Boss Design in Dark Souls

20 May 2018 on rants. 12 minutes

Dark Souls is one of the most entertaining games I’ve played in the past few months. While I haven’t beaten the game yet, I’ve been meaning to look for an excuse to talk about it for a bit, and I want to draw attention to one of it’s biggest strengths: it’s boss design.

Now obviously, this is a very obligatory warning, but spoilers from now on out. I’ll not be censoring myself for spoilers here, if you don’t want to be spoiled and go in blind, don’t read any further.

My history with the Souls-esque game genre is an odd one. I’ve played various ‘Souls-esques’ before actually jumping into the series proper. In fact, I only started playing it last month, and as I kinda semi-predicted, I’m having a fucking blast with it.

While the focus of this blog lies on the bosses, I’ll only be talking about how far I’ve progressed so far and I’ll be talking about a few of the bosses that really stood out to me. As far as progression goes, I’ve defeated three of the four Lord Soul holders, with only Sif and the Four Kings remaining as far as main storyline bosses go. I’ve sided with Kingseeker Frampt and my main weapon is a Black Knight Sword+5 I got from the Northern Undead Asylum, with as a secondary a Pyromancy Flame+11. Covenant is Chaos Servant+2.

Anyway, let’s get a move on.

Taurus Demon

Taurus Demon

Mommy isn’t happy to see you.

The Taurus Demon is often the very first ‘real’ boss encountered in the game. Real boss, since the Asylum Demon mostly serves as a tutorial fight, and once you get your equipment, you get the ability to take off a large chunk of it’s health easily and it’s easy to defeat from there on out.

While you can technically skip it by crossing through Darkroot Basin and Darkroot Garden past Havel the Rock if you have the Master Key, there is very little reason to skip the Taurus Demon.

As far as the boss fight itself goes, this fight is probably the most interesting one in the game as it’s a perfect example of how Dark Souls teaches you things.

Here’s how my encounter with this boss went: I entered the fog door, walked over the bridge, saw the demon appear and promptly got pummeled to death by it’s attacks. The second time went much better, with me keeping my distance and trying not to get too close to it. Result: I got arrowed to death. These arrows must’ve come from somewhere, and as a result, I decided to explore the boss area before the boss spawns. Turns out there is a ladder next to the fog door. Climbing it reveals two Hollow Archers who presumably were pelting me with arrows earlier.

After dealing with them, I realize that I’m in a great spot for a plunging attack if I lure the demon over. So I spawn the boss, rush over to the ladder, climb it and then linger for just a bit too long. Cue the demon jumping onto the platform (note: Asylum Demon also does this but to a lesser extent in that it just deals some damage and destroys your chance for massive damage) and pummeling me to death.

Finally, the strategy was just to be quick in climbing up the ladder, plunge on it, luring it away from the ladder and then rushing back to the ladder. Rinse and repeat.

While the final strategy for this boss is almost pathetically easy, the road in which Dark Souls educates you to dealing with challenges (namely by first having the player get kicked in the teeth by something and then letting the player use said something to their advantage) is commonly repeated throughout the game.

Havel the Rock

Havel, "the Rock" Johnson

What rings you got?

Havel the Rock is a bit of an oddity as far as Dark Souls bosses go. Most of the main bosses have their own fog doors, health bars and attached armor/weaponry. Havel has none of that. He’s just a regular enemy, and the first time players can encounter him, it’s very unlikely that they won’t even consider him a boss. Just an enemy with a slightly unique design. Who then promptly oneshots them.

I actually have a bit of a story to share about this boss. The most common reason I wind up playing video games on my neverending “to play list” is because one of my friends is into it, or that theyve been recommending it to me and have been pushing me to play it for a while. In this particular case, two of my friends were highly into it. One of my friends advised me to get the Zweihander early, and use it to beat Havel the Rock for his ring (if it ain’t obvious, he was trying to get me to go Giantdad). So being a good little Evi, I did as he told me to.

Havel the Rock subsequently helped me get good at backstabbing human like enemies. It took me up to 7 hours to defeat the Rock, but man did I feel like a badass beating him.

Anyway, to defeat Havel, the player can either leave him alone and deal with him when they encounter him at the other side of the Door to the Basin he stands next to, or they can circle him, rolling away from his attacks and try and get enough backstabs off to drain his health to low enough.

His ring is decently useful and is generally the ring I have equipped aside from the Ring of Favor And Protection. It increases your equip weight by a lot, essentially allowing you to have a decent roll in spite of having good armor.

What to take from Havel the Rock is that not all bosses carry a sign that they are a boss. Havel is nowhere directly listed as a boss, yet his difficulty at the point he’s encountered effectively makes him one. His armor is obtainable much later, and much like many of the other bosses in Dark Souls, he has a decent amount of lore attached to him that is interesting to read up on.

Ornstein & Smough

Nipples and Spears

Snorlax and Pikachu

Dragonslayer Ornstein & Executioner Smough, Dark Souls 1’s either most hated or favorite boss duo. That’s right, duo. These two are the last line of defense of Anor Londo before you meet Gwynevere. While if you fight them for real is a bit up for debate (considering Ornstein is implied to have survived and left Anor Londo later on to look for the Nameless King in Dark Souls 3 and everything else in Anor Londo is an illusion made by Gwyndolin), these two put up one hell of a fight.

