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Nothing is Sacred: End Bosses


The V8 in front of me roars as I slam into a hunter, the force of the impact killing it instantly. I take a quick glance at the radar screen on my dashboard; another one is behind me. I slam on the handbrake and do a 180 degree turn, before activating the turbo and running over the second hunter. Roughly a hundred yards ahead a strider is making a beeline for the main silo.

I kick in the turbo again, just to hear the engine's magnificent howl, and rush towards the five-story tall tripod. I hop out of my stripped '69 Charger, grab the Magnusson from the rack attached to the rear bumper, punt it at the strider, then pull out my pistol, take aim, and fire at the device, destroying the strider.

A siren wails, signalling that another strider is already close to the silo. I get back in my Charger and drive towards a giant red circle on my radar. By the time I reach the strider, it is charging up its main gun in preparation to destroy the silo. Acting as quickly as possible, I grab another Magnusson device and launch it at the strider, which is now within a second of firing. I pull out my pistol and shoot the device, saving the day with literally less than a second to spare.

Another time, another place, another universe.

Commander Arkhon Shepard, having talked Saren into killing himself, enjoys a well-deserved moment of rest. There is little for him to do now; any moment the Alliance fleet will barrage Sovereign with everything they've got, and the crisis will be averted. Around him fires cast an orange glow throughout the council chamber, and all is at rest.

But what is happening now? The walkway he is standing on collapses into the small garden below. Saren's corpse lights up red. As Shepard looks on, Saren is somehow brought back to life by something.

Bryce thinks to himself, "What the hell? You just killed yourself. This is fucking stupid." He sighs and Commander Shepard proceeds to kill Saren. Again.

There are few things I can think of that ruin my immersion in a game more than having a final boss. There's nothing like a boss to remind you that you're either watching a bad kung-fu movie or playing a video game. Bosses are so incredibly cliche'd by now that I was surprised nobody took this topic for this month's musing.

Don't get me wrong, I love Mass Effect. Its ending is just incredibly stupid. Far too many games have end bosses just because gamers seem to feel a need to have a final entity to kill, usually one that must be hit three times (always three times) in its weak spot, which must be exposed by attacking another thing, which makes no sense at all.

That is of course my second point: end bosses make no sense. In HL2: E2, players see a large Combine force en route to White Forest. At the end of the game, players must defend the base against that force. It makes sense.

Why, in all of the rest of Mass Effect, did Shepard never encounter another indoctrinated person who could magically reanimate? Obviously, if Sovereign can do that to one of his followers, he can do that to many, so why wouldn't he? And how come Saren gets a neat hover board, while nothing else in the entire game does?

Why, in Super Mario 64, does the game completely abandon all the gameplay mechanics that made the rest of the game fun when Mario is fighting Bowser? And what the hell is Bowser doing on a floating platform with spiked bombs attached to the edge? You'd think he'd have those spiked bombs removed after being thrown into them twice before. Furthermore, how can Mario throw Bowser? Why is Bowser just sitting there, waiting for Mario, when he could be sending out groups of his followers to attack the plumber?

Why does the Nihilanth from Half-Life attack in such a predictable pattern? Something as intelligent as it clearly is must surely realize that a better strategy would be to attack randomly. Why does it just float in place, instead of moving around to get a clear shot at Freeman? Why is Freeman even trying to kill it?

Why does the fight with Skorge in Gears of War 2 completely abandon the cover-based gameplay that the rest of the game is based around? For that matter, why does the battle with the giant fish do the exact same thing?

But all of that pales in comparison to the biggest argument against end bosses: they're nowhere near as exciting as that final battle in HL2: E2. Or the final stages of Left 4 Dead, where players must defend an area against huge waves of zombies until they can escape. Large groups of normal enemies are far better for end battles than a single unique enemy.

Throughout the course of Half-Life 2 and its episodes, players get accustomed to how powerful and dangerous striders and hunters are. At the end of Episode 2, players know exactly how fucked they are. The same goes for the ends of Left 4 Dead campaigns. With any end boss battle, there's simply nothing to compare the end boss to. It's the difference between "Yay I just killed some lizard thing by exploiting a weakness" and "Holy shit I just survived being attacked by ten tanks in a row."

When done well, end bosses can be good. When done well, large-scale end battles can be great.
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About Arkhonone of us since 9:14 PM on 11.17.2008

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My real name is William, but I go by Bryce. I live in Harrisburg, PA.
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