Housemarque’s magnum opus, Returnal, pits Selene in a collision course against impossible odds. Through unforgiving tundras, barren deserts and the bosses inhabiting them, the world of Atropos pulls no punches.
All Bosses in Returnal Ranked
At the end of each biome, what do you have to show for your toil? A proper skill check coming in the form of stress-inducing boss fights. Each just as unique as the last, both aesthetically and move-wise. What is common between each of the 5 however, is the difficulty. Which, brings us to the root of this piece. A list that will examine all bosses in Returnal and have them ranked by difficulty. While the game only contains 5 of these, you better believe each will prove a worthy and humbling reminder for players.
Phrike is the first boss players will encounter, in other words, the game’s first hurdle. Although he is the first, this doesn’t mean Phrike is a pushover. Since this stands as the game’s first true skill check, the entire of Phrike’s arsenal is thrown at you. Yet, this strikes a fine balance between feeling manageable and a worthy early game challenge. Most of the orbs, lasers, and energy rings are well telegraphed, meaning you can easily avoid them. Even when Phrike begins to sting a couple of these attacks together.
Phrike’s melee attack will prove the most troublesome of their attacks, however. They will suddenly zip to your position, swing their arm back, and strike you with a devastating blow. The timing can be tricky to get down initially. Especially if you are still reeling from prior attacks. Nonetheless, if you can nail the timing, the boss won’t be anything you can not handle. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine Phrike going anywhere else on other ranked lists for Returnal bosses.
When I finished Returnal and begun thinking about a list of ranked bosses, I already knew where this one would land.
Within the deepest pits of Returnal‘s final biome, lays Ophion, one of the easier bosses. Sure, this will seem disappointing for some. You want the game’s final biome to present you with the toughest challenge yet. However, this doesn’t mean Ophion fails to bring their own form of exhilaration.
Ophion remains stationary throughout the fight, unlike his counterparts. The main gimmick here, are the light orbs placed around the boss that the player will need to shoot during the fight. Adding a new wrinkle players will need to take into account during the fight. All of the usual projectiles are present here. From slow-moving green orbs, expanding rings and faster projectiles. The true challenge is Ophion’s purple lasers and shockwaves that the player can not dash through. Taking this on top of Ophion’s barrage of other attacks coming at you all at the same time and this could prove overwhelming at a glance.
Visually, this is perhaps the most stunning fight. There’s an incredible amount of moving parts happening on screen with this fight. Nemesis remains stationary during the first phase of the fight, firing off orbs and letting his minions come down to wreak havoc with lasers. His projectiles range from the slow, easily dodgeable ones, to homing in quick succession. His allies can not be damaged but they can fire lasers that will generate shockwaves and fire on your platform. Meaning, the player will have to adapt and remain vigilant towards these added obstacles.
What truly elevates this fight is the subsequent phases. Phase 3 in particular sees Nemesis spawn at the other side of the arena. The only way to reach them is by making use of falling platforms in the air to create your own path to reach the boss. All while dodging incoming projectiles from both Nemesis and its minions. Nemesis gives you a lot to juggle and tons to keep track of. A single lapse in focus could be the difference between taking damage or falling off a platform versus victory over Nemesis.
Luckily, a lot of the attacks fired at you can be avoided completely by utilizing the grappling hook. Staying on the move constantly during these phases will be your lifesaver.
Hyperion is perhaps my favorite boss in Returnal. I can attest this largely in part to the dynamic music being played throughout. Hyperion shreds away at his organ, playing a haunting theme tying into Selene’s past with underlining Interstellar vibes. It’s a chilling track played by the beast while you fire off bullet after bullet at its back. Most of the fight isn’t too bad to handle. The usual projectiles coming slowly towards you or shockwaves will make their predicable appearance first.
The true test begins when Hyperion bounces between a mix of yellow projectiles, blue homing missiles and shockwaves. It does so seamlessly as well. Later, Hyperion will even incorporate his organ into the flow of the fight. Raining down a mix of projectiles from the pipes that can actually prove quite overwhelming when you have Hyperion attacking you at the same time.
Attacks are, perhaps, their most inventive with Hyperion. If you get too close, it will summon vines to thwart those who get too greedy. In deeper phases, Hyperion can even bring up thorns on either side of the player, essentially trapping them in a narrow corridor. Leaving you vulnerable to Hyperion funneling attacks at you in a spot where mobility is limited.
Hyperion probably made me sweat the most, as I burned through all my vials for this fight. Partly due to never being able to avoid the rain from its organ. That said, it’s an exhilarating fight, although it feels overwhelming at times, it avoids feeling downright impossible.
Ixion caps off one of the most difficult biomes in the game with a fight that throws everything and the kitchen sink at you. His first phase isn’t anything too out of the ordinary, but as the fight progressed, I had my back up against the wall. Ixion will occasionally soar to the skies and crash back down to the middle of the arena. This will send waves of blue energy, alongside red orbs out from the center and to the arena’s edge. You can’t jump over the blue energy field, prompting you to dash through it. The only problem here is that I continuously dashed through said energy field right into a red orb. Every. Single. Time.
This really began to mess with my head and the more this happened, the more I even began to mess up the timing with the blue energy fields. While in the air, Ixion will also dash across the arena and rain down projectiles atop you. The dashing is a constant threat here. Ixion can shoot out slow-moving red orbs towards you, then dash to the other side of the arena and attack you there. Meaning, you will have to contend with the boss in front of you, as well as his still moving red orbs behind you.
Ixion can also pound his fits into the ground sending multiple shockwaves outwards. Couple this with Ixion dashing towards you, sword in hand with a melee attack and you have yourself a troublesome combo. One I fell for every time. This one truly requires complete concentration in order to manage everything Ixion sends at you. And that is a level of concentration I just didn’t have this early in the game and I paid for it dearly. All of this together launches Ixion to the top of my list of ranked bosses in Returnal.