September 22 marked the 10th anniversary of Dark Souls, the cult classic RPG that gave birth to its own sub-genre. To celebrate, we've been looking back at the trilogy's best bosses, and hosted a bracket tournament to let our readers choose their favourites. To start the tournament off, each boss was put into groups of three and the sorting was dependent on how similar they were. For example, dragons were grouped together and demons were grouped together, this was to weed out the repeated bosses such as the Asylum Demon, Stray Demon and Demon Firesage. The bracket tournament stretched over six rounds and eventually, 93 bosses were whittled down to one. Let's see who came out on top!
For the 10th Anniversary of #DarkSouls , we wanted to throw one big bracket tournament to determine the best boss in the trilogy!
In Round 1, all 93 bosses have been grouped based on how similar they are to weed out the "duplicates".
Vote in the 3 part survey below! pic.twitter.com/TcfD8cFVRw
— GameLuster (@GameLuster) September 13, 2021
10. Lorian, Elder Prince and Lothric, Younger Prince - Dark Souls 3
Prince Lothric is arguably the main villain of Dark Souls 3. His stubborn refusal to rekindle the First Flame sets the whole game in motion as the Ashen One is resurrected to bring his ass back to the throne, along with the other resurrected Lords of Cinder who were brought back as a last effort to replace Lothric, but have instead decided to save their own skins as well. After defeating the Abyss Watchers, Aldrich and Yhorm the Giant, Lothric is the final Lord of Cinder to bring back to his throne to rekindle the First Flame. This puts some weight on this fight as you slowly trek your way through the hellscape that is the Kingdom of Lothric and drag your battered body up the ridiculous amount of stairs that lead to Lothric Castle. But it's not only the back story that makes this fight so great, it also takes place in the Grand Archives, one of Dark Souls 3's many throwbacks to the first game.
The tale of the Twin Princes is an interesting one, one of the many great pieces of lore in Dark Souls 3. Despite being the middle child, Lothric was destined to be a Lord of Cinder at birth and, as a result of his family committing an unknown yet awful deed to produce a child strong enough to survive the ceremony, he was also born cursed. This might also be the reason why, as you enter the large boss arena, it is revealed that Lothric is sickly and frail. For an unknown reason, his older brother Lorian, once a skilled knight who once slayed the Demon Prince which powered his sword with its fire, chose to share his younger brother's curse, and is mute and barely able to use his legs as a result.
The fight is both emotional and exciting, you'll first face Lorian alone and, despite his condition, this is no easy feat as not only will Lothric be teleporting him around the room but he will also hit you hard with his flaming sword if you're caught off-guard. Once Lorian is down, you're treated to a surprise second round as Lothric climbs onto his brother's back and revives him, showing how the Twin Brother's souls have become entwined from their shared curse. To finish off both princes, you must kill Lothric first as he remains on Lorian's back for the remainder of the fight and piles on some magic attacks for you to dodge as well as Lorian's deadly flaming sword.
What makes this fight so great is that we almost feel bad for the Twin Princes who are fighting tooth and nail to stay alive. Lorian's sacrifice for his brother is admirable and we can even sympathise with Lothric who has clearly been dealt the short straw right from the start, not only in being fated to burn alive, but also in his curse which has seemingly left him confined to his bed chamber. On top of this, Lothric is not the first nor the last person who will choose to let the fire die out, as it ultimately will do so eventually anyway. In fact, each game in the trilogy offers this as an end-game option - even letting the player choose what's right for themselves. Though, if you murder Lothric and then decide to let the flame die out anyway at the end of Dark Souls 3, you're a bit of a dick. We can definitely see why this boss has made it into the top ten. Did I mention Yuka Kitamura's 'Twin Princes' musical score to go along with this fight is also stunningly gorgeous?
9. Yhorm the Giant - Dark Souls 3
Yhorm the Giant is one of the few examples where a From Software game has prioritised the story over gameplay. Most of the story in the Dark Souls trilogy is told through item descriptions and NPC dialogue. Some bosses have entertaining entrance cutscenes, though most of them are to set the mood of the fight. However, Yhorm the Giant's fight is an occasion where we are treated to a brief, yet epic cinematic conclusion to a side quest within the game. Yhorm the Giant was a lonely being, having once lost someone very close to him, though he found friendship in Siegward of Catarina. Yhorm became a Lord of Cinder to save humanity from the Profound Flame which was consuming everything in its wake. Before his sacrifice, he gifted Siegward with his sword, Storm Ruler, and Siegward promised to put Yhorm out of his misery if he was ever resurrected again. This explains why we see Yhorm howling in the intro of Dark Souls 3 has he awakens to realise that the world he sacrificed himself for is succumbing to the darkness once more.
