One of the hallmarks of the Dark Souls series has been its outstanding boss fights. Here are five that truly stand out.
Dark Souls III is coming soon. Many people have been playing it already since it’s been available in Japan. I’ve kept myself completely in the dark, because this is the kind of game you want to go into cold. Based on limited things I’ve heard and on some of the review scores that have been rolling in, the consensus is that it’s an outstanding return to form.
I can’t wait to dive in and explore the world of Dark Souls III, and I REALLY can’t wait to go toe-to-toe with its boss fights. This part of the Souls games is always a highlight, but they were admittedly a little bit of a letdown in Dark Souls II. This topic got me reminiscing about the battles in the previous two titles that made the strongest impression, and you can see them below.
Before we get into this list however, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. I recognize that everybody has a unique experience with Dark Souls depending on how you’ve built your character and the way you like to play – after all, that’s one of the reasons why it’s so highly regarded. So, allow me to talk a bit about the way I play these games.
I play a pretty standard, Sword-and-Board style of game. a fan of a Wanderer/Swordsman build – high dex, high stamina, with extra points going to strength. I like to be mobile and use swords that can get a few quick hits in – float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. My weapons of choice tend to be one heavy sword like a Claymore, along with a light katana or scimitar. So, if you’re the type of player who takes a different approach (sorcery/unconventional weapons/etc.), I’d love to hear more about how you handle these particular enemies. Furthermore, are there any particular bosses that make for fun fights as a result of that play style? Please leave a comment and let me know.
Anyway, on to my list.
Dragon Slayer Orenstein and Executioner Smough
While Dark Souls is a challenging game from beginning to end, you do reach a point in which you figure out some of the basic rules for attacking, defending, and essentially gaming the system (i.e. Gaping Dragon). If you can stay focused, remain calm, and try to stay behind the enemy as much as possible, you can defeat pretty much anyone. This strategy works in the first game until the exact moment that you encounter Ornstein and Smough in the Cathedral in Anor Londo.
Consider your path: you have fought your way through the castle, opened up all the shortcuts, and it’s a straight shot to the Lordvessel. Suddenly these two jump out and start chasing you. What’s even worse is that they are working together to take you down; one is bearing down with a giant hammer while the other is trying to flank you with lighting speed. But hey, all you need to do is make sure you take one of them down and the other one will be a piece of cake. Right?
If you do manage to defeat one of them, the other one gets all his health back, grows in size, and absorbs the power of his fallen partner. On one hand, the fight gets a little bit easier since it’s one-on-one, but it’s also deadlier because he has the ability to one-shot you if you’re not careful.
Without a doubt, this was the boss fight that took the most tries in Dark Souls, and it was the one which caused me to seriously reconsider whether I was committed to finsh this game. I stuck with it though, and after countless defeats finally took them down. Beating this fight still feels like a real accomplishment even after having done it a half-dozen times over the past few years.
If there’s one thing that everybody – EVERYBODY – learns while playing Dark Souls, it’s that running headlong into a battle is a terrible idea. This game teaches you over and over again to be careful, be methodical, and above all else, keep your guard up. You can’t play this game the way you do other ones and just brute force your way to victory.
So then, in pursuit of a Lord Soul, you encounter the Four Kings of New Londo on the inner cusp of the Abyss, and lo and behold, the strategy for beating them is to do the exact opposite of what the game has been teaching you all along. This fight really taps into that sense of how the Dark Souls games are just…different from any others. If it were another game that pulled this stunt, I’d be annoyed and inclined to declare it lousy design. With Dark Souls, I just find myself nodding my head and muttering “Well played.”
In a game that punishes you for recklessness, it’s refreshing that one of its marquee battles encourages you to two-hand your biggest sword and swing away in a toe-to-toe brawl.
The Duke’s Dear Freja
I’m a big fan of Dark Souls II, but even I’ll admit that the majority of its boss fights were just not that interesting. Too many of them consisted of circling around the enemy’s legs and chipping away at their health. There’s a little bit of this when you fight The Duke’s Dear Freja (a gigantic two-headed spider), but it stands out as being particularly cruel for a number of reasons:
-You have to make a long and dangerous run from the bonfire just to get to this fight.
-While fighting Freja, you are also being attacked by smaller spiders.
-Freja’s heads are the only vulnerable spots, but you’d better make your hits count because after a certain amount of damage, the head will fall off and make Freja effectively invulnerable.
-After defeating Freja, as you round the corner and approach the primal bonfire, you are attacked by a headless man. Granted, he’s not that tough but here’s hoping you have an extra shot of Estus.
If you were to say that this sounds like the worst thing ever, I wouldn’t call you wrong. The thing is, this is just about the only battle in (the core game of) Dark Souls II that feels reminiscent of Ornstein and Smough, in that it forces you to always be moving, to be hyper-aware of where everyone is at any given time, and to never, ever turn your back on an enemy.
Burnt Ivory King
Of the three DLC bosses in Dark Souls II, this is the only one that I didn’t find to be exceptionally cheap. In fact, the boss himself is in some ways downright reasonable compared to some of the others. What makes it particularly interesting however is that you need to recruit some help in order to take him down.
While exploring the area, you can find three Loyce Knights who agree to assist you after you talk with them. When it’s time for the battle, the name of the game is to fight a stream of Charred Loyce Knights while your buddies seal the portals from whence they came. After the portals are sealed, the King appears. In some ways, his fight is reminiscent of Artorias or The Pursuer – he’s big and quick with a sword, and as long as your timing is good when rolling, it’s actually not that difficult. As with the others, the key is to keep reminding yourself to not get greedy.
As somebody who never recruits phantoms to help fight bosses, this battle is a neat opportunity to not only get some help, but to watch multiple conflicts unfold simultaneously.
I don’t think this is necessarily a controversial statement, but here it is: The fight with Artorias is the absolute peak of the Dark Souls series.
Artorias is one of Gwyn’s four knights, and is described through the game’s lore as a fearsome warrior who died while trying to rescue a princess many years in the past. Discovering him becomes the premise of this game’s Artorias of the Abyss DLC. When you come face-to-face with him, he has been corrupted by the Abyss, is wounded, and is without a shield. Upon defeating him, you discover that he sacrificed said shield to protect Sif, his pet wolf. Not only does this hammer home that Artorias is clearly a pretty great dude, but his lack of a shield demonstrates just how powerful he is. In short, if he still had his shield, you wouldn’t have a chance against him.
This brings us to the fight itself, and what a fight it is! It’s hard as balls, and if you’ve been relying on your shield (as I tend to do) for much of the game, you’re in for a rude awakening. Artorias hits hard, he hits fast, and he doesn’t care about your shield. This means you’d better learn how to roll quickly. He only ever stops to power himself up, and he can close distance between the two you you very quickly. So, the strategy to winning this fight is the perfect blend of memorizing his patterns, precise execution of rolls, patience, and a little bit of luck.
More than any other in the series, victory over Artorias evokes a confluence of emotions; relief, joy, exhilaration, and no small amount of sadness at the fact that you have essentially just put down the greatest warrior that world has ever known as if he were a rabid dog.