Year in Games

The best boss battle of 2020 changed video games for me forever

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Rat King.

The Last of Us II isn't really a "boss battle" type of video game.

The groundbreaking 2013 original delivered a moving narrative, difficult combat, and some light platformer problem-solving. The one thing it didn't feature was a memorable boss battle. There's no Bowser at the end of TLOU, just more sadness.

In 2020, developer Naughty Dog finally delivered a sequel with The Last of Us Part II, offering everything fans loved about the original and one unexpected addition: an extremely memorable boss known to gamers as the Rat King. In the process, Naughty Dog changed my perception of the entire series — and may have ruined video games for me in the process.

Year in Games is an Inverse celebration of 2020's best new video games and most memorable gaming moments.

Early concept art for the Rat King.Shaddy Safadi/Naughty Dog

If you skipped The Last of Us Part II or erased this terrifying boss battle from your head, here's a quick recap: The Rat King appears near the end of the game's second major section. You're playing as Abby, the main antagonist who's quickly revealed to be just as complex and well-intentioned as anyone else in the Last of Us universe. Abby's search for some medicine needed to save her injured friend leads her to a hospital known as "ground zero" for the zombie outbreak in Seattle, and there's where you encounter the Rat King.

Until this moment, the "infected" in The Last of Us II have come in a few varieties. There's your run-of-the-mill zombie, the powerful-but-blind "Clickers," and the lumbering "Bloaters" that explode when they die. But the Rat King is something else. Like the urban legend that gives this monster its name, the Rat King is actually multiple infected humans fused together into a massive, horrifying, angry ... thing.

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Naughty Dog

The Rat King is really gross. It's also really difficult to kill. Unlike other key moments in the game where your best strategy is to run away or hide, the only way to beat the boss is to confront it head-on. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.

I'm sure plenty of hardcore gamers breezed past the Rat King. I was not one of them. The battle takes place in a large dark room and several small hallways, providing some cover as you scrounge for necessary weapons and supplies. The hard part, however, is keeping your distance from the Rat King while also never losing sight of the thing — easier said than done in a pitch-black room.

So I turned down the difficulty and I read the guides. Nothing helped. Then, I did something unheard of, I cranked up the brightness. Suddenly, the Rat King's dark and shadowy nest was as well-lit as a dentist's office — and not nearly as scary.

Naughty Dog

I made short work of the Rat King after that, but when I went back into The Last of Us II's settings menu to fix the brightness, I hesitated. Why go back to spooky darkness when I could waltz through a well-lit dystopia?

I played the rest of the game at full brightness, and I'm never going back. The next time a video game (scary or otherwise) asked me to adjust my brightness I ignored it. Why make things difficult or spooky? Life's too short to scramble around in the digital darkness.

Year in Games is an Inverse celebration of 2020's best new video games and most memorable gaming moments.