AoE Skills in Boss Fights

Wavelength

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Area of Effect skills (skills that hit many enemies or all enemies) tend to be some of the most fun and satisfying skills in RPGs, and are often the bread-and-butter of mage/caster-type characters.

However, in most RPGs, a majority of boss fights are either fought against a single, powerful enemy, or they are fought against a single, powerful enemy plus a few relatively weak or insignificant "minions" that don't pose a lot of threat. That can go a long way towards making your boss feel like a badass that's better than everyone around him, but it also means that AoE damage doesn't feel like a significant tool.

Do you do anything to ensure that AoE skills are useful in boss fights in your games? What are your favorite designs and mechanics for showing AoE skills some love during the most challenging fights in your game (or in other games you enjoy)?
 

Trihan

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I like AoE effects when they're not something that's just sprung upon the player without warning. The best approaches I've seen to this warn the player a turn in advance somehow so they know a powerful attack is coming and can prepare accordingly.

One cool way to do this without having an unbalanced fight is having a boss that "absorbs" minions in order to perform an AoE. This removes a mook from the board, so offsets the damage they would have done had they remained in play. There's also a kind of built-in expectation there that if the boss absorbs a minion, they're about to do something more powerful or heal or *something*. You can pretty much always rely on the player figuring that out.

I think the main thing it's important to remember is that it's no fun if the boss is AoEing your party to the point where you can't outheal the damage. Spending every turn picking up dead and dying party members is poor battle design.

Edit: Wait, I misunderstood what you wanted this topic to be. I thought you were talking about bosses *using* AoE.

Hmm...for players, I think it's kind of expected that a boss fight is invariably going to end up being more of a single-target affair; the AoE skills of a caster are generally meant for larger groups of standard enemies, with the exception of the bosses with mooks.

In those cases, I think it's important to make sure the player has single-target options. AoE doesn't have to be the answer to every question. The best approach to this I've seen are the games that let you manually switch a spell from single to multi-target at the expense of some damage.
 

ScorchedGround

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I don't really see a problem there. AoE's are generally pretty powerful against anything that is not a single target (like a boss in your example). So why shouldn't AoE's have a weakness of being sub-par against single-targets?

I often run into the opposite problem in my games;
AoE's are so powerful that in regular battles you rarely ever use single-target attacks and just resort to spamming your AoE's for maximum efficiency.

The bosses offer a nice relief of over-using AoE's.
Instead you can utilize your powerful single-target attacks without feeling like you wasted an action you could have used better.

Also, as you said, AoE's still have a place in any boss-battle that feature up-front minions or bosses that regularly summon mobs.
 

Trihan

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I don't really see a problem there. AoE's are generally pretty powerful against anything that is not a single target (like a boss in your example). So why shouldn't AoE's have a weakness of being sub-par against single-targets?

I often run into the opposite problem in my games;
AoE's are so powerful that in regular battles you rarely ever use single-target attacks and just resort to spamming your AoE's for maximum efficiency.

The bosses offer a nice relief of over-using AoE's.
Instead you can utilize your powerful single-target attacks without feeling like you wasted an action you could have used better.

Also, as you said, AoE's still have a place in any boss-battle that feature up-front minions or bosses that regularly summon mobs.
I generally try to get around that by making AoEs resource-intensive, so they're powerful but you can't just spam them without running out of spell juice.
 

bgillisp

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What I did in my game was the AOE spell was about 2.5x - 3x as much in cost as the same power single target spell. So it was better to use the AOE once you had groups of 3 or more, but single targets were better in terms of resource cost for 2 or less.

As for bosses I don't worry about that, those are what the strong single target spells are for. Though if they summon help then the AOE's can be very handy.
 

CraneSoft

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My AoE spells are simple yet effective, the lesser the amount of targets = the more damage they do (so solo bosses actually take say, like 3x damage it will normally do under normal circumstances), and my elemental ones in particular also have a higher chance to inflict a debuff (Burn for Fire, Confuse for Wind etc.) to justify the higher MP cost of AoE spells, making them useful against bosses as well that has higher resistance (but not totally immune) against debuffs.

Think of it like a reverse form of FFIX's free AoE targetting mechanics (where you can choose to make ANY basic spell single target or AoE but reduces their damage/heal output/effectiveness or in the case of debuffs, accuracy)

Edit* Another instance of usage I considered but have yet to implement is the AoE attacks' ability to ignore Magic Reflect, Magic Evasion and Enemy Substitute which will be pivotal in some fights.
 
