The Ubiquitous Boss Battle

Boss fights seem to be everywhere now, a formulaic inclusion because of player expectations, and whatever else could we throw in at the end of a corridor or dungeon full of lesser enemies or minions?

I started thinking about this after Remnant: From the Ashes began to wear down on me. I’d just defeated Ixilis XV, a butterfly-like boss that clones itself into two, in a brutally hard and unforgiving fight on top of a bridge.

This boss had it all. Restricted arena space, yes. Bridge is very much limited. Some attacks might very well push you off the bridge to an instant death. Restrictive camera and field of view, you bet. One has to turn one’s back on at least one boss to properly attack the other. Phases and attack animations to be learned and solved systematically through lethal trial-and-error, not to mention proper stats on gear and consumable use.

I had to learn to dodge with perfect timing when the bosses’ weapon glow green and were held at a horizontal angle, because a wide bridge-clearing swipe was incoming a second after. I still got the other vertical weapon slice regularly confused with the other attack, both of which the boss holds its weapon aloft, but one is a simple melee slice while the other conjures up a bombardment of homing green balls – which had to be shot at to dissipate.

In addition, the boss also tosses a singular yellow-brownish-green ball attack which turns into an AoE gas cloud on the bridge. Twice. The solution being to move or dodge out of the way of the initial hit and then to hopefully avoid standing in the bad until it went away.

All its attacks do corrosion damage, which my scrapper armor has negative resistance to. The corrosion debuff makes armor increasingly ineffective, leading to more damage taken. Problem is, I had no other type of gear as stat pumped as my original set. I tried a switch to some higher corrosion resistance gear, but the lower upgrade level meant taking equivalent amounts of damage. I eventually wound up just pre-emptively chomping down on a consumable that cost 50 currency, which pushed up my corrosion resistance from negative to positive, every attempt at the boss.

The boss had multiple phases. In the initial phase, only one butterfly clone is seen while the other waits in a cocoon. Take it down to 75% health and the other pops out of the cocoon at full health. OR you could take it down to 76% health, turn your back on it (exposing yourself to all its lethal attacks) and shoot the cocoon until it bursts, causing the other to pop out at 75% health as well. Choices, choices.

I went for the latter, but it was painful. I had to notice and use a central bridge obstacle (which eventually breaks after the boss does another type of attack, a hadouken beam attack) to half shelter me to do so.

Once both butterfly bosses are out, they take turns being the main attacker. One continues doing the previous style of attacks while the other one does the abovementioned beam attack that can one-shot kill you by knocking you off the bridge.

It took -forever- and a spate of googling for help for me to eventually grok that the beam attack follows a -fixed- pattern, it starts at one end of the bridge and steadily moves over the course of five beams or so to the other end.

To make matters even more interesting, every now and then, the bosses do a group AoE howl that if both are allowed to perform uninterrupted, does enough damage to one-shot you. To prevent this, one has to shoot the growing energy ball they cultivate until it bursts. Since both are on opposite sides of the bridge, this is a job for either coordinated multiple players (of which a soloist has none) or really good dps (of which, I had none either, because the alternative was stopping and leaving to grind for gear upgrades.)

I settled for locating two high ammo quick firing weapons (spitfire and the chicago typewriter) and blowing up the energy ball of one boss. That exposed me to half the damage of the other boss, which meant healing after each group AoE attempt.

Eventually, the critical realization of the bridge beam attacks being fixed meant that everything else started falling in place. I had figured out solutions (more or less) to every other attack; I just needed to know that I should be keeping in the center until I saw which side the boss I wasn’t going to face was going, and allow it to do a few beams, and then purposefully run to that side of safety in between beams. Then it could be safely left alone and with my back turned while I focused on the main boss.

It was… tiring.

Once victory was ultimately attained, I picked up the next key to unlock the next stage of the game. Faced with the prospect of a new planet of Yeesha to wander through before the final climatic battle of the narrative… I balked, more or less.

