Hello again, everyone! Today (after a long than intended hiatus) we’re continuing my list of Top 10 Toughest Dark Souls Boss Fights. This time we’re down to the top 5 and oh boy, do I have some annoying ones for you. I’m sure for those who have played the Dark Souls series, these will bring up some bad memories. If you haven’t played it, well, at least you’ll know what you’re in for. Death is the answer. Also, failure. Anyway, let’s not waste any more words and jump right into it. Lord knows I have plenty to say about these guys.
5. Aava, the King’s Pet – Dark Souls II – Crown of the Ivory King DLC
Before all you Dark Souls experts come bash me like a n00b in the comments below – yes, I know that there’s actually an optional fight even worse than this guy, namely Lud and Zallen, which is basically fighting two Aavas at the same time. I never bothered to try and defeat them, though, and my horrendous struggle with this frustrating feline is the reason why I never even visited them. Aava is a gigantic, frosty, magical tiger on steroids that guards the way to the heart of Eleum Loyce, a kingdom covered in ice and once the domain of the Ivory King (remember that name, folks). Did I say magical tiger? Yes, I did. Because on top of the massive damage it can deal with its claws and fangs, it can also easily summon magic spells to attack you and you’ll have to be cautious to avoid those attacks too. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Wrong. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I had an incredibly tough time with Aava: no matter what I did, any attempt to get close with my Zweihänder resulted in a world of hurt for me, while I could barely scratch him. Even imbuing my greatsword with fire did little to help. He can attack relentlessly and positively devour your health if you’re not careful and while I usually didn’t have too much trouble dodging his magic, his constant offensive meant I barely had enough time to catch my breath. The only thing that I found that reliably worked was baiting Aava, letting him lunge at me, roll underneath him, hit one of his paws once and get out again. This was a feasible strategy, but even with my Zweihänder at +9 or +10 (I’m pretty sure it was upgraded that high) I found it did little damage. This meant I could do it, but my strategy had to be executed to utter perfection, as it would take a long time and I could afford few slip-ups. My plan worked eventually, but rarely has a boss annoyed me to this degree. Oh, and did I mention that when you first visit Aava, he’s invisible and you’ll have to explore Eleum Loyce to find an item that will even allow you to see him? And that the path you fight him on isn’t that wide? I think you can understand now why facing a pair of these bosses seemed like something I’d better avoid. For the sake of my sanity.
4. Lothric & Lorian, Twin Princes – Dark Souls III
And speaking of annoying bosses that come in pairs: next up are Lothric and Lorian, the two princes and final Lords of Cinder in Dark Souls III. Just writing this is proving to be a struggle, which is rather appropriate, because there are few foes in the entire series that have made me suffer this badly before I finally came out victorious. This is actually the last non-optional boss on this list, so I guess for me, this is the toughest, mandatory boss of the series.
So what is it that makes them so grotesquely difficult? First off, you don’t even get to fight the true boss from the start: you get a boss-fight before the boss-fight! Lothric (the little guy) refuses to get off his throne at first, content to let his older brother Lorian (the big guy) do all the work for him. But while Lorian is a huge, armored warrior, capable of one-handing a massive flaming sword, he is also a cripple, practically crawling over the floor on his knees. What could be so hard about beating up a cripple? Everything. Lorian is actually deceptively quick, suddenly moving forward and lashing out with his sword, tearing you to shreds in the process. There’s an argument to be made that, because of his erratic movement, he’s actually far harder to predict than a regular, walking opponent. Still, if this was all, Lorian wouldn’t be too hard – except that Lothric can also teleport Lorian in an instant and zap him all over the fucking arena, in a way that is completely random, causing you to waste precious seconds to look for him. This is often when Lorian unleashes a massive blast that can practically one-shot you. You can only dodge this by moving at the very last second – which can be a problem if you fail to notice where he is in time because of the random locations and the annoying camera angles! His teleportation trickery can be so arbitrary, I have literally seen him disappear and re-appear in the exact same spot, interrupting his combo and picking it up again later for extra confusion.
