Why Boss Battles Are Losing Their Charm

Playing a game is like going through a familiar pattern – kill some enemies here, do some puzzles there, fight the area boss, and then repeat the whole process all over again. Every area in most games will build up the tension from start to end until the eventual boss battle. And boss battles are what make games so entertaining. A sudden spike in difficulty is always welcome. They disconnect you from the rest of the game world for a moment, and test you with whatever you have learnt up until then. But lately, boss fights are becoming more about button mashing than anything else. Traditionally, boss fights are supposed to be all about using your brains.

There is a difference between there being a hundred enemies on screen, and a single boss. Boss fights have to be thought over. Every boss either has a weakness, or some pattern using which we can get the upper hand. It has to be about observation and development of a strategy.

Deus Ex HR Boss Fight
A still from Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human revolution, while a brilliant game, loses its pace and sense of freedom when it comes to boss battles. Sadly, the past few games i’ve played have been anything but strategic in handling their boss fights. A prime example which comes to mind is Deus Ex : Human Revolution. The game as a whole is brilliant. There are so many choices in each and everything you can do; it’s a shame that the boss battles throw this concept of choice out of the window. Try defeating a boss using just gas grenades and a few punches and the end cut scene will still show them with bullet wounds and cuts all over. Also the boss battles are such that they promote the use of guns, rather than giving the player the choice to skip them entirely. Sure, this can be blamed on the fact that they hired another studio to orchestrate the boss fights, but poor foresight on part of the main development team is also to blame. Another reason for this is the over-monetization of gaming.

Franchises like Call of Duty have taken the focus away from making games unique; it’s all about the action and how the game is presented. Quick time events are intended to make the game as “cool” and “awesome” as possible, but they take away from any sort of strategy, or the boss having any sort of character. It’s all about guns and explosions, and all about black and white without even a hint of gray.

The End from Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater is one of the most tension filled boss fights i’ve encountered. Good boss battles have always been rare, now more than ever. The best example of a boss battle that i would like to point out over here is ‘the end’ from Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater (or Subsistence, depending on which version you have played). Never have I experienced such tension in a boss fight. Apart from the sniper mission in Call of Duty 4 (a time when call of duty was actually good), no other moment in gaming has had me at the edge of my seat as this one. This particular boss can take anywhere between 20 minutes to two hours to beat, and needs you to use almost every tool at your disposal. Snake eater was a stealth game, and most of the boss battles involved the use of stealth, which is rare these days.

I feel developers need to get back to their drawing boards and ask themselves – What is a boss fight all about? Is it simply a tool to show off the game’s engine? Or is it a way of giving the player the fulfillment that the other foes cannot? Either ways, it shouldn’t be about simply beating the boss and going to the next one. There should be some accomplishment of a goal pertaining to the story of the game, and should make the player contemplate about what has been done and achieved. Most of all, it should feel like a major hurdle in the progress of the game. That’s where games like Dark Souls shine, while others don’t.