Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Top 10 Bosses from Dark Souls

As I stated in my review of Dark Souls, the boss fights was the thing that I enjoyed the most about the game, and hence for that reason I’ve decided to make a list of those I liked the best. Usually the more difficult boss fights were the more outstanding ones, and most bosses to appear on this list are among the meanest in the game, but difficulty is not the only factor I’ve decided to go by. Everything else about the boss also counts, whether it’s how they look, what they represent, the flow and execution of the battle, and of course the background music that assists the fight. Basically it’s my list of the most memorable boss fights in the game, even though nearly every boss was amazing and memorable in some way.

I’ve also decided to include some tips and strategies on beating these bosses. Admittedly I’m currently still on my second playthrough, and hence I do not possess extensive knowledge of these bosses, but I thought I’d mention what strategies worked for me.

10) Great Grey Wolf Sif

Had a bit of a toss up between Sif and Sanctuary Guardian for the 10th place on this list, but eventually decided to choose Sif. He isn’t among the hardest bosses in the game, but he plays a part in the backstory and hence is quite an important character in the game. Sif can be found deep in the forest, guarding knight Artorias’ grave, and he certainly lives up to his name. Now one of the things I liked about this boss is that it’s not just you facing a huge, ferocious wolf, but it’s a huge, ferocious wolf with a bit of a twist – he has a massive blade in his jaws, and he can swing that blade pretty fast.

 Another noticeable feature about this boss is that once his health gets really low, he will start tripping up, losing his balance, and falling down, which makes it slightly easier to finish him off. Usually in games bosses get stronger as their health gets lower, but in this case the challenge was sacrificed slightly to favour realism and to even make the player feel sorry for Sif. The whole fight is assisted with a brilliant music track, which greatly adds to the atmosphere and the character of this boss.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          Since Sif’s attacks have a big range, it might help to have a long-ranged weapon too.
-          It’s a good idea to learn his attack animations and to try to attack when he has breaks in the combos or leaves himself open.
-          His most dangerous attack is the double spin with the sword. The first hit would usually drain your stamina if blocked, whilst the second one will deal damage.
-          He will often jump back and create some distance between the two of you. These might be good opportunities to quickly heal up should you need to.

9) Belfry Gargoyles

This is one of the earlier boss fights in the game, taking place on the roof of a church, and can be hard if the player is unaware that the second Gargoyle joins the fight as soon as the first one’s health falls below half. This means that as soon as that happens, there is an instant pressure to quickly finish off the first Gargoyle before the second one has the chance of reaching the player’s position and engulfing him/her in flames. And if the player misses this opportunity, it can be very difficult to keep an eye on two enemies at once, especially that both of them now will have a long-ranged fire attack. Each Gargoyle by itself is not too tricky and can be defeated without much of a problem, the second one in particular, but the midpoint of the fight where the presence of two Gargoyles overlap is the point to watch out for.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          Most of their attacks can be blocked. Fire breath can be dodged with a simple roll or two to the side
-          Once first Gargoyle’s health drops to below 50%, the second one is going to join the battle very shortly, so try to finish off the first one as fast as possible, but don’t get too caught up in it or you might get attacked from behind by the second one. You can often tell the second one has joined the fight once his health bar appears.
-          Use the slanted shape of the roof to your advantage. For example, if a Gargoyle is standing on a high part and swinging horizontally, you can stay unharmed if you’re on part of the roof somewhat below him.

8) Gaping Dragon

All right, so compared to most other bosses on this list, this boss is actually pretty easy. It will probably only kill you a couple or so times, until you realise that it’s actually very predictable and doesn’t seem to be able to see you properly. However, the reason I decided to include this boss on this list is because of how weird and creepy it looks. The first time you’ll see it, you’ll probably say “WTF is this thing?” out loud. It truly is a twisted-looking creature, and merely because of that this boss managed to stand out. This boss fight is more about intimidating the player. Sure, it’s probably one of the weaker dragons in the game, but despite that, I bet all the other dragons tell each other horror stories about it.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          I noticed that being speedy is better here than using heavy armor.
-          It’s not safe to attack it whilst it’s upright and never ever attack from the front or it will grab you. The safest time to attack is right after the creature charged and missed you. It will have some recovery time, allowing you to attack its side or back. Make sure to retreat in time or else it will hit you with its tail. If you’re attacking its back, you can try to cut off the tail. Attacking can be done in any way – melee, arrows/bolts, or magic spells.
-          If you use the above technique, you won’t even need to use your shield, so grab your weapon with both hands to deal more damage to the creature.
-          If it uses its acidic vomit attack, run away from it as far and as fast as you can or it may greatly damage your equipment.

