AoE Skills in Boss Fights

jonthefox

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I'm not personally a big fan of the non-boss encounters that don't pose a threat to my life or my resources. I know a lot of games mean them to just be a practice and preamble to the nuts and bolts of the boss fight, but to me this always feels rather wasteful and just makes them a nuisance - rarely do games provide such elegant and interesting combat design (not that it's easy to do so in a typical turn-based system) that the boss fight provides enough "payoff" to make it worth gimping the non-boss battles. That's just me though!
 

nathanlink169

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My view is that if you have a set of skills, and you're designing your bosses around them, ideally there shouldn't be one specific set of skills that they just shouldn't use, unless that skill is particularly niche in the first place.

A great example of this sort of boss design is Darkest Dungeon. Whilst obviously it's not a 1/1 comparison because they have to deal with things like positioning, a lot of their bosses have interesting interactions with their heroes abilities. A few examples (and spoilers for the design of that game, not the narrative though):
  • The Hag is a boss that has a pot. She will take a hero and put them in the pot, cooking dealing damage over time. If the players deal enough damage to the pot, it will let the hero out, but The Hag will immediately put in another hero on her next turn. This means you have to continue to do damage to The Hag, but also you don't exactly want to ignore the pot because your hero may die. This leads to an interesting tradeoff. Split your parties focus, or deal AoE damage to both the pot and The Hag. There's not one right way to do it, but it's an interesting conundrum for the player.
  • The Prophet is a boss that spawns with three barricades in front of it, preventing the player from using certain abilities to attack him. When a pew breaks, the heros can attack The Prophet with different abilities (usually more powerful ones). - There's not a direct comparison here because this fight is based on positioning, but we can still draw inspiration from the barricades. An enemy has 4 crystals that protect him. When a crystal is broken, it will respawn in 5 turns. The boss can't be damaged when any crystal is alive. You can AoE all the crystals, or you can take them out one by one.
  • The Brigand Pounder is a boss that is just a cannon, and cannot do anything without its allies. If it has no allies, it will call more. If it does have allies, it can attack. This leads to another interesting tradeoff: focus fire on the Boss, or take a little more time to AoE and hit the minions, which will prevent the Brigand Pounder from attacking for a turn.

Obviously I'm not suggesting just straightup taking the ideas from another game, but it's possible to gain ideas for boss fights that make creative use of the players abilities. Another couple of examples (these ones from my imagination, not tested yet):
  • A single boss that has multiple points that can be hit. Bringing one body part down to 0 HP will expose its heart for a turn, where you deal actual damage to the boss. The heart will regenerate a body part back to full, and if there are no more body parts to heal, it will hide itself again. While the body part is down, it doesn't attack. The player options are to focus fire on one body part, then focus fire on the heart - or take the full force of all the attacks for longer to AoE the body parts, then have three turns where the heart is exposed to heal up and pile on the damage.
  • There are two bosses and a totem. The totem will change from red to blue and back again every 2-4 turns. When the totem is red, if it gets damaged, it reflects that damage back to all allies. If the totem is blue and it gets damaged, it reflects the damage as healing back onto the party. This isn't as much of an interesting decision as the previous examples, but does encourage the party to change up the tempo of their attacks.
An important thing to note in all those designs is that there's nothing that forces the player to use only AoE, or to use on single-target attacks (by force, I mean making it obvious that one is significantly better than the other). They each have their pros and cons, and whilst they may not be exactly equally viable, they are still both viable strategies.
 

duty

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It doesn't bother me that AOE skills are less effective during battles against individual, powerful enemies. Particularly if skill/party management is a core function of the game.

In putting the party together, the player has to balance optimization for battles vs. multiple small enemies and battles vs. large individual enemies.
 

Milennin

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Single target is generally the way to go, since the main dish tends to be solo (or duo, in rarer cases), but I do like to include minion spawns for some bosses. And I design my encounters to penalise keeping minions alive, so you better get rid of them fast.

I may also have secondary effects on AoE skills that still make them worthwhile to use, even if the damage output is subpar to single target skills. I'm against the idea that damage should be the only consideration when deciding on skills, and my skillsets reflect that. An example would be a skill that damages all enemies, and grants party Defence up. Against a solo boss, you'd primarily use it to soften a powerful incoming attack, while the damage dealt would just be a nice bonus on top of it.
 

Frostorm

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I must have a soft spot for multi-unit boss encounters lol. It might have something to do with my vanilla WoW experience (i.e. The Four Horsemen in Naxxramas). In my game, there's a reoccurring boss fight consisting of 4 units, with each unit fulfilling a classic RPG party role. The reoccurring aspect makes it feel like a Pokemon rival fight, and this encounter actually is a group of Human adventurers, so they have a tank, a healer, a range dps, and a melee dps. I purposely made it a 4 man team while the player has a party size of 3, so you're always at a disadvantage. Sure you can AoE them, but so can they. Sure you could spread out, but so can they lol.
 

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