Few contemporary games strike fear into the hearts of players like the Soulsborne series does. In an industry that’s become notorious for hand holding, tutorials out the wazzoo and generally wiping your sorry backside for you (nice Barney the Dinosaur undercrackers, by the way, wuss boy), FromSoftware like to harken back to the good old days of gaming. The days when even freaking Disney platformers would beat you down and make you regret every life choice you ever made.
As such, you’d probably think that the Souls bosses wouldn’t be the sort of charming, wholesome guys and gals you’d want to bring home to meet your mama. You’d be darn right on that one, my friends. True to the games’ dark fantasy roots, your average boss is a dragon the size of the Chrysler building, or a knight with a sword of similar proportions, or some kind of slavering demon. That’s the sort of cloth these guys are generally cut from.
It goes without saying that these are some challenging bouts right here. Demons Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy and Bloodborne have bought us some of the toughest fights in recent gaming memory. But there’s more that goes into these encounters than just ramping the difficulty up to eleven. Hard battles are one thing; some gamers live for that sort of thing. What of the mechanics themselves, though? The Souls bosses that are pains in the be-hind on different levels entirely? Let’s meet some of them. Buckle up and prepare yourselves for my take on Dark Souls’ 15 Worst Designed Bosses.
This is very personal, as with any Souls boss list, so be gentle with me and suggest who you’d cut for who and the like on Facebook!
When it comes to ‘worst designed,’ what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Which Soulsborne boss is as ugly as all holy hell and should be left up on a mountain to be eaten by wolves like the Ancient Greeks used to do, that’s what. There have been some freakish abominations in the course of Souls for sure, but most hideous of all in my book would be this guy.
Unlike the Ancient Greeks, we’re not just talking a child who whined a lot, looked a bit wimpy or had a big ol’ nose. The One Reborn is a vast, caterpillar-ish fleshy mass with arms, legs and assorted limbs growing out of it in odd places.
I grant you, The One Reborn is supposed to look like that. In the later stages of Bloodborne, a band of witches perform a rite to summon a ‘Great One,’ which goes horribly wrong and results in this ghastly being. The fight itself is kind of crappy, too, with a tendency to be super easy or a real drag depending on how many of those flailing legs you get caught by/how many bodies are dumped on your face/how many times it opts to use its disgusting blanket-the-entire-area-in-corrosive-vomit attack. Good times all around.
In addition to the general ball-busting difficulty of the Souls titles, FromSoftware do love to add a slice of their own unique brand of trolly BS on top as well. When you’re atop a tower trying to traverse a thin framework of beams, there will be a perfectly placed enemy there. It’ll either be something tough with attacks that are impossible to evade on the narrow walkways or some otherwise-harmless crappy mob that falls from the ceiling onto your head.
That’s just the way these games work and we’ve made our peace with it. Sometimes these elements even work their way into boss battles, as with Dark Souls’ resident a-hole The Bed of Chaos. This thing is the source of all demon life, a kind of gateway, and it is not fun.
A puzzle boss, The Bed begins the fight with two ominous orbs, one on either side. Destroying these triggers the fight’s next stage, also making the floor collapse in places. Couple this with wide, flailing attacks, and it’s Insta-Death City, Population: Your hopes, dreams and will to live. Poise is the key to this fight and woe betide the adventurer who lacks it.
Dark Souls 3’s Undead Settlement area isn’t the kind of fancy-ass vacation spot that TripAdvisor reviewers are so fond of. You won’t be giving this place five stars for the quality of the breakfast. You won’t be giving a shoutout to Wayne, the owner. That charming couple from Oregon with all the cats? Nobody cares. Things are different down here in the Undead Settlement.
This place has been thoroughly cursed, friends. Cursed to balls and back. The Big Bad Wolf has cursed and cursed ‘til it cursed their house in. The upshot of all this? The worst of it was placed into a great tree, in an attempt to rid the settlement of some of the evil. Instead, this huge monstrosity was born.
The Curse-Rotted Greatwood is one of the biggest enemies in the history of Soulsborne and is a real strange fight. Apart from the fact that it likes to raze the ground and change the arena, it’s impervious to damage besides certain odd lumpen weak points (ala a traditional video game boss). With that, and the way the damn thing rolls around, this all adds up to one crappy encounter.
Every school has that one guy. Sometimes several of him. This is the guy who, while never doing anything particularly wrong directly himself, is always the ringleader of all manner of dastardly and bastardly behaviour. The Charles Manson of junior high, if you will, only with more conspiracy to push the fat kid over at recess and less conspiracy to murder. This guy even features in Bloodborne and his name is Rom, the Vacuous Spider.
