Dark Souls and vicious, virtualized death -- you cannot have one without the other. Be it to a hollow with a broken sword, an ogre with a poisonous club, a territorial stone dragon, or the edge of a cliff; death is inevitable.
As you'd expect in any series brimming with boss encounters, some of them rise above challenging and take their place as ruthless, genocidal, power-tripping murderers. Except, with the Souls series in question, there are a ton of bosses that are more than capable -- and bored, even -- of smashing your face in for hours on end.
With Dark Souls 3 still pending international release on April 12th, I hand-selected 20 bosses from only the first two games of the trilogy. Bloodborne and Demon's Souls bosses were not included, though some surely would have made it.
The life-draining monstrosities to follow are only vaguely ranked from mildly demoralizing to controller-crushing overlords, so don't take their order to heart.
(P.S. Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition and Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin spoilers incoming.)
Dark Souls 2 has a gimmick with boss-room hazards, and while Sinner's isn't terrible, the reduced lock-on range in the dark can be crippling for some players. Her sword blows are deft and powerful, forcing players to search for an opportunity to strike.
Admittedly, on her own, the Lost Sinner isn't a terrible fight, but in NG+ and beyond she gains two ridiculously powerful pyromancer companions. Ignoring them and taking her out would end that nightmare as quick as possible, but that's just asking to get crisped. Good luck dodging the Lost Sinner while taking on her fire-slinging lackeys.
The boss itself isn't hard, it's the gimmick that makes it ridiculous. The boss that rewards the mystical ring of lava walking on death is in the arena with 90% lava.
Granted, if you manage to cut off one of its "tails" (read: arm-things), you'll get the ring and can continue the fight with it equiped. That's not exactly the first thing that comes to mind though, when the boss takes up half of the measly space you get to dodge.
Doors of Pharros
This.. thing. Oh my. If you've never fought the Royal Rat Authority, you don't know pressure. So here's the thing.
I waltz into the boss room no issue, there's a pack of rats in front of me. Naturally, I kill them quickly and get it over with. OK ... then wha--?
Of course, then it hits me. This rat-dog hybrid they call the Royal Rat Authority, and oh is it ever vicious. He will relentlessly bombard you with attack after attack, tooth after nail, granting nary an opening to mount a counter-attack. What manner of beast does that?
What a masterpiece. An executioner bound to ride his barbed chariot in loops around a prison corridor filled with Undead outcasts. This must be what the old kings considered art.
The Executioner charges 'round the hall, and you have a window of opportunity to progress each time he passes. Except those Undead outcasts have been here so long they've morphed into skeletons and necromancers.
Yeah, sure, the Chariot damages the skeletons, but the necromancers revive them post-haste. It's a race to kill the necromancers and make it to the end of the hallway without getting eviscerated by wheel spokes. Then you pull a lever...
...and fight the horses. Both of them. Which isn't so bad, except if you die, you get to look forward to killing necromancers all over again. Oh what, you thought they didn't respawn? So did I.
Any Souls veteran will tell you Capra Demon isn't that bad. And overall, they're right -- though they're probably referring to his minuscule health bar, larger only than Pinwheel's. Capra has far more going for him, though.
Of first note, the boss arena is so small and narrow that the camera sticks on the walls most of the time. Joining Capra in the "great hall" are his 2 loyal undead dogs. Getting cornered has never been simpler in a video game, ever.
Lud & Zallen are no Ornstein & Smough, not by a mile. It's really just fighting doubles of a boss you encountered earlier in the Crown of the Ivory King DLC.
What's killer, though, is the walk. This is Dark Souls, where you respawn at Bonfires. To get to this boss, you must wade through a deserted, open landscape in the midst of a blizzard. Every time the blizzard kicks up, an electric reindeer spawns.
Words cannot explain the terror of electric reindeer. They prance, they dance, they sling lightning from ten feet in the air. What's worse, more will spawn if you don't kill the first one, and it's a long walk to the fog gate. Hope you have plenty of healing supplies.
The Four Kings are like the electric reindeer in boss form. Who thought this was a good idea? Who thought this was okay for NG+? We need to have a word.
The battle is essentially a DPS race. Kill one king and do it quickly because another will shortly follow, and then another, and another. You can even end up with more than Four Kings if you're not quick about taking them down.
Cave of the Dead
The walk to the fight is arduous, but it's not nearly as bad as the Gank Squad that waits for you at the end. This is a 3v1 (or however many co-op players you brought along) all-out brawl against characters with weapons that are just unfair.
The Dragon Tooth to smash you into the floor, a Dragonslayer Greatbow to knock you down, and 2 Berserk Blades to slice you to ribbons. Dream team, right?
Smelter Demon is a crazy fight on its own, and the Blue Smelter Demon in the Crown of the Old Iron King DLC is even worse.
