Like a boss
Bosses in the Dark Souls series are the icing on a bloody cake. If you've played through a Dark Souls game, Bloodborne, or Demon's Souls, chances are there are plenty of boss encounters that stick out in your mind. You remember those bosses because you spent hours trying to defeat them, perfecting your strategy little by little each time you entered the fog gate. Even after you've beaten that punishing monster, that isn't the end of it. Next come the conversations and discussions with friends on combat tactics and strategy comparisons. A Dark Souls boss isn't something you just blow through and forget. The best ones make a lasting impression.
But what makes the Dark Souls bosses so memorable? How can the upcoming sequel Dark Souls 3 provide equal (or even better) boss encounters? By using what already works. Here's what I want to see when I finally face a giant, ruthless boss in Dark Souls 3.
The bosses need to keep us on our toes
Surviving one of these battles shouldn't be easy. You'll need to know when to avoid your foe completely, when to charge in for an attack, and how to manage your inventory items. Just about every boss you go toe-to-toe with in the From Software games is challenging (with a few exceptions), requiring you to study their movements (and die), develop a strategy (and die again), then employ your careful tactics to gain victory (after dying just a few more times).
That's all well and good, but Dark Souls 3 needs to take the challenge a bit further. With the developers saying the combat is moving closer toward Bloodborne's speedy system, DS3 will need to make room for more interesting, less forgiving boss engagements. The best boss battles take work to overcome, and the attack patterns of the bosses need to be less predictable than that of Dark Souls 2's Covetous Demon or the Flexile Sentry - enemies you can literally strafe circles around. The bosses need to be even more erratic, powerful, and intimidating. Keep making us fight for that victory, because that hard-earned win is what makes Dark Souls such an amazing experience.
The intro cutscene should leave players shaking in their boots
When you're going through a Dark Souls game for the first time, you know that the bosses are going to be tough. Every empty arena and fog gate makes you anxious as you anticipate the challenge ahead. Once you've summoned your courage, you walk right into the lion's den and the boss' cutscene plays, giving you a close-up view of the hideous monstrosity you're about to face. Suddenly, the boss battle begins, and just before you can get your bearings, WHOMP, the boss crushes you and you're dead.
The Knight Artorias intro scene in Dark Souls' expansion pulls this off perfectly, showing the cursed knight impaling a common enemy from above, lifting it onto his sword, then throwing the body at you. And then there's Sif, The Great Grey Wolf, a massive beast who bounds in and immediately pounces on top of you, threatening to gobble you up in one bite. Just as you resign yourself to a swift and toothy death, he picks up his master's giant sword in his mouth and sets about engaging you in a feral dual. Dark Souls 3 wouldn't feel complete without these ominous introductions to each boss fight. With first impressions like those, it's tough to forget the times you faced off against such intimidating foes.
Give the boss an unforgettable name
You can get a lot out of a name. Calling a boss something like Knight Artorias of the Abyss automatically gets you thinking about who that guy is. What is the Abyss? Was the knight a good guy before this particular duel? Why is he trying to kill me right now? It pulls you into the lore of the character, and you can't help but wonder how that character got into the cursed state it's in. And as you'd expect in Dark Souls games, there's plenty of subtle backstory to dig into. When the enemies in the Dark Souls games have a detailed history, it automatically gives them more depth than some generic unnamed goon.
While there are a few questionable boss names like Ceaseless Discharge and Gaping Dragon (really), other boss names like The Last Giant in Dark Souls 2 introduce intriguing stories. That name might not sound significant on its own, but in the surrounding area leading to the encounter, you can see several other faceless monsters that have been turned into petrified trees, victims of some sort of ancient curse. Eventually, the game unravels the mystery of the giants, but those initial connections you build from the mysterious trees and the Last Giant's name sparks an intriguing narrative thread that's fascinating to follow through the game's unique storytelling.
Hide secrets that allow you to kill specific bosses easily
Sometimes you'll face off against a boss a dozen times, eventually conceiving some crackpot strategy to cheese the fight, take an hour to whittle down its health bar, then die from a one-hit kill anyway. All that, only to later learn from your buddies that there's a super-secret tactic which can kill said boss with ease. But every challenge in Dark Soul can be overcome through persistence. You just need to get a feel for the mechanics of each fight, then play around with different strategies until you come out on top. And sometimes, while exploring every avenue toward victory, you come across the key to success. The answer is hidden in the Dark Souls world somewhere; you just need to find it.
This is brilliant, layered game design, and there needs to be more of it in Dark Souls 3. In Dark Souls 3, these Achilles heels should be more prominent, but more difficult to find. Take something like Bloodborne boss Father Gascoigne and his weakness to music box tunes - but instead of simply acquiring a music box by talking to the right NPC, give the player an optional mini-quest to overcome if they want that particular item, adding additional challenge to offset the advantage of the newfound weakpoint. This would give each special item more significance, and perhaps give even more insight into the creature we're preparing to fight. Finding these weaknesses and turning a nearly impossible battle into a cakewalk would be delightful - especially after you've spent hours getting beaten into dust.
Don't make the battles so predictable
Plenty of Dark Souls boss fights simply consist of an arena and a giant creature to circle strafe, but others mix things up. Dark Souls' Bed of Chaos feels more like a killer puzzle than a boss, with its multistage shield-breaking and nightmarish platforming, while the Executioner's Chariot fight requires that you detach a charging horse from a chariot that looks like it was decked out by Hell's version of Pimp My Ride. Neither of these represent the typical Dark Souls boss fight, but they're definitely some of the most entertaining.
I'm not saying Dark Souls 3 shouldn't have the classic, one-on-one, monster-vs-hero arena battles, but taking on more of these outside-the-box boss encounters would be a welcome addition. Instead of the standard skirmish, do things like create bosses that require other co-op players, introducing new multiplayer mechanics that have some players setting up traps while others distract an invulnerable boss. Or, you could crank it up a notch and have the boss summon opposing players to combat your co-op buddies. Then you'd have a mix of Dark Souls best elements - boss fights and PvP - all working in one glorious, bloody battle.
Let us pick apart the bosses' bodies when they're dead
Defeating a boss and receiving souls is great, but what really makes that accomplishment special is when you get your hands on their stuff. Boss souls can be exchanged for weapons and armor, but some items can only be earned by meeting some special requirement during the encounter, which adds a great incentive to revisit your greatest enemies through multiple playthroughs.
The first Dark Souls often rewards skilled players will special boss items if they manage to do a particular something during a fight. Dark Souls 3 could follow - and expand on - that trend. Players should get an item based on how the boss was defeated. Did you enlist the help of co-op players to bring the boss down? You get some shoddy boots. Felled the beast one-on-one? Here's a mid-tier greatsword. Did you complete a related sidequest, collect a boss-stunning xylophone, then use the instrument to deliver the final blow? Here's the coveted heavy helmet in the shape of that boss' open maw. This kind of reward system encourages multiple New Game+ bouts - and makes for an impressive way to aesthetically show off your accomplishments.