This post contains light spoiler information about Doom’s bosses.
I recently played id Software’s new Doom. I found it to be an exhilarating, agile shooter whose pace will most likely leave me seeking more of the same from other shooters in the future. However, the blistering pace nearly came to a forced halt a few times during the campaign.
Why? The boss fights.
Boss fights, love them or hate them, have been around about as long as video games themselves. For a long time, they were the only way to symbolize concrete progression in a game. Play a level, get to a boss, beat boss, continue.
Some contemporary games shed the trend, so it’s not uncommon to see the end credits roll without a big finale boss. Other games have attempted to solve the problem by overlaying quick-time events in lieu of boss fights. I would be thrilled if I never had to fight another traditional, overpowered boss as long as I live.
Doom is almost entirely comprised of big-scale arena fights with dozens of enemies. Despite a plethora of weapons and grenades at my disposal, the action in the fights proved so intense that I rarely had time to strategize. Doom isn’t a tactical, cover-based shooter where I hunker down, think about my options, equip the best one and go. Doom is me running my ass off and firing guns in every direction because if I stand still for more than five seconds I’m toast, and I like that dynamic an awful lot. Arena fights crescendo in difficulty over the campaign, but through powering up weapons and armor, they rarely feel impossible or unfair. Each one provides slightly more challenge than the last.
This trajectory was thrown completely off when the Cyberdemon shows up halfway through the game for a traditional boss fight, and by ‘traditional’ I mean he has a ridiculously huge life bar, and when I fire rockets into his face they do about as much damage as clipping a fingernail.
All of a sudden, despite all the momentum Doom’s gunplay had going for it, I was forced to play defensively for the first time. Doom’s boss fights are the kind where players have to learn each boss’ attacks, decipher how to evade them, and counter between attacks. Doom isn’t breaking any ground here; this is an age-old way of designing a boss encounter.
Adding to their out-of-place feel and incongruous mechanics, they’re just hard and made me want to stop playing the game altogether.
I’d be OK with this kind of boss design if each attack didn’t slash a substantial chunk off my health. By the time I learned one attack and how to dodge it, I was dead from the next attack and still had more moves to learn.
To add insult to injury, Doom’s boss fights also do the thing when a boss loses half his health, they get harder and unleash an entirely new set of skills to learn and counter.
What happened to the fun, frantic demon-killing game I was playing five minutes ago? I want that game back, not this lame, long boss fight with an unreasonably overpowered enemy.
Another boss fight later in the game was even worse. After double-digit deaths against a creature who has an everything-proof shield, I finally (finally) defeated him. While I was still sweating with a pounding heart, relief started washing over me.
“Cool. I can get back to the game I liked and get out of this boss fight nonsense.”
“NOPE!” Doom says. “Here’s an immediate follow up to the boss fight you just had, but now you have to fight TWO of them simultaneously.”
I came pretty close to testing how well the PS4 controller doubles as a boomerang at that point.
I eventually beat the bosses, but not without shouting words that would make my mom blush first. I don’t know if the developers wanted me to feel fulfilled or powerful after defeating them, but I just felt frustrated. I want to play the 80 percent of Doom that isn’t dumb boss fights. Let me just play that, please.
In a related scenario, I recently played Resident Evil 6 when it launched on PS4, and I had a similar reaction.
Some parts of Resident Evil 6 are pretty good, and all of its mechanics feel incredibly tight. However, half of each character’s campaign is either boss fights or bad chase sequences.
I like walking around a college campus as Leon while shooting, punching and kicking zombies. I’m totally on board with that gameplay. What I don’t want is to spend three hours shooting a man who morphs into a panther, then dies, resurrects as a dinosaur, dies, and then comes back as a giant fly.
Enough, Resident Evil 6. These boss fights and their awful setups are so bad. I want to play the enjoyable sections of the game, not the parts that block my progress and frustrate me for no good reason.
Despite what it sounds like, I’m not wholly against bosses. I appreciate ones that serve as an exercise of everything a player has learned up to that point. What I don’t like is an out-of-left-field boss who’s just a taller-than-average enemy and takes a thousand more bullets to kill than everyone else. Even worse are the kinds that have three glowing sacks on their body that must be shot or hit in order to destroy a vulnerable core.
I respect well-made bosses used in appropriate places, but Doom’s bosses are as out of place as if someone stuck a Dark Souls boss right in the middle of a Dynasty Warriors mission. Imagine how it would feel to be trained to hack and slash for hours, only to be suddenly asked to make defensive, precise strategies for victory. It just doesn’t gel.
I’m sure I’ll replay Doom in the future, but I’m positive that when I reach a chapter with a boss fight at the end, I’ll skip right to the next chapter. I don’t have time for that, and they’re not fun, thrilling or interesting enough to keep me engaged. I’d gladly play an intense arena fight against 50 vicious demons instead of a dumb, overpowered boss any day.
He has a Bachelor’s in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri. He also has a personal blog (who doesn’t?) that he updates sporadically. He’s been writing for GameCritics.com since 2012 and has appeared on the podcast a handful of times.
If you want to dive deep, type his name into a Google Image search and you’ll most likely be treated to a scandalous picture of his Deus Ex tattoo. He also has a music background from 7 years on high school and college drumlines, and last but not least he’s dabbled in parkour. Don’t let those activities fool you about his ambition – he’s in his late 20s and still has no idea what he wants to do with his life.