His swings are slow, yet oddly difficult to dodge properly. As the fight progresses, he starts throwing out explosions and buffs himself with a damage-over-time aura. If you get within melee range, you'll take gradual Magic damage which will eventually kill you if they aren't watching your health.
Fighting the Bed of Chaos is like trying to fight against gravity. Gravity is the strongest force in the universe. Chosen Undead or not, you aren't defeating gravity.
The Bed of Chaos is simple, really. Cut the branches and release hell. Release hell and release gravity. Release gravity and expect to fall ... a lot.
You won't even touch this thing's health bar until you get past the jumping puzzle in front of her giant sweeping arms, and even then you have to hope you don't get one-shot by her crazy firestorm.
Memory of the Old Iron King
The walk is stressful, but the fight is a blast. Sir Alonne does not kid around; he knows his sword, and he knows it well. This guy weilds his katana like it's an extension of his arm.
There isn't much to say about Sir Alonne. He forces players to learn how to avoid his katana if they hope to survive. It's a wonder how a guy in so much armor can move that fast.
The legendary Abysswalker, Knight Artorias, is a master of the greatsword. He tried to battle the spread of the Abyss but ultimately failed. The Abyss corrupted him, crippling his left arm and driving him mad.
When we encounter Artorias, the Abyss has severely degraded the skills of the once-mighty Knight of Gwyn. And yet, in his sorry state, he still manages to smash our teeth in time and time again. Just imagine what he would have been like at full power.
An exiled bodyguard of the king of Drangleic, the Fume Knight has taken up residence with the Queen of Ash. He is the final boss of the Crown of the Old Iron King DLC, a fearsome champion with no equal.
He swings fluidly and deftly with the slender sword in his right-hand while blocking your advances and whacking you aside with the swings and explosions from the sword in his left. I lost count of the number of times I was slaughtered by this boss.
Chasm of the Abyss
Manus is the final boss of the Artorias of the Abyss DLC. During the first phase of the battle he isn't terrible. He has one combo that will knock you silly if you're not cautious, but otherwise it's pretty straightforward -- defend and punish until he reaches half-health.
In the second phase, Manus lets loose an explosion of dark magic and casts relentlessly to ward off your advancement. These can be tricky to avoid, and even if you have the silver talisman, challenging to block.
The Ancient Dragon is one of those optional bosses designed to be an ultimate challenge. The result is a boss with an absurdly high health bar and many attacks that will straight up OHKO most players.
Does the attack include fire? Well then you better hope it misses because that beast will roast you alive. The only reason this boss isn't higher on the list is because you can reliably cheese him by running between his toes.
Kalameet is lean and mean, especially before you ask Gough to cripple him for you. His telekinesis attack not only assaults your ears, but doubles the damage you take for a limited about of time.
If you are aiming to cleave off Kalameet's tail, you're in for one hell of a ride. His tail is hanging well off the ground for most of the fight and only brings it down once in a blue moon.
Kalameet is what gave tail cutting in Dark Souls a bad reputation.
Do not even attempt this boss if you have less than 5 Giant Souls. Vendrick is a monster; his attacks are likely to combo you from full to dead if you get clipped even once.
He shuffles around the arena like a mindless zombie. You wouldn't think much of him, but when he attacks he is extraordinarily aggressive. That weathered old sword he drags around packs a punch too, so stay on your toes.
In case dragons that breathe fire weren't bad enough for you, Sinh is a dragon that breathes toxic poison. Need I say more?
Sinh is the final boss of the Crown of the Sunken King DLC, and there's no easy way to cheese this dragon out. Now you get to deal with the scramble for antidotes -- assuming you can even identify toxic in this game, considering how rare it is. Nothing in Dark Souls 2 could honestly prepare you for this fight.
Ah Ornstein & Smough, the legendary duo. This is the fight that breaks you to Dark Souls. FromSoftware throws you into a situation they know is uncomfortable and tells you to suck it up and deal with it, yet still gives you the tools to confront it.
Ornstein & Smough may be masters of bone grinding and impaling, but they are the perfect match-up for learning how to take on multiple opponents at once. It's not easy, but it's an important lesson that's taught so well through brutally crushing your morale until you switch up your strategy.
Dark Chasm of Old
The Darklurker is easily the most difficult boss in all of Dark Souls. Not only is it a major pain in the rear to reach, but it's a monster on the battlefield. It uses a lot of mind-game projectiles to throw you off your groove, and after enough time has elapsed, it will split into two.
Yes, you're stuck fighting not one but two projectile spamming jerks that teleport around the arena and blast you with all they got. On top of that, every time you die, you have to spend another human effigy to access Dark Chasm of Old and reach the boss room again. The Darklurker might as well be called the Angel of Death.
Which Dark Souls bosses do you have the most trouble on? Leave your tales of woe and despair in the comments below!