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#1 Posted by Fallen189 (5453 posts) -

Hi friends,

I've been thinking about this question for a few days and I'm not sure what I have come to. I was playing the new DMC game earlier, I played it start to finish and it was absolutely tip top, straight up fun. Every 5 levels, I knew I'd get a new boss fight, and I was excited to see how it'd turn out. I was never dissapointed. I won't explain them all, but if you've played them, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's the same with Dark Souls. I'd drag myself kicking and screaming through that game because the sheer fun in taking on these AMAZING looking bosses, with such diverse strategies was such a thrill.

Then I think about more "Boring" and "Challenging" boss fights in the past. The mind harkens back to things like early Final Fantasy games. I always remember in FF9 when you had to fight Beatrix. It wasn't fun. IT was just something you had to overcome to get to the next bit of story. I think about the boss fights in DX: Human Revolution. They were terrible, but I got through it because I wanted to see the next bit of narrative. Maybe that's it? Maybe games that focus on narrative suffer because they throw in an abitrary roadblock to gate progress? It's kind of like that in Persona 4, I guess, except the blend is a bit more subtle, and it's a bit more enjoyable than a rote "This is a thing you have to beat".

So where do you guys fall on this situation? Do you think that boss fights should be a cool thing to reward the player for getting to X point in the game? Or should they be more of a wall that you have to get over to get to the next bit? I'm sure you'll all come up with certain moments which marry the two together, and that'd be great. I'd just like to hear what people have to say about it!

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#2 Edited by HH (932 posts) -

i feel quite strongly about this, my favorite boss fight of all time is the final boss in Space Marine - which, even on hard, is just a series of QTE's in a dramatic fall, it's kind of impossible to fuck it up, which is exactly what i want, something visually impressive as a reward for reaching the end of the game / level.

i cannot stand boss fights that represent difficulty spikes, mainly because what's required to overcome them is usually a huge departure from the gameplay you've been busy learning, and perfecting, against mobs - the gameplay you bought the game for, the gameplay that's fun.

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#3 Posted by maverick1 (95 posts) -

Uhh can't they be both?

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#4 Edited by Ares42 (3561 posts) -

If the game has good gameplay, and the bosses are a culmination of that, why can't they be both ?

It's funny that Space Marine got mentioned, as I too remember that as being one of the better end encounters I've seen. Although I wouldn't say it was purely because the actual boss fight was just a big epic "cutscene", but the encounter before was exactly what you want. A challenging encounter based around the gameplay you've been playing through the entire game.

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#5 Posted by Justin258 (14374 posts) -

A boss fight should be a test of what you've learned in the game so far.

I fucking hate QTE boss fights. They don't ruin a game, but they certainly knock it down a few points for me. It's completely unsatisfying and terribly uninteresting. Like, you spent all this money on creating this big set piece where I just push the buttons you tell me to in the exact sequence you tell me to - what's the point? Why did I play this game and learn these mechanics? I did all that just so you could tell me exactly how to beat your fucking "boss"? A cutscene where the boss falls over dead for no reason would be more satisfying. Either challenge me or show me something, don't make me press an exact series of buttons in a manner that will never change and in a manner which trivializes the part of the game where you play it.

I must note that I don't mind the way God of War did it. In that game, you have to actually fight the boss with the mechanics you've learned and then you get an over-the-top QTE. It doesn't skip the part where I actually play the fucking game.

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#6 Posted by Herk (246 posts) -

It should not be impossible to make it a challenge while still awesome to play. And I've never played Dark Souls because it seemed unfair but you and a lot of other guys describing how fun the bosses are makes me wanna try the second one!

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#7 Edited by Veektarius (6102 posts) -

Well, the best boss fights in a game were in Shadow of the Colossus, which wasn't rewarding you for anything, since they're the entire game, but they weren't unreasonably difficult either. I'm not sure they can be described by the dichotomy you've established.

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#8 Edited by BBAlpert (2542 posts) -


I think you really nailed it, especially with the examples you gave. The bosses in DmC were a treat because they felt like the natural climax of the previous chapters' steadily growing insanity. Plus, they generally weren't so difficult that they ever felt like impassible roadblocks (at least on normal difficulty). The bosses in Dark Souls all spectacularly designed and (with a few exceptions) are actually pretty fair, in their own fucked up Dark Souls sort of way.

