The following article contains spoilers for various awesome games, admittedly with one or two awful bosses, so please don’t read ahead if you want to stay unspoiled.
Excellent bosses aren’t easy to make. They require tact to design, and a team that knows what they’re doing. Despite best efforts sometimes, a terrible boss can be created rather than a compelling one. Anything can ruin the experience, whether a flaw in mechanics or something more sinister. This countdown will be looking at some of the worst bosses to see the light of day from recent years. With a specific focus on just what made them so awful, and how they could have been great instead.
5 / The Human Reaper / Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 was a wonderful sequel to an original that spawned one of the BioWare’s biggest franchises in recent years. It reworked the awkward elements of the first game that didn’t work terribly well, while still keeping it charged with action, and enough plot to hold players till the end. Upon reaching the final mission, tensions remain high as Shephard and company delve deeper into the Collector base to locate the missing humans.
The dramatic reveal is made. The camera pans around to show the player a leviathan-esque Reaper in the shape of a human, and then it comes alive. It should be awesome to fight. Everything seems to be in the right place. But this entire fight sucks. It’s dull, fairly uninspiring, and totally saps the life out of a fantastic build-up. Not only is the baby Reaper insulting easy to kill, the main bulk of the fight is fought by regular enemies.
While there’s nothing wrong with using mob enemies in a boss battle, when the boss is as interesting as the Human Reaper it should be the focus. Given about four minutes, assuming you’re handy with your shooting, the creature is dead. It’s so anticlimactic it hurts. With the slightest of changes, by giving the Reaper more of a battlefield presence, it could have been an epic sci-fi duel. Instead it falls flat on its face so hard it explodes.
4 / Lawrence Barrett (a.k.a The Bull) / Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deus Ex can be played in two ways: stealthy, or very loud. Both are valid methods of play, and have distinct advantages, as well as disadvantages, over one another. This sci-fi shooter does most things incredibly well, from the voice acting to the gameplay. Unfortunately all the game’s bosses range from downright boring to horrible, and the first one you encounter is the Bull.
Lawrence Barrett was one of the mercenaries employed to kill Jensen at the start of the game, and their confrontation should have been a thrilling battle between two hyper-augmented humans. Instead it ends up being a game of hide-and-seek with EMP grenades, and blind firing through cover. Worse still for players who are playing non-violently, as subduing Lawrence requires an actual gun.
Aside from all of this, is the fact that he’s incredibly aggressive for an enemy that takes multiple magazines of live ammunition to kill from a close range. But if you do have an EMP grenade, the entire fight is pretty much over. While it does shut down your augments too, it totally disrupts Lawrence for a good few seconds, allowing you to unload a magazine into his face. There should have been a non-violent, or at least subdue option to cater to players playing the game on its hardest path.
3 / King Dodongo / Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Legend of Zelda bosses aren’t renowned for their extreme difficulty, nor their punishing areas to an extent. They thankfully aren’t renowned for their awful bosses either, but there are a few of them dotted across the three decades of Legend of Zelda titles. One of the crowning examples of temporarily awful design is King Dodongo from Ocarina of Time.
Somehow Nintendo managed to make dinosaurs lame. The first issue is the sheer lack of health Dodongo has, as child Link can kill him in only six hits. While his lack of vigor is annoying, the fact he only has two attacks, one of which can’t hit you unless you walk directly into it, is even more frustrating.
Making a regular mob enemy into a larger boss is fine, but it needs tweaking in such a way as to make it interesting. This brute could have easily had attack combos (of any kind), or another attack that sets him apart from regular Dodongos in the cavern. Instead we get a big dinosaur that swallows bombs, takes forever to breathe fire, and rolls into his own death like a bit of an idiot.
2 / The Black Heart / Destiny
Destiny’s main campaign wasn’t fantastic. It ended far too soon, answered very little about the nature of the Dark, and the arc itself felt unfinished. Way back in 2014, when the game was a fresh-faced shooter with no DLC, the Black Garden mission felt like a turning point. It felt like the team was going to build on this wonderful (albeit simple) narrative they had built up for their players. Unfortunately this didn’t happen.
Instead the boss fight we got at the end of the story was one of the most insultingly boring beings ever. The Black Heart of the Vex is a machine God, capable of time travel, matter manipulation, and teleportation. You’d expect the fight to be an intense, awe-inspiring rush to the victory line. Instead you fight three large minotaur enemies, with normal enemies to back them up.
The player doesn’t even need to shoot the Black Heart itself, just the machinations it brings to life. It’s a dumb end to a dumb fight that could have been anything except what it was. It’s creatively dull too. Could Bungie not come up with anything more interesting? Any other design would have been welcome in its place, especially considering some of the raid bosses in the base game were really interesting to fight.
1 / The Bed of Chaos / Dark Souls
Dark Souls is a brilliant game. Since its release about six years ago, many players have agreed, creating an entire community of From Software loving masochists who cannot get enough of the epic RPG series. While it’s generally understood that Souls series boss designs (with the exception of Dark Souls II, which we don’t talk about) are fantastically unique, but there have been a few horrible additions over the years. One of the worst Souls bosses is, and shall forever remain, the Bed of Chaos.
In the lore, when the Witch of Izalith decided to try to reignite the First Flame, she ended up creating Chaos by accident. This incident engulfed her city in flames, killed all but three of her daughters, and bound her soul to a corrupted bug within the heart of the city. When you fight her, you’ll quickly realize that she’s not actually a boss fight, but in fact a platforming challenge. The objective is to destroy the orange seals to either side of the room, and upon destroying both you fully release her soul.
As you destroy the seals however, the floor of the room begins to fall into nothing, with the Bed itself making wide arcing attacks at you. These attacks cause ridiculous amounts of knockback, pushing you off the new pits around you. If you die after you’ve destroyed the seals, they remain destroyed thankfully, but you’ll still need to make the jump to the central platform. This level of nonsense was the final straw, especially considering if the Bed hits you in mid-air you’re instantly doomed to certain death. Even if you make the jump, firestorm can still be cast if you linger for too long, and all this for a boss that dies in one hit.