Thursday, May 11, 2017

Breath of the Wild Has a Boss Problem

Breath of the Wild did a lot of new things right, but I could not shake the lackluster feeling the bosses left after conquering each divine beast. Even the final encounter with Calamity Ganon felt abrupt and overly simple. Something was missing and I could not put my finger on it. I went back to previous Zelda titles to try and find why these newer encounters seemed to lack the intensity the older bosses held and why I still have nostalgic memories of so many older bosses to this day.

-The Boss Build Up-

The boss room was your final test; An arena only unveiled once you stepped through an intimidating door sometimes requiring a special key used only for that room alone. Link would cautiously enter the room, door closing abruptly behind him, as he glanced at his surroundings he moved forward slowly to the center of the room. This left the player guessing as to what could possibly come out and surveying the environment where they would do battle.

Bosses keep their keys in the most obvious of chests...
We all remember the long climb up the stairs as the organ music got louder when approaching Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, the feeling of the heavy chain and lock falling from the gargantuan door as you proceed through, and the uneasy suspense when you are given control to walk around an arena with no boss yet revealed.

In BoW, the boss room is part of the already accessible map from the start, and after a few of the divine beasts were completed, you got the pattern; Unlock all five terminals, return to the big terminal usually in the middle of the beast and activate it to start the fight, then fight some iteration of Ganon. There was no looming door, no sense of surprise in opening to a big intimidating domain, and no real sense of buildup to what you could face. Which brings me to the biggest gripe...

-Keep it Fresh-

Blights of Ganon are all you really tackle in BoW, save Calamity Ganon himself and one additional boss not featured in a dungeon. They each harness a different element, but you knew what to expect after two dungeons. I am in a lightning based dungeon, I will face a ThunderBlight Ganon, fire dungeon means FireBlight Ganon, etc.

Today you face a giant flaming Mike Wazowski chasing you down a corridor
Zelda bosses, unless unveiled in a trailer, were always a bit of a surprise in both look and approach. I never knew what waited beyond that initial build up besides something associated with the theme of the temple. Sure, if I was in a temple featuring ghosts I would expect a ghost, but nothing along the lines of Jalhalla from Wind Waker, an obese ghost that you must throw into a spike layered pillar who then breaks into tiny ghosts that run around like chickens.

You also had expectant appearance from franchise staples like Ghoma, but these usually had a hitch to them. Ghoma varied greatly in style; from his first terrifying appearance in Ocarina of Time, to his molten counterpart in Wind Waker, to Twilight Princess in which he was fully armored spider only damaged by massive statues around you. On some occasions the bosses morphed into something else entirely with Twinrova fusing together to battle you as a single entity, or Stallord turning into a chase up a tower using the Spinner. Bosses were interesting and always different than the last in both appearance and tactical approach.

-Now You Must Face the Puzzle Itself-

After working through a dungeon reflecting light and changing water levels, the boss always acted like one final puzzle. Rarely straight forward, you had to wait until a boss exposed a weak point and utilize your newly acquired gear to gain the advantage before wailing on them.

Kansas City Shuffle
The Gemesaur King in Link Between Worlds that required you to break his armor and relight the room torches when he frenzied around attacking in the dark, reflecting orbs back at Phantom Ganon in an intense game of energy ball tennis, or Trinexx's dueling heads in LttP in which the opposite element can damage the corresponding head. Needless to say running up and slashing usually got you nowhere, whereas observing openings or actions that coincide with the dungeon item you gained become moments of clarity in how you were to topple the imposing figure before you.

For the Blight Ganons, it usually boiled down to simply attacking. Everything usually did damage to the boss in some minimal way. You could still stun them by hitting them with an arrow in the right spot but the majority of the encounters went like this; Windblight Ganon? Shoot him with arrows. Waterblight Ganon? More arrows. Fireblight Ganon? Literally run up close and slash him. Thunderblight Ganon was the only of the four requiring timing and parries to overcome. Halfway through their healthbar each would frenzy and introduce some new mechanic to dodge but ultimately became far too simple to overcome. 

-It's a Great Big World Out There-

That is not to say Breath of the Wild did not have some enjoyable boss encounters, just not the ones within the actual divine beasts. It is something to say in a game when I have more fun fighting the overworld enemies than the actual bosses.
Time to battle the Gorignak
Climbing onto a Stone Talus and slicing away at its heart, battling Molduga while surfing on a shield being towed by a sand seal, and even rolling under a Hinox to get a few slashes in on its legs is a blast. Even the Lynels require a lot of preparation and timing to overcome with feelings of satisfaction that overshadowed anything I fought in the divine beasts.

There were a plethora of creatures from looming robotic Guardians to massive dragons that offered such potential for a memorable boss encounter. You could argue they were staying true to the story or it would not have made sense for Dodongo to overtake a giant robot, but surely the blights could have possessed entities that made for far more interesting battles than what was offered. 


It is hard to fault Breath of the Wild for trying something new. I love how they opened the main world up to exploration, I enjoy the divine beast mechanics of moving one aspect of the temple to turn a dungeon on its head, and I even do not mind the new inventory system of throwaway weaponry; but the bosses are the main thing I look forward to when playing Legend of Zelda. When I think back to the first time I started attacking Koloktos with his own arm in Skyward Sword, the first time I was able to hookshot onto Argorok's back to slam him to the ground in Twilight, or growing ten times my size to battle Twinmold in Majora; those are memorable moments of satisfaction in both gameplay and visual appeal; a feeling I did not match in Breath of the Wild's boss encounters.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Three Shades of Hard Mode

I am currently playing three different games on their hardest difficulties. I have no idea why I started this, but I have come too far now. Glutton for punishment? Sure, we will go with that. Maybe I was tired of trudging through normal mode to only replay the game all over again.