But who am I kidding – you’ll bring down Lorian eventually. And that’s the part when it all goes straight to hell. Rather than Lothric fighting you fair and square now that you’ve defeated his brother, Lothric actually revives him (!), brings Lorian back at full health (!!), then climbs on his brother’s back and starts tossing magic all over the fucking arena (!!!) WHILE you have to contend with Lorian AGAIN! Oh, and Lothric has his own health-bar, which means you have two options: 1) either you focus on hitting Lothric to end the fight (as the fight always ends when Lothric dies), which can be very difficult or 2) you’ll have to kill Lothric quickly after you bring Lorian down a second time. Why do I say quickly? Because if Lorian goes down once more, Lothric will revive his brother again… If all of this bullshit wasn’t enough, Lothric can revive Lorian to the end of time, if need be, and if you can’t kill Lothric in that tiny window of opportunity you’ll have, this fight will never end. Are you fucking kidding me, From Software?! The second phase of this boss-fight felt like Ornstein & Smough x10: while you’re hanging on for dear life with what little health you have left after Round 1 with Lorian, Lothric will whip up a barrage of spells that can track you across a large part of the arena and do quite a lot of damage (a trick he can repeat multiple times). The resulting fight is just utter insanity. You’re rolling all around the arena to dodge Lothric’s magic, while also trying to avoid Lorian teleporting and slashing like a maniac. Forget hitting the bosses, it’s hard just to stay alive. You must defeat Lorian in the first round almost flawlessly to have even the slightest chance of having enough health left to prevail in the second (a feat I eventually learned to perform regularly).
In the end, I never could get anywhere close to defeating this boss by focusing on dodging. I eventually won by going the opposite route, equipping heavy armor and the Dragon Crest Shield to protect me from Lorian’s fiery attacks, while using quick hits from my Broadsword, rather than the slower greatswords I usually employ. I constantly stayed behind Lorian in the first phase, tanking as many hits from him with my shield as I could, stabbing him in the back and slowly bringing him down. The second phase was still insane, but if I managed to survive Lothric’s magical onslaught, I could repeat the same tricks with Lorian. I finally managed to bring Lorian down again and kicked the crap out of Lothric as he was reviving his brother, but Lothric still had enough life left in him to bring Lorian back succesfully for Round 3. With only a few hits left to go, I stuck to Lorian’s back, focused only on Lothric and managed to take down his remaining health to prevail at last.
Dear God in Heaven. It must have taken me 50 tries at least. There came a point that I seriously questioned whether I would be able to even finish Dark Souls III because of these two. And on top of how insanely hard this fight can be (at least for me), there’s nothing else that sticks out in a positive way either: the story behind these two princes is quite interesting and it’s good that the final Lord of Cinder isn’t a push-over, but that’s pretty much it. Also, I found that unlike Ornstein and Smough, who you carry a certain amount of respect for because of the enormous individual strength they have, you know that these two couldn’t do anything if it wasn’t for each other’s help: Lorian is simply too slow without Lothric teleporting him and Lothric is so fragile to physical attacks, he’d be dead in a minute if he faced you alone. You’d almost pity them – if they didn’t employ every tactic to make this fight as annoying as possible. Still, I admit that these two brothers together are more than the sum of their parts.
In order to win, I fought like a total, cheap, cowardly bastard – and that is exactly what these two fuckers deserved.
3. The Fume Knight – Dark Souls II – Crown of the Old Iron King DLC
After that rant, we move into more pleasant territory – because this is a boss that, for all his horrendous strength, I actually respect. The reason for this is that the Fume Knight manages to be every bit as challenging as Lothric and Lorian (if not more so), but does it all by himself. There are no cheap tricks, no allies, no annoying moves you can’t do anything about: the Fume Knight fights alone, relying purely on his massive strength, skill and stamina. And that’s the way I like my bosses. In all fairness, you must destroy several idols of Nadalia, the Fume Knight’s Bride of Ash, outside the arena or else she’ll heal him (making the fight practically impossible), but this is a minor chore if you have gathered enough Smelter Wedges in the area you’ve already explored to get here. With that out of the way, you can face the Fume Knight fair and square and do some serious, good old-fashioned ass-kicking – but it will take a hell of a lot of effort to get anywhere close to defeating him.