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Kupotepo

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I like the AoE skills. It just makes the battle quick for the players. If the game designer would like the diversify of the skills can seal the damage AoE skills when fighting the boss, but please do not seal the healing AoE skills. Just in case if the boss has the AoE damage skill, the single healing may not be enough.

If only one boss, the AoE is just like a single skill, but usually weak damage or recovery effects. Make the single skill more powerful than the AoE skills to encourage players to use them.

@CraneSoft, you are the creative one. :kaojoy:
 
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ATT_Turan

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I also don't see this as a problem as such - if you look at games that have defined the genre, AoE skills are usually to help you with the random encounters as you make your way through the area, and bosses are a better time to use single-target attacks. If this weren't the case, and AoE skills were useful in every fight because they feel satisfying to you, then you just might as well not bother making any single-target spells.

If you particularly want some of your bosses to strategically require use of AoEs (which is fine), then just give them meat shields with taunt. Slap up some big minions with lots of HP who just keep taunting and guarding, so the players can't attack the boss, but the boss in the back is throwing out severely damaging attacks. So if the players don't make use of AoE abilities (or things to strip the taunt status, if possible) they'll lose.
 
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One idea would actually be to make every skill an AOE one way or another. I don't mean in the way that they always hit all enemies but rather that they each hit enemies in specific ways such as a circle or a horizontal/vertical line, maybe bouncing across multiple foes becoming weaker and weaker. Basically you'd treat the AOE part as more of a secondary trait.

There's also the option of just removing most AOE skills, at least for damaging skills; using them only for super skills and non-damaging de-buffs/states. My personal preference as it makes choosing targets more deliberate and strategic such as killing the healer/buffer first, rather than just "nuke em all".

One thing to add on the "well that's how they are meant to be" mentality I'm seeing here. While this is fine overall but: What if you only allow the player to have a limited selection of skills equipped and they can't change them mid dungeon? This is when the segregation of skills for 'Bosses/Mooks only' starts to get a bit iffy.
 

Kupotepo

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@ShadowHawkDragon, let your monsters attack this thread. I just have a fun. Thank you for your time to make the resources.

The problem with the generality is everyone is right because the bosses are diverse and hard to pin down. It is up the individual game designer and playtesters to go further in the details.

I think if the game design is well, the boss has different set of skills than the previous boss. But, I understand there is time saving to create a template and start deviation from there.
You will laugh on what questions I ask.
 

Frostorm

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In those cases, I think it's important to make sure the player has single-target options. AoE doesn't have to be the answer to every question. The best approach to this I've seen are the games that let you manually switch a spell from single to multi-target at the expense of some damage.
I like this idea. I'd be overjoyed if I could get SRD's Skill Extender to work with LTBS (I know you're still busy) cuz then I'd make the spells bring up the option of using it as single target or AoE. The AoE version would cost significantly more Mana of course.

AoE's are so powerful that in regular battles you rarely ever use single-target attacks and just resort to spamming your AoE's for maximum efficiency.
Imo, AoE spells shouldn't be made to be the most efficient option. If you think about it, it should be the least efficient option. You're casting a spell that covers a wide area, that area is going to have empty spaces being covered by the spell, yet the caster is still expending Mana to do so. Using some realism for this example: If an AoE spell covers 36 sqft and a single target occupies 4 sqft then the break-even point is 9 units (if they are squished shoulder to shoulder / front to back in a 3x3 phalanx formation). This is a highly unlikely scenario (unless you're fighting some Romans lol). Enemies will almost always have empty spaces between them. I'm not even talking about the games grid if there is one, but simply from a common-sense standpoint. Anything less than that breakeven point means subpar efficiency. This assumes the AoE's Mana cost is equal to the single target spell's Mana cost in terms of MP/sqft. If magic were real, I think the efficiency of AoE spells would be even worse since we live in a 3d world and the square-cube law would have to apply to magic as well.

*These numbers were simply used to illustrate a point, and are not meant to be used in an actual game.

Edit: I understand that for game balancing purposes, MP cost of AoE spells would be made to more efficient in terms of cost/area, which is opposite of the above real-life hypothetical. And that's totally fine. It's just a small immersion-breaking detail that's always bugged me.

