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The greatest boss battles of 2018

From aesthetically vintage villains to epic, cutting-edge creatures, the video game enemies featured in 2018's wide array of releases paint fascinating pictures of the conflicts we face and the things we fear. Are these video game baddies artful extrapolations of real-world conflicts, or are they simply the symbols of challenges we wish to confront? It's hard to say. But as a healthy amount of existential horror and treacherous villainy creeps into our interactive storytelling, the boss battles themselves seem to grow more sophisticated (and equally satisfying).

As God of War creative director Cory Barlog told Gaming Bolt, when it comes to boss fights you "end up choosing the things that will make the greatest impact." This year, we redeemed the hopeless, broke curses, slayed dragons, stopped cataclysms, assassinated turncoats, and survived a few of the most harrowing encounters in recent history. Simply put, 2018 was a good year for boss battles. These are some of the greatest.

The Sleeper (Darkest Dungeon: The Color of Madness)

The Sleeper has awakened! And he doesn't look too happy about it. This big bad from Darkest Dungeon's The Color of Madness DLC serves up a lethal dose of Lovecraftian horror, and is one of the most challenging foes to date in Red Hook's roguelike tale of gothic, turn-based terror. Echoes of FromSoftware's Bloodborne run throughout the entirety of The Color of Madness, the third and final piece of downloadable content for the original 2016 release, which offers players a handful of enhancements, including a new region, new trinkets, a new enemy faction, and three new enemy bosses: The Miller, The Thing From the Stars, and "a hateful shard of alien origin" known as Fracture in phase one of the fight and The Sleeper in its final form.

Players encounter Fracture while exploring the Farmstead region. Once enough damage has been dealt, this "star-spawned horror" escapes its crystalline cage and phase two of the boss battle begins, in which our heroes stand face-to-face with "the limitless profanity of the stars" incarnate. Whether ratcheting up the Stress level with its "The Sleeper Awakens" attack, or inflicting Blight and Horror with "The Sleeper Stirs," the final form of this Cthulhu Mythos menace is a force to be reckoned with.

Galaxy Mage Amulvaro (Death's Gambit)

This Lovecraft-inspired baddie makes his appearance in Death's Gambit from White Rabbit and Adult Swim Games. As the official website claims, "Each boss [in Death's Gambit] represents a unique challenge that will require you to think outside of the box. Scale their colossal sword, or maintain balance on a precarious platform, all while finding the right time to strike!" The suitably challenging villain known as Galaxy Mage Amulvaro is thusly named because he wields awesome cosmic power of the pulp horror sort: the kind you'd expect to crawl out of Bloodborne's Nightmare of Mensis or a tattered copy of Weird Tales magazine.

After you acquire the Crest of Gaia and unlock the lift in the upper-right section of the Central Sanctuary, you can find the Galaxy Mage's lair atop the precipice of the tower in the Amulvaro's Observatory area. Here, Amulvaro stands defiant against Death and challenges you to a reality-bending duel to the finish. At the top of the fight, the magic-user lives up to his name by transporting you both to a nebulous battlefield set before a sprawling, cosmic backdrop. As you maintain your footing on the nearly invisible platforms, Amulvaro will teleport to and fro while attacking you with a lethal pair of eldritch blades. If you can survive all three phases of the Galaxy Mage's magical and physical attacks, the titular gambit is yours for the taking. As Death himself expertly reminds us: "We must all answer to the divine order, in the end."

Hraezlyr (God of War)

A handful of titles on this list take some healthy inspiration from the Souls series by FromSoftware, and 2018's God of War by Santa Monica Studio is no exception. Despite a relatively short stack of boss battles, this soft reboot of the classic PlayStation franchise packs a mean punch with memorable villains like Hraezlyr, the Mountain Terror. Shades of the Dragon God from Demons' Souls and the Dark Souls Hellkite Drake combine with more traditional God of War mechanics to make for one mean and thrilling boss fight.

Kratos and Atreus will first encounter the "Dragon of the Mountain" aboard a rickety wooden elevator, and as Hraezlyr attempts to thwart your ascent you'll get a really good sense of his enormous scale each time a massive claw comes tearing down. If you manage to survive this harrowing first phase of the encounter, you'll reach the top of the mountain for the real conflict.

Although Hraezlyr doesn't quite match the size of the titan Cronos from God of War 3, he is certainly the largest boss battle in the series the 2018 reboot (and takes full advantage of phase two's huge mountaintop battlefield to remind you). After the dragon starts spitting lightning, you'll need to hurl Yggdrasil tree sap crystals towards his open mouth while avoiding your doom. After sufficient damage, Kratos will jam an oversized sap crystal through Hraezlyr's throat; and then it's all over but the cryin'.

