The crushing RPG series is home to many fine boss encounters, and anyone who's played a Dark Souls game will have plenty of anecdotes from going head to head with these brutal opponents. We've scoured our extensive knowledge to bring you 15 of the best, in ascending order of awesomeness.
15: Asylum Demon – Dark Souls
You never forget your first, do you? The Asylum Demon is the boss that greets you at the exit of the decrepit old building you escape from at the very beginning of the first Dark Souls. He’s big, slow and hits like a tank – perfect for teaching you the absolute fundamentals of Dark Souls boss combat. Attack when you can, focus on dodging and, crucially, keep an eye on that stamina bar. Of course, you first encounter him before you even have a proper weapon. Only the most ludicrously hardcore Souls players have bested him at this point, but it is doable: you even get a special reward.
14: The Pursuer – Dark Souls 2
The Pursuer is a boss that was saved by the ‘do-over’ that was Scholar Of The First Sin. In the original Dark Souls 2, he showed up twice and that was it. He was just another boss in the first major area of the game. In Scholar, he actually lived up to his name and, well, pursued you throughout Drangleic. He would show up at several intervals, always completely unwelcome, and usually costing you a whole bunch of souls in the process. He’s fast, can take plenty of damage and wields a monstrous magic sword that can drop you in one shot. Thanks.
13: Dragonslayer Armor – Dark Souls 3
A big suit of armour that’s brought to life by a bunch of butterflies. Easy peasy, right? Dragonslayer Armor is a tough out for anyone as they power towards the end of Dark Souls 3. It has highly damaging attacks that are made all the more effective against you when it buffs them with lightning throughout the battle. It would be a classic Dark Souls duel-style boss encounter – just you versus them in a fairly bare bones arena – if it wasn’t for the massive flying beasts that fire poison into the area you’re fighting in. Float like a butterfly, sting like a harbinger of doom.
12: Bell Gargoyles – Dark Souls
Dark Souls teaches you new skills by throwing you head first into certain situations and forcing you to tackle them. Once you’ve beaten a boss or enemy, or whatever it was causing you trouble, you will have picked up a new skill. The Bell Gargoyles is Dark Souls telling you: “Sometimes you’re going to have to deal with two big, horrible things at once, and one isn’t going to sit still and wait while you’re slashing at the other.” Besting these guys is a big early-game milestone. Hear a bell ringing in the Undead Chapel? That’s another player beating them in their game.
11: Ancient Wyvern – Dark Souls 3
Throughout the Dark Souls series there are a few bosses that need a ‘gimmick’ to beat them. There’s no health bar to slash away at, just a few objectives to meet and the boss will automatically fall. Sadly, few of them are actually satisfying encounters, with the exception of the Ancient Wyvern. Tucked away in a secret area, which you’ll only find by venturing off the beaten path, the Ancient Wyvern is basically one long, fairly spectacular set-piece, as you run around an amazing-looking ruin, dodging its fire breath before diving off the top and stabbing him right in the face. It isn’t a particularly challenging battle, but a proper spectacle and a refreshing change of pace.
10: Looking Glass Knight – Dark Souls 2
A huge, silver, armour-clad knight that wields a giant mirror-fronted shield in a thunderstorm is a pretty striking visual. So much so it was used in a lot of the promotional material for the Miyazaki-less Dark Souls 2. The Looking Glass Knight did not disappoint and delivered on its promise to use some of Dark Souls’ unique multiplayer elements. During the battle, the knight summons a dark phantom from his shield. Other players could actually be this phantom, causing you varying amounts of bother during an already tough boss encounter.
9: Gwyn, Lord of Cinder – Dark Souls
The final battle in the original Dark Souls, Gwyn waits for you in the Kiln Of The First Flame. You expect a bombastic, grand old battle to the death to finish off the game, and instead this is a fairly sombre affair, as a piano piece tinkles away in the background. Gwyn is the only boss in the game who you are able to parry, and should you manage to master this ability, he’s actually a breeze – a final test of this fundamental gameplay mechanic, honed throughout your journey. A mistimed parry will result in him giving you a proper kicking, but those brave enough to pull it off will be rewarded with an easy victory.
