Wolfenstein: Youngblood's Frustrating Finale Begs the Question: What Makes a Good Final Boss Fight?

Wolfenstein: Youngblood's Frustrating Finale Begs the Question: What Makes a Good Final Boss Fight?

Let's talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of final bosses in games.

Spoiler Warning: While I don't spoil the identity of the last boss in Wolfenstein: Youngblood, I do go into detail about how it plays. You've been warned!

We've all had our moments with final bosses where we decide to throw in the towel, or if we're brave, grit our teeth and push ourselves through it. From Mike Tyson in Punch-Out!! to a nasty endgame boss rush, sometimes the last stretch of a game doesn't feel worth it. For all the blood, sweat, and tears we've put into something this far, you would think the challenge would feel rewarding. In some cases, it doesn't.

This is what I felt last week, when polishing off my time with Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the latest MachineGames shooter. Wolfenstein's been no stranger to brutal difficulty. Most people I know play it on the "Casual" difficulty—one step below the norm, and one step above the dreaded "Easy" mode.

In its best moments, Youngblood is really satisfying. | Machine Games, Arkane Studios/Bethesda

In Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the difficulty level feels more nebulous. Now we see the health bars floating on top of enemies' heads, whereas before our damage was more via visual cues, like a helmet popping off. We see how much armor they're packing, and depending on the difficulty, have a vague idea of knowing how long it takes to take one down. In the late game, it's always too long. It resulted in a lot of groans and quips of "oh, come on" from me as I unloaded a full clip into a foe while they stayed alive, somehow.

In my review of Youngblood, I go into detail about what doesn't work with its co-op and its single-player experience. In co-op, it doesn't really feel like working together is making a difference; in single-player, the A.I. for your sister is so badly tuned that they never leave your side, or worse yet, die easily when you sic them on a target.

I played the final boss fight with a random co-op partner. We were on Casual difficulty after the last encounter threw us for a loop. (Sure, Wolfenstein, I guess why not put one of those tough giant mechs in a confined indoor space.) It was, to put it plainly, intense. The boss has multiple phases. First, they're running around a small area, and you're encouraged to use a new ability against them to semi-stun. The problem is, getting close to them pretty much spells immediate or close death. But the boss fight gets much worse at the next phase: outdoors, in the pouring rain, with the boss zipping around from high in the sky in a jetpack.

Ideally, one player would distract them by shooting from the front while slowly moving in a circle, the other shooting the boss in the back. But it took a long, long time. One of us would inevitably be downed, effectively halting all progress. We were both around level 35 or so, well past the base level requirement. All the while, ads were spawning in, dividing up our attention because it wasn't like the bullet-sponging foes were weaker during the boss fight. We went into the battle with only two lives instead of the capped three, which made resuscitating one another a priority. Eventually, we thought we were victorious when the boss crash landed in a nearby building. But then they rose again. We were already barely hanging on; low on all ammo, low on health, with only our Pep Signals (mine boosted our shields, theirs our health) keeping us breathing.

The only way we survived was my co-op partner and I understanding that slow and steady really would win the race. No matter how unfun it was, or how powerful the boss' attacks and multiple phases were. There were some close calls in the final stretch, but when we cleared that last health bar, I gasped like I'd been holding my breath the whole time. We had done it.

I've had moments in past games where bosses have held me up. Sometimes I'm reviewing them in a vacuum with no guides, and I just have to muster up the strength to push through. Other times it's more a skill I'm not clicking with. Youngblood's last boss was neither of those things. While the difficulty had been spiking up for some time, this was a special kind of cruelty. I imagine beating it solo with just the A.I. companion would be close to impossible.

Out of curiosity, I looked on Reddit and Twitter to see if other players were also having trouble with the boss, and I unsurprisingly found that I wasn't alone. Many are talking about being stuck at the final boss right now, with some opting to give up entirely and watch the ending on YouTube.

"Yup, not just you, max level on lowest difficulty and he walks right through me," writes player TheElCaminoKid on Reddit in response to one of many threads complaining about the boss. "Yeah. Got to this battle maxed out and I can't beat it. It was a good fun game but not gonna bother beating this dude," writes user Superjoho. Of course, there are people also coming out to say they didn't have a problem with the fight, and to them: congrats, I'm jealous.

A good last boss fight in itself is an art. There are games that have perfected it: Shadow of the Colossus is made up of awe-inspiring bosses, Final Fantasy 7's final standoff with Sephiroth is one of the most iconic battles of all-time, complete with legendary music that you're likely humming just at reading this very sentence. Facing off against The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3 has weight not just in difficulty, but in context. Mother Brain is probably one of the first things to come to mind when you think of Super Metroid, period.

My favorite boss fights are a mixture of things. They're challenging, but fairly so. They're often larger than anything I've faced before. Maybe a surprise twist has revealed the true Big Bad, or maybe they were the enemy we were facing all along the journey. In JRPGs, usually the final foe is God or some sort of equivalent. In other games, it may be something far closer to human, like Nier: Automata's stunning finale.

Final boss fights always leave a lasting impression; sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Youngblood's unfortunately is the latter, encapsulating everything that doesn't quite work for its breezy campaign. And it's a bummer too, with such delightful dorky heroines at its center and a novel co-op flair for the series, I wanted more out of Youngblood. In the end though, that wasn't enough. I suppose not every game can have a memorable adieu.

Madden 20 is technically out this Friday, even though people have been playing since last week. | EA

Major Game Releases This Week: July 29 to August 2

Here are the major releases for the week of July 29 to August 2. (It's already August? Where does the time go.) Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.

  • Oxygen Not Included [July 30, PC]: Oxygen Not Included has been in Steam Early Access since mid-2017, but that all changes this week when the Klei Entertainment space-colony simulation hits 1.0. It's a game where you shape the longevity of your space colony, helping your own little society thrive. It's been compared favorably to Dwarf Fortress, so if that's your jam, it's worth checking out this week.
  • Madden NFL 20 [August 2, PS4, Xbox One, PC]: It's another one of those, and I'm talking about those EA games that weirdly come out a full week in advance of even their expensive editions' early access. Madden NFL 20 has been playable for EA Access subscribers since July 24, will be out for Superstar Edition owners on July 30, and comes out to the public on August 2. It's a complicated release schedule, but it's something EA's done many times before. Anyway, it's a new Madden NFL game, and you can follow USG all week long for Kat's coverage on the football sim.
  • The Church in the Darkness [August 2, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC]: The Church in the Darkness was generating buzz some years ago when it first hit the festival circuit. It's a top-down action adventure game where you infiltrate a mysterious cult to find your nephew Alex and break him out. The twist is that every playthrough is different because, narratively, the circumstances are procedurally generated. The cult may be nice and welcoming, or might be violent toward intruders. You'll never know what to expect, nor what ending you'll get.
Pretty much everyone at USG is having tea time with Fire Emblem: Three Houses this week. | Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

News and Notes

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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