This scene from God Of War pretty much sums up the essence of a boss fight, where you, the player, are faced with an enemy five times your size, with huge powers of destruction, fearsome weapons and usually in an arena devoid of any hiding places. Scenes like this often remind me of a line from the book, Bravo Two Zero, where a small band of SAS soldiers is heavily outnumbered and comes across a platoon of Iraqi forces in a featureless desert. Author Andy McNab writes that if he’d had a spoon at that moment, he’d start digging a hole to hide in. Not the best of comparisons, but you get the drift.
Why Do We Need Boss Fights?
If I remember correctly, the first boss fight I came across was way back in 1998 in Tomb Raider II, where at the end of the game, Lara faces off with a huge fire-breathing dragon and hardly anywhere to hide, save a few trapdoors which lead to an underwater pool, for dousing the flames in case she caught fire. Dying quickly and frequently is all part of the boss fight concept, so naturally, Lara and I died horrible deaths before I could find a way of defeating the dragon. Moving on through the Tomb Raider series, the boss fights became even more difficult and frankly, some of them were almost impossible to defeat, without some form of cheating, which I’m not a big fan of, but sometimes you have to ask, “Why am I torturing myself like this?” But oddly enough, the boss fights in the later Tomb Raider games have become much easier as the entire series loses its sharp edge to the snowflakes, but that’s another story altogether.
Boss fights usually appear at the end of a game and/or at the end of a certain passage of play, forcing you to complete the seemingly impossible task before being able to move on with the rest of the story and in some cases, the rest of your life. This in itself can be extremely frustrating, especially if you’ve been stuck on the same boss fight for hours or possibly days on end, suffering death and the same old repetitive actions and cutscenes over and over again. One can only assume that the whole purpose of a boss fight is to reward you for the victory, but in my experience, most of the time all they induce in me is a feeling of rage and utterly pointless repetition.
Quite clearly, I haven’t even scratched the surface on the number of deranged bosses out there, because in a list of the twenty most difficult bosses, I didn’t recognise any of them, which is just as well, really. The boss pictured above is from Diablo and clearly he’s not hanging around for a nice cup of tea, but apparently remains one of the toughest bosses in the history of gaming– until the next one comes along.
Just Give Me A Chance, Please!
Sticking to the nasty ones that I do remember, Half-Life springs to mind, in which there are numerous bosses which I have mercifully defeated at least twice without reverting to cheats.
I mention this because really I’m a pussy when it comes to impossible-to-defeat enemies, but generally speaking, the boss fight scenes in Half-Life at least give you somewhere to hide– a crucial survival aspect, at least from my point of view. On the other hand, some boss fights tighten the screw by putting the fight on a timer, upping the ante to a fever pitch, not to mention the frustration levels if you’re suffering from skill fade. There are even some bosses that are so indestructible, such as the giant turtle with a mountain on its back in Final Fantasy 15, that it can take anywhere between two and seventy-two hours to defeat, which takes us to mega-boss territory. I know for sure that I wouldn’t have the staying power for that kind of masochism, because if I really have to endure a boss fight, I’d prefer it all to be over in less than an hour, or preferably two or three minutes.
Timed Boss Fights
Only the other day I was forced to endure a timed boss fight called Only You (Cull The Herd) in Far Cry 5, where I had to run through a building in less than a minute, shooting enemies that popped up at every turn. Okay, not a boss fight in the true sense, but still nail-bitingly tense. However, once completed, it comes as a shock to discover that the very same agony has to be completed a further two times, followed by a near-impossible mission to destroy six communication beacons whilst being chased by rabid wolves and bloodthirsty religious fanatics armed to the teeth and determined to eliminate a non-believer like me who had the cheek to wander into their territory of cult worship. All this mayhem is accompanied by The Platters’ – Only You, which drones on and on and on until it drives you insane– which is when I turned off the music.
After countless hours of dying at the hands of the cultists and rabid wolves, I finally managed to destroy the sixth beacon, so imagine my horror on finding that the sequence of boss fights wasn’t over by a long shot. No, I was then faced with a Rocky Mountain scene with the arch-villain and cult chief sat atop a mountain and taking potshots at me with his sniper rifle, which is more accurate than I could ever be.
For a boss fight, however, this one turned out to be easy, requiring nothing more than an SA50 sniper rifle, an M249 heavy machine gun, several grenades, a few sticks of dynamite and plenty of patience whilst hiding behind a rock and out of his line of sight. But this wasn’t the usual boss fight since there were plenty of places to hide, thankfully, and it didn’t take long for one of my bullets to find the sweet spot and witness him whinging about all the injustice in the world.
Having defeated this nasty piece of work, I then accidentally wandered into Faith Seed’s county and got dragged into her war, which required me to kill her also. As you can tell, there’s a lot of heavy weaponry and killing in this game, but that’s where the fun is. Anyway, here’s how I defeated Faith and died about twenty-five times in the process.
Quick Time Boss Fights Are Just Evil
In video games, a quick time event (QTE) is a method of context-sensitive gameplay in which the player performs actions on the control device shortly after the appearance of an on-screen instruction/prompt.
QTEs are universally hated by the gaming community because it’s a lazy game design and requires you to hit buttons or keys in a certain sequence to everyone’s utter frustration. QTEs may also require you to “mash” the keys, meaning smashing your precious keyboard repetitively until you’ve managed to strangle the enemy or whatever the task may be. This usually invokes in me a desire to strangle the developer for their crap programming, so to have them appear in boss fights is just plain lunacy. This happens in Tomb Raider (2013), Far Cry 3 and Dying Light, three otherwise great games.
I never finished Far Cry 3 and Dying Light because the final boss fights required bashing the keyboard to smithereens and my every attempt ended in a quick death, ad nauseum. However, I’m pleased to see that QTEs appear to be on the wane, but boss fights are not, in spite of their torturous nature. They crop up mid-game and also at the very end, meaning that you simply can’t avoid them. One memorable boss fight in Far Cry 3 pitted the player against the Ink Monster, with nothing more than a bow and arrow, but it was so hard that I had to enlist the help of my stepson who finished it off for me in about ten minutes. Anyway, here’s an example of a boss fight where the odds are definitely stacked against you.