The Fume Knight’s great strength (and what I love about the design of this boss fight) is his complete mastery of one of the essential aspects of combat in the Dark Souls-series: range. The Fume Knight wields a huge, scorching Ultra Greatsword in one hand and a smaller Longsword in the other one. Because of this, he can launch a massive, slower strike at you from a distance – but if you move in close, he’ll hit you with the other, smaller sword, designed precisely for just such an occasion. Figuring out a way around this excellent offense and defense is what makes this fight so immensely challenging, but even if you find a way, the Fume Knight is so tough, it takes a positively herculean effort to bring him down. In fact, he doesn’t even have any specific weaknesses (so you can forget about any elemental damage to help you along). Once I finally got used to all his attacks and tendencies, my personal strategy ended up being similar to what I would later do with Aava: baiting the Fume Knight into making a large strike with his greatsword, roll to one of his flanks, stab his side with my Zweihänder and roll away again immediately to avoid his faster, smaller sword.
But even with all this power going for him, the Fume Knight is still not even giving his full effort. As so many bosses of the Dark Souls-series, only once you get the Fume Knight down to about 50% does he start to get pissed off: instead of wielding two weapons, he now ignites his Ultra Greatsword with flame and swings it with both hands. The Fume Knight also becomes incredibly aggressive and tears even more quickly through your health and stamina, should you try to block him. In addition, he now has a ridiculously strong attack, in which he extends the flame on his sword (practically a laser at this point) and swings it in a huge arc, which is nearly impossible to dodge and can easily kill you outright. This makes avoiding his strikes absolutely essential, as I don’t think there’s anything present in Dark Souls II that can completely block him, allowing the Fume Knight to just keep chipping away at your health. For me, my desperation for extra stamina in order to keep dodging was so bad, I eventually gave up wearing any armor, focusing purely on evading all his attacks. The damage the Fume Knight can dish out is so catastrophic, I found any armor to be practically pointless, its weight being a hinderance more than a help. And yes, this means that I actually beat the Fume Knight in my naked ass. How many people can say that, I wonder?
I know that the Dark Souls-community considers this one of the toughest, if not the toughest fight from Dark Souls II and maybe even the worst of the entire series and I can’t blame them. The Fume Knight is one of the most dangerous, most difficult bosses I’ve fought in any videogame I’ve ever played: he combines some of the danger of Artorias and Gwyn with the careful, methodical ways you’ll need to learn to beat him from Ornstein and Smough, delivering an absolutely overwhelming, but outstanding boss-fight. Much like Lothric and Lorian, it probably took me at least 50 tries to beat this guy, but unlike those two, I found I strangely enjoyed learning to master the Fume Knight. And on top of that, I absolutely love his design and the music sticks in my head to this day. Even the lore behind the Fume Knight I find fantastic, as he is actually the disgraced Sir Raime, the former left-hand of King Vendrick: Raime was a knight who betrayed his sovereign and, after losing to Velstadt (right-hand of the King), he journeyed to a distant place to train to get his revenge on his great rival. Raime hates Velstadt so much, in fact, that he even skips to his aggressive second phase immediately if you decide to face him wearing Velstadt’s armor. You, as the player, are at the receiving end of the Fume Knight’s training and fury, both of which sure as hell are impressive.
2. King of the Storm & The Nameless King – Dark Souls III – Optional
We have now reached the absolute cream of the crop of Dark Souls bosses and at nr. 2, we have another pair of indomitable foes, who rise to deliver a truly titanic struggle for the player – if they have the guts to face them, that is, as they’re not required bosses to finish Dark Souls III. I’m talking, of course, about arguably the most powerful opponents from the last game in the series and masters of Archdragon Peak: the King of the Storm and the Nameless King. In fact, I will even go so far as to say that these two are actually the true winners of my list of toughest bosses, but we’ll get to that later.