Siegward of Catarina is based heavily off a fan favourite NPC in Dark Souls, Siegmeyer of Catarina, as both are from the same country and wear the famous 'Onion Knight' armour. Similarly to Siegmeyer, we encounter Siegward consistently throughout Dark Souls 3 as he appears in need of help. Fans of the series would be actively cautious during this side quest, as aiding Siegmeyer throughout Dark Souls ultimately ends in his demise to his daughter as the prideful knight had eventually turned Hollow from the shame of having to be constantly helped throughout his journey. Siegward's story however, is different as he's set out to fulfill a promise he once made to an old friend, whether that's with the Ashen One's help or not.
As we enter the arena, if the player has helped Siegward in each part of his journey, he will join our side and produce probably the best cutscene in the trilogy. As Yhorm rises from his throne across the room. Siegward announces that he has come to fulfill his promise, making Siegward the only NPC to get his own cutscene too. And not only is the lore and emotional value to this fight excellent, but you're even given the option to put Yhorm down swiftly which is one of the rare moments where From Software 'goes easy' on the player. Across the room is Storm Ruler and its skill move 'Storm King' will not only knock a huge amount of damage from Yhorm in one go, but will also stun him long enough for you to recharge it and attack again straight away. However, if you do brave this fight without Storm Ruler, it is one of the best fights in the trilogy. He has the highest HP level in the game and, although his attacks can be easy to dodge, they are punishing and aggressive. Not only this, but just the visual effect of fighting a giant makes this fight exhilarating and worthwhile, we can see why this made the top ten.
8. Soul of Cinder - Dark Souls 3
The Soul of Cinder is the final boss in the main game of Dark Souls 3, and will be the final boss in the trilogy if you defeated the DLC bosses beforehand, so this fight had to be amazing and it certainly didn't disappoint. Not only is the boss arena visually stunning, with the Darksign hanging in the stormy sky, but it is also set in the Kiln of the First Flame, which happens to be where you finished off Gwyn in Dark Souls, another nostalgic throwback to the first game (and there's more to come).
The Soul of Cinder is an amalgamation of all the Lords of Cinder in the past and exists to defend the First Flame from being rekindled. So this means the Soul of Cinder also possesses the soul of the Chosen Undead, which is where this fight really cranks up the difficult as this being has a mixed set of skills which represent the various character builds you can create in the Dark Souls trilogy. He will swap out his attack style within seconds, going from a mage build to a knight within a blink of an eye. This is what makes the fight so difficult, as you can't go in with an attack plan in mind when his style changes up so many times. We're grateful that the arena is so big so that you can briefly escape and gather your bearings for a moment.
And if this wasn't enough, the Soul of Cinder has two phases. His second phase is even quicker and deals much more damage as he stops swapping out weapons and sticks with a sword. But now we're in for a treat, as Gywn's theme tune plays into Yuka Kitamura's epic 'Lord of Cinder' musical score and he starts mimicking the Lord of Sunlight's move set, only more aggressive to match the advancement in technology since the first game. The Soul of Cinder has some of the most powerful attacks in the series, not only dealing a huge amount of damage with his flame-lit sword but also performing devastating miracle attacks, with his homing Sunlight Spears that appear from the storm clouds being incredibly difficult to dodge. The Soul of Cinder was our readers' favourite endgame boss in the trilogy and we can certainly see why.
7. Crossbreed Priscilla - Dark Souls
Crossbreed Priscilla's placement in this list may be due to the groupings of the bracket tournament (with 93 bosses to organise, there were bound to be some odd couplings), however she was up against Darklurker at one point, who is a fan favourite and one of the most difficult bosses to beat in Dark Souls 2.
But this doesn't mean that Priscilla's fight isn't worthwhile as she is a unique opponent being the only boss to offer you the chance to just leave. It's not often that you come across a pacifist in this series. Priscilla was locked away in the Painted World of Ariamis as she wields the Lifehunt Scythe, a weapon so deadly that even the gods feared it. However, when you encounter her she reveals that she has always known how to leave the Painted World, but chose not to. She then tells the player to leave without bloodshed, as the Painted World is peaceful and its inhabitants are kind (yeah, the same inhabitants that you just defended yourself from to get out of that hellhole). If you refuse to leave, only then will she attack.
The most difficult part of Priscilla's fight is trying to hit her or avoid her attacks when she turns invisible (and also trying to specifically hit her tail if you're wanting to cut it off and get a hidden weapon). The only way to determine her location is keeping an eye on the footprints in the snow. If she hits you, she can inflict a huge amount of bleed damage.
