Quick Time Events are NOT Boss Battles

One of the best games you can play on any system right now is Shadow of Mordor.  Here’s how the game ends.  After spending the entire game spreading chaos between orcs factions, you finally build your own orc army and lead it into battle against an army led by five of Sauron’s toughest warchiefs.  The battle is fantastic and intense as the losses on both sides start to pile up; though admittedly losing members of your hypnotized orc army doesn’t tug at the heartstrings as much as remind you that you’re running low on decoys.  Anyway, after that battle, you make the precarious climb to the top of the Black Gate where you finally face Sauron himself.  And then, to finally defeat Sauron, you have to……press X kinda fast.  That’s when the truly terrible secret of Shadow of Mordor is revealed: one of the best games out there ends with a series of quick time events.

These days, more and more games are using Quick Time Events as substitutes for Boss Fights.  We started noticing this trend with Far Cry 3’s ending battle, but we didn’t really think much of it.  After all, the fight with Vaas is the fight you anticipate throughout the game and that psychedelic battle is handled well.  Then you fight Hoyt in a ridiculous QTE battle.  Dying Light does the same thing, but more egregiously.  After a great sequence of racing through a horde of zombies and climbing a huge tower (both skills you spend the whole game honing), you beat the final boss with a series of random button presses.  The worst offender of all may be Halo 4.  After all, Halo 4 spends the whole game building your animosity towards the Didact only to reduce your final confrontation to a couple of button presses.  For a series that gave us the escape from the Pillar of Autumn and the battle with Tartarus and his hammer, to wrap up a game with “press X to win” is hugely anti-climactic (though admittedly not as anti-climactic as Halo 2’s ending scene).

Quick Time Events are not Boss Battles.  Boss Battles are supposed to be the Final Exam of the game.  Ideally, whatever you’ve learned playing through the game should play a part of the final battle and success in the Boss Battle should reflect mastery of gameplay.  Quick Time Events are cinematic sequences in which regular game play is interrupted and gameplay becomes a sequence of button presses which may have no connection to the actual action being completed (e.g., you may have to quickly press X to punch the boss even though X has been the jump button throughout the game).  QTE are fun to watch because they’re very cinematic but they are not much fun to play.  The QTE itself often provides no clue as to which button you’ll need to press, so success in a QTE involves pure reflex and memorization rather than any kind of strategy (as many of us who spent piles of money playing through Dragon’s Lair can attest).

To their credit, the games listed here also tend to be very generous in their save points at the end of the game as well.  If you die during the final QTE battle, you often respawn at the start of the battle and – thankfully – do not have to replay a huge chunk of gameplay again.  But this just raises the question about why we need to have the QTE in the first place.  Why not just show us the cinematic?  Why do we have to quickly press buttons when we’d rather just watch the fight?  I'm sure the idea is to have the player take some part in the ending, but if I'm not fighting the boss using the regular game mechanics, I'd rather pass. Watching Talion defeat Sauron was great, but it was nearly as gratifying as watching my army of possessed orcs demolish his army.  And watching Master Chief overcome the Didact was kinda cool, but I really would have preferred to do it myself.

So we're hoping this trend may come to an end.  Quick Time Events themselves are not a bad thing.  We've enjoyed all of the games from Quantic Dream and Don Bluth, games that have long strings of extremely well-animated Quick Time Events. Our frustration comes from the use of QTE instead of Boss Battles.  Boss Battles are supposed to be the culmination of everything the game has taught you, not throw out everything you've learned in favor of quick button presses.  At the end of the Boss Battle, you should feel like you've conquered the entire game, not just the boss, and pressing X really fast - something you could have done in the very first level does not give you that sense of accomplishment (oddly, the only other QTE in Halo 4 happens during the first level, which I guess is the training you need for the final battle).  So bring on the QTE's if you must, but don't take away our Boss Battles, we need those to feel like we've conquered the game. As good as the QTE cinematics are and as messy as my own approach might be, I'd still rather do it myself.