There are very few moments in gaming that are as exhilarating or as pulse-pounding as finally taking down that annoying Dark Souls boss that you found yourself stuck on for a while.
The frustration and anger that you might end up feeling towards some of these devilish nightmares are all meant to be part of the experience. Without the difficulty, the sense of relief and accomplishment at your triumph would be nowhere to be found.
I can remember when I finally defeated Ornstein and Smough for the first time. I literally yelled at the top of my lungs in victory, only to quickly realize that it was two o’ clock in the morning and I had just woken up my wife. Luckily I had been practicing my parries so the fight that ensued with her wasn’t too difficult.
In all seriousness though, this article will be an attempt to rank each of the Dark Souls bosses by the difficulty they would impose upon the average player, starting with the least difficult and ending with the ones that will make you shudder at the thought of crossing their paths again.
Spoiler Warning: Reading this list of rankings may ruin some opportunities for you to discover a few secrets on your own.
- 26. Pinwheel
- 25. Moonlight Butterfly
- 24. Asylum Demon
- 23. Taurus Demon
- 22. Dark Sun Gwyndolin
- 21. Gaping Dragon
- 20. Iron Golem
- 19. Ceaseless Discharge
- 18. Gravelord Nito
- 17. Crossbreed Priscilla
- 16. Seath the Scaleless
- 15. Capra Demon
- 14. Gwyn, Lord of Cinder
- 13. The Bed of Chaos
- 12. Centipede Demon
- 11. Chaos Witch Quelaag
- 10. Bell Gargoyles
- 9. Great Grey Wolf, Sif
- 8. Stray Demon
- 7. Demon Firesage
- 6. Sanctuary Guardian
- 5. Four Kings
- 4. Ornstein and Smough
- 3. Artorius the Abysswalker
- 2. Black Dragon Kalameet
- 1. Manus, Father of the Abyss
By the time that most players feel that they are at a high enough soul level and skill level to face the dreaded Catacombs, this boss ought to be an absolute pushover. Perhaps if an unfortunate misguided player ended up facing him as their first boss then it might be a different story.
He has an incredibly limited move set beginning with summoning two clones of himself, firing a single magic spell, and eventually doing an AOE (Area of Effect) attack that will do minimal damage unless you do not simply walk away from it. Simply pursue the nearest clone and a single hit will cause the illusion to break.
Once you find the real Pinwheel again get as many hits in as you can because striking him will cause a new cycle to begin. Rinse and repeat until he is dead and you will be given the Rite of Kindling, which will allow you to further kindle bonfires so you can carry ten Estus after resting there.
Overall Difficulty: .5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: Pinwheel is actually the fused bodies of a Father, Mother, and Child. The Mother and Child died in an unknown manner and the Father stole the power of necromancy from Gravelord Nito to revive them. He ended up “reuniting” with his family in a way he didn’t expect, however, and now must carry them wherever he goes.
25. Moonlight Butterfly
The Moonlight Butterfly is a boss that is very easy for pretty much every build but it is laughably easy for a magic build or a pyromancy build in particular.
The boss will float around parallel to the bridge that the player is on while firing two different magic attacks, one which fires six “soul arrows” at the player and the other firing a single homing mass. The recommended strategy is to “tank” the arrow attack and dodge the homing attack. Tanking is allowing the attack to strike your shield, knowing it will damage you but not nearly as much as a mistimed dodge.
Rinse and repeat until the boss lands at the middle of the bridge and then go to town on her. Most players should be able to defeat her in two cycles but doing it in one is possible if the player has magic attacks or pyromancy to use while the Moonlight Butterfly is in the air. Hitting the wings will do no damage to him so be sure to wait until she has stopped moving so you can strike at her body.
Overall Difficulty: 1.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: When the Moonlight Butterfly comes to rest on the bridge, it is actually feeding on the greenery growing there, recuperating her ability to use magic against you.