7) Iron Golem

Well, this boss is exactly as it sounds. You’re facing an enormous iron construct that is trying to use its sheer strength to crush you. As you might expect, being so huge and strong, this boss is also quite slow. However, don’t get too comfortable, because the battle arena is not overly big, and even if the boss is slow, one lucky hit from him could in fact send you off the edge and into your death. I remember of all the times I died on this fight, most were by falling off.

 What’s really great about this boss fight is that it forces you to keep moving and stay on your toes the entire fight. You need to be thinking quickly all the time, because dodging in the wrong direction by accident could mean you’re putting yourself in a very dangerous position, either right into the boss’ axe swings or closer to the edge of the arena where you don’t want to be.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          As far as I recall, there weren’t really any attacks by this boss which could be successfully blocked, so dodging by rolling is a lot more recommended, and hence once again a speedy character might do better here than a heavily-armoured one.
-          Because of that, it’s probably best to hold your weapon with both hands so to deal more damage per hit.
-          Boss’ swings are usually quite wide and fairly low, so rolling sideways doesn’t always work. The safest place to dodge his swings is right between his legs. This quickly puts you behind him and lets you deliver a handful of hits to his ankles.
-          Beware of his grab attack. He can grab you even if you’re behind him, so make sure to back away as soon as you’ve dealt a couple of hits.
-          Always keep a note of your position on the battlefield. You don’t want to get cornered too close to the edge of the arena. Try to stay as close to the centre as possible.
-          This is one of few boss fights where locking on to the boss is not advised. This is because the boss is very huge and hence locking onto him will cause the camera to look up as well, meaning you’ll be struggling to see where in the arena you are.

6) The Four Kings

Another really tricky boss fight and is generally considered as one of the hardest in the game by many players. It is quite unlike most other boss fights, because the main goal in this fight is to deal as much damage as possible within a certain period of time or risk getting disadvantaged. It starts with just one of the kings attacking, and with time the others spawn one by one, so if the first one hasn’t been defeated yet, then the player will be facing two of them and then eventually up to four, which can be disastrous. The kings keep respawning repeatedly until all the shared health they have has been depleted. This means that even if the player defeated say two of them and then stalled up on the 3rd one, then the 1st and the 2nd will re-enter the fight and once again there will be all four of them ganging up on the player.

The kings themselves can deal plenty of damage, both physical and magical, and so part of the pressure is for the player to stay alive too and not just to be able to dish out a lot of damage. In addition, this fight happens in the total emptiness of the abyss with no objects or structural designs to take advantage of. Just an upfront fight.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          The one foolproof method that completely turned this fight around for me was to equip a really heavy armor (such as Havel’s) and to just take the hits whilst attacking recklessly. With heavy armor their melee attacks will deal very little damage which you can quickly heal up when you need to. This made the fight from incredibly hard to surprisingly easy.
-          If it helps, then whilst utilising the above method, you can also wield your weapon with both hands. This will deal even more damage and will finish each king before the next one can spawn.
-          If you start to get swarmed, it might be a good idea to try and separate the kings.

5) Black Dragon Kalameet

This boss is from the DLC and is completely optional. It is also in my opinion one of the hardest boss fights in the game. Shouldn’t be a surprise really since he is a dragon. He’s got a big variety of different moves, each of which can catch you out if you’re not careful. For example, he doesn’t just breathe fire at you. He has multiple ways of utilising his fire breath, whether it’s a straight-line blast of fire, a fire sweep, or even at times he flies up into the air slightly and shoots fire at the ground, affecting a fairly large area, which the player has to quickly get away from or else risk of being set ablaze.

 And he is not exactly incompetent at close range either. He will headbutt, he will stomp, and he will use his tail – basically he’ll use all his body parts to try and get you. Oh and did I mention that he actually gets crippled before you can even get to fight him, so essentially you aren’t even fighting him at his best. I remember reading in a few places online of people comparing this boss fight to fighting dragons in Skyrim, and I think just about everyone can agree that if Kalameet was one of the dragons to invade Skyrim, then the entire Skyrim would be ravaged and burned to a crisp in a matter of days, so all those Dragonborns out there should really count their blessings.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          As with many bosses with a huge variety of attacks, it is a good idea to learn his attack animations, so that you know to react accordingly before the attack can land on you.
-          Best time I found to heal up is when he does his fire sweep attack. As soon as you roll out of range, you have a good few seconds to drink an Estus flask whilst he is breathing fire. Another good time is when he does a straight line blast. After dodging that you have a couple of seconds to drink a flask before he stops his fire breath and initiates a new attack.
-          I found it better to be a speedy character in this fight than one with heavy armor. A lot of the time you need to move away from the arc or area of his fire breath attacks really quickly

4) Chaos Witch Quelaag

One of the surviving daughters of the Witch of Izalith. Top half of her is a human female torso and bottom half is a body of a huge lava-spitting spider. She has lots of attacks, most of which involve the spider half of her spurting lava in various directions and covering much of the arena in lava which the player has to avoid.

