Dark Souls III is here and, if you know me, you know one thing: I freaking love Dark Souls. I love playing Dark Souls. I love writing about Dark Souls. I love sitting alone in a windowless room just thinking about Dark Souls.
Given that I am flat-broke and can’t afford to buy Dark Souls III for a few more weeks, I decided to take a look back at some of the best bosses from the series thus far. I’m not joking when I say that I was on the second paragraph of that post when my goodwill towards the series was promptly soured once again by more PR bullshit from Bandai Namco, so I think I’ll take the piss out of the rubbish encounters instead.
For those not in the loop, let me direct your attention to particular offence that changed the nature of this post. In what should have come as a surprise to no-one, Namco have demonstrated an absolute disregard for health of the Dark Souls brand. Instead of seizing the opportunity to provide us with a genuinely nice collectors piece, some cretin in a boardroom signed off on this.
The Dark Souls III Prima Official Game Guide was sold for $129.99 with the inclusion of an Estus Flask replica, an item from the game that it is literally impossible to find good replicas of, even on Etsy. So the promise of an official one was enough to peak the interest of everyone with an unhealthy relationship with the series. But Namco, clearly not content with the slow poisoning of the Dark Souls brand, decided to throw a healthy dose of false advertising into the mix, just to really drive home the point of how little they care about Dark Souls and its fans.
You could call me petty for turning on the games I love simply because Namco are being terrible again. Surely, you might say, if I were to lambaste the Souls series each time Namco riled me up, I would have little time in life to pursue other interests, such as scouring B&Q car parks for free DIY supplies and waiting in train station cafes for connections I have no intention of taking. You’d be right to call me out like that, but I spend so much time gushing over the Souls games that I feel they deserve a gentle prod. Plus, a disproportionate number of the worst boss encounters are in Dark Souls II which isn’t even that good anyway.
To clarify, I’m looking at just the vanilla Dark Souls & Dark Souls II. While I’ll not deny that both Bloodborne and Demon’s Souls have their fair share of less than excellent boss encounters, it only complicates things when you start writing about five different games from three different IPs.
The Bed of Chaos (Dark Souls)
Despite the superb visual design and strong core concept behind the Bed of Chaos, the actual encounter is insufferable. It plays much more like a set piece than a fight, with the player working to destroy barriers around the heart before diving into the writhing mass of flames and branches to slay the tiny but powerful being within.
I love the idea that something so small is responsible for such chaos, both in the room and the wider world, but the actual encounter is a tedious slog through instant death pitfalls and wonky code. Dark Souls was plagued with technical issues due to the sheer scope of the original game and Bed of Chaos is a prime example of where things went wrong.
Executioner’s Chariot (Dark Souls II)
Upon passing through the boss door, you’re immediately swamped by re-spawning skeletons which you must dispatch while avoiding the actual boss as it rampages continuously around the circular room.
Once you’ve been stun-locked into a corner and died a couple of times, you might make it through to the second phase where, after pulling a leaver, the chariot crashes and you have to fight the horse. The executioner died in the crash presumably but his horse lives on; obviously distressed that it can no longer spend its its days running in circles for seemingly no reason, it’s out for blood.
The actual fight is laughable and amounts to little more than a quick scuffle as you dodge its predicable attacks. The entire experience plays out like you’re committing some urban knife crime towards a horse while riding the London underground during rush hour. The only redeeming feature of this boss is that it’s entirely optional.
The Skeleton Lords (Dark Souls II)
Another boss encounter where the most difficult aspect is something other than the boss itself. The Skeleton Lords are three desperately weak and easy mobs that guard the path of progression. However, the skeletons which are summoned on mass upon their death are another question entirely.
With each lord you defeat, a small horde of weaker mobs will spawn and really put the word “cluster” into cluster fuck. The main offenders here are the bonewheel skeletons that zip around the arena at lightning speeds and will instantly pulp you should you not be playing as some sort of uber-tank.
I actually like the bonewheel skeletons as a standard enemy, but what I don’t like is when they appear in my goddamn boss encounters and quickly become the most threatening thing in the room.
The Royal Rat Authority (Dark Souls II)
You remember Sif, the Great Grey Wolf from Dark Souls? Of course you do. Well, the best way to describe this shambles is like Sif, if he was a gross rat-thing that destroys all your gear with corrosive sludge, is guarded by two needlessly difficult smaller rat-things, and completely lacked any atmosphere or relevance to the lore.
If you’re lucky enough to dispatch the two smaller mobs before the big fellow gets to you (which, spoiler alert, you won’t) the fight is very straightforward. It’s just a big rat-thing. It jumps, it bites, it pukes on the ground.
Given that you’ll probably fail dealing with the two smaller mobs in a timely fashion, you’ll get stun-locked and destroyed in about two seconds flat. On top of that, the corrosive rat-thing puke will have broken all of your gear so you’ll have to repair it – with the souls you dropped when you died which are… in the room with the rat-thing that just killed you. Do you see the issue here? Ultimately this is a classic example of artificial difficulty but one that is vastly worsened by the chronic item degradation.
The Royal Rat Vanguard (Dark Souls II)
“But Haydn, this doesn’t look like one of those infamous Dark Souls boss encounters I’ve heard so much about. This looks like a room full of giant rats, the weakest and most boring of all fantasy genre enemies, second only to goblins,” I hear you say.
Firstly, I’d question your ranking system if they’re second to goblins, and secondly I’d say you’re right about pretty much everything else. This boss battle is literally a room full of giant rats. It’s not difficult or cheap like the others on this list (though the sheer volume is quite galling despite being easy to handle), it’s just a room full of giant rats. That’s it.
“Well actually, it’s one giant rat and the others are all decoys-” shut up, you. It’s a room full of giant rats and it’s the second most lazy piece of boss design I’ve ever seen in a Souls game.
Belfry Gargoyles (Dark Souls II)
The Bell Gargoyle from Dark Souls was a great encounter wasn’t it? You tentatively step out onto the roof, the sky is a dreary grey with gentle spots of blue; it’s beautiful in its own miserable way. The camera pans over to a gargoyle on the ornate bell tower before you, it slowly cracks and moves as it springs into life and descends with frightening speed, smashing onto the tiled roof and letting lose a blood curdling howl.
It’s a pitched battle between you and an opponent with all the advantages; speed, flight, range, fire breathing, an axe for a tail. You get it down to about half health and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself when, all of a sudden, a second gargoyle appears. This one is already weakened and missing its tail but still, you’re outnumbered and things are looking rough. It’s okay though, you have plenty of room to maneuver and the time spent with the first gargoyle has clued you in on what to expect. This encounter is Dark Souls boss design at its finest. It teaches you the ropes, then makes sure you’ve been paying attention.
Such brilliance only makes the mere existence of the Belfry Gargoyles in Dark Souls II all the more baffling. It’s literally just the same from Dark Souls only this time there is six of them and the roof is a little smaller. Once again, difficulty in numbers takes precedent over clever design, a fact which is only made more aggravating by the clear misunderstanding of what made the original incarnation of this encounter so good. Simply adding more gargoyles does not a good boss fight make. It lacks intelligence, purpose, and grace and is the most artificially difficult encounter in the entire series.
Having replayed Dark Souls, Dark Souls II and Bloodborne recently, the absence of game director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, in Dark Souls II couldn’t be more obvious. Both Dark Souls and Bloodborne are on an entirely different level to Dark Souls II, and the boss encounters are just the superior dressing on what were already vastly superior salads.