A Penny Arcade strip a while back summed up the problem with Deus Ex: Human Revolution's bosses pretty well by basically saying "up until the boss fights, you're able (and sometimes encouraged) to get through the game as Adam Jensen: Computer Science Professor, rather than Adam Jensen: Cybernetic Badass Supercop."

As for FF9 and Persona 4, I think the problem is really that they're turn-based (well, active turn in FF9's case) RPGs. There's certainly room for strategy and tactics, but at a certain point you simply can't proceed without high enough stats. A boss that can kill you in 1 or 2 hits is a lot harder to deal with in a game where your characters have to stand there and take the hits.

*edit: I'm not sure why that first part is bolded, but I can't unbold it for whatever reason*

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#9 Edited by HH (932 posts) -

to use Diablo 3 as an example, recently i was playing through the xbox version, soloing with a wizard, and playing on the Master II difficulty, which i think is MP7, but anyway, after getting through ACT 2 or 3 on NG+ pretty handily i then faced Zoltan Kulle, and whatever the archdemon is you have to fight just after, both of which could one-shot me, which turned the fights into a farce of rolling around between attacks, which was never guaranteed to keep me in the clear no-matter how careful i was. the only other solution was to go and re-organize my gear and build to give myself more way more health. what i did was just drop the difficulty, because i was pretty sure my original build would work just fine on Master II once i got into the next act, and yep, it did.

if i can reach that part of the game with my current build no problem, and carry on after those boss fights with the very same build, again no problem, what is the point in putting that wall up in between the two? to force me to rebuild for bosses? to force me to co-op? i don't get it.

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#10 Edited by BillyMaysRIP (586 posts) -

DmC, Metal Gear Rising, and Dark Souls are all good examples of what boss fights should be: both. It should be challenging to fight and master, and the reward should be seeing cool bosses and using the complex techniques you've learned. My favorite fight in MGR is against Monsoon, a dude made of magnetic body parts. During most of the fight, none of your attacks will hit and his body parts will smoothly move out of the way of your sword slashes without breaking the animation - it looks cool as hell. Everything about that fight, from the amazing guitar shredding at the beginning, to the part where Monsoon throws his body parts at you as an attack, is both rewarding and challenging. Here is an S ranked version of it: http://youtu.be/O4wj7AcSHPo?t=22m28s.

I don't mind QTEs at the end of a good boss fight. For example, in MGR, there are finishing moves for all of the bosses that take you through a series of visually impressive attacks followed by blade mode where you can vent all of your anger and frustration with a boss by chopping them into hundreds of pieces. But this is all after a challenging boss fight with interesting mechanics.

Terrible bosses come from inherently simple gameplay, if there isn't complex or fun gameplay then, unless it's a bunch of QTEs, it's a lackluster and boring boss fight. A lot of generic shooty games have repetitive and boring boss fights because you're doing a lot of circle strafing, or a lot of shoot the glowing weak spot when it's visible on screen. The gameplay just cannot complement a cool looking boss.

Deus Ex: HR had relatively complex and fun gameplay mechanics, but the bosses didn't match up because it didn't let the player utilize the techniques they had learned over the game. If you were a stealthy player who only tranquilized people, you were FUCKED for some of those boss fights. There was no stealth option, no ability to use the stealth mechanics that the player was speced out for. It sucked balls and I, and many other players, almost never finished the game because of it.

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#11 Posted by wittgkatzi (12 posts) -

Without wanting to oversimplify, they should really be both I guess?

Dark Souls is an excellent example, where seeing the creativity at work in designing the bosses is a reward in its own right, while the battle are being undoubtedly a pretty big challenge as well
(which brings its own set of highs and adds to the feel: the monsters look scary and they *are* scary. It wouldn't work half as well if they were scary looking pushovers. There's a reason why the tough bosses in Demon's Souls and Dark Souls are also the most memorable ones, no? They stick around long enough to leave an impression.)

Ultimately, I am always left somewhat disappointed by games where the bosses are merely a challenge without unique design elements (e.g. damage sponge big versions of regular enemies), or an amazing idea that is over after 2 minutes because they are tuned to be too easy. (as is the case in most Zelda games.)

An excellent recent example of a game doing it right, in my opinion, is The Last Of Us:

The only boss fight in the game is the perfect compromise of using regular gameplay techniques (stealth and distraction), while mixing them up with a unique arena and some custom scripting. It doesn't devolve in a minigame and has you applying techniques mastered during gameplay.