This is another fight made up of two stages: you’ll first face the Nameless King as he rides atop his Stormdrake (uninspiringly named the King of the Storm) and this creature must be slain first before you’re even allowed to take on its master directly. However, unlike the cheap tactics of Lothric and Lorian, not only does the Stormdrake stay dead after you finally put him down, but the Nameless King, just by himself, is so unimagineably strong that he probably would have nabbed the 2nd place on this list even if the Stormdrake wasn’t a factor.
Granted, the King of the Storm is probably the biggest issue I have with this fight, as the reason he’s so insufferable is not because he’s actually all that dangerous by himself: its rider is already a bigger threat, raining lightning down upon you from high above and sometimes charging his weapon with it before striking to deliver massive damage that is difficult to avoid. The Stormdrake also has a move in which he sends powerful gusts of wind your way by flapping his wings, but that isn’t so terrible either. The biggest foe you’ll be fighting in phase 1 (at least for me) is actually the camera: the Stormdrake can fly up very suddenly and move to a different part of the arena and following it quickly can be a challenge if you can’t see where its going. What’s worse is that, since damaging its talons will do very little, you’ll have to focus on its head, but between this annoying bird’s giant neck that’s constantly bobbing around, the attacks from the Nameless King and the frustrating camera angles, this is far more difficult than you’d expect. But the worst part of this fight by a mile is that the Stormdrake can suddenly fly upwards and spit out a massive blast of fire that can kill you outright if you’re unlucky. The only way to avoid it is by running at full speed in the opposite direction immediately – but while you’re busy trying to attack its head, you often won’t have enough time to see what it’s doing when it flies up, which means you waste precious seconds to see what’s going on while the Stormdrake’s preparing to toast your ass. Your best hope is to infuse your own weapons with lightning, watch out for the Stormdrake’s rider, be very patient and wait for the right moment to strike its head. He can also breath fire at you while he’s on the ground and this is a good opportunity to move around it and attack. It took me a lot of practice to bring down the Stormdrake on a regular basis, but as horrible as this is, it certainly can be done.
The Nameless King himself, however, is a different story entirely. Where do I even begin with this guy? More than anything, you get a sense that this was From Software going all out: they knew that Dark Souls III was going to be the last in the series and it feels like they wanted to deliver a final, unbelievable ordeal for those players that kept insisting the series wasn’t tough enough yet (yes, these people exist). The Nameless King, described as having once been a “dragon-slaying god of war”, is a towering figure wielding the Dragonslayer Swordspear (yes, you read that right, the dude uses a spear that can double as a sword, because of course he can) and he is a merciless, melee opponent, extremely capable of doing both massive damage at a distance as well as at close range. The Nameless King can send out blasts of wind like the Stormdrake, fly through the arena to spear you on his weapon if you’re not careful and keep delivering a torrent of large, sweeping strikes that blow through any defense or health with ease. Two or three successive strikes from his Swordspear could easily kill me (even with high vigor and heavy armor at lvl. 105) and the reach he has with that thing makes it very difficult to take some distance to heal yourself, which you will absolutely need to do. I found I had to be extremely cautious when deciding to move closer or escape, because the Nameless King will punish you immensely for even the slightest mistake. If all that wasn’t enough, this bastard boasts some of the largest amount of health and defense you’ve ever seen: in other words, you can barely afford to get hit, while he can withstand a ridiculous amount of punishment. But what truly makes this enigmatic boss so challenging is the way he wields his Swordspear: there’s an unpredictability to the way he swings it and to the combo’s that he delivers that, coupled with the weapon’s reach, make it very hard to keep dodging him. And should you actually manage to bring this guy down to 50%, he still has some more tricks up his sleeve, as he’ll also begin to toss massive bolts of lightning, some of which can explode in your face. In terms of boss design, the Nameless King feels like the culmination of all the bosses in the series: the Nameless King takes the power of Gwyn, the speed, moves and lightning of Ornstein, the erratic nature of Artorias, the sheer deadliness and resilience of the Fume Knight and even the two-stage boss-fight of Lothric and Lorian and combines them all into one boss. This is one fight you can only appreciate by attempting it.