There’s nothing remotely difficult about this fight, granted. It’s a bit of a joke on that score. It’s just a pain. On starting the battle, Rom will be entirely defenceless, not attacking or doing anything at all until you hit it first. On doing so, it’ll summon a gank squad of goons to hide behind. A couple of phases later, it’s firing volleys of ice missiles and such at you, but otherwise, it’s not up to much. It’s the minions themselves that are the problem, leaving you with two alternative ways of going about this battle: Either dart in and out hitting Rom hoping the hairy horde doesn’t catch you in the back, or slowly and ass-numbingly-boringly take out the little guys one by one.
While we’re on the subject of a-hole animal-related bosses, here comes the Royal Rat Authority. You encounter this big rat in Dark Souls II’s Doors of Pharros and it’s not fun in any kind of way.
The fight with this thing is similar to the one with Rom. The Authority also has minions, predictably a small band of smaller-but-still-damn-freaking-bigger-than-rodents-have-any-right-to-be rats. As with Rom’s underlings, these guys can be much more problematic than the boss itself, perhaps even more so in this case. The smaller rats boast poisonous attacks, possibly inflicting Toxic on you and stunlocking you in place so the Royal Rat Authority can pound you into a speck. Fun, fun, fun.
Does any part of this sound like a good time? That’s because it isn’t. If you haven’t had enough of the rat-boss fun, the Royal Rat Vanguard is also a thing and also an asshole.
Or, as I prefer to think of it, Déjà Vu No Freaking Fire At All Sage.
My beef with this guy is a little different. The fight itself isn’t all that bad and it’s quite the intimidating-looking mother to boot. This fella, you don’t want to screw with. The problem is, though, we’ve seen it all before. Demon Firesage is as by-the-numbers as it gets, like FromSoftware typed ‘cut and paste Dark Souls boss’ into their auto-game-o-matic machine and this was what was crapped out.
It’s almost a straight Mortal Kombat Sub Zero/Scorpion/Reptile palette swap and that’s what sucks the most here. Stop imitating others, Demon Firesage, and just love yourself for who you are. Embrace the wonder that is you and be the best damn Demon Firesage you can be. Probably start with learning some actual fire attacks, for one. What the hell’s that about?
This guy. This freaking guy. I get Micolash’s significance in lore and plot terms, I totally do. I can respect that. Did he really have to be such a huge, raging, Grade A douchebag though?
You encounter Micolash in the closing stages of Bloodborne and his defeat marks the beginning of the end. Everything about his design and boss fight is irritating, from his long, twisting and confusing arena itself, to his tactic of running around and around it until he decides to head into a corner and actually fight, to the puzzley dead-end situations. Let’s not forget his tendency to fight in a small arena, where that huge exploding spell he casts is liable to crush you into sad, defeated, raging chunks of spam. Or the odd howling, chanting weirdness he likes to indulge in while you fruitlessly search for him.
Micolash is less of a pain on subsequent playthroughs where you understand how the fight works a little better, but man was this a pain the first couple times around. Screw you, Micolash.
I hate those damn flies. And also, I don’t know if I mentioned, but those flies suck.
You encounter the Dirty Colossus late in Demon’s Souls, amid the filthy and crap infested Valley of Defilement. This guy is right at home here, disgusting as it looks. From a design standpoint, I can’t tell just what the hell they were trying to do here. It’s just a huge brown hunk of nothing at all. So there’s strike one right there.
Secondly, the fight is kind of horrible. Dirty Colossus loves to blast swarms of flies at you, which will inflict damage over time (and way too much of it). To combat this, there are torches strategically placed around its arena, which you can use to burn the douchey vermin off. This, without some pretty darn deft evasive moves on your part, will deal you damage as well. It’s just an all-round bad time.
If there’s a trend that seems kind of popular so far on this list, it’s bosses with minions. Minions who are often much more cretinous than the main foe themselves, or who at least ramp up BS factor by a good few times. That’s you as well, Capra Demon, with those damn dogs of yours.
For me, this is a bout that could have been a lot of fun, without the unfortunate design decisions that hold it back. The odd hallway arrangement of the arena, for one; being chased through here by mobs is not a good time. The camera’s a bit shonky, too, making just keeping your opponent and his underlings in view feel like a MENSA hazing. That business with the stairs? Screw it. I do not want.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Don’t go running away with the false impression that I’m just talking smack for the sake of it. Firstly, we’ve got to acknowledge the fact that these guys look like utter badasses. Skeletal warriors are one of the biggest fantasy clichés possible, but they still look awesome.