But to answer your question @Wavelength, I personally just make AoE spells very rare (tier 5 spells). Which I admit is not ideal. I'd rather go with @Trihan's approach and have the spells toggleable between single target and AoE if I could eventually implement it. The UI/UX would have to be seamless and intuitive though as not to bog down the flow of battle. Another idea would be to make all spells primarily single target but secondarily AoE. As in the majority of the damage/effect would be on the selected target, but it also hits units around that target for less effectiveness.
 
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HumanNinjaToo

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This is a tough question. I hate to only echo what's already been said, but AoE damage by popular design is naturally weak versus single targets.

One example I thought of was an AoE for the magicka templar build in ESO. I think it was puncturing strikes? It was an AoE, but it also restored HP to the user. I would use that on single targets because it was one of the primary sustain tools in probably every magicka templar build. That being said, if an AoE has a unique secondary function like a self-heal or a buff of some kind, then it would be useful even against a single target in most cases.

One other example I thought of is more niche because it relies on a grid-based combat system, but it would be when you could use an AoE to do damage to a single target that is out of range of other skills. Of course this would be pretty situational since most caster-type skills would have a range to them. I thought about FF Tactics though. The samurai job had a few katana attacks that were AoE, so that job could use those against a single target that was out of range of regular attack. Also, I seem to remember that a black mage job using summons (or vice versa) could reach targets outside the standard range because, while most of the black mage spells had the cross AoE, summons had a larger AoE space that could get a few more tiles worth of distance (and I believe the 3rd tier black mage spells had slightly larger AoE space also, but not quite as large as summons).

I don't really use AoE skills in the strict sense in my own game project, they are just skills that affect all enemies. I have set them up to apply status effects that can only be achieved by using those skills. And quite honestly, that was not by design in order to make them have an extra usefulness. It just happened that way, and I didn't really think about it until I was typing up this response. But now I'm a little proud of myself, lol
 

FirestormNeos

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(there's also, uh, boss fights where you fight 2+ bosses at a time. WoW does this with a couple of raid bosses, like the four horsemen in Naxxramas. There's also, uh, bosses with multiple HP bar segments that can targeted all at once with AoE...)
 
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Frostorm

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there's also boss fights where you fight 2+ bosses at a time (WoW does this with a couple of raid bosses, like the four horsemen in Naxxramas), as well as bosses with multiple HP bar segments that can targeted all at once with AoE.
Why did you cross out your post? I love that fight lol, at least from a design standpoint. Getting 39 other people to coordinate taking them down...that's another story. I personally utilize multi-unit boss fights in my game to take advantage of having a grid system. It also ups the difficulty significantly, hehe.
 

FirestormNeos

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Why did you cross out your post? I love that fight lol, at least from a design standpoint. Getting 39 other people to coordinate taking them down...that's another story.
(my apologies; it was merely to imply that I was saying it under my breath for comedic effect)
 

TheoAllen

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This is a valid question and here is how I personally handled it.

On the player's end (I mostly doing it this way):
  • I realized when a single target skill and multi-target skill has a similar damage output (or slightly less) individually per target and it has a similar cost in cooldown, they have the same if not similar value. I'm not worrying if the AoE skill will have high damage because players (myself) may use them interchangeably (due to cooldown). Because both are dealing more damage than just a normal attack even if you use AoE in a single target.
  • AoE skill has a side effect other than dealing damage. For example, to buff yourself, you also deal AoE damage to all the enemies (a burst skill that knocked all enemies). You will get more benefits to use the skill than just spamming a single target skill because you get the buff.
  • Splash damage: This is a type of skill in which you select a target but the damage splashed to the others. It is a single target skill with benefits. The main target is going to get the full damage while the other gets the lesser damage.
  • Damage increased based on how few of the targets are: Already have been mentioned here, already implemented it, already tried it. Personally, for this type of AoE skill, I tend to use it for a single target than a multi-target. Because I know I will get the maximum damage.
  • I don't do this personally because I don't like it, but: x random target skill may be one of the most popular AoE while also being used as one target skill. Because when you only have one target, all those "random selection" will only fall into one target and that's satisfying.
On the boss' end:
  • Most of my bosses are the multi-target bosses with a different mechanic that you can make sure that your AoE won't be wasted.
  • The classic summons minions: Minions are nothing, but if you ignore them, it will keep spawning. You have to kill them while damaging the boss. Solution? AoE!
  • Multi-target part: The main boss has part or minion that is immortal. If they die, the boss will just resurrect them (and the boss wasted a turn resurrecting them). However, it's annoying enough that you have to somehow also need to do collateral damage to them. They could charge something that deals a lot of damage if you don't hit them to cancel the charge. But doing single damaging skill is wasted. Solution? AoE!
  • You need to kill them at the same time. This is probably going to be a niche-specific boss battle, but this is one of the solutions for a multi-target boss.
In short: I personally think that the key is to reward you for using AoE in the boss battle (or a reason). If it doesn't reward you anything, the stronger single target skill will always win the skill selection.
 