On your own, these two are hell. Both pummel you with attacks, and since theyre two enemies, you’ll likely die to them repeatedly before you can take out one and get the other to their second stage.

That said, there is a second option available for Ornstein & Smough. What do you do if you’re outmatched? Why, you summon in the cavalry!

Praise the Sun! Cross the gaps between the worlds, and engage in jolly co-operation.

Just outside of the boss gate, you can find Solaire of Astora’s summon sign. Solaire is a huge help for the first stage of the boss fight, and while he isn’t likely to survive the second stage, he can greatly help drawing away the aggro of either boss, while you wail on the other. Me, I took out Smough first, and Solaire mostly helped tanking Ornstein. With Solaire, the first stage just becomes an exciting case of Jolly Co-operation, and the second stage of either boss (either Ornstein gaining Smoughs size and buttslam or Smough simply adding a lighting AoE to his attacks) is usually already soloable (in my case, Solaire survived for long enough to let me reposition and observe Ornstein for a bit).

Some people think that summoning in Dark Souls to help you with bosses trivializes the game. For some bosses, I agree that summoning can easily oversimplify them (Quelaag is a bad case of this, Maneater Mildred can easily take all her aggro), but in the case of being outmatched, I view that summoning to even the odds makes the game more ‘fair’. I’ve seen people complain about Ornstein and Smough being a huge difficulty bump compared to the other bosses in Dark Souls, and even the ones after them are easier.

The thing is, a bossfight like Ornstein and Smough is designed to let you make use of Solaire. With Solaire, you’re evenly matched against the boss, and taking them out together with Solaire feels much more like the interplay of damaging and defending you normally find against the easier bosses in the game.

This also happens a lot earlier, when you can summon Solaire to help and defeat the Bell Gargoyles. While the Bell Gargoyles are kind of trivialized by summoning Solaire (and especially if you free and summon Lautrec of Carim as well), the boss itself undeniably becomes more fun when fighting it together with another NPC.

Bad Bosses

Not all bosses in Dark Souls are good. Here are a few bosses I didn’t like:

  • Pinwheel. Underwhelming HP, it went down way too fast, especially since it serves as a guardian to the Tomb of Giants.
  • Nito. This might just be due to me being able to take out his skeletons with one hit, but Nito attacks slow, moves slow and just really stood there while I chipped his health off.
  • Seath the Scaleless. This guy ran on the mechanic of being immortal until you take out an object in his second arena. The reason he’s on this list is not just because of the fact that you have to die once to him to progress the story, it’s because Seath is the only boss in the entire game to inflict the Curse status, which is difficult to cure without either using an item only available in limited quantity or completing the first half of New Londo. Oh and this guy has three tails and has a tail cut that has a very tiny hitbox. Fuck this guy.

Bed of Chaos

Bed of Shit Burn the witch

And finally, the only legitimatley bad designed boss in the game I’ve encountered so far: The Bed of Chaos. The Bed of Chaos is just… garbage boss design. Unlike all the other bosses in the game, the Bed of Chaos works in stage-based damage, not health based damage. While it’s first two stages are relatively easy to take out (the gaps in the floor can be dodged with relative ease and it’s attacks initially are very easy to dodge), the final stage is utter hell, as it requires the player to be able to pull off a jump while the boss uses it’s arms to swipe the player away from their destination (combined with the risk of accidentically rolling and losing your life due to that) and after that to basically be able to tank a Fire Tempest from the boss.

But the worst bit is that when you finally reach the core of the Bed of Chaos, it’s that it’s only a single bug enemy controlling the entire thing. I even hit it on accident while trying to clear away the roots around it, and it died instantly.

Oh and the nearest bonfire, should you happen to die, either requires you to run in lava (meaning you need to use the Orange Charred Ring and dont forget to swap it out) or requires you to run all the way from the Demon Ruins past a respawning Prowling Demon if you happen to be able to open up the Chaos Servant shortcut.

Lorewise the Bed of Chaos is great, it’s a boss with heavy implications and ties to the lore and it’s a wellmade boss for that. But gameplay wise, this is the only boss that can completely go and fuck itself.

Conclusion - Final notes

Welp, those were all the bosses I wanted to talk about so far. Like I said, I haven’t beaten the game yet, nor have I tackled the Artorias of the Abyss DLC. I might talk about these bosses in a later post, but until then, see you on the flipside.

Now for a bit more of a household PSA: Unfortunately my domain name expired. While this is a very annoying circumstance, I can’t do much about it. The site is for now back on, but I plan on getting another name soon. If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of fixing your bookmarks, just keep as the base url for any of the posts here. It should always redirect to whatever domain I choose to redirect it to.


  • All screenshots for the bosses were taken from wikidot with the exception of Solaire of Astora’s concept art.
  • Dark Souls and any related characters and concepts to it belong to Bandai Namco/FROM Software.

Special thanks:

To my friends who finally convinced me to play this game.


The GOTY 2017 - Now with less shick hydrobot

So…. 2017 is drawing to a close. I’d say it’s been a better year than 2016, simply by virtue of the fact that 2016 had what I would say is the biggest political split of American left and American right/alt-right I’ve seen in my life. By that comparison, 2017 has been a rather tame year, only broken up by (at least for me) several chances to shake my head and smile in relief that I don’t live in the United States. Anyway, while I could go and continue my ego stroking, the fact remains that 2017 is coming to a close, and with it, it’s time for my one and only “Game of The Year” awards.


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