8: Aldrich, Devourer of Gods – Dark Souls 3
A boss found in the most spoilerific part of Dark Souls 3. Aldrich comes packing some serious magical firepower and can drop you in a single blast, so constant motion is required if you want to stay alive. It looks impressive, but taking a second to admire the effects will result in your demise. Aldrich is one of the major bosses that provide a lore link to the original game, as the devoured god in question is one of Dark Souls’ optional bosses. Combined with the location that you battle him in, it’s quite a special fight for the long-time Dark Souls enthusiast.
7: The Nameless King – Dark Souls 3
The hardest boss in Dark Souls 3 by a country mile. Found in the secret area, Archdragon Peak, he has two stages. The first has him cutting about the sky on his Stormdrake – a massive, angry-looking dragon. Should you survive that first onslaught, he takes you on himself, dealing mega damage with his impressive lightning spear. The lore implies that he is Gwyn’s lost son and the trainer of Dragonslayer Ornstein, which, for those of you who aren’t massive Dark Souls nerds (like me), basically means he’s the baddest of all the series’ badasses. The difficulty of the fight itself backs this up.
6: Abyss Watchers – Dark Souls 3
This is basically two boss encounters back to back, but one of the more interesting battles to be found in Dark Souls 3. The Abyss Watchers has you tackling a constantly spawning gang of wraiths, with up to three being in the arena at the same time. A weird little wrinkle to this scrap is that every third wraith turns on the other two and attacks them, which you can use to your advantage. Once you’ve depleted their shared health bar, you must tackle one more Abyss Watcher in a one-on-one fight. Sound fair? Well, other than the big flaming sword he’s packing, yeah.
5: Capra Demon – Dark Souls
The most notorious sticking point in the series, the Capra Demon is where many brave adventurers died a thousand times and decided to bin the game off and take to Twitter where they call it all sorts of nasty things. Run up the stairs behind him to bottleneck his two canine companions and take them out. His wild swings will fill most of the small room, but he has some obvious tells and alone he’s not too tough. Beating Capra is usually the moment most decide that they could go on to finish Dark Souls. Little do they know, Capra is just a normal enemy later in the game.
4: Fume Knight – Dark Souls 2
The Dark Souls 2 DLC has quite a few decent boss encounters, but none are as fine as the Fume Knight. According to FromSoftware he’s the most challenging boss in the game, winning 93 per cent of the time. Found at the very bottom of Brume Tower in the Crown Of The Old Iron King DLC, the Fume Knight brandishes not just a Greatsword, but an ULTRA Greatsword, too, each infused with a different magic. He has one of the more extensive movesets of any Dark Souls boss and hits like a tank, requiring you to learn his every move and make very few errors to finally best him.
3: Ornstein and Smough – Dark Souls
“There are two of them? Two bosses that would be a complete handful on their own and I have to fight them both at the same time? This is actually impossible. I’ve died so many times that I genuinely feel that this is impossible. Okay, I’m getting a little bit closer – I can take one of them down... but then the other gets me. Wait, I’m getting close to doing this. NEXT TIME – I will do it next time. I’ve definitely got their number now! YES! YES! YES! I DID IT! I ACTUALLY BLOODY DID IT!” The rollercoaster of emotions that is the Ornstein and Smough battle is the Dark Souls experience distilled into one fight.
2: Great Grey Wolf Sif – Dark Souls
Ah, Sif. The loyal companion of the great Knight Artorias, the fight with Sif plays out like an honourable duel between two beings that don’t want to fight, but know that they have no choice. Sif is a giant dog/wolf with a sword between its teeth, swinging it in huge arcs as you do battle in one of the series’ most iconic arenas. The grave of Artorias is surrounded by swords of varying shapes and sizes – possibly from those who have tried to get its treasure before you – and bathed in moonlight. When Sif reaches low health, it continues to fight, but limps as it moves. Truly heartbreaking.
1: Knight Artorias – Dark Souls
A true test of your abilities, Knight Artorias is the quintessential Dark Souls boss battle. There are no cheap magic attacks, one-hit kills or scenery that damages you, it’s just you versus him in a giant circular arena. You have to use all of the skills you’ve picked up from playing through the game – dodging, stamina management, blocking and attacking – to take him down. The first time you manage to best him, you have that brilliant ‘zen’ moment, where everything goes perfectly and he can barely touch you. You figured him out. Hell, you’ve figured Dark Souls out. Now, you’re the boss.
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.