At the end of ‘Nuh-uh, Narwa!’ I noted there was still more I could do in the game. There were more Apex creatures to be hunted and there was a creature still to be unlocked at HR 100. I also noted though that I wasn’t sure I’d actually do them. It would have been very much in line with my usual modus operandi to put a game like this aside rather than reaching deep into the end-game.

For whatever reason, I kept with it this time.

I do feel the gap between Narwa (unlocking at HR 50) and Valstrax (HR 100) is a little barren feeling at the moment but I suppose if nothing else it does give you plenty of time to fill out your roster of skill decorations. Even at HR 100 (well, 101 now) I still don’t have everything that I want even for my primary weapon — Bow — let alone starting in on new weapon requirements.

The ‘Heart of an Apex’ mission, requiring my friends and me to take down an Apex Azuros, Rathian and Diablos in a single mission set in an arena-style level.

It took my friends and me a good few goes to successfully complete the ‘Heart of an Apex’ mission. Not because we wiped out — but because we encountered a recurrent bug that caused the enemy to freeze for a few moments, then everyone connected to be dropped from the mission.

So as a PSA for anyone else experiencing the multiplayer disconnect issue for the Heart of an Apex mission, set in the Infernal Springs, it’s the blasted Tricktoad! The distraction fish. Don’t use it in this mission! It’ll cause all party members to disconnect from one another.

Anywho, that frustration aside, this mission and others like it and I reached HR 100. I’m ahead of my friends in this respect so no doubt today’s battle with Valstrax won’t be my last — but I decided to put myself to the test and go in alone. I could’ve sent out a join request for randoms, but Narwa taught me not to do that for the more difficult fights. Plus? This morning saw me in a mood of wanting to specifically challenge myself. Push my own skill, see how I could go with just my Palico and me vs. the so-called ‘Star of Despair’.

Valstrax, The Rocket Dragon!

I had a strong start. I spent time traversing the map to collect the buff-birbs, bringing up health, stamina, defense and attack before even going in to give Valstrax a try. In my journeys, I also found a stinkmink — an item that you can activate near an enemy to make it follow you around the map and right into the area another enemy is currently occupying.

Bringing two enemies together will generally result in a battle between them. I led a Mizutsune (giant water dragon) on a merry chase right into the waiting maw of the Valstrax.

Here I learnt something: Valstrax can be ridden. I didn’t expect that!

After knocking some shinies off Mizutsune, I bonked him once off the wall and then bonked him again into the Mizutsune to make that ridable. Then the real battle was on.

Mizutsune did really well and after a series of punishing attacks, the Valstrax took off as soon as the wirebug bindings wore off.

I was feeling good- great even. Triumphant!

This was… premature. The real battle was about to begin. It was time to chase down Valstrax and fight him myself — on foot, mano a mano.

This is from my first arrival on the scene of Valstrax, with the Mizutsune in tow. It will arrive shortly after me and enter into glorious battle on my behalf.

I would say within the first minute, two minutes at the outside, of starting our direct fight with each other Valstrax had taught me the error of my ways and sent me back to camp on the back of a cart.

He wasn’t having any of my BS, it seemed.

That was OK though, I realised I’d forgotten to drink my mega potion buffs for attack, armour and stamina recovery. I’d just do that, eat up again for defence and dragon damage resist and head back in. Round two would go much better!

Except it didn’t.

Well- depending on your definition of ‘much better’, I suppose. Valstrax still took me out in short order but I perhaps made it three minutes this time around? Granted, a lot of that time was spent running panicked, trying to chug healing potions. Still… I’d come to realise that in this fight, progress was progress.

That was two carts. One more and I’d be sent home, the mission a failure.

Even as I ate back at camp, I was mentally preparing myself for this outcome. I told myself that from the Valstrax vs. Mizutsune scuffle I at least had some materials so should be able to see the final remaining weapon upgrades and armour line of the game. I could come back later and perhaps push to 5-6 minutes between deaths. Maybe even get a few more hits of my own in.

Except… The death didn’t come. Not right away. Not at 5 minutes, when I’d done enough to cause Valstrax to decide to bugger off to another area.

Clearly, I’d at some level learnt some of his moves. Key amongst them was the dual-wing smash. It had incredible range and seemed to always be his left-wing first, then right-wing. If I rolled left twice (as was my natural instinct), his right-wing would without fail hit me. But if I broke instinct and rolled back the way I’d come after the first wing, well, I could avoid it entirely.

I also learnt that when he took to the air, it was time to put my bow away immediately. No cheeky shots here would be worth it. Because the dashes coming next were going to be incredibly fast and superman diving (aka, literally throwing your body at the floor, which has great i-frames all throughout the animation) was the best shot I had at not being smashed to smithereens in the process. This went double for any time Valstrax disappeared into the sky and the ‘Ambush’ warning appeared.

This continued, on and on, through a couple more regions. I still wasn’t fighting perfectly- not by a long shot. More than once I had to break from combat to go replenish my supplies.

All the time, riding in the back of my mind was the fact a single death more and this was all for naught. Should I just reset the mission and come in fresh?

No. I wanted to do it.

Finally, I saw something I never expected after my first two (incredibly rapid) deaths in this fight — the indicator that Valstrax was low health. Any non-Elder Dragon enemy at this point would be trappable and capturable. I was, unfortunately, going to have to fight this out to the bitter end.

Valstrax flew to the high point of the map, an area that looked very much like an aerie — which would fit with the sound design of the creature, with hawk-like effects mixed into his cries. Here, Valstrax went to sleep.

Creeping in, it was time to plant two mega bomb barrels and then fire a charged Dragon Piercer through his head, into the barrels, and through the rest of his body.

This part of the plan went well.

But Valstrax woke up very angry. … Understandable, I suppose.

The limited space of the aerie we were up in didn’t make things any easier for me, either. I came close as possible to dying without actually doing so on two separate occasions. Just a hair’s breadth of HP left, where I barely recovered from the first instance before being knocked into the second.

I thought that was it. My time in this run was about to be up.

And in a manner of speaking… It was.

Wait… Valstrax is dead? Not me? *blink*

Maybe now I’ll consider my time with Rise to be done until the expansion.

Lost Ark is so close now! But uh- I also might’ve picked up Dying Light 2, too. Which I know, I know is a foolish decision given Lost Ark… But here we are. At least I have time off between now and Lost Ark landing. Plus, who knows what state the servers will be in initially?

So perhaps, in a way, it was a good idea to get a backup game. ;)


Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.