At times Quelaag would stop spewing lava and will approach for an upfront melee fight, where she swings her flaming sword in diagonal swings and also often produces very powerful stabs. In addition, if the player manages to avoid these swings, she will respond by stomping with the spider legs, and during other times she will charge up a very powerful area attack, which can do a lot of damage and fling the player aside.

What I really liked about this boss fight is that a lot is dependent on the player’s skill and quick wit. This boss fight happens around 1/3rd into the game, and every other boss prior to this one was quite predictable and had an obvious attack pattern. With Quelaag, it’s a bit more unpredictable and the player might not exactly know what to expect until she starts to actually execute each attack. On top of that, the player also has to be aware at all times of the surrounding area and to make sure they don’t stumble into a part covered by lava.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          It’s dangerous to be fighting in the area covered by lava, and hence it’s a good idea to try and lure her out to fight on clear ground.
-          Being fast is an advantage in this fight, and it’s good to always move and walk around her, attacking her sides and back. Most of her melee attacks can be easily avoided by rolling.
-          Best time to attack is when she stops to spew a very long spray of lava. It is also a good time to heal up or reapply enchantments, if you need to.
-          Since pretty much every attack of hers can be avoided by rolling, shield is not very necessary, and hence if one needs to do more damage, holding the weapon with both hands can help.
-          Since she is a fire-based monster, it’s good to have fire-resistant gear, and likewise it’s pointless to attack her with attacks of fire element. She is, however, vulnerable to magical and lightning elements.

3) Knight Artorias

 Another DLC boss. Artorias is the legendary knight we’ve all heard about in the original game and here we get to fight him as he’s been corrupted by the abyss. This is one of those incredible fights where we face someone seemingly similar to us. He is not some oversized monster, he doesn’t have any long-ranged attacks, he doesn’t have any minions or tag-team allies, and there are no ring outs or structures to make use of. This is a pure one-on-one fight in an average-sized, completely enclosed arena.

Artorias uses a big blade and can swing it rather fast, often attacking rather aggressively and overwhelming the player. He has a variety of moves, some of which are swings and stabs, and others are lunges and dives through the air. The player is expected to be both very defensive and very offensive, knowing exactly when to be which. Just as when you start to get used to fighting him, he jumps back and starts to buff up. If the player does not interrupt this from happening, then Artorias becomes a lot stronger, dealing a lot more damage with his attacks and can easily kill the player.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          I found it that this fight demands a good, healthy combination of speed, good shield, and heavy armor. Most of his attacks can be dodged, but at times you would need to block, and there would also be times when you’d run out of stamina and a handful of his hits would get through your defences.
-          It is highly recommended not to let him buff up, because he becomes way too powerful if he does so. When he starts doing it, quickly get in there and attack him as much as possible to interrupt his buffing. If necessary, grab your weapon with both hands to do more damage.
-          In order to be able to do the above in good time, I noticed I had to do something rather counter-intuitive, and that is to try and stay close to the boss at all times. Doing so can make it harder to fight him and to find good opportunities to drink an Estus flask, but some of his attacks do have recovery times, which is when you can heal up and restore your stamina.

2) Manus, Father of the Abyss

The final boss in the DLC and one of the hardest bosses in the game. In my opinion, together with Kalameet, he’d be second hardest boss overall. This is another example of a boss who looks so weird that the player is likely to be surprised on this boss’ first entry. Manus resides in the depth of the abyss. What? You thought the Four Kings were the worst abominations of the abyss? This guy eats the Four Kings for breakfast and probably on a daily basis.