Just with most other parts of the game, the fluff and the gameplay also really support each other, as there is a really palpable feel of desperation both in the setting and in the gameplay execution, and a very ambiguous (but great) emotional payoff at the end. The boss is vastly more powerful than the protagonist, he instantly kills you if you make a mistake.
If the fight wasn't challenging or the mechanics different (e.g. the fight was more symmetrical), the dissonance would be hugely detrimental to the overall feeling.

That said, the "payoff" or reward is different than in most games, since The Last Of Us makes you feel a lot, but it certainly does not make you feel good about anything. But in terms of intensity and elegance of design, the absolutely nailed what a boss fight should be, which makes it a memorable experience.

Ultimately, however, the whole question could easily devolve into the "should games be hard" discussion, i.e. whether a good game experience is contingent of having to work for a reward or whether it can just be rewarding all the time.

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#12 Posted by TheBrainninja (346 posts) -

I kind of hate boss fights in general, because I feel like most either (a.) force you to throw out what you've learned so far to learn an entirely new skill set, or (b.) force you into situations that run contrary to the game's control scheme or character abilities. Sometimes games do both.

My ideal boss fight would build on mechanics you've been learning up to that point, but I'm hard pressed to think of any specific examples. Most of the time I just want them to be over so I can get back to the game I was enjoying. In that sense, I guess QTE boss fights are less offensive than games that commit the previously mentioned sins, because then at least they're done quickly. Unless they're like the final RE5 Wesker fight, which combines the previous sins with the most fucked QTEs I've ever seen.

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#13 Edited by falserelic (5770 posts) -

I just got done fighting a boss in Silent Hill 3. That giant demon worm (If you've played SH you already know).

Anyway, yeah abit of both would be cool for me.

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#14 Posted by ch3burashka (6087 posts) -

I assume the question should have been "Should they be easy or hard?"

Logically, they should be harder than the previous levels with an equally bigger payoff, but sometimes I just get tired of games, or the specific mechanic, or hitting my head against the wall. Sometimes, I wish it was a scripted event that dictated the boss go down after I hit him two times.

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#15 Posted by Video_Game_King (36564 posts) -

Why can't it be both? Or why can't it be an important story moment? This isn't a simple binary choice.

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#16 Edited by Guesty_01 (383 posts) -

Surely they should be one and the same. A challenge that you're rewarded for overcoming????

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#17 Posted by Humanity (16215 posts) -

They should never be sponges that's for sure. Nothing is worse than scratching away at a health bar, especially when said boss is a human being of your size.

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#18 Posted by xaLieNxGrEyx (2646 posts) -

I don't understand why they can't be both

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#19 Posted by JBG4 (705 posts) -

The reward comes after the challenge.

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#20 Posted by StarvingGamer (11360 posts) -


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#21 Posted by animathias (1272 posts) -

Bosses should be your test. Have you got a handle on the controls and mechanics up to this point? Then the boss should be a moderate challenge. They should only be a roadblock, or a wall, if you've been stumbling around the game the entire time.

Also, if you're feeling like you're just doing paperwork during what's supposed to be one of the game's highlighted intense moments, then the game has dropped the ball big time.

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#22 Edited by Fredchuckdave (10209 posts) -

Beatrix is one of the best bosses in Final Fantasy IX so not sure what your issue there is. The ideal is that a bosses difficulty scales according to the "moment" in the story; so the climactic boss fight (which is only the final boss in a poorly designed plot, mind) should be the hardest boss and the last boss should be the second hardest. Very few games actually pull this one off; Valkyrie Profile 2 and Dark Souls (debatable, I think Gwyn is the hardest non cheese factor, but Ornstein and Smough seem to be the community favorite) being the most notable, Final Fantasy IV and XIII did quite well in this regard as well.

For something like Vagrant Story its just fucking hard and then the last boss is the hardest in any game period, not the ideal but relatively close. Super Metroid's hardest boss is around the mid point but is sort of out the blue; for a game with really good boss fights. Metroid Prime is actually quite similar, though if you go to Metroid Prime 2 (a game with much better bosses) the esteemed "Boost Guardian" is probably the hardest even though Emperor Ing is quite good.

The last boss in Demon's Souls is a bit of a letdown, a boss like Astraea is fine but to slap the same sort of thing at the end is questionable (though if False King, Penetrator, or Flamelurker immediately preceded him it would work).

Resident Evil 4 is just a game with awesome, exciting combat but there isn't really any rhyme or reason to the difficulty curve or the bosses.

For extra bosses that have nothing to do with the story: make them hard, not tedious. Vagrant Story and VP2 are the winners here as well.

