I’ve been playing quite a lot of Returnal lately, and I can safely say that the game’s first boss is definitely the toughest. Let me caveat that with the fact that I’m currently on the game’s third biome and boss. Even though I haven’t defeated it in my first attempt, I know that this third boss is easier because I’m having a better time with it than the first boss. Phrike, as it’s known, is a terrifying beast and barrier to progress in Returnal. I’m even tempted to say that it’s too difficult, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true.
The main issue with Phrike is the limited space in which you have to fight it. It’s a dominating enemy, one of the original aliens of Atropos, and it’s a monster. It’s got quite a few attacks that will home in on you, and even more that see if get close and basically slaughter you. Even if you have an item that gives you a second chance mid-fight, or a checkpoint for the current run, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get through this fight at all. Once you’ve killed it, you’ve got the option to fight it again for more resources in a later run. I actively avoid it though, because it’s just too damn difficult.
I think that Housemarque has done this deliberately though. Having such a tough boss early on in the game presents players with an accurate representation of at least the next two biomes. Enemies and areas are harder to beat and navigate, and the game feels like it gets much more serious. The first biome is a joke by comparison, which in stark contrast to the boss that bookends it. I can see the reason for making it so challenging, but I do think it’ll put a lot of players off.
With that said, Phrike is the best fight I’ve had in the game so far. When I was done with it, I was shaking. I had to take a break because I was so pumped. Few games make me feel like this anymore, and it’s a refreshing change from feeling that a game is actually too easy.