His most basic form of attack is to use his stronger arm to swipe at or smash the player. That arm seems to be extendable too so has quite a range. And if the player gets too close, then he can unleash his killer 6-hit combo that is likely to leave the player breathless on the ground afterwards. That’s not all, however. Partway through the fight he starts to also use sorcery attacks – there is one where he sprays the projectiles directly in front of himself, there is one where he makes them rain from above, and there is one where he creates them all around the arena, at which point they quickly converge on the player and hit all at once.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          With this guy it really helps to learn all of his attack animations, especially the key ones such as him roaring just as he is about to perform a 6-hit combo, or lifting his sceptre up just as he is about to cast a sorcery.
-          I noticed that one of the main tactics in this fight is staying the right distance from him. Too far and he will keep spamming his long-ranged arm swipe attack and not letting you get near to attack him. Too close and he will pull out his 6-hit combo without you having enough time to get out of range.
-          When he does his 6-hit combo, it is good to double roll backwards quickly if you’re far enough. If not, you might still get caught and hence blocking is better. You will be able to block first 2-3 hits most likely, but the others will hit you. Therefore blocking and walking backwards is good to do in this case. In many cases after you’ve blocked first 2-3 hits, you will get out of range and the rest will miss you, but if you’re not lucky enough and the remaining hits get you, at least it’s only half the combo that gets you.
-          If you don’t have the Silver Pendant, his sorcery attacks can be avoided by other means. Firstly, stay back when you see him starting to cast. That way if he sprays the projectiles forwards, you might be able to roll backwards out of range, and if not, you can block out the worst of it. This attack will still hurt you when blocking, but if you’re further away, a lot less projectiles will hit you. When projectiles rain from above, simply keep moving until they stop. And when he creates them in a circle all around you, I’ve read it’s possible to roll-dodge it, but that requires precise timing, so a safer option is to simply turn around and block (the worst of it seems to come from behind you). With this you will still lose some health, but it won’t be anywhere near as bad as the full power of the attack.

1) Ornstein and Smough

I think it’s not much of a surprise for me to put this duo at the top of the list. To me this was the hardest boss fight in the game, or at the very least it’s one where most players are likely to be stuck on the longest. It is also a really well-executed fight, managing to stand out from the rest, and makes up for a fantastic mid-game climax point. Why is it the hardest? Well, let’s take a closer look.

 For one, we’re facing two opponents instead of one. Each one is not so bad by himself, since we can easily block or dodge most of their moves. However, together they pose an incredible threat, simply because of how well they complement each other. Ornstein is very fast, agile, and also has a ranged attack to shoot small lightning bolts out of his spear. Smough is the exact opposite. He is a slow powerhouse wielding a massive hammer. The tricky thing is having to always keep an eye on both of them, even the one you’re not going for yet, and to never let them surround or corner you.

 It’s possible to go for either one of them first – it is purely up to player’s preference. Now if this was any other game, killing one of them would suddenly make things easier as the second one would instantly be left all alone without a teammate and let the player mercilessly finish them off. But not in Dark Souls. In here, as soon as one of them dies, the other absorbs his friend’s soul, becomes a lot more powerful, and regains all the health back, so the second stage of this boss fight is having to face a single but more powerful opponent. And the worst thing about all this, if you lose on the second part of the fight and then come back, you have to face both of them once again from the beginning.

Basic tips and strategies:

-          It is important to be defensive in this fight and to take your time. Most of all this fight is about your positioning on the battlefield. Do not risk attacking if that can result in you being exposed, surrounded, or cornered, because if you do, you might find yourself experiencing a quick and painful death.
-          From my experience it seems better to be speedy and agile in this fight than to have heavy armor and try to withstand all the punishment.
-          Use pillars if you need to drink an Estus flask. Don’t stand directly right up to it though as the duo can still hit you through the pillar. Stand at least two steps away from it whilst making sure it is still between you and them.
-          Try not to let either of them out of your sight for too long. It is easy to lose track of the guy you’re not going for, only to have them give you a cheap hit from the back.
-          They both are vulnerable to fire. Smough is also vulnerable to lightning (not in super form though), but Ornstein is resistant to it, so don’t go using that Lightning Spear on him.
-          With super versions of either one of them, learn their attack animations and time your approach when you know they require some recovery time after performing an attack, such as the lightning butt slam that they both seem to love doing. Most of all, take your time and retreat behind a pillar when you’re low on health or need to rethink on strategy.


  1. Awesome list. I don't agree with Ornstein and Smough being number 1 though, I found them to be rather easy (I might of been a higher level than normal for the fight, I can't remember).
    The hardest boss I've fought was Manus. I fought him on my 5th or 6th playthrough, he could kill me in 2-3 hits and I only did like 300-400 damage each hit with a 2H sword.
    Bed of Chaos is another boss I had troubles with in my later playthroughs, mainly because the entire battle is stupid and I'd either be knocked to my death or killed in 2 or 3 hits.

    1. Hello and thank you for the comment. Yeah, it is up to a good debate which boss fight is truly the hardest. It would probably also depend on whether the character is a warrior, mage, or archer, but I tried to rank this list not only for difficulty but also how memorable the boss fights were in my opinion and whether I thought they were well-designed.

      The reason for Orn and Smo at the top is because I thought they complemented each other well and their AI was good, allowing them to use teamwork against the player. I agree that Bed of Chaos is a pretty hard fight for the reasons you mentioned, but most players can probably agree it's a very annoying and rather cheap boss fight, hence why I didn't put it on this list. :)