If you make DLC with bosses then follow the Dark Souls example, hard, harder, hardest. <Insert innuendo here>

Rogue Galaxy is probably the worst game I can think of when it comes to bosses, the game gets vaguely challenging for like 30 minutes at the 2 hour point and then is a cakewalk the entire rest of the way. It's a good game for most other reasons but does nothing in terms of challenge.

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#23 Posted by afabs515 (1737 posts) -

Why not both?

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#24 Posted by tourgen (4568 posts) -

Bad bosses are bad. Yeah. You can have good bosses and good gameplay in a linear, narrative-driven story-game. Some just don't invest much effort into good encounters and good gameplay design & implementation.

I kind of liked the bosses in Human Revolution. They were tough on the highest setting but not impossible. They had some personality too. Now that story. Wow. That was some young-adult fiction gaaaaarbage. The gameplay was pretty decent and the environments were great though so pretty decent game overall.

Hmmm, trying to think of a big-budget story-games that had good bosses. None coming to mind. Guess I missed the good ones the last few years. I'd love to hear about the good ones though. Hopefully someone has a list.

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#25 Edited by Fredchuckdave (10209 posts) -

The best regarded MMO dungeons all fit the "hardest boss is penultimate, last boss is also extremely difficult" paradigm as well, Sunwell, Zul'Aman, and Naxxramas (though Four Horsemen in this case); while the climax of the story in MMOs is always the end point for whatever reason the actual difficulty curve doesn't fit the bill.

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#26 Posted by TheManWithNoPlan (7008 posts) -

Defeating a challenging boss can be a reward in an of itself. Dark Souls anyone?

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#27 Edited by Nightriff (7116 posts) -

The easy answer is both but if I have to pick one…rewarding is probably what I prefer. Would rather the boss be fun, exhilarating, visually stimulating or at least get something cool when I beat them.

Basically just described Asura's Wrath

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#28 Posted by Clonedzero (4206 posts) -

They should be a rewarding challenge.

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#29 Posted by TobbRobb (6088 posts) -

I don't need a boss to be hard, but I do need it to be fun. And a flashy QTE sequence generally is not fun.

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#30 Posted by Jeust (11739 posts) -

Uhh can't they be both?

yeah, both.

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#31 Edited by Dimi3je (486 posts) -

One of the reasons I absolutley loved Dishonored is because it didn't have any bosses.

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#32 Posted by Make_Me_Mad (3227 posts) -

It depends on the boss and it depends on the game. Bayonetta's bosses are exams that test whether or not you've been improving your skills as you played, the Jeanne battles most notably; but then there are cases where, within the narrative, an enemy shouldn't pose a challenge, and in those cases it's often much more satisfying when it's replaced with a cutscene or quicktime or something along those lines. Shoehorning in a boss battle just because you feel like that's what the game needs can often ruin something, but at the same time a well done boss encounter can be the highlight of someone's experience.

Like most things, it's situational.

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#34 Posted by Budwyzer (799 posts) -
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#35 Posted by DevourerOfTime (692 posts) -
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They should be both, but what kind of reward and what kind of challenge should be different for each game.

For example: The helicopter on the train in Uncharted 2 is a reward of spectacle. It's an amazing fight from a cinematic perspective. The sequence wasn't too difficult, but it did add a layer of complexity to the sequence that increased the stakes. If the helicopter wasn't there, it would just be Nathan running down a very long train for a very long time. The sequence would get boring. The stakes wouldn't be raised. The intensity of the sequence would not last until the end of the mountain range.

The helicopter part is a good way to raise the tension mid way through the train sequence. Once the helicopter is defeated, the cutscene is over, and you're in the tunnel, you breathe a sigh of relief and the gameplay can slow down a bit, only to rise and fall again naturally as you progress through the mountains.

The challenge was gently sprinkled on at that point, but it was enough to make the rest of the sequence around it better. Your reward was the rise in tension during the fight, the over the top cinematic action of the boss fight occurring on this moving train, the cutscene of the crash before the tunnel, and the satisfying drop in tension as you progressed to a much slower gameplay pace.

That's just one type of boss fight though. And it's a type of boss fight that works with that game.

Another example with a great use of boss fights both as a reward and as a challenge is No More Heroes.

