I am sitting in my usual seat in the living room. One of my housemates (we’ll call him Housemate 1) is playing Dark Souls 2; he’s fighting Dragonrider, an early game boss and the first boss he found (he’s playing the game blind). Another of my housemates (Housemate 2) is playing World of Warcraft. In a moment of peace, Housemate 2 looks up at the TV screen and declares, “Wow, that boss is really boring”.
It was a statement with which I agreed wholeheartedly. Dragonrider is a terrifically boring boss. He is a large man in armour with a shield and a one-handed weapon and, while stronger than Housemate 1’s character, had one main attack: lunge with weapon.
That the boss battle was difficult and Housemate 1 died several times to it (sorry, he didn’t; it’s a zero death run…) did nothing to make it more interesting.
When Housemate 1 had beaten Dragonrider, he began to compare it with the Cleric Beast from Bloodborne, which is the boss most players find first and was indeed the first boss Housemate 1 played when he played Bloodborne. The difference, he said, was that the Cleric Beast was interesting, both in design and attacks. Dragonrider simply wasn’t; even his name was uninteresting. “I think he rides dragons,” he remarked.
My theory on this is that the different genres of the Souls series and Bloodborne is the main reason for the differences in the boss designs.
When Arin of Game Grumps began his playthrough of Dark Souls 3, he described the biggest difference between the Souls series and Bloodborne as being that Bloodborne is more “European, Gothic” – more, to use my own word, steampunk – whereas the Souls series is more “medieval”.(1) This, I believe, is the key difference between the Souls series and Bloodborne which affects things such as boss designs.
hbomberguy, in his analysis of Bloodborne, mentioned the ‘dudes in armour’ argument: the argument which recognises that many of the bosses in the Souls series are “dudes in armour”.(2) While hbomberguy had no issue with such a concept, I think that it was this that lead to Dragonrider being so frightfully dull, especially compared to the Cleric Beast. There are only a few variations you can have between ‘dudes in armour’, especially when not only bosses are ‘dudes in armour’ but several of the normal minion enemies you face are also of the same ilk. The path to Dragonrider is filled with Dragonslayers, who are – you guessed it – ‘dudes in armour’.
This is not the case in Bloodborne. Where you have a steampunk horror game with a lore that includes humans turning into beasts and alien psuedo-divine beings who inhabit a realm known as the Nightmare, you instantly have a game where there can be more variety in bosses, both in their appearance and in the strategies required to overcome them.
In contrast, a medieval-style game has little choice but to have lots of ‘dudes in armour’, as that fits the genre in a way that lots of beasts do not, unless the presence of Bloodborne-esque beasts has been established in the lore. While there are groteqsue and monstrous bosses in Souls games, these remain limited by the medieval setting in a way that Bloodborne bosses aren’t.
Dragonrider is, then, a victim of his own setting. The first boss cannot be the most interesting of the game – and indeed the Cleric Beast is not the most interesting boss in Bloodborne – but the genre and setting of Bloodborne means that the Cleric Beast can be vastly different from the other bosses in the game. Dragonrider, on the other hand, is limited by lack of variety that the setting and genre could provide for bosses. All in all, it made for a wildly boring first boss.
(2) https://youtu.be/AC3OuLU5XCw?t=1h2m9s. This link jumps to the particular part of the video where hbomberguy starts talking about the ‘dudes in armour’ argument. It should be noted that hbomberguy doesn’t mind there being lots of dudes in armour in Dark Souls, which he mentions in another video (https://youtu.be/SRTfcMeqhig).