Whatever the reason, I am finding that each of these games has had a different impact on me overall. Some kindle frustration, others incite strategy and new ways of thinking, but each has made their own impression in how I play and what I am experiencing.

The Trial and Error
Gears of War 4
Insane Solo-Mode Rundown:
  • Health much lower than normal, cover a necessity
  • You do not "go down" to be revived, you just die.
  • Fast grubs can two shot you with melee attacks
  • Drones are aggressive and rush with shotguns, capable of one-shotting
  • Enemies take much more damage to bring down.

The first and most frustrating is that of Gears of War 4's insane difficulty, in what I imagine purgatory must be like. Gears of War is a cover shooter; all about staying down, taking your shots, and using the environment to your advantage to flank the enemy.

Insane mode has changed that into a reserved game of peek a boo. Peeking out of cover can result in instant death from snipers or torque bows. Drones are much more aggressive, charging you out of cover and instantly killing you with a single bullet from shotguns. Many of the heavier weapons or pathways you could usually take have to be used sparingly, lest you die to a stray Juvie.

You will die to these...a lot

The main issue is with such high expectancy of death, the game does not feel particularly designed for this mode. There are segments with little to no cover, segments that felt like I was lucky in enemies not charging me over enemies that did charge me on occasion, or my AI distracted the enemy whereas sometimes the enemy booked it straight for me. In a mode where you are flushed out of cover continuously by grenades or flanking enemies, it can seem almost like a stroke of luck in some situations.

Bottom line, it is proving difficult, but viable. I get stuck on certain segments, but find walking away and trying again later proved to assist with any hangups. The game is one of the hardest of the series (the other three had their moments as well), but with enough patience and luck, I am already a few chapters away from completing the game.

The Unforgiving Tutor
Nightmare Mode Rundown:

  • Enemies deal far more damage than normal, one-shotting in most cases.
  • Enemies take much more damage to bring down.
  • Constant movement while firing is a requirement to live.
  • Healing items/armor have less value on pickup.

I started a fresh run for DOOM in lieu of new game plus in which you keep all of your upgrades to give a fresh experience to the mode. Mind you, I did not choose the absolute hardest difficulty of Ultra Nightmare, a mode in which the only caveat from Nightmare is permadeath where once you die you have to start all over again.

Where Gears 4 felt like strategy relying on a spring of luck, Doom felt like a lesson in how to play properly. If you stand still or strafe in a predictable pattern the game will be quick to punish you. Fluid combat is the name of the game, running and gunning without predictable movement and constant awareness of enemy position.


It started rough, with a lack of weaponry and armor, it was easy to be killed in a single shot. Once inventory expanded and upgrades were unlocked, the game become not only much more manageable, but much more enjoyable. Battles were tense, with hectic firing as knights closed the gap to smash you and weaving between fireballs from imps; I was having more fun than the Normal mode play through I experienced, preparing for big battles and scrounging for armor and health before trudging forward.

While Nightmare is proving fun, I do find that knocking it down to Ultra-Violent would be the prime way to first experience DOOM with tense battles without the early game death expectancy.

The Way to Play
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Death March Rundown:

  • Enemies have 80% more health, deal 230% more damage.
  • Health does not naturally regenerate and requires food/potions to replenish.
  • Being outnumbered usually results in a quick death.
  • Battle preparedness is necessary early game.
  • Even with leveling and gear, each fight can be a challenge.

In contrast to the previous two modes, one a lesson in pain and another a lesson in play, this mode feels like the prime example of a hard difficulty that I would recommend to experience The Witcher 3 as it was intended to be experienced.

Death march is all about planning effectively, and fighting efficiently. Minding your spacing, your positioning, and managing your gear as the game intends. Going up against a monster contract that will surely be a dangerous foe? Preparing your armor and gear at the blacksmith and drinking a few potions goes a long way in giving you the upper hand. Studying enemies, approaching each quest cautiously; I felt like a Witcher.

Weak to Quen, got that I doing homework?

I found myself having more fun than I did on normal mode, as each fight was more hectic than the last. Intimidating beasts felt more like a challenge, swarms of enemies more like a real danger, and one on one swordplay much more satisfying. Being an RPG, leveling and gearing up goes a long way in assisting the ease of it all, but it cannot assure smooth sailing in all situations.

The necessity of upkeeping gear, looking into the Bestiary for enemy weaknesses, and preparing for battle made Witcher 3 that much better. Out of the three games I am currently juggling, this is the hard difficulty that has made the biggest impact on my feelings toward the game. I feel like it was not only a challenge, but the way the game was meant to be played; carefully and with vested interest.

It was interesting to see how a simple thing like a difficulty change can drastically effect the impact a game can have, especially the contrast between games. Upping the difficulty can change some games entirely; it can make some games frustratingly satisfying to complete, and others improve your overall skill entirely. I love seeing how each game not only challenges your ability as a player but makes you approach situations differently than being on auto-pilot in normal mode.

You may not be one to suffer through tougher difficulties, and I do not blame you. Trial and error is common, and must be expected. But I do encourage you explore the tougher difficulties further, as it may end up changing your thoughts on a game entirely.