No More Heroes is all about proving yourself. You have to slog through slow, monotonous side missions to get the cash to prove you want to progress the story. You then have to wade through cannon fodder after cannon fodder to prove you have the guts and skills to actually face the boss fight. Then, once you get through this annoying and frankly pretty bad gameplay, you're rewarded by the opportunity to prove yourself complex, multi-layered, incredibly challenging boss fights that are among the best that have come out this past generation. They are a reward for your patience and diligence. They are a test of your abilities, your reactions, and your problem solving skills (learning the way the boss moves, how they attack, and when you have an opening is half the enjoyment). You'll die. You'll get hit by moves you didn't see coming. You'll fight the same boss for twenty minutes and then lose because you hesitated.

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#36 Edited by Encephalon (1702 posts) -

God, unwinnable boss fights like Beatrix are the fucking worst. If there's an opponent that I can't possibly beat, for story reasons, then just make it a cutscene.

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#37 Posted by FLStyle (6256 posts) -

The perfect boss fight lays somewhere in-between Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising.

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#38 Posted by DevourerOfTime (692 posts) -

@flstyle said:

The perfect boss fight lays somewhere in-between Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising.

Metal Gear Rising's boss fights are about 10 minutes too short for my taste. Other than that, they're fantastic.

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#39 Edited by golguin (5275 posts) -

I'm currently playing the Sam DLC for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and the boss fights are a lot harder than the stuff in the main game even at normal difficulty. I totally destroyed Wolf (no damage win) the first time I saw him in the main game with Raiden. With the Sam DLC it was a totally different story. I think I died 5 times before getting a handle on how much more aggressive he became and dealing with Sam's shorter parry window. Armstrong turned into a beast against Sam and I'm thinking that the version found in the DLC should have been added to Armstrong's final form in the main game.

I feel that Revengeance strikes a good balance between seeing cool things happening on screen and really tight combat that depends on correct timing and not memorizing combos. DmC was fine as a first attempt to build on, but it doesn't even touch Revengeance on any level.

I forgot to mention that the bosses in Revengeance have a nice variety of attacks. I've killed bosses without seeing their full movelist. I fought Sam several times (it's a nice boss only level) and he'll sometimes choose not to use whatever move during the entire fight. That seems kinda crazy, but cool. Bosses in Dark Souls can do the same thing.

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#40 Posted by EVO (4029 posts) -

Now I feel like tacos.

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#41 Edited by xyzygy (10595 posts) -

Challenge followed by reward.

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#42 Edited by slyspider (1753 posts) -

If i had to pick one, I would want reward if the combat isn't reward enough. Story really matters to me in games

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#43 Edited by Spoonman671 (5767 posts) -

I want boss fights to look like this.

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#44 Edited by Zeik (4419 posts) -

The easy answer is both, but I think it's a bit more situational than that. I don't need every boss fight to be hard as balls and require an exceptional amount of skill to clear, but they definitely need to be treated as more than a "reward". I think Zelda is often a good example of this. Most Zelda bosses these days are pretty easy, but they're still often fun because they aren't totally brainless. You have to pay attention to their attack patterns and consider what you've learned in the dungeon. (Although there are certainly times when I feel like a bit more challenge would make beating them more satisfying.)

Looking at something like a JRPG though I definitely expect a notable increase in difficulty from the fodder you fight on the way. How much more difficult can depend on the game, but generally a good JRPG boss is one that really makes you consider every ability at your disposal and do more than the usual attack/heal rotation. A really easy boss in a JRPG is often one of the most disappointing things in gaming for me.

There's room for the occasional boss that is pure spectical, but they should be reserved for very specific circumstances. Generally I want to feel like I have accomplished something when I defeat a boss.

More simply put, a boss should be a boss for a reason. The reward should be what you get for defeating them.

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#45 Posted by dudeglove (12578 posts) -

As an aside, people have brought up DX:HR's boss "fights". Fun fact about those is that they were actually outsourced to a separate group of idiots (although I don't know if the Director's Cut of DX:HR has since fixed a few things), who were separate from the main campaign (similar to how Spec Ops The Line has a multiplayer that was outsourced). I don't think any of the parties involved meant to fuck it up so bad by creating scenarios that ran completely against all but a few play styles i.e. anyone not kitted out with full combat shit, it's just that so much money was being thrown around and teams were so large that eventually such a fuck up was going to occur. There's a laughable dev diary video out there that I'm too lazy to look up explaining the "nature" of boss encounters, comparing it to Cold War USAF in-air combat routines, but it's really just another fancy way of saying "dodge the charging guy running into a wall, hit him while he's stunned".