In today's 88 percent durable edition of Speak Up on Kotaku, commenter Deuxhero wonders why game developers continue to include breakable weapons in their adventure games long after the novelty has worn off.
So what's the deal with breakable weapons?
Some games do it right, and they generally fall into two camps.
One is the "heat" system where weapon degradation is not a long term effect, but the opposite, measuring how much stress you are putting on your weapon. This actually serves a gameplay purpose in punishing spamming of attacks or blocking. Examples of this include Summon Night: Swordcraft Story, where your weapon has a durability gauge that refills after every fight (the first only, though the implementation in the 2nd, as a second HP bar with dedicated restoration items, is bearable. Both also get points for making breaking weapons a viable strategy against human foes, teaching you how to make their weapon if you pull it off.) and the Way of the Samurai series' "heat bar" which fills as you attack and block but falls quickly as you don't do anything.
Two is the domain of Fire Emblem and little else. Here the weapons have finite, defined (Like "25") uses and are part of resource management, both of money, inventory space, and when you do your shopping (as in most titles you don't always have a shop on a map and often go long stretches without one) for common weapons, and rationing out the few uses for special ones, such as the anti-armor Knight weapons or the rare early game high-quality goods. Repairs here are skipped entirely; what is broke is broke. Examples include the Fire Emblem series (4 excluded, though the high cost of repairs keeps in here), and to a lesser degree, unmodded STALKER and Daggerfall (mundane equipment can be repaired, but in the unmodded game, magic can't— it heals over time, and even that takes weeks).
Most of the time however, it is just an excuse to make the player run back to town and pay a small fee (or invest in an otherwise useless skill). For all the claims "x is outdated" (despite giving no logical reason for the claim and failing to demonstrate they aren't fun, but that's another time.), I have never seen something that has been kept around like item maintenance (except perhaps item IDing outside of Roguelikes) simply because it was in older games.
Also, two really bad uses worth noting.
Arcanum had the idea to make item damage non-existent outside of semi-rare enemies and critical misses. Sadly this just meant melee types were screwed, while the already overpowered magic and throwing weapons were unaffected, and that a critical miss was a guaranteed reload as your weapon's durability was permanently lowered after repairs.
3.X Dungeons and Dragons only damages weapons when someone is attempting to break them, but this results in no one using the sunder option because it is a dick move to PCs as the DM, and robs you of something you could use or sell as a player. (Also the horrible idea of fumble house rules, which punish a melee type for level up as he has more chances to roll a 1).