PC Gamer

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Tom and Wes argue about boss fights, which have been around nearly as long as video games themselves, and whether they re an outdated concept.

Face off

Wes Fenlon, Hardware editor Wes wants modern boss fights to be a bit more original.

Tom Marks, Assistant editor Tom thinks boss fights are still a nice change of pace.

Wes: YES. I ve played many great boss fights in my day, but far too many big games shoehorn in boss fights when they don t need them. Boss fights once made perfect video game sense in linear, side-scrolling levels. Get to the end of the stage, fight the big bad in charge, and move on to the next. And that s still fun! But as games have evolved with open worlds and non-linear levels and forms of gameplay more nuanced than shoot slash punch bad guy, boss fights don t fit as well. Bioshock and the more recent Deus Ex: Human Revolution are two modern examples of boss fights gone really wrong. Bioshock needed an emotional climax, not one that involved shooting a roided-up bad guy. And Human Revolution betrayed the core of its gameplay by making you shoot it out with its bosses, which is something the new Deus Ex is thankfully addressing. Boss fights can still be done well, of course, but they re most definitely antiquated.

Tom M.: NO. Boss fights aren t always fun, but used correctly they can be vital to the pacing of a game. Boss fights don t just represent the end of a level, they are a change of pace after a long stretch of similar gameplay. You ve been running around shooting and beating up bad guys for a while, but how are you going to deal with this new enemy? That s when the concept of a boss fight really shines; when it s not just a bigger harder enemy, but instead challenges you in some interesting and different way. I completely agree that AAA games have recently misused the boss fight trope, treating it more like an expected practice than a place to shake up the game s design, but that doesn t mean boss fights as a whole are an outdated concept.

Wes: Sure—I d look like a big dumb idiot if I said all boss fights today are lame and crappy. There are still good ones! But I think there are two big problems with how boss fights are implemented. In big-budget games, they re often used to facilitate some dramatic cutscene or story moment, which means taking control away from the player or forcing you to play in a specific way. That sucks. And in general, I think too many games use boss fights because they re expected. Boss fights are part of the language of video games, but they re a very old word. And I d like to see more games creating new words instead of falling back on the Middle English that is the boss fight.

Tom: I actually don t mind boss fights being more rigid or scripted than the rest of a game. Making open world experiences where the player has lots of choice is a very difficult thing to do, and too much freedom can sometimes make for a crummy story. Boss fights are the perfect moment for a developer to bring the story back under their control a little bit to let them reliably tell the story they want to. Of course, the boss fight shouldn t take certain options or playstyles away from the player that the rest of a game has made them accustomed to, like in Deus Ex for example. Those fights should be climactic and should represent a shift in the story. Even if they re expected, they can play a vital role in the rhythm of a game.

Wes: Ah, so idealistic! Time and again, boss fights in big-budget games do change up the play style you ve been taught just to show you something cool. Even the Batman games, which have fantastic combat, lose their lustre when they put you in an arena to slug it out with a boss. Think of the end of Asylum, when the Joker gets all beefy and slugs it out with Batman. It s a great game, but that s a cookie cutter boss fight that relies on antiquated video game language. How do we make a big, climactic battle? Hm, how about lots of punching? But the Joker would never do that! He d do something clever. A smart, modern take on the boss fight there wouldn t end with a punching match. I d like to see more games have confidence in what they do best. To use a pretty traditional 2D game as an example: I don t even remember the final boss of Rayman Origins, but I do remember the incredibly challenging and rewarding final platforming sequence leads up to it. Surviving that level is the true boss of the game.

Tom: Lots of games have also tried doing boss sequences or boss levels instead of a straight up fight, and I love that. I think it s great when games don t adhere to the formula, but that s not the solution for every game. Assassin s Creed doesn t really have many boss fights, instead a particularly special baddy will get a mission all to himself. That s cool and different and doesn t shoehorn a stupid arena fight into an assassination game, but I also don t remember a single one of those missions. You know what I do remember? Every single boss I fought in Dark Souls 2. I still agree that developers will put cookie cutter boss fights unnecessarily into games that don t need them, but it s by no means a concept that s lost it s value. It s just more valuable in certain types of games.

Wes: I may not remember the characters of many Assassin s Creed targets, but I do remember some of my more epic assassinations—and I loved that those characters could be killed silently and instantly, if you planned the perfect stealth kill. That s a smart modern twist on the classic boss fight, too me--it elevates what s best about Assassin s Creed, instead of suddenly changing how you play the game. And hell, I love Dark Souls bosses too—I don t hate the traditional boss fight, I just think many games today could do something more interesting with them. It seems like we re mostly on the same page. So...what games are really doing creative boss fights right these days?

