I originally had a post up yesterday on Hyperius (following my one on Haderax), but then I realized my problems with the raid bosses in this game are fundamental and ubiquitous, not particular to any one or two of them. So I deleted it and instead wrote this one, which I post here to gauge the temperature of people who have far more experience with, and knowledge of, Borderlands 2 than I do.
Plus I figured it’d just be fun to talk about since these BL2 boards seem kind of dead-ish at the moment.
- What do I mean by “raid boss problem”?
First, some relevant information about me: I’m new to the FPS genre. Believe it or not, BL1 was the first FPS I ever played. My wheelhouse is survival horror (Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc.) and indie/retro games (mainly Metroidvanias). Hence, if I’m not grasping some concept or completely overlooking it, that’s almost certainly because I’m just not familiar with it - it’s not deliberate or (I hope) a result of native stupidity on my part.
This is relevant because in the reading I’ve done, I’ve noticed that whenever people offer critiques of the raid boss system in BL2, a handful of commenters will pop up and say that the critiques are based on faulty premises - the critics don’t understand, ostensibly, “the concept of a raid boss.”
I admit I probably don’t. But I think my points can withstand any innocence of the concept on my part.
The first aspect of the problem with these raid bosses is that they’re in effect half-inside/half-outside the parameters of the main game. On the one hand, they’re no part of the main quest, neither in the game proper nor in the DLCs. You could be completely ignorant of their existence and still have a solid grasp on what BL2 is.
On the other hand, they drop loot, directly (weapons) or indirectly (seraph crystals), that can be used in-game to make life easier on higher difficulties. So they have some ‘internal’ relationship to the main game despite being basically ‘external’ to it.
I think this is, when all is said and done, the root of my issue with these bosses. It isn’t, as you might expect, that they’re too hard to solo or badly designed (that’s a separate matter), that they’re made for co-op, or that they restrict the scope of feasible builds and loadouts, leading to a certain homogeneity in approach that contradicts the game’s emphasis on variety.
I may not like any or all of that, but I can accept it, especially if it comes with the package of “raid bosses” as a concept.
Rather, the problem is that due to the external-but-internal nature of the bosses vis-a-vis the main game, they are still treated in essential ways like main game bosses. By which I mean: you can’t teleport directly to them and there remains a hefty monetary penalty for dying. Most notably for solo players, this makes learning by experimenting with fighting them an utter nightmare, and it really shouldn’t be that way.
Take Master Gee as an example. Buried deep in Hayter’s Folly in the Scarlett DLC, his arena is surrounded by extremely aggressive and numerous skags, Crystalisks, and sharp-shooting human enemies. You can take them out, but they’ll respawn in about 20 minutes, and if you just want to speed back to Gee, you can get downed easily by, say, one of those nasty shock attacks from the Crystalisks, or by a rabid skag who won’t leave you alone.
Hyperius is another example. You have to do a tedious run-through of Washburne Refinery just to get to him, as there is no way to fast travel anywhere near his arena.
The model here is Haderax. Whatever my feelings are about the boss himself (hate him), you can warp directly outside of his arena in the Burrows, and thus get right down to business without the completely unnecessary hassle of having to slaughter your way to him, or, even worse, of having to deal with a host of respawning enemies.
All of that leads to mixed signals. Whereas the seraph crystals and weapons most of these bosses possess scream “Farm me!” at the player, the entire framework around the bosses screams “You’re an idiot for trying to farm me.”
This isn’t about the bosses themselves - I’m not saying they should be easier or different in any way at all. It’s about the contradictory zone they exist within at the fringes of the game, half-in, half-out, which leads to all of these derivative contradictions (farm me/don’t farm me, etc.).
Then there’s the issue of the monetary penalty. For most of these bosses, you have two options: accept it when you go down and pay the death tax, which, if you are just trying to figure out an angle on the fights, gets very steep very fast; or else save and quit, fight your way back to the arena, and spend the eridium necessary to open it up. Either way you’re getting fleeced.
Perhaps this is business as usual for these types of games - as noted above, I wouldn’t know - but if it is, then it’s bad business, and BL2 should have been bold enough to start up a new one.
Why would I or anyone be so put off by such a seemingly minor problem? To be sure, raiding is a niche occupation that only a minority of players will be interested in. But those players are likely to be the most passionate, the ones who want to squeeze every ounce of fun and challenge out of the game as is there to be squeezed. Raid bosses are where the rubber hits the road in BL2, functioning basically as knowledge and skill checks. This they do sporadically well; what they do not do well is permit the player to develop knowledge and skill by fighting them repeatedly.
And this for the reasons given above. You are actively discouraged by deliberately placed obstacles from repeatedly fighting the bosses. As I understand it, this is a hangover from an earlier version of the game when we were only allowed to kill the bosses once per day (which, while frustrating and somewhat contradictory in its own way - farm, but don’t - makes the difficulty of returning to the bosses much more understandable). If that’s the case, I can see why the obstacles were there, but not why they remain there.
There’s now no restriction on how many times you can kill the bosses per day, but you’d barely know it from the game itself, since everything around them tells you this is only meant to be done once or occasionally.
To sum this point up, It seems to me that there isn’t a coherent concept of what these raid bosses are supposed to be and how they’re supposed to function relative to the game proper. This incoherence trickles down into the design itself, down even to simple matters like getting to them.