6. The Nameless King - Dark Souls 3
The mystery surrounding The Nameless King's identity is almost as great as the fight itself. Gwyn was always speculated to have a secret first born son, though it was never revealed who this was exactly. The Nameless King lines up perfectly with this theory, a former king who was once a dragon-slaying god of war during the Age of the Gods (Gwyn also fought the dragons too), and he's also the heir to lightning (a bit like Gwyn), until one day he betrayed his own kind and threw everything away to side with the dragons, even taming a Stormdrake and forming a close bond with it.
This fight is epic and chaotic, and Motoi Sakuraba's crazy, organ-centered 'Nameless King' musical score goes with it perfectly. The first phase of this fight is with the King of the Storm as he rides around on his Stormdrake who does most of the attacking while the King prods you with his spear every now and again. Once the first phase is finished and the Stormdrake is slain, the King will absorb his friend's energy and become The Nameless King. His attacks are deadly and hard to dodge due to their slight timing delay. If you dodge too early then you'll be punished severely. As a result, The Nameless King is one of the hardest and best bosses in the trilogy.
5. Abyss Watchers - Dark Souls 3
For an early game boss, the Abyss Watchers certainly put up a tough fight, and rightly so seeing as though they are a legion who serve in the name of Artorias the Abysswalker. In fact, the Abyss Watchers are probably the first challenging boss you will face in Dark Souls 3 since they are also the first of the Lords of Cinder to defeat. Gank fights aren't very popular in the Dark Souls trilogy, mainly because Dark Souls 2 used them too often and without much consideration at that. However, the Abyss Watchers are one of the rare occasions where not only does the gank fight make sense lore-wise, but it's also well-balanced and doesn't feel like a cheap tack-on to increase the difficulty.
The Abyss Watchers were part of the Undead Legion of Farron, put together to fight the Abyss which also consumed Sir Artorias and they even take on his techniques and strength to do so. They were so hellbent on taking out the Abyss that they would destroy entire territories that were even slightly under threat by it. On top of this, just like Artorias, the Abyss would eventually consume the Watchers as they undertook their duty, which meant some soldiers in the Legion were tasked with taking out their corrupted comrades before they were consumed completely. This is what we walk into as we enter their headquarters in Farron Keep as one last Abyss Watcher remains to take out his comrades as they rise from the dead corrupted by the Abyss, we can assume this is why they haven't taken their throne to relink the Flame.
Even if you removed the fact that they are based in Farron Keep, one of the most infuriating locations in Dark Souls 3 due to it being the designated poison area of the game, the Abyss Watchers can be really tricky as they are trained to fight like Artorias, only there's more of them. You're only saving grace is that you only need to kill the sane one and the corrupted Watchers will also attack him if you stay out of the way. But that's only in the first phase. The second phase is a different matter entirely as your target will absorb the power of his dead comrades in the room, becoming much more aggressive and now dealing fire damage too. Not only are the Abyss Watchers just really cool, but you can also grab their armour and weapon set after the fight, which is arguably some of the best kit in the game. On top of this, Yuka Kitamura's 'Abyss Watchers' musical score once again nails the mood of the fight.
4. Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough - Dark Souls
The fight with Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough is not only one of the best bosses in the Dark Souls trilogy, but is also one of the most memorable moments in a From Software game. In fact, we even named this as one of our top relatable moments in Dark Souls because the shock of walking into this boss room for the first time is shared among Dark Souls fans. To put it frankly, Ornstein and Smough is a damage per second (dps) check. This is where the difficulty in the first game is cranked right up, not only from the boss fight but the moment you stroll through the golden gates of Anor Londo and attempt to take out a Sentinel is a wake up call to many players that they haven't upgraded their weapon nearly enough.
Anor Londo is stunningly beautiful, yet deadly and that's why we love it so much. You'll go through hell to reach Ornstein and Smough, from being harpooned off the cathedral walls by THOSE two archers, to tip-toeing your way across the chapel rafters whilst assassins fling throwing knives at you - it's not a fun ride. To top it all off, the area outside the boss arena is filled with Royal Sentinels which will surely take you out a few times before you even make it to Ornstein and Smough.
The boss fight itself is balanced between Ornstein zipping around the room with his spear that deals Lightning damage and Smough, although much slower, clobbering you with his gigantic hammer - a move that could easily take out most of your health in one go. And that's not all, this is the first occurrence in the series when a boss has a "second chance" phase. Once you take out one of the dynamic duo, the other will absorb their fallen comrade's power, regain their health and come back twice as hard. It will take a lot of practice to defeat these two for the first time but the payoff is terrific.
3. Sif, the Great Grey Wolf - Dark Souls
Sif, the Great Grey Wolf is a boss fight that will only really hit you hard once you've read into her story. You encounter this sword-weilding wolf in Darkroot Garden when looting a ring off Knight Artorias' grave. Upon being so rudely interrupted in your grave robbing, you proceed to slaughter her before skipping away to kill a family of giant mushrooms too.
