Scimitar of the Seven, the Boulder Breaker, and the Great Eagle Bow. Each of these weapons can be broken, but they can also be reforged if you possess the appropriate materials. Additionally, they are each connected to one of the Champions who faced Ganon alongside Zelda and Link a hundred years ago. Obtaining these weapons mark major points in the game’s story after the spirits of those Champions and their Divine Beasts have been released from Ganon’s influence. In this way, the weapons mirror their original bearers as even though they may be broken and defeated, they can be reclaimed and return just as strong as they were before.
Finally, there is the Master Sword, a unique blade filled with divine energy and hands down the best weapon in the game. It holds this status for several reasons, as it is the only sword you can find that won’t break – instead, it simply enters a recharge period, after which you can use it again. It also adds its own slot to your inventory when you obtain it, meaning that it doesn’t prevent you from picking up other weapons. On top of this, it’s also just a very good sword, and its damage is doubled when in the presence of anything that’s been corrupted by Calamity Ganon (Guardians, Divine Beasts, and Hyrule Castle).
In order to obtain the Master Sword, Link must have a total of 13 hearts, or else the effort from attempting to pull the blade from its sheath in the ground will kill him. This ensures that players won’t find the best weapon in the game too early and then just breeze past the rest of the Shrines and Divine Beasts, but it also fits narratively, as the Sword wants to make sure that Link is strong enough to take on Ganon. Additionally, while Link can use the blade against any foe he encounters, this will make it run out of charge very quickly. The Master Sword is most powerful when facing Ganon and it gains increased durability in addition to its enhanced damage when in the presence of anything that the Calamity has touched.
Broken Swords for a Broken World
The weapons of Hyrule are varied and complex, their many facets showcasing different pieces of game design and subtle storytelling techniques. They reflect so many aspects of Breath of the Wild, whether it’s their parallels to the world’s decay or the way they tell the story of the Champions’ resurgence. A good game mechanic is one that accomplishes several things at once, and it’s safe to say that the weapons in this game do just that.