24. Asylum Demon
As the first boss that you encounter in the entire Dark Souls series, it should be no surprise that the Asylum Demon is also one of the easiest. To a first time player, this boss serves not only as a rite of passage to the actual game but also as a tutorial to how almost every boss that they will face in the game should be approached.
He serves as a lesson that Dark Souls does not play fair. When you first encounter him, you are not meant to fight him but rather to run to safety in a door on the left side of the arena. It is a moment that says “this game will not hold your hand”, which might put off some gamers but made me want to beat it even more.
Use the plunge attack opportunity at the start of the real fight, get around behind him and wail on his butt ( a strategy that works for ninety percent of these bosses). Watch out for his slam attack though, which he does by first flying into the air.
Overall Difficulty: 2 out of 10
Interesting Fact: When you first open the gate leading to the boss arena you can look straight up to see the Asylum Demon ready to pounce on anyone trying to escape the Undead Asylum.
23. Taurus Demon
Typically speaking, most players will have to face the Taurus Demon as their first “real” boss of the game. His sudden appearance is meant to surprise and frighten the player, causing them to become unnerved and scramble around looking for help. If the player stands their ground however, this is a boss that most can beat on the first try or two.
If that doesn’t work then there is a famous “cheese” strategy you can use. “Cheesing” is defeating a boss in an intended or unintended “easy” way.
Before the fight begins, turn around and climb the ladder to the left of the fog gate, kill the two skeleton archers on top of the tower, and go back down. After the boss spawns in and jumps down, run back to that tower and use a plunging attack on him, then run past him to the other side. Wait for his next slam attack with his great-hammer, then run past him to the ladder and repeat the plunging attack strategy until he is dead.
Overall Difficulty: 2.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: Demons in Dark Souls were created by the Witch of Izalith when she attempted to make a copy of the First Flame, but instead created the Chaos Flame that mutated her and her daughters and formed the Demon race.
22. Dark Sun Gwyndolin
Some bosses of the series can be labeled as “gimmick” bosses or bosses that do not pose a physical challenge, but rather a mental one. Gwyndolin is not a hard boss at all, but if you charge into the fight recklessly you are going to have a bad time.
First of all, the pillars on the sides of this endless arena are your best friends. Be sure to show them love and hug them often in this fight.
Gwyndolin only has three attacks at his disposal, but all three can be the death of you if you aren’t careful. He can shoot a volley of arrows, cast homing orbs, or unleash a stream of deadly energy.
The best advice I can give for getting in close is to tank the hits from the arrows and time your rolls for the magic attacks, weaving in and out from behind the pillars on whichever side you prefer.
When you do finally get in close, continue to swing even after he has teleported because he will still take damage for a moment after leaving. Using this trick makes this annoying fight only half as long.
Overall Difficulty: 2.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: One of the two ways to get to this boss is by attacking Gwynevere after the fight with Ornstein and Smough. This is not the real Gwynevere however, but rather an illusion placed by Gwyndolin to conceal the true fate of Anor Londo after Gwyn left to rekindle the First flame.
21. Gaping Dragon
Seeing this boss coming over the spillway only to realize in a moment that you are only seeing his head was a fantastic way to introduce him.
That being said, this boss was pretty easy on my first playthrough and i didn’t even come close to taking damage in NG+. His attacks have incredibly long windups, it is very easy to get behind him and attack his tail (which gives you a cool weapon if you whack it off), and as long as you don’t stand directly in front of him when he raises up to slam, you will have more than enough time to heal after every attack.
The only thing that might actually mess you up are the pools of acid strewn around the arena. Simply take note of the safer areas and try to bring the fight there as often as you can.
This boss might even be hard enough to qualify as a final boss for any other game, but here he just gets points for being initially scary-looking.
Overall Difficulty: 3 out of 10
Interesting Fact: When the Gaping Dragon appears, he is coming up a spillway that leads down to Blight Town. No wonder he looks so hideous!