jonthefox

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Good question. A few thoughts:

1) In general, I find that my AOE spells have a high enough base damage that they're still the most damaging spell to use against a boss - even though they're not MP-efficient against a single target. So they might be a sub-optimal choice because of the large expenditure of MP compared to a single-target spell, but if the player's strategy is to just try and blitz the boss with the most damage possible, then these would still prove useful.

2) I think one of the key differences between an AOE spellcaster and other types of classes/characters, is that the AOE spell user is inherently stronger against in non-boss battles. There may be some rare exceptions to this (long dungeons where running out of MP is a real concern and the characters not as dependent on MP would thus be more favorable), but AOE is inherently stronger against groups of enemies. Therefore, I don't mind, and even appreciate the fact that their bread-and-butter skills have less value in boss battles - to me, it makes these classes more interesting, and require they get more creative with their skill uses when fighting in the boss battles.

3) adding status effects to the AOE spells preserves their strength against groups of enemies, while still making them useful against bosses - for example, the aoe-fire spell could reduce target's defense by 25% for a couple turns, the aoe-ice spell could reduce target's agility by 25% for a couple turns, etc.. (this might have other balance problems - the highest damaging spell ALSO inflicting a status effect?! but there might be a way to make it work - e.g., the status effect will often be irrelevant to non-boss enemies since they'd get 1-shot most of the time anyway)
 

Rayhaku808

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What great timing for this thread to pop up. As I've been designing my AoE skills, finding balance has been mildly troublesome. However...
I think one of the key differences between an AOE spellcaster and other types of classes/characters, is that the AOE spell user is inherently stronger against in non-boss battles. There may be some rare exceptions to this (long dungeons where running out of MP is a real concern and the characters not as dependent on MP would thus be more favorable), but AOE is inherently stronger against groups of enemies. Therefore, I don't mind, and even appreciate the fact that their bread-and-butter skills have less value in boss battles - to me, it makes these classes more interesting, and require they get more creative with their skill uses when fighting in the boss battles.

Otherwise, I'd say half of my boss battles will introduce adds into different phases of the boss fights.
 

Wavelength

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Wow! What a big response of thoughtful, clever approaches!!


In addition to a few very unique ways to make AoE skills useful in boss fights, I noticed four popular general answers that were coming up a lot here, and each makes a lot of sense:
  1. Accept that it's OK for AoE skills to be nearly useless in fights against big boss enemies, while making sure they shine in standard encounters against large enemy parties
    • This kind of paradigm certainly creates a distinct use case for different types of skills, with clear tradeoffs!
    • QUESTION for people who recommend this: In most RPGs I play, standard encounters rarely present kill threat or put a severe hamper on your resources, and the real challenge comes in boss fights - so the times that you are relying on your Skills the most are the same times that the AoE Skills are bound to let you down. Is that okay too, or is this merely a symptom of bad design and balance in a game's regular encounters?
  2. Include minions or "adds" into a lot of boss fights, and ensure that either the minions themselves are threatening or that the boss becomes significantly more threatening while the minions are alive
    • I liked how many different variants of this came up throughout the topic, including wild and cool ideas like minions that Taunt you and bosses that absorb minions to launch their own AoEs on your party.
  3. Make the drawback of AoE skills their high MP cost, while allowing them to be as powerful or even more powerful than single-target skills with similar effects (making the AoEs effective but highly inefficient against single bosses)
    • I never really thought of making the AoE skills more powerful than their corresponding single-target versions, but now that the idea's out there, I love it!! I would think you have to be exceedingly careful to strike the right balance on MP costs, ensuring that MP management never becomes trivially easy nor too stingy - and that if you can hit that balance correctly, it would be a really fun dynamic.
  4. Giving AoE skills some kind of side-benefit that tends to be more useful against bosses, offsetting their usual niche against large mobs
    • Stat debuffs and Ignoring counter/block/reflect chance are two such suggestions that I was particularly fond of!

Thanks for all of the good discussion so far, you guys. :)
 

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