Inferno (Soul Calibur 6)

The original antagonist of Soul Calibur is back and he's badder than ever. Inferno, the true form of Soul Edge, makes his triumphant return in Soul Calibur 6 as the challenging endgame villain. In a tradition similar to Mortal Kombat's necromantic shapeshifter Shang Tsung, Inferno is able to utilize a wide range of combos and moves that emulate the attacks of the other characters in the game (albeit randomly). Interestingly enough, he's the only unlockable character in Soul Calibur 6, achieved after the player completes Story Mode; but, because of the random nature of his move sets, Inferno remains unavailable for online play.

Bandai Namco teased his return in an official announcement: "As the evil spirit of Soul Edge, Inferno is fearsome, possessing deep knowledge of fighting techniques which he mimics with uncanny skill, allowing him to use any weapon and fighting style with a phenomenal degree of expertise. Inferno's power defies standard means of measurement; if one were only comparing skill and weaponry, then Inferno easily transcends any of Soul Edge's previous vessels."

Doctor Octopus (Marvel's Spider-Man)

Marvel's Spider-Man from Insomniac Games boldly re-imagines several corners of the Spider-Verse but manages to deliver a compelling climax on par with some of the greatest boss battles in video game history. Early on, Doctor Otto Octavius (aka Doctor Octopus) is a paragon of inspiration for young Peter Parker; but by the end of the game, he takes center stage as Spider-Man's nemesis, hellbent on achieving his sinister aims.

When we first meet this noble version of Octavius he's hooked up to an early iteration of his infamous robotic arms. It's this dichotomy that drives the narrative conflict between Peter Parker and his eight-armed archenemy. The payoff comes during Spider-Man's last battle, a cinematic tour de force that takes full advantage of developer Insomniac's trademark brand of kinetic storytelling. During the epic endgame conflict on a rain-soaked rooftop, Spidey's skills (like those of the player) are pushed to the final limit after his resolve is put to the ultimate test.

Scorchbeast Queen (Fallout 76)

Bethesda's online prequel for their award-winning games in the Fallout franchise takes place 25 years after the bombs fall, and — in more ways than one — changes the way players look at this distinctive story of post-nuclear America. Fallout 76 lacks the traditional NPC-based quest structure of a Bethesda RPG; as a matter of fact, it predominantly lacks traditional NPCs themselves. As Game Director Todd Howard explained to GameSpot, player agency and event-based moments are what shape the narrative of Fallout 76: "We want to let the players create story ... What happened to the people outside? Where are they? What are the new threats in the world? How do you solve that?"

Among those threats are a host of new enemies native to the West Virginia wasteland. And, by all accounts, the most savage of these is the Scorchbeast Queen — the biggest, baddest version of Appalachia's draconic bat mutants known as Scorchbeasts. Part of the Fallout 76 endgame involves launching a nuke. However, if you detonate a warhead on one of Appalachia's Fissure Sites (where the Scorchbeasts lair), the Scorchbeast Queen will awaken with a handful of her chiropteran minions. Congratulations! You've just triggered the "Scorched Earth" event and what is likely the deadliest encounter Fallout 76 has to offer. Good luck, survivor. You're gonna need it.

Teostra (Monster Hunter: World)

Selecting the best boss of a Monster Hunter release is no easy task, especially when it's 2018's award-winning Monster Hunter: World. Capcom's series of hack-and-slash RPGs is notorious for its use of sprawling sandboxes and epic reptilian enemies. Monster Hunter: World takes players to a new setting, full of gigantic monsters and epic locales. The official description paints us a vivid picture: "Once every decade, elder dragons trek across the sea to travel to the land known as the New World in a migration referred to as the Elder Crossing ... As the Commission sends its Fifth Fleet [to the New World] in pursuit of the colossal elder dragon known as Zorah Magdaros, one hunter is about to embark on a journey grander than anything they could have ever imagined."

That journey leads our hero face to face with many gargantuan baddies, including Zorah Magdragos itself, but the toughest Elder Dragon you'll encounter is arguably Teostra. Not only will you have to survive Teostra's lava-floored domain, the ancient dragon combines fast movements with powerful hits and an array of fire attacks that can make short work of inadequately-equipped or inexperienced hunters. Stock up on fire resistance and take full advantage of the beast's breakable head, wings, and tail to turn the tide.

Blackhart (Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom)

The free-to-download Adventure Pack DLC for Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom from Bandai Namco promised new challenges for experienced players along with "even stronger new bosses." And it delivered on the boss front with Zeta, the Mischievous Mistress of Vast Disasters, and our favorite: Blackhart, a ferocious six-eyed black dragon. You'll find Blackhart the Winnower on the 40th floor of the Faraway Forest Maze, which can only be accessed on Hard or Expert difficulties.

Gamers versed in the Dark Souls series of games may recognize some passing similarities to the Black Dragon Kalameet from the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, not only in terms of aesthetics but in terms of the villain's move set as well. Like the other Dreamer's Maze bosses, Blackhart's threat level increases proportionally to the Danger Level inside the Maze. Furthermore, the dragon will summon two additional bosses throughout the course of this encounter to spread you thin. Defeating Blackhart and safely escaping the Maze will rewarded players with the "Plumbing the Depths" trophy and other in-game bonuses. But nothing is as satisfying as knowing you've beaten the biggest and baddest Revenant Kingdom could throw at you.

