What makes a boss fight fun?

After procrastinating for a few weeks, I finally queued for an Archimonde group in LFR a couple of days ago. After all the player complaints and anecdotal horror stories, I was expecting my experience to be an exercise in frustration. Imagine my surprise when I found it to actually be fun.

I was in what I imagine must have been a good (Tuesday) group. We started fresh and downed him on our third try, with very few deaths. After the first wipe, someone calmly explained a few of the mechanics, no name-calling, no personal insults or rage quits, all very grown up and polite. Of course, Blizz has nerfed the LFR version of this boss a couple of times, so that was a factor, too. But in its current form, I found the fight mechanics to be very straightforward, at least for damage dealers, and not too complex for a group of strangers to manage. My only real quibble with the fight is that once again Blizz has designed it such that the fail point comes near the end, and it is a very long fight. Too long for LFR, even for a final boss, but that is a pet peeve of mine.

Nevertheless, as I said, I thought it was fun. Which got me to thinking, what makes a boss fight fun for me? Turns out this is a hard question to answer. Like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of porn — “I know it when I see it ” — a “fun” boss is easy to identify when you experience it but very difficult to define in advance. Also, I am certain that — like porn — everyone’s definition varies somewhat.

What are some boss fights I thought were fun? As I only really started raiding with a regular team near the end of Wrath, I won’t go back to the fog-enshrouded of BC and before. But here is a list of my top ten boss fights (not in any particular order):

  • The Lich King (from Icecrown Citadel)
  • Theralion and Valiona (from Bastion of Twilight)
  • Alysrazor (from Firelands)
  • Ultraxion (from Dragon Soul)
  • Spine of Deathwing (from Dragon Soul)
  • Warmaster Blackhorn (from Dragon Soul)
  • Murozond (not a raid, but last boss of End Time instance in Cata)
  • Sha of Fear (from Terrace of Endless Spring)
  • Siegecrafter Blackfuse (from Siege of Orgrimmar)
  • Brackenspore (from Highmaul)

I really don’t know what it is about these fights that I like, but I know I do. One thing that I notice is that in most of them I had some sort of special raid duty — part of the price of being a hunter, lol. I always kind of liked raid duties, didn’t try to avoid them like most people do. I wonder if that particular aspect of being a hunter will be gone in Legion. Actually, it may be gone now, with the destruction of SV as a viable spec. BM hunters lose a lot of dps in any fight requiring a lot of target switching, and MM hunters really are not nearly as mobile as all hunters used to be. SV hunters were perfect for flame thrower duty in Brackenspore, you could leave your pet on the boss while you bopped around burning moss then stepped back in range for some great dps, rinse and repeat. It was fun. As was Siegecrafter, once you figured out how to jump while on the conveyor belt, and dodge the fire. Those kind of extra duties break up the monotony of long fights. Even though Garrosh was not one of my favorite bosses, I always like having Engineer duty. And I loved the extra duties I had in Ko’agh and even The Butcher.

The other thing I notice is that most of my favorite fights required a reasonable, but not excessive, amount of movement. As a hunter, I am extremely mobile compared to other damage dealers, but I like to move when I want to, for better positioning, etc. I do not enjoy constant movement just for its own sake. For example, I always did quite well on the Hanz and Franz fight in BRF, but I never really found it fun, too much required movement. Same with the trains one.

(Ultraxion is an obvious exception to everything I just listed as reasons I liked the bosses. I think he is in there because it was fun for a change to just stand still and unload everything you’ve got on a target dummy type boss. Kind of a live fire exercise for everyone!)

Last, but not least, my favorite bosses were challenging when they were current, but they did not seem impossible.

I like mechanics that are easy to understand but challenging to execute. I think the toughest set of mechanics to understand in my list were on the Lich King — not because they were so complex, but because there were so many of them, they changed every phase, and almost any one of them could kill you if not properly dealt with.