20. Iron Golem
Sen’s Fortress was one of the coolest areas in the game for me so I was a little disappointed to end up fighting in this extremely mediocre boss encounter.
He has very slow windups but powerful attacks and depending on your vitality level can actually kill you in one hit in some occasions. At every attack simply roll forward and towards his right leg and keep attacking it.
If you keep attacking only one of his legs he will eventually fall down completely and if he is close enough to the edge he will fall off. This is made even easier if you have a strong enough lightning weapon.
It’s a shame that such a boring boss is sandwiched between Sen’s Fortress and Anor Londo, two of the best areas of the game.
Overall Difficulty: 4 out of 10
Interesting Fact: The Iron Golem is said to have been commissioned by Gwyn to keep the undead from reaching Anor Londo and he was given life by placing a dragon’s soul into a massive set of armor.
19. Ceaseless Discharge
Almost every boss in this section of the game can be considered difficult for the wrong reasons. It is clear that From Software was in a time crunch to finish this game on time and did not put anywhere near the effort that can be seen everywhere else.
However, Ceaseless Discharge has an unintended exploit that you can use for a very easy victory if you so desire. As soon as you have awoken him, run back to the fog gate and simply wait. He will walk to the edge of the “lavafall” and then reach out to hit you but instead plummet to his death.
Without this exploit, he can be viewed as a test of your soul level because you are guaranteed to get hit and you will have to dole out the damage fast.
Overall Difficulty: 5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: Ceaseless Discharge is the grotesquely mutated brother of the dead Witch of Izalith’s daughter that you encounter to begin the fight. He watches over her body in an effort to honor her remains.
18. Gravelord Nito
The design of this boss is simply terrifying and some of the secrets you can discover about him are really cool. The fight with him, however, can become really simple as long as you keep a cool head and don’t let his appearance get to you.
The only thing you really need to worry about is staying close to him and trying to get behind him as often as you can. All of his sword attacks are from the front and the only attack that can get you here is an AOE attack with the longest windup imaginable.
You may be tempted to worry about the skeleton minions he has but doesn’t even bother with them. If you stick close to Nito then when he does the aforementioned AOE, it will kill all of them and he will have to stop and summon new ones, which is a great time to attack.
Overall Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Interesting Fact: You can visit Nito’s arena earlier in the game by using an Eye of Death and then climbing in an open sarcophagus deep in the Catacombs.
17. Crossbreed Priscilla
This boss is aptly named because she is a “cross” between a standard boss and a gimmick one.
During the fight, she can turn invisible in an attempt to get around behind you for devastating attacks that have a bleeding effect. Simply watch the snow in the arena for her footprints and make sure that she stays in front of you at all times.
As for when she is visible, stick to her furry tail and definitely don’t let her frost breath get you. Most players should find this part to be very easy by this point, especially if they have explored enough to even find her.
Overall Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Interesting Fact: Priscilla’s parentage is uncertain, but we do know that she is half human and half dragon. She also could possibly be one of the lost children of Gwyn.
16. Seath the Scaleless
The Ring of Sacrifice. It has one real use and chances are you didn’t have it on when you met Seath for the first time, so just kiss those souls goodbye and get ready for sweet revenge.
When the fight starts to get around behind him quickly and break the Primordial Crystal at the back of the arena (he is invincible unless you do this).
Now the fight becomes a simple, yet somehow still difficult game of keep away as you get behind him as often and as early as you can, avoiding his crystal breath and waiting for the right moments to attack his tail. He does have a tail attack combo so stay patient, don’t get too greedy, and you will eventually overcome.
Overall Difficulty: 6.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: Seath betrayed the weaknesses of dragons to Gwyn in exchange for the right to take the Primordial Crystal which granted him invincibility.
15. Capra Demon
The Capra Demon was actually my first real roadblock on my journey and so that is why I have placed him near the middle of my ranking.