So how did I beat him? With my regular strategies, I didn’t get anywhere close: the best I probably managed was bringing him down to about 70% of his health. Instead, I pinned my hopes on the Dragonslayer Greatshield after I read a comment online. The Dragonslayer Greatshield provides excellent defense and, most crucially of all, is capable of blocking 95% of lightning damage. After a lot of practice, I was able to defeat the King of the Storm almost perfectly (just like with Lorian and Lothric) and with the Dragonslayer Greatshield, I could block almost all attacks of the Nameless King: I once again moved around with my shield and Broadsword, trying to stay behind him, while letting any attacks bounce off the shield. Even with the shield, his strikes were so powerful that they wore down my health, but with the Sun Princess Ring equipped (which provides slow but steady health regeneration) and the Estus I still had left, I was able to mitigate this. Eventually, I was able to last for a very long time, slowly chipping away at the boss’ health, inch by inch. It became a battle of endurance, in which the first one to slip up would lose. It was also a literal battle of endurance, as the Nameless King still tore through my stamina, forcing me to lower my shield for many brief moments. This resulted in a lot of close shaves.
But on my 36th attempt (I counted) and a VERY long fight, I was succesful at last – something I doubt I would’ve ever been able to do (at least not alone) if it wasn’t for this strategy and the Dragonslayer Greatshield. Add the annoying Stormdrake to the equation and I think it’s safe to say that this boss-fight, under regular circumstances, is the toughest of them all, the absolute peak of a game series designed with the express purpose of torturing its players, while still allowing a glimmer of hope to shine brightly enough to entice them to keep trying. Aside from the flaws of the Stormdrake, it’s an expertly designed boss-fight, taking place after epic build-up, in an amazing arena, with a chilling score. He even has a very interesting backstory that (should you defeat him) confirms the Nameless King as a mysterious character that some players have searched for since Dark Souls I – namely, Gwyn’s firstborn son. Once, he was the heir to Gwyn’s throne and to the power of lightning, until he turned against the gods. This is a truly electrifying showdown that would’ve undoubtedly taken the nr. 1 spot – but there’s one more battle in the series that I personally found even worse…
1. The Burnt Ivory King + Charred Loyce Knights – Dark Souls II – Crown of the Ivory King DLC
And here it is, folks: the nr. 1 toughest boss-fight in all of Dark Souls. But there’s a very important distinction to keep in mind: the nr. 1 is not the Burnt Ivory King. It’s the Ivory King AND his Charred Loyce Knights. Maybe other players will disagree with me, but I find this to be a monumentally important nuance.
This is because unlike other boss-fights that are comprised of multiple people, like Ornstein and Smough (who are strong enough individually), Lothric and Lorian (who are still clearly designed to serve as one boss-fight together) or the Nameless King and his Stormdrake (where the Stormdrake comparatively serves as a minor obstacle before you can fight the real deal), the Ivory King would not be anywhere near the top of this list if it wasn’t for the scorched Loyce Knights he employs. Yes, the Ivory King is indeed a dangerous opponent, but I don’t think he would ever beat the Fume Knight or the Nameless King on his own. Hell, I will go so far to say that he might not even make it into my top 10! If I had the chance to face this guy one-on-one, man to man, in a fair fight, there’s no question I would win without too much of a challenge. It likely would not be much worse than the average Dark Souls boss. And this is why I consider the Nameless King to be the true victor of this list: for an individual fighter, only the Fume Knight comes anywhere close to his might.
To get to the Ivory King, however, you must first defeat a small army of his Loyce Knights, before their leader even deigns to show himself. The story of the Ivory King is that, in order to protect his kingdom of Eleum Loyce, he took some of his faithful knights with him to seal the all-consuming fire of the Old Chaos beneath the frozen earth – the Old Chaos being the remains of the very Bed of Chaos that you defeated in Dark Souls I (bringing this list full circle, fittingly enough). The Ivory King was ultimately succesful in bringing at least a temporary solution to the problem, but he and his knights were consumed and corrupted by the flame in the process. Having proven yourself worthy to Alsanna (the Ivory King’s beloved Child of the Dark, actually a daughter of Manus), by defeating his pet Aava, you are allowed to go down into the Old Chaos. You are to put the Ivory King to rest for good and hopefully bring a permanent end to the Old Chaos as well. When you show up, however, you are practically swarmed by the Charred Loyce Knights and it’s basically impossible to defeat both them and the Ivory King on your own. By exploring Eleum Loyce, you can enlist the aid of a maximum of three uncorrupted Loyce Knights, which is a very annoying task, but absolutely essential. These knights are, over the whole, more sturdy than their scorched brethren, but there’s so many of them that I still failed to defeat the Ivory King’s minions plenty of times.