Tom: The first example that jumps to my mind is Titan Souls, a game made up of nothing but boss fights. It takes the kill the big monster in an arena concept to its extreme and cuts the fat off everywhere else. If you need to be convinced that compelling and exciting boss fights are still possible in modern games, Titan Souls will do that and then some. Terraria is another good example; each boss is difficult and unique, but also represents a tier of progression. The game has an open world with no fake constraints, but you can mostly only reach bosses in a certain order, each one giving you the means to fight the next. These games embrace the boss fight as the effective tool it is; a change of pace, a milestone in your progression, and a generator of wow moments.

Wes: I ve played my fair share of Terraria, but I ll be checking up on Titan Souls. If killing each boss doesn t make me feel a deep and intense sorrow in true Shadow of the Colossus fashion, though, I m going to hold you responsible for my irrational expectations.

Tom: Titan Souls was the first game that made me physically jump out of my chair when I killed a boss, and I did so for every single one. Consider your expectations rationally high. 

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (John Walker)

My chronicle of returning to Deus Ex fifteen years later, to see if I’m right when I tell anyone who comes near that it’s the best game ever, is nearing its end. You can read the whole saga here.

In this fifth part I contemplate the significant change in approach in the last third of the game, and then make my choice for the ending.>

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (John Walker)

And so continues my chronicle of returning to Deus Ex fifteen years later, to see if I’m right when I tell anyone who comes near that it’s the best game ever. You can read the whole saga here.

In this fourth edition, I once more fail to save my brother, become increasingly frustrated with the limits of the game’s intelligence, and ponder whether real choice is actually usefully conveyed to the player.>

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (John Walker)

As my re-exploration of Deus Ex continues, I find my memories clashing with the reality of the game, as I try to establish if it’s still the Best Game Ever . You can read the whole saga here. It’s accusing me of crimes I didn’t commit, an in turn, I start committing some crimes.>

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Graham Smith)

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided [official site] can be completed without killing anyone – even the bosses. This as confirmed by the game’s Executive Game Director, Jean-Fran ois Dugas, in a tweet responding to the question. If you’re a fan or familiar with Deus Ex, or particularly Human Revolution, then you’ll understand why this is significant news. If not I’ll explain below.

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (John Walker)

Here continues my attempt to discover if Deus Ex really is the best game ever, like my brain thinks. Part One is here. Today I yet again struggle to get the game working, then struggle to work within the game. But cheer myself up reading some newspapers.

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (John Walker)

When asked, What is the best game ever? I always give one reply. Deus Ex. Back in the days when my passport still allowed me into PC Gamer Top 100 meetings, I would furiously argue that it should be no. 1, and indeed become furious whenever it did not. While I may pick another name if asked for my favourite game, when it comes to best , I always say Looking Glass/Ion Storm s greatest moment.

But what if I m wrong?>

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

The reveal trailer for the new Deus Ex game [official site] shows the full meaning of that subtitle – almost every man in the video ends up divided right down the middle by a stonking great stabby cybernetic implant. Packed with ultraviolence, it’s the sort of trailer that tells me absolutely nothing about how I’ll actually play the game but I can’t deny that it’s done the trick. I’m even more excited than I was earlier today when I explained to Graham why Deus Ex makes my plastanium heart skip a beat.

It’s the haves against the have-nots – that’s the have-augmented-bits against the have-not-got-augmented-bits – and it looks spectacular.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Deus Ex is being augmented with another Deus Ex. After a nonsensical ARG and an entirely sensical leak, we now have official confirmation of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

Once again, it'll feature Deus Ex: Human Revolution protagonist Adam Jensen, who this time says things like, "sometimes you just have to let go and embrace what you've become." From the sounds of it, he'll be going up against some shadowy organisation and, for some reason, an augmented version of the Heavy from TF2.

Here's the plot, straight outta the trailer's description:

"Deus Ex: Mankind Divided directly follows the aftermath of the Aug Incident, a day when mechanically augmented citizens all over the world were stripped of control over their minds and bodies, resulting in the deaths of millions of innocents. The year is now 2029, and the golden era of augmentations is over. Mechanically augmented humans have been deemed outcasts and segregated from the rest of society. Crime and acts of terror serve as a thin veil to cover up an overarching conspiracy aimed at controlling the future of mankind…"

A press release promises new augmentations, new locations, and a "cloak of conspiracies". That, I'd imagine, is a metaphorical cloak—otherwise the conspirators would be all too easy to identify. In addition, the PC version is confirmed to support DirectX 12 and AMD's TressFX technology. Expect some seriously augmented beard stubble.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has been announced. Adam and Graham decided to activate their social augs and discuss their reasons for being united in excitement for Adam Jensen’s return.>

Graham: Adam, Adam, get this. I have great Deus Expectations>. The title for this (potentially regular?) feature is already paying dividends.

Adam: Oh lord, give me the augmented strength to bear this load.

… [visit site to read more]

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