I like mechanics that are novel and creative, too. So that usually means I like bosses with new mechanics the first time they are used, but when Blizz incorporates the “new” mechanic into the next several bosses, I lose interest. Thus, I liked Siegecrafter for the conveyor belt mechanic, but I did not like that same mechanic in Hanz and Franz or the trains in BRF. I liked the whisk-you-away mechanic in Sha of Fear, but it was not nearly so much fun for me when repeated in Kargath Bladefist in Highmaul.

And some mechanics I just hate, no matter what. I could never get the hang of the maze in Durumu the Forgotten in Throne of Thunder, and so that boss would be very high up on my list of most hated fights. The mechanic was novel, I will grant you, but it was just impossible to execute for some people. (And yes, I tried every conceivable camera angle, every possible graphics setting, every hint ever posted anywhere, so please don’t write me about the one foolproof way you found to do it. I guarantee you I already tried it and it did not work for me. When a significant number of players who are not idiots cannot manage a mechanic, it is a terrible one.)

I like bosses that can be defeated with good teamwork and individual alertness, not ones that can kill you just by bad luck, for instance that target random raid members (including tanks and healers) with raid-wiping debuffs.

There is, however, a fine line between “challenging” and “almost impossible without pure luck”. My all time worst boss was Ragnaros. Our guild almost disbanded over him. I have lost count on how many wipes we had on him, but it went on for literally months, to the point where raid night became one long painful trudge with sullen guildies driven only by a rapidly diminishing sense of loyalty to a raid leader with more stubbornness than good sense. Several people did in fact leave the guild over his refusal to allow us to start the new tier until we had downed Ragnaros. When we finally did get him down, it was due to fantastic luck and came down to our one pally left alone, eking out enough damage and self heals to kill Rags just milliseconds before he himself died. I have never gone back to that boss since.

Anyway, I still don’t know if I can define what it is that makes a boss fun for me, but it certainly includes:

  • Having a specialized role to play, beyond straight DPS.
  • Enough movement to highlight hunter mobility, but not so much as to force it on me and not so much as to make all ranged casters miserable.
  • Easy to understand mechanics that require practice and alertness to execute properly.
  • More or less guaranteed success if the fight is properly executed at the level being fought. That is, the fight has zero dependence on RNG factors such as random selection of players for catastrophic debuffs, The harder the fight is, the more this last stipulation is important.

That’s it for me, I think. I would be interested to know what it is that makes a boss fight fun for you.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

6 Responses to What makes a boss fight fun?

  1. Grumsta says:

    Brackenspore. The boss that was the last straw for me in 6.0.3 and caused me to quit playing, let alone raiding. I hated and still hate that boss. (And yes I was playing a Hunter, but that isn’t the reason). It is silly mechanic piled on silly mechanic and I still have no idea what the fight is about. I liked the first boss in HM, thought the Butcher fight was just silly, and Brackenspore was the last straw. Funny that one of your favourites is my most hated of the entire xpac 🙂

    I’m with you on Durumu the Best-Forgotten being poor design too, ironically it’s the fight I compared Brackenspore to when explaining to the RL why I wouldn’t be coming back, thank you so very much.

    The majority of the other bosses on your list were before my time, as only SoO was current when I started playing. Of those I most enjoyed The Fallen Protectors, Norushen, Sha of Pride, Galakras and Garrosh.

    Most of BRF fights are good, I particularly enjoyed Beastlord Darmac and Flame Bender, but they’re hardly classic fights.

    In HFC I enjoy the Council and Iskar. The only ones so far I think are “meh” are Hellfire Assault and Iron Reaver. I take great delight in downing Kilrogg and Gorefiend now we have a strong raid team of 18, but I can’t rate them as great fights due to the poor scaling in them when we were a team of 12-13.

    Good boss fights to me require coordination and good team play, have interesting and meaningful mechanics, and be satisfying when the boss falls. Excessive mechanics (trains, stampers, adds, adds, and more adds because adds etc) are a huge turn-off.

