I recently returned to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey to complete a bossfight that really annoyed me, and I mean really. Cerberos was bad, because it was the same “run around in circles and don’t get hit” as many of the other legendary creatures, but Hades, despite “only” having to replay it three times, was worse.

I think one of the hardest things to do is to create a boss fight where the player can actually think before executing. Most of the boss fights I’ve played are long drawn, boring affairs and this is most likely because all I can see happening in the boss fight are some special moves and a massive pile of health. It also – in many cases – disables strategies for the player. Say that I’ve been using stealth and precision and patience to kill most creatures and enemies in the game world. Now I’m suddenly having to use running around in circles and warrior/ tank tactics that I’ve never used before.

While I appreciate that it’s probably hard to build a boss fight for all types of players, particularly if the game features a wide variety of play styles, this is what Mike Liaw1 told me:

Combat is basically a mini game, and there’s a mini game for each type of enemy, with the boss fight being more nuanced mini games that have the boss communicating to the player.

Our discussion was basically around if there are any good boss fights and Mike brought up boss fights that mildly subvert what we believe those fights should be, like The End (the boss is called The End. What can I say. Kojima.) from Metal Gear Solid 3 who will die if you leave the game for a week. To be fair, Mike did also point out that MGS boss fights used core mechanics specific to the game in the fight in order to reinforce the mechanics.

It might be that I’m playing the wrong sort of games, or that the games I play I play the wrong way. For me, though, a boss fight is almost never fun. It’s always a bit of a chore, and considering how many boss fights block progression, thinking a bit about how they use mechanics and playstyles might not be a bad idea. Thanks to Mike for helping me sort these ideas out and at least partially validating my thoughts on the matter.

  1. Former co-worker at BioWare and creature and gameplay designer extraordinaire.