Upon entering the smallest arena ever conceived this boss will immediately rush you to do an overhead slam attack and will not relent from his attacks for even a moment after that. He is super quick, has nearly double the HP of the Taurus Demon and oh yeah, there are two dogs packed in there with you too.
I have found after much practice that the best way to kill him is to go right initially then immediately roll left to avoid the slam. Run up the stairs and kill the dogs as they chase you then jump down when the Capra Demon approaches and hit him as he lands behind you, then rinse and repeat until he is dead.
Overall Difficulty 6.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: You can actually kill the Capra Demon with a few well-placed arrows or firebombs over the fog gate to his arena.
14. Gwyn, Lord of Cinder
Learn to Parry. That’s it. If you have mastered parrying by the end of the game then the final boss of one of the toughest games of this generation is an absolute joke. But if you haven’t, then good luck to you my friend.
He is fast, unrelenting, leaves little to no opportunities to heal, has a massive HP pool himself, and a grab attack that will make a grown man cry.
Without parrying on your side all you need to do is: have perfectly timed dodges, don’t get caught on the geometry of the arena, and have a steady stream of ice water in your veins.
NG+ almost demands that you learn to parry effectively so when I fought this undead “savior” again I reveled in the sweet vengeance as he crumbled in front of me!
Overall Difficulty: 7 out of 10
Interesting Fact: If you choose to rekindle the First Flame in the same manner that Gwyn did the cycle will be reset and you will become the new Lord of Cinder, awaiting a new chosen undead to come and fight for the right to rekindle. In a build of the game that never happened, you would actually have fought your previous character at the end of NG+ instead of Gwyn.
13. The Bed of Chaos
Hard for all the wrong reasons. In my opinion, this is the worst boss of the entire series and is a nominee for the worst boss design of any game I have played.
Run to the left, avoid the giant “branch” arms and destroy the shield. Run to the right, avoid the giant arms and gaping holes and destroy the shield. Run up the middle and jump with perfect timing to avoid getting swatted out of the air by a giant arm, landing on a branch taking you to the actual boss, the deformed, bug-like body of the Witch of Izalith. All of which is frustratingly easier said than done.
Smash the bug, get your Lord’s Soul, and forget this “fight” ever even happened.
Overall Difficulty: 7 out of 10
Interesting Fact: There are many, but this boss deserves none of them.
12. Centipede Demon
When this fight begins quickly run to the right and jump over the smallest width of lava that you see, then continue right and jump one more time to find a large lava-free area you can fight him in. This will hurt you but it is well worth the peace of mind.
In your first attempt, you ought to start by targeting his large right arm as cutting it off will grant you a ring that drastically minimizes lava damage. You can use this on your next attempt if you die, making the fight slightly easier as far as the arena goes.
After his arm is cut off his leaping attack will happen more frequently but at least he usually lands right where he jumped. Overall this boss can be tough as he can hit you with attacks no matter where you stand so just keep your eyes trained on him and continue to move around as you strike. Perseverance and practice will win the day if you keep at it.
Overall Difficulty: 7 out of 10
Interesting Fact: You can see the Centipede Demon clinging the side of the large staircase that you ascend on your way to the Demon Firesage.
11. Chaos Witch Quelaag
I more or less have Quelaag here because of the difficulty she gave me on my first playthrough. As the guardian of the second Bell of Awakening, she requires some practice to get down and earn your right to progress.
The strategy for defeating her is actually not as difficult as what you may remember from the first playthrough. Roll forward through her sweeping sword attacks and whack at her right side, moving with her as she turns to face you for extra swing opportunities.
When she stops to vomit lava all over the floor strategically maneuver to a new area of the arena before engaging her again. Do not stick around when this happens because she will use it to corner you if you let her. Also, there is no shame in summoning if you need it. Believe me, I get it, especially if it is your first time playing a From Software title.
Overall Difficulty: 7.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: Quelaag’s sister can be found beneath the boss arena dying of a sickness that can only be temporarily healed by Humanity. Quelaag kills all who enter her lair not because she is evil