    Still early days in HFC for me. I have 9/13 down on Normal so the tough fights are still to come. I have the 735 ring at last (yay!) so next time I go there my dps should show another improvement. Might get an invite to a Heroic HFC run tonight, that should be *gulp* interesting….

    • Fiannor says:

      Yeah, kind of funny that one of my favorites is your most hated. Multiply our differences by a few million, and I suppose that is some idea of the challenges faced by the raid devs. I completely agree with you on the idea of “excessive mechanics”. Our raid team is just now starting Iskar, and honestly I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and give up when I was doing my homework for it, there was just too much to grasp. Blizz seems to have pretty much given up on innovative mechanics in favor of piling them on in huge numbers — they seem to subscribe to the belief that quantity is a quality of its own.

      Gratz on the ring, will be interested to know what your experience with it is.

      • Grumsta says:

        >>Gratz on the ring, will be interested to know what your experience with it is<<

        I barely know I have it until I look at the logs. I did a HC HFC run (6/13 in 3 hours) on Friday evening and the dps rings were (naturally) controlled by the melee. I tried to keep big CDs for when I knew it was coming but other than that it felt no different to switching one gear piece out for another. Compared with getting the cloak, it's a total zero on the excitement scale, just relief that the grind is finally over. I just need to kill Archie in LFR tonight to complete the quest line. AS soon as I got the cloak on my warrior I wanted it for my mage. In contrast I won't bother trying to get it for my Hunter unless I get forced back into raiding with him.

        I listed the Iskar fight as one of my favourites in HFC, and I stand by it even though it is another step tougher in Heroic over Normal, and we didn't get past him on Friday. But we knew we should have, we got very close a few times. It's all about the ball being with the right person at the right time, and especially in HC it is possible for RNG to put you in an impossible position of 2 people needing it at the same time, otherwise half the raid dies. You just have to accept it, wipe, and try again. Like so many HFC fights it only takes one person not being clued up or zoning out for 2 seconds and it's all over. It's another long fight so RL interruptions, lag, etc have more of a chance to trip someone up. And of course the adds have to be killed quickly and in the right order. For a change.

      • Fiannor says:

        I am chuckling over your ring experience, because that is exactly what mine has been. A big fat shrug. I will probably finish it up for my alt hunter and my healer, just because I am on the tomes on both of them now, and it seems a shame to have stuck with it this far and then abandon it. But that’s it. Like you, when I got my first cloak, I was highly motivated to get it for as many alts as I could, but not so with the ring. Like many of the features of WoD, it seems to have been a pro forma “just check the box” exercise for the devs.

        I have pretty much stopped saving up my cooldowns for ring usage, as it almost never ends up being predictable for us, melee just seem to blow it whenever it is off cd, and even when there is an identifiable hero point in a fight, no one seems able to save up ring usage in the couple of minutes before that point, so saving your own cd’s hasn’t been viable.

  2. Some of the hardest to learn can become favorites in time.
    I think that if you need an addon (trains, Iskar) then the design is deeply flawed.
    Gorefiend became one of my favorites simply because we could finally stop: and unload all of our power.
    I’d also like to know who I’m fighting — in SoO, I had a pretty good idea and I really (really) wanted to kill Garrosh, many in this expansion I have no vendetta.

    • Fiannor says:

      Definitely true about the addon — if you need one, then the fight is designed wrong. We are just starting Iskar, and I am not looking forward to it for that very reason. I already suspect he may end up on my all-time hated list.

      I enjoy bosses that have 3-4 mechanics that are easy to grasp but that need practice and teamwork to execute. When Blizz just piles on mechanic after mechanic for a boss fight, and then makes the fight a long one on top of it, that is just a cheap way to simulate complexity in my opinion. What happens is that one minor mistake by one player can often snowball into a wipe, and it is almost impossible for every player to sustain perfection while dealing with a lot of effects over 10-12 or more minutes.