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I'm playing on normal mode and the very first boss is handing my butt to me.

I realised fairly quickly that he has trouble tracking you if you just spam dodge under his feet, so it's not hard to get in a little damage... until you time your attacks wrong (or just run out of patience), get grabbed and lose a quarter of your health guaranteed. (bonus question: how can I cancel out this sequence?)

By the time his friends come about however all bets are off. While each of those enemies isn't hard on his own their combination just overwhelms me.

I guess a first step would be to improve my battle tactics a bit above button mashing (I dodge instead of shift attacking all the time) but I believe my strategy is also lacking.

How do I deal with this big dumb guy?

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I just started playing this game and also had trouble with this boss. I had just recently beat this boss, though (at normal difficulty).

Since I'm still not familiar with what good combos are to use. What I did with this boss was to spam repeat the ranged attack (default PC key: right-click), so he can't grab or melee-attack me.

It's basically dodging (with Left-Shift - A or D) his melee and ranged thrown tire attacks, then get far away enough from him, then hit him with your ranged attack. I only did melee attacks to quickly finish any of the lackeys he summons.

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