Riven of a Thousand Voices (Destiny 2: Forsaken)

On top of uncharted regions to explore and long-lost secrets to discover, Destiny 2's Forsaken DLC challenges players to "storm the gates and defeat the evil at the heart of the city" in Forsaken's massive raid, "Last Wish." And the aforementioned "evil" is Destiny 2's biggest baddie, Riven of a Thousand Voices, an enormous fire-spewing, tentacle-lashing monstrosity that's been called "the ultimate Destiny 2 battle."

According to Polygon's Ryan Gillem, "There's a difference between being beatable and being overtuned, and it seems like Bungie has managed to thread that needle perfectly ... Eventually, the difficulty will even out with power, but until then, that raid emblem means something. It means that you have the group and the skill to take down a very difficult boss. That's a first for Destiny raiding." Whether or not Bungie continues with this level of challenge and complexity in future raids remains to be seen. In the meantime, the raid against Riven of a Thousand Voices offers the most epic action in Destiny 2 to date. As IGN puts it: "The later missions have a level of intricacy to them that will push any team to their limits."

Concelhaut (Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire)

One of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire's most interesting villains, the undead archmage Concelhaut, made his debut in the original game; but this time around he's made a few more enemies. You'll encounter Concelhaut in Deadfire during the Bekarna's Folly quest, which tasks the Watcher with tracking down research notes from the orrery at Bekama's Observatory. It seems Concelhaut wants the research for his own nefarious purposes, and he's not too happy when you show up on behalf of the Circle of Archmagi. No matter how civil you keep the conversation, a fight with the wizard and his cronies is in store for your fated group of adventurers. An array of spells like Ironskin, Arcane Dampener, and Arcane Reflection keep Concelhaut buffed and your party nerfed, while aggressive abilities like Chain Lightning, Lich's Gaze, and Nightmare Gaze bring the pain. He is an undead wizard, after all. And he's got plans of his own for the titular Deadfire.

But Concelhaut is the gift that keeps on giving. After you defeat this foe in battle, he'll drop the Concelhaut's Skull pet, which allows you to enjoy the cantankerous old archmage's colorful expressions as you continue your quest through the Deadfire Archipelago. Whether he's reminding you that "you have only delayed your death" or threatening his return with a line like "next time I will secure a body that lasts," the old boy's chattering cranium is guaranteed to add some jollies to your journey through Eora.

Galdera, the Fallen (Octopath Traveler)

All roads lead to Galdera in Octopath Traveler. This turn-based tactical RPG from Square Enix allows players to step into the roles of eight different travelers whose journeys criss-cross as they explore the fantasy realm of Orsterra. Galdera, The Fallen is one of the Thirteen Gods who created the realm, and serves as the game's true final boss. You'll have to endure two phases of this grueling fight to win — if you're lucky or skilled enough, that is, to survive the eight-miniboss marathon right before your epic endgame duel at the Gate of Finis.

Once you reach Journey's End, Galdera's daughter Lyblac will commence the ritual to summon her abhorrent father from beyond. "At long, long last," she says, "Galdera shall rise again and the world will know his fury!" But wait, there's more: "You, too, have an important role to play on this historic day. Your flesh, your blood, your very soul will feed the Dark God and give him strength." During Phase 1, you'll battle the Omniscient Eye, which summons a set of three Soul enemies until you whittle away all 500K of its hit points. Eventually, Galdera, the Fallen rears his ugly head for Phase 2. And if the Blade of the Fallen and the Abyssal Maw don't kill you, Lyblac is two steps behind with her own dark magics. This final boss battle is one lengthy and challenging fight; but, then again, Octopath Traveler is a game about the journey, not the destination.

The Phantom (The Messenger)

The Messenger from indie developer Sabotage tells the story of a young ninja who must venture through a cursed world to deliver a mystical scroll and spare his village from an encroaching demon army. It's an 8- and 16-bit retro-inspired action platformer with "ultra tight controls worthy of an epic ninja adventure." As Sabotage cofounder Martin Brouard told Venture Beat: "Ninja Gaiden is obviously one of the inspirations." And just like those golden age titles, The Messenger features a healthy balance of adrenaline-fueled level grinding and epic, stage-ending boss battles.

The most impressive of these bosses is quite likely The Messenger's ultimate and final antagonist, The Phantom, who pulls out all the stops to remind you of every game mechanic you've been expected to learn so far. After players return all six Musical Notes to the Prophet in the Tower of Time, they'll encounter The Phantom at the very end of the Music Box area. His tactics include hurling projectiles while hovering near the top of the screen, teleportation, time manipulation, a laser grid, and an organ-controlled set of twin laser beams. This is a deadly combination of abilities, but any player sufficiently trained in the game's "very tight, very responsive" controls should be able to thwart The Phantom and free him from the very curse that sent you on your fated mission in the first place.