Upon reading some item descriptions and then encountering Sif as a pup in the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, you may start to realise that Sif wasn't the bad guy at all in this situation. In fact, Sif was Artorias' companion and Artorias used his last strength as he was slowly consumed by the Abyss to protect her with his Greatshield. Sif has ever since guarded her friend's grave along with the ring he used to travel through the Abyss, ensuring that no one else will take it and fall to the same fate. Of course, that's until you come strolling through the fog gate.
This fight has become a fan favourite from this story alone. It even holds tiny details to make you feel even more sympathetic towards Sif. When her health is low, she will begin to limp and her moves will become sluggish - showing that's she's using all her strength to stop you from taking that ring. And if you're insane enough to complete the DLC before this fight, she'll even recognise you in the opening cutscene and howl in realisation that she's going to have to kill you. On top of this, Sif is great fun to fight and one of the best non-humanoid fights at that. She's quick, ferocious and we also named her as one of our most relatable moments in Dark Souls. It's not often that a Dark Souls boss makes you feel bad for killing them.
2. Slave Knight Gael - Dark Souls 3
Slave Knight Gael had some big shoes to fill being the last boss in The Ringed City DLC and therefore the entire series. With so many excellent bosses throughout the trilogy, all odds were against him. How on Earth could From Software top off everything they have done so far? Well, they did it. You can tell the developers threw everything they had into this fight and it pays off beautifully, quite literally beautifully as Gael moves like a dancer and every frame of this fight looks like it could be a painting and Yuka Kitamura's insane 'Slave Knight Gael' musical score pairs with it perfectly.
At the end of the world, you reach a desolate wasteland, all the inhabitants are dead and only one remains as you find him feasting on the Pygmy Lords. Slave Knight Gael is a character that you will encounter throughout Dark Souls 3, he is on a mission to help his niece, The Painter, create a new world. In your first encounter with him, he requests you set The Painter free from her current imprisonment and show her the flame that would burn the rot of the Painted World of Ariandel, so that she can replace it with someplace new. But even after reigniting the flame to burn away the rot, The Painter then reveals she needs a certain pigment to complete the new painting, and this is the Dark Soul, first discovered by the Furtive Pygmy in the introduction cutscene of Dark Souls. When you find Gael in the Ringed City, he has devoured the Pygmy Lords in hopes to take the Dark Soul, an act of madness after discovering their blood alone will not serve as a suitable pigment after he has travelled for so long. The power of the Dark Soul has become too much for Gael to handle, and he's been corrupted as a result.
The fight starts off with Gael swinging madly. He is uncharacteristically quick for a person of his size and he hits incredibly hard too. But once you have whittled his large health bar down to a certain point, you suddenly realise why the boss arena seems to be infinitely large - it's so you can run away from this lunatic. All of a sudden, his long red cloak turns into wings and he's spouting Dark and Lightning magic like it's nothing. It's hard to know where to look during this fight and it takes an incredible amount of focus not to blink at the wrong time and be instantly wiped out. Did I mention this guy also wields an machine gun-style cross bow? Slave Knight Gael is a truly challenging end to the series and really tests all the skills you have built up throughout the trilogy. It will really take all you have to take him out and you'll feel damn proud for doing so, the perfect way to end the series.
1. Artorias The Abysswalker - Dark Souls
Knight Artorias is a name we will hear throughout Dark Souls as he was one of the Four Knights of Lord Gwyn and it's his grave who Sif is protecting when you go to claim the Wolf Ring, though we only meet him in person in the Artorias of the Abyss DLC. What's left of Artorias, the knight who we have heard so many great things about, is enough to urge you to put him out of his misery. Artorias was once a knight who famously used his Wolf Ring to travel across the Abyss and hunt down Darkwraiths. When he and Sif travelled to Oolacile to save the settlement from the Abyss and rescue Princess Dusk who had been abducted by Manus, Father of the Abyss, Artorias and Sif were quickly overwhelmed by the Abyss. Artorias bravely sacrificed himself to save Sif, using his Greatshield to create a force field to protect her with.
When we find Artorias, he has been completely corrupted and driven insane by the Abyss. Artorias is probably the quickest boss in Dark Souls which has the slowest AI movements in the trilogy due to its age. In a way, it felt like Artorias was ahead of its time and easily one of the trickiest bosses in the game. With both his backstory and his incredible fighting style which paved way for multiple bosses throughout the trilogy that were inspired by his design, we can see why Artorias effortlessly made his way through our best boss bracket tournament to take that first place.
Thank you to all the GameLuster readers who took the time to vote in the Best Dark Souls Boss bracket tournament.