My issue with this Dark Souls II boss is that it’s a little cheap and bland. The trio has a shared health bar, meaning that they must all be defeated to win. Each of them, on ‘dying,’ spawns a different little crew of standard skeletons, so the whole situation can degenerate into a horrible clustereff very quickly. I’m all for challenge, obviously, that’s Dark Souls’ whole thing, but this lame sort of artificial difficulty doesn’t sit right with me.
Damn it, FromSoftware. You can’t just slap a naked Jabba the Hutt into your game and hope that George Lucas’ rabid band of winged lawyer-monkeys won’t notice. They’re on to you, you crafty buggers.
That’s right, guys and gals. The Covetous Demon is a huge gelatinous… lump that primarily attacks by rolling and trying to crush your sorry butt. As designs go, it’s about the norm for this sort of thing, doing nothing at all to differentiate itself from similar enemies (like those of the Vita’s Soul Sacrifice). The fight is by-the-numbers, also featuring a gimmicky mechanic which allows you to release mobs for the Demon to eat, thus distracting it and giving you some free hits.
There’s nothing difficult or special about this one, really, it’s just there. It also has a completely cheap grab that un-equips all of your gear, which is super hard to put right in the heat of the battle. Why is this a thing again?
The Living Epic Failures is more like it. HA! How do you like that burn, you weird lumpen jerks?
Now, as Bloodborne fans will know, the game was only graced with one DLC expansion, dubbed The Old Hunters. This pack gave us a glimpse of life before the events of the main story and showed us the fates of some of the major players, like Laurence and Ludwig.
It also gave us some real a-hole bosses. The furious fiery Cleric Beast 2.0 that Laurence became, for instance, and the freakish horse’s-ass-face-thing that was once Ludwig. These were some brilliant showdowns, right here, and the content ended with one of the most notorious battles in Soulsborne history: the Orphan of Kos. In my view, though, the Old Hunters was let down by one craptacular boss, the Living Failures. I understand their purpose, lore-wise; they are the results of the Healing Church’s twisted-ass experimentations.
I think the standard was set too high by previous encounters, as well as the cinematic showdown with Lady Maria which occurs straight afterwards. This odd fight with a feeble, deformed Blue Man Group just didn’t tickle my fancy at all.
Has nobody in the Dark Souls dev team ever heard the old phrase less is more? Maybe someone brought it up in a board meeting once, causing Miyazaki to jump up on the table like a drunk uncle at a wedding and howl “Well, if less is more, then just think how much more more will be!”
This is totally what happened. Hence the very design philosophy that brought us the Deacons of the Deep. It’s the same tactic employed by the bad guys in every shoot ‘em up ever: just keep throwing more and more dudes at the problem. It’s an interesting novelty, and it breaks up the typical one-huge-slavering-beast-who-wants-to-chew-on-your-manplums way of boss battles, but this just smacks of laziness to me. And those spells that can fly all the way through that central obstacle to hit you? That shouldn’t be a thing at all. Ever.
I’m kind of on the fence here, if I’m honest. On the one hand, I really, really dig the whole undead demonic armour thing. On the other, there’s a limit to how many of these great clanking buggers a man can take. Even Dark Souls II’s biggest fans know that it was a big armoured boss dude after big armoured boss dude-athon, and this guy took the cake on that score. Even his name suggests that it was late on a Friday afternoon and FromSoftware wanted to hurry it out as fast as possible and get the hell home.
The Old Iron King is a huge, flaming beast (right before, and after, superior ones) with limited range on its attacks, but they can be devastating up close. That smash? That’s going to be sore in the morning, my friend. There’s also lava you can fall into, because of course there is.
And so we arrive at, I would say, the most generic boss in the entire franchise. If there’s anyone who truly does exactly what they say on their tedious tin armour, it’s this fine gentleman here. Striding about atop Heide’s Tower of Flame, the Dragonrider doesn’t have a dragon handy to ride. What does he have? A pretty damn impressive waist measurement and a halberd desperate to be embedded in your skull, that’s what.
There are a lot of similar bosses in Dark Souls II, but none of them quite smack of mob the way this one does. Is he really worthy of being a boss? After the first time around, they seem to have decided against it. Later, in Drangleic Castle, you fight a pair of these guys at once and Scholar of the First Sin demotes them to regular non-spawning enemies you encounter before something much worse. Something that could probably take the Dragonrider’s lunch money.