If Minecraft Learns Anything From Valheim, It Should Be To Include More Bosses

Minecraft’s first boss flapped its wings and arrived in the aetherial dimension of the End in November 2011. It was a monumental moment in the history of the game as it provided a milestone that many could strive to achieve, and whether you dived into the fold beyond the rolling of the credits was up to you. The Wither debuted only a year later in the ‘Pretty Scary Update’ followed by the Elder Guardian two years later in 2014. Bosses provide an outlet for the resources you spend umpteenth hours gathering, a goal you can keep in mind for a quick feeling of accomplishment, and they can harbor progression. That’s why Valheim’s approach is far superior since it ticks all those boxes.

The Ender Dragon used to be one of the dullest fights out there – its moves are uninteresting, the gimmick repetitive, but there was that electric feeling that washed over when the crackling explosion broke your headphones – then, you get an egg. That’s it. It was anti-climactic to a T and the newer bosses are less-so but still suffer this problem, a problem that Valheim, out of the gate, remedied. As of now, the Ender Dragon stands valiantly like Gandalf bellowing, “You shall not pass!” Should you vanquish the large black-draped winged foe, a new sect of Minecraft presents itself: the End Cities. There is valuable loot to be obtained, scarce resources exclusive to the locale, and new, portable storage – you can even gain the ability to fly, not unlike the foe you slaughtered to get there. The post-Ender-Dragon content is a treasure trove, only adding to the incentive to dive into a Stronghold to discover the portal and slew the beast – it’s so much better than it once was. But still, that’s one out of three bosses whereas with Valheim, it’s every single one.

Each boss unlocks the next, and each has a reward that pushes forward the game and brings with it bountiful new recipes and potential. The first reward is a pickaxe, the subsequent a Swamp Key that lets you enter Sunken Crypts, followed by the Wishbone that enhances your eyesight, giving you the ability to find buried treasure and silver. Progress further and you’ll find yourself a Dragon Tear that unlocks the ability to make the Artisan Table, a must for the blast furnace and windmill. Each boss has a purpose, new paths that are unlocked, and new locations that can be ventured into. Each boss is akin to the Ender Dragon in scope.

Valheim utilizes its bosses to separate ages and to alter the world around you, a much more impactful approach. When you start out, you gather up sticks and stones, put together a shabby makeshift axe, begin to cut down what little wood you can with your blunt instrument, before getting a hammer and cobbling together a weak-willed wooden shack. Then you can slap together a shield, a bow, upgrade your workbench, and slowly but surely work your way to a point where you have the means to take on the first boss. However, before that inevitability, you’ll find yourself at the behest of raids from Boars and Necks, little fiends that are easy to pick off but a nuisance all the same. Valheim’s bosses aren’t just optional, tucked away, easy-to-miss whoopie cushions. They’re part of the world, making it feel alive, and defeating each one pushes you closer and closer to that end-game, whereas with Minecraft, it’s stilted out of the gate, with a singular, arbitrary path that can be opened with one boss. It’s like running a marathon but you have to hop over a lone hurdle at the end.

Whereas with Valheim, to get a pickaxe – something so easily accessible in Minecraft – you have to summon Eikthyr, a lightning-clad foe the size of a small Viking hamlet. This summoning of the boss is akin to building a Wither, a neat little approach, but Minecraft’s location-based encounters do have a wealth of potential too – Redstone Monstrosity’s from Dungeons making the leap to the main game, a potential random encounter in caves, would be a treat. At any rate, fell Eikthyr, and you’ll get a new bonus power-up along with his antlers which can be used to craft a pickaxe that allows for you to embark on a journey to extract tin and copper, the resources needed to enter the bronze age. But upon his defeat, the raids up in difficulty – now, Greydwarfs, Brutes, and Shamans will nestle out of the Black Forest and toward your base for frequent attacks. Perhaps, Minecraft could take from this approach – topple that very Redstone Goliath and acquire their knowledge of the art, unlocking new Redstone recipes that can be crafted at a workstation only possible with an item they drop. An incentive to risk life and limb over a stomping foe lurking in the depths.

The base game is perfectly fine as is and locking off the existing ores and resources behind bosses would be such a shift in the meta that it would only dampen the game’s rewarding sandbox feel, but the bosses need a rework. Imagine, for a moment, that by defeating the underworld’s lapdog, the three-headed Cerberus that is the Wither, you could form a new kind of Nether portal, one that transports you ‘below’ the bedrock. Now, imagine that defeating the Wither brings with it the occasional random potential of a Pigman attack, these foes building portals that sprout up outside your base before charging out with a battle cry of war, not unlike the already in-game Pillagers.

Perhaps, the Elder Guardian’s defeat shows the way to a sect within the temple that is otherwise unopenable. Within, there is ancient Atlantis-like technology of pipes – I don’t know,  but something utterly game-changing to make the boss feel like it has an impact, just as with the Ender Dragon and Valheim’s own, otherwise these bosses are just noise to make your netherite sword with sharpness 600 feel worthwhile. What’s more, Minecraft has very few bosses – there’s three total. The last one was added nearly seven years ago, and while a fourth is underway in the Caves & Cliffs update, I have a nagging feeling that defeating it won’t be as rewarding as anything on offer in Valheim. There’s a whole host that can be pulled from Dungeons and Story Mode that could easily bring life to the world.

It’s a sandbox, so sprawling cities and quest-based bosses are probably going too far, but there’s so much untapped potential. Imagine fighting off a Jungle Abomination to gain access to plant-based powers, or perhaps even taking on a Corrupted Cauldron in the midst of a swamp to discover the hidden knowledge of a vastly new palette of potions. Suddenly, there’s more incentive to embark on lengthy journeys into the unknown, to gear up for fights. With that, progression doesn’t feel so random and stilted out of the gate. That’s the big takeaway Mojang could have from the biggest survival game on Steam right now.

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James Troughton is a writer at TheGamer. He’s worked at the Nintendo-based site Switchaboo and newspaper TheCourierOnline and can be found on Twitter @JDTroughton.

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