It felt like one act too many. Here was going to be another run of a zone, followed by a mini-boss or boss, then another zone, and then another boss. Rinse and repeat 3 or 4 times, and then just maybe… we’ll get to campaign’s end.

*sigh* I kinda prefer the game’s Adventure mode. One mini-dungeon zone and a few boss battles, the end, rinse and repeat when one is ready. Shorter, sweeter.

So I called a hold on Remnant and went to play the next game that had caught my wandering eye.

I found myself back in Terraria, fully intent on trying out the Journey’s End changes, and mostly grinding away in the early game from a very slow start because I got insane enough to try an Expert Mode world. Suffice to say, everything has a lot more hitpoints and does a lot more damage.

Not without some irony, I noted that I was slowly but steadily, attempting to do all matter of prep work for… what purpose, but killing the first few pre-hardmode Terraria bosses so that one could progress to the next stage of gear?

One has ample time to ponder while exploring and farming in Terraria.

Hang on, said I, haven’t the recent games I’ve been playing been full of bosses?

My GW2 raids are nothing but one boss battle after another. Path of Exile has plenty of bosses, some with different phases and attack animations to learn, and they keep ramping up further in this direction – possibly due to customer demand. Monster Hunter is boss after boss.

Most of the singleplayer action or Ubisoft style open-world game layers in plenty of boss battles as the narrative progresses. Platformers have bosses, roguelikes have bosses, if perhaps less dogmatically systematic about it.

It made me stop to wonder if there was ever a time when games weren’t so rabidly obsessed with the necessity of a boss battle after every level. Especially a singular colossal big boss that has to be taken down raid style, pattern puzzle solved per attack animation or phase in order to successfully defeat it.

It felt like, maybe once upon a time, there were.

I seem to recall roleplaying games like Baldur’s Gate where yes, there were a couple of bosses, but they were mostly a group of enemies with a central stronger character that you had to take down, and normally always part of the narrative of that encounter. Sometimes you could bypass the battle by talking it through. But otherwise, they were like any other combat encounter, just with a few more dangerous combatants.

Granted, I might be being a little unfair. Surely there are games in the present day without boss battles. Strategy games in a Civilization vein are unlikely to have boss battles per se, as we’re more on an army scale here. Crafting or optimizing games like Factorio or Satisfactory lack boss battles, if only because the combat is not quite centered around the concept – at most, combat climaxes are waves of tougher enemies (something the tower defense genre favors a little more.)

Multiplayer PvP games -probably- don’t have boss battles, if only because the main opponents are intended to be other players, rather than a computer controlled opponent.

Regardless, it does seem like recently, the concept of boss battles has been increasingly put up on a pedestal of desirability, or at least something that -has- to be included in most games, along with vertically progressing gear numbers and levels, and crafting which mostly consists of assembling a bunch of ingredients into another new object with the click of a button.

Wherever are the experiments away from this format?

2 thoughts on “The Ubiquitous Boss Battle

  1. Ask and it is given

    To quote Tipa, “A platformer without any real boss fights”. And it was successfully Kickstarted, so clearly there must be some demand.

    The substantive point holds true, though. It’s very possible to play MMORPGs without really doing any boss fights but not if you want to follow whatever passes for a narrative or standardized progression. Every single game i can think of uses bosses as standard, even in basic questing. It has become the generic default setting and it is time it stopped.

  2. It’s part of the Hero’s Journey thing. You build yourself up, and you take on your greatest enemy, whether or not that enemy exists within you or outside of you. People expect a payoff — you said it yourself about Terraria. Why put in all this hard work if there’s nothing to do once you’ve done it? If the boss is easy — then why did you bother? It has to be difficult and take real effort to be valuable. In the Hero’s Journey, it typically changes the main character in some profound way, though that rarely happens in RPGs. It did happen in Ghost of Tsushima, very much a standard RPG.

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