If I could fight Haderax or Gee a million times in a row, observing, learning more as I go, experimenting, I would actually have fun with them. I’d still die again and again, but I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of money, being unable to resupply my ammo, and thus having to go and farm for weapons to sell, after which I must fight my way back to the arenas, spend the eridium, and do it all over again.
I consider this a cardinal sin of game design, whether the game is meant to be big or small, long or short: wasting your audience’s time. Whenever games do that - or any artistic medium, for that matter - it puts me off because it smells like contempt. The game (or whatever it may be) as a result does not respect the fact that its audience is comprised of human beings with lives outside of games, families, responsibilities.
Be as long or as short as you like - that’s part of the package - but don’t waste my time. That’s all I would request. I consider it a formidable achievement of any game designer to make a product that wastes as little of my time as possible. It’s like with doctors: first do no harm - first, do not waste time. Noli tempus perdere. It should be emblazoned in production companies’ headquarters around the globe.
- I’ve said that my principal issue with the raid bosses was not their actual design, which, while true, doesn’t mean I don’t have problems on that score as well.
It is said, ad nauseam, that the word “raid” implies “co-op.” It might (I wouldn’t know), but I would nonetheless say on the contrary: being able to play the bosses solo implies “solo.” The bosses should have modes scalable to both styles of play, and in some respects they do. The scales are not balanced, however.
The bosses have so much health and deal so much damage so quickly that one must either (a) get very good at fighting them or (b) find a cheese or an exploit, if one wants to have any hope of soloing them.
Option (a) is made ridiculously frustrating by the design choices elaborated in my first big criticism. It’s hard to get good at fighting these bosses when you can’t get the reps in without wasting a truly asinine amount of time.
Option (b), while nice for farming and just getting the job done, is less than satisfying, and checks no knowledge or skill at all, basically defeating the purpose.
For solo play, due to the hindrances facing anyone who’d want to develop the “legit” approach of (a), the cheesing approach of (b) is therefore not just permitted but encouraged by the way the bosses are designed.
Additionally - I admit this is a more subjective point - it appears to me that Gearbox piled on a lot of difficulty in these bosses by simply cheating. To take the most egregious example: Master Gee. I have been trying to solo this guy off and on for a week. I know exactly how to do it. It would almost be a fun fight if the hit boxes worked properly and FFYL wasn’t nerfed to non-existence by making it almost impossible to kill any worms when downed.
But you can do everything right, luring Gee over the dead center of the acid pool just as it is created - and he won’t absorb the damn thing. Throw a quasar or a singularity to get him back on it - still won’t absorb it. Oh well. Two or three more worms pop up right next to the acid pool; it’s all over. Curtains. Death tax. Punch my couch.
Why am I dying here? What have I done wrong? What have I not understood about the fight? As far as I can tell, I’ve done nothing wrong and haven’t misunderstood anything. I’m dying because the hit detection was built to be piss poor.
Again: wasting my time.
By comparison, Hyperius in my view was very well designed, all things considered. Hard as hell, demanding both knowledge and skill, but completely doable so long as you have them. I managed to fight him enough times to get a pretty good feel for the fight, and now when I die it’s usually my fault. I’m fine with that.
Most of these bosses, unfortunately, are not like Hyperius. Haderax, Badassasaurus, etc., are all bad in their own ways, while Gee uniquely owns a special kind of badness.
I don’t know how I would make any of this better, but surely there are plenty of examples of these types of bosses in other games. For starters, I’d recommend looking at Hyperius and maybe Pyro Pete for examples of raid bosses on the right track.
For solo players in particular, it shouldn’t be the case that it’s over as soon as they go into FFYL. It makes the entire mechanic utterly pointless.
Arguably, all attacks should be avoidable, but I can see the logic in someone saying that unavoidable attacks are a knowledge check on health gating, which is a mechanic in the game. The novas don’t bother me too much in the Hyperius fight - I know what I’m supposed to do when they’re released - so it would seem the issue isn’t avoidable vs. unavoidable but balanced vs. unbalanced.
I hate to keep coming back to Gee, but I will never apologize for constantly complaining about how bad he is. And here again, the contrast with Hyperius is evident. The acid pools, oh my, the acid pools - we know what to do, but it’s up to the game’s whims whether it will actually let us do it. With Hyperius, the grog or whatever is in your hands. You control your health gating. With Master Gee, on the contrary, all you can do is lead him over the acid pools and hope the game decides to register that he’s absorbed them. If it doesn’t - you’re done.
Still, even with a terrible fight like Gee’s, it wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t for the death tax and the respawning enemies outside the arena.
- I might summarize all of this like so: there’s a vicious synergy between the contradictory framework the raid bosses exist in conceptually and the shoddiness of their design, all but making cheesing a necessity, especially if you want to farm them.
Unless I’m mistaken, a raid boss is supposed to be about knowledge and skill, as stated, but here, due to this vicious synergy, they become in practice about exploits, glitches, and cutting corners.
I have my problems with other areas of this game, notably farming, but there I can at least understand how some amount of time-wasting is intrinsic to what it is (my main criticism of the farming in this game, in a nutshell, is that the drop rates need another buff: +5% sounds just right to me). Farming is basically gambling, playing a slot machine, bashing a pinata. Winning can take a while. But raid bosses are the opposite, or at least are supposed to be. There’s no excuse.
Whether any of you agree, disagree, or are a milquetoast moderate who considers things reasonably point by point, agreeing and disagreeing when called for, I hope I’ve at least stirred the pot a bit.
Thanks for reading.