And this leads me to the main problem of this boss fight: there’s so many of the Charred Loyce Knights that once you finally beat them, you’re always too exhausted to face the Ivory King himself. Even with assistance from their silver counter-parts and even by summoning NPCs to help me (the only Dark Souls boss I ever felt I had to, in order to win!), I found I had wasted too much of my Estus to be in any shape to defeat the Ivory King. This resulted in an annoying cycle, in which either the Charred Loyce Knights went pretty well, but the king decimated me – or I was acutally going pretty strong against the king, but his knights had damaged me so badly earlier on that I failed anyway. I suspect the reason I could never master this infuriating first phase is, because unlike Ornstein and Smough, Lorian, the Stormdrake and other boss-fights with multiple stages and opponents, there is so much happening on screen that it inevitably devolves into a giant frenzy: a free-for-all where no one has any clue what’s happening anymore. To illustrate this further, I summoned Sirris a few times against Lothric and Lorian, but discovered she just made them more unpredictable, causing more problems for me than she solved. This crazy battle royale against the Charred Loyce Knights is the same way and it drove me freaking insane. It must’ve taken me about 50 tries or so, but by the end, it felt like I was coming up on a hundred. This battle annoyed me so much, it took an absurd amount of effort not to rage-quit.
So we’ve spent enough time talking about the knights, but how’s the Ivory King himself? Very frustrating. He is dangerous enough that he can kick your ass quite easily if you’re not facing him at peak condition, but not so strong that he’d be too difficult if you’d fought him by himself from the start. Above all, the Ivory King feels like the counter-part to the Fume Knight: whereas the Fume Knight is slower and more cautious, but has massive resilience to compensate, the Ivory King is fast, aggressive and has extreme offensive power from the start, but is actually quite fragile. The most dangerous aspect of the Ivory King is the sword he enchants once he shows up. That thing is a freaking lightsaber that just decimates your health and it can slash right through any shield, which means your defenses are practically worthless and you must focus on dodging. This, combined with the sword’s ridiculously long reach, his combo’s and the fact that he can chase you or make long jumps, means it’s very hard to get away from his relentless assault. The only positive is that he’s not that tough and I found that, once I finally landed a hit with my Zweihänder, I could do pretty devastating damage myself – but I was usually too weak by that point to last very long.
And that’s why this is the only fight where I felt like I genuinely needed to summon someone to help me: Twiggy Shei, this random NPC armed with a bow and rapier, was crucial to my victory. As the Ivory King was battering me and it looked like it was going to be the end of me again, Twiggy distracted him and the Ivory King, like an idiot, suddenly ran off and chased him all the way into a corner. As poor Twiggy was being destroyed (but held on for a very long time), I was free to absolutely tear into the boss with my Zweihänder from behind. By the time that he finally focused on me again, I only needed a few more hits and brought him down for good. As a matter of principle, I didn’t summon NPCs or other players to help with my boss fights across all three Dark Souls-games. The only other exceptions were the final bosses of Dark Souls II, Nashandra and Aldia, and I only did that because I was so fed with up with that game because of what happened with the Ivory King, not because I felt I truly needed them to win. This fight was the only exception.
So congratulations, Ivory King: thanks to your Loyce Knights, you are officially the most difficult, most annoying boss in the entire Dark Souls-series to me and not even the monstrosities of Dark Souls III could take that crown from you.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the bosses of Dark Souls. Keep in mind that I haven’t played all DLC (like Ashes of Ariandel and The Ringed City) or all of the games in the Souls-series. Questions? Comments? Let me know down below!