The best and worst boss fights in PC gaming

Giant Terminator Baby, Mass Effect 2 

Wes: I'm not even going to dignify Mass Effect 2's final boss with its proper name, such was its stupidity. The first Mass Effect culminated with a battle against an imposing, badass rogue agent whose role turns out to be more nuanced than pure evil, followed by a series of dramatic decisions that affected the fate of the Citadel. It was the perfect mix of action and roleplaying, exactly what Mass Effect should be.

The second game, despite the overall brilliance of its suicide run final mission, decided to end with the equivalent of a Contra boss battle. A Contra boss battle that was too easy and looked absolutely ridiculous. When people complain about Mass Effect becoming too much of an action series, this fight is exhibit A.

The Arkham Knight drill fight, Batman: Arkham Knight 

Jody: The Arkham games had a couple of decent boss fights, but way more bad ones. They loved the kind where you have to lure some jacked-up beefy boy into charging, then dodge so he hits a wall instead. Arkham Knight managed to do the most drawn-out version of this, because you have to drive the goddamn Bat-Tank at the same time.

The Arkham Knight attacks in the tunnels under Gotham, driving a digger drill like he's a Bananaman villain. You have to lure him into sections wired with explosives, avoiding barriers and spinning fan blades, repeating this for what is probably just shy of 10 minutes but feels like hours. Meanwhile he shouts bland taunts like "You can't hide!" and "I'll find you!" to remind you that, after two games of Mark Hamill's excellent Joker, now you're up against a man who smolders with generic rage. I like the Arkham games, but they're textbook examples of why 90 percent of boss fights could be dropped to no great loss.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus

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Zerstörer Robots, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus 

Austin: I'm generally a boss fight proponent, but Wolfenstein 2's Zerstörer Robots make a good case for cancelling bosses entirely. They simultaneously lack everything that makes Wolf 2 fun—multiple methods of approach, creative sightlines, playing execution leapfrog, satisfying feedback on kills—and exacerbate its biggest problems, like the way it sucks at telling you when you're taking damage and where it's coming from.  

These robots have so much health and deal so much damage that you have no choice but to clear out the H-shaped airship you fight them on and take potshots from the interior tunnels, alternating exits each time. On higher difficulties at least, fighting them is a slow, repetitive process that isn't even in the same hemisphere as fun. I played through the entire game a few notches above normal difficulty and loved the added challenge, but these piles of junk were so dragging and infuriating that I spitefully cranked the difficulty to easy just to get past them. And I'd do it again. 

Alma, F.E.A.R. 2

Wes: What a piece of shit ending.

Destiny 2's Dominus Ghaul

Ghaul, Destiny 2 

Austin: The final fight against Ghaul, leader of the Cabal's Red Legion and the Darth Vader walrus-thing who destroyed the Tower, is a disappointment not just because of what is, but because of what it is not. 

It is a run-of-the-mill arena fight against a glorified Cabal Centurion. Ghaul himself is just a health bar with some knock-off powers. He's removed from the fight most of the time, and whenever he does raise his ugly head you just one-shot him with your constantly refilled super. You spend more time fighting the basic enemies scattered around the ship, and doing so never feels climactic because the arena is boring, they're the same old enemies and there aren't even that many. Like, this is it, Red Legion. We are on your flagship. This is the final battle. The least you could do is bring the A-team. 

But the true misery of the fight is the cutscene that follows, in which Ghaul transforms into a much more interesting-looking plasma phantom and soars up to the Traveler. At this point, I—and by I, I mean everyone except the folks at Bungie apparently—thought, "Awesome, we get to kill him for real in the raid." But no. He just melts right there, so instead we fight some random fat dude in the raid. Destiny YouTuber Datto said it best: "I want to fight the big thing." Destiny 2 doesn't let you fight the big thing, and that's a bummer. 


Pinwheel, Dark Souls  

Joe: According to this Dark Souls wiki, Pinwheel is: "A flying, multi-masked necromancer who stole the power of the Gravelord and reigns over the Catacombs. [It] spawns multiple copies of itself and attacks the player with projectile blasts." All of which sounds pretty badass, right? Except in practice it's not really like that. At all. 

In a game that prides itself on its challenging encounters, Pinwheel is an anomaly. This run in is not only easier than every other boss battle in Dark Souls, it's easier than a fair whack of its standard enemies too. Its moveset is predictable, its cloned subordinates are a pain, and its drops—bar the Rite of Kindling—are rubbish. I almost lost the plot after my umpteenth death at the hands of Ornstein and Smough—yet the feeling of finally besting them was second to none. Pinwheel, on the other hand, robbed me of that eureka feeling by being so damn weak. 

The suggestion that From Software expected players to invade the Catacombs early on goes a ways to explaining why Pinwheel in so underpowered later in the game, but the Catacombs itself is surely no place for pre-Anor Londo/Sen's Fortress/Blighttown players. In any event, FTRichter’s Prepare to Die Again mod reimagines a more formidable Pinwheel.

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Fontaine, Bioshock 

Wes: "It's terrible. You have this great game, and then you end up fighting this giant nude dude. We didn't have a better idea," Ken Levine once said. Well-put. Bioshock's final battle ditched everything brilliant about the game to end with a cliche slugfest with a big muscular guy. The game clearly didn't quite know where to go after the encounter with Andrew Ryan, but it definitely should've gone somewhere else. Maybe force the player to sit through a reading of John Galt's 80 page monologue from Atlas Shrugged? That would've been a better tonal fit, and a far greater challenge.

Eli, Metal Gear Solid 5 

Samuel: Hot damn, I hated this scrap with baby Liquid Snake where you couldn't just use deadly weapons against him and be done with it. Fair enough, he's a kid, but he'll grow up to cause such trouble, what with the walking nuclear robots and inhabiting the mind of a man dressed a bit like a cowboy. Instead, you need to chase him around a beached ship until you can knock him out. And at that point, you're really ready to do so. 

None of the boss fights in Metal Gear Solid 5 are that great, unfortunately, which is a shame for a series that has produced so many great ones in the past. MGS and MGS2, which both came to PC ages ago, have a slightly better hit rate, with the likes of Gray Fox in the former and Vamp in the latter. Luckily, The Phantom Pain is great at just about everything else. 

Vaas, Far Cry 3 

Chris: There's a lot of bad boss fights in the Far Cry series, so it's hard to pick just one. I'm going with Vaas because he's probably the most enjoyable and memorable character in the series, and thus the crappy boss fight stings more than others because he frankly deserved a better sendoff.

Creating a satisfying boss fight in a game where you're essentially a superhero bristling with weapons and capable of withstanding tremendous amounts of damage yourself… it's a challenge, really, because you're a damn boss. So, Ubisoft does what it always does when it's painted itself into a corner: stuffs you full of drugs and makes you hallucinate. Welcome to a gloomy netherworld corridor paved with TV screens (for some reason) where Vaas after Vaas after Vaas run at you, die from a single bullet, and disappear into a puff of smoke. It's not a test of endurance and skill, just patience. When every ghost Vaas is dead you get a cutscene where you do a cool hand-switching knife move that you can't actually do in the game, then you watch him expire. You're left with nothing other than a sense of disappointment and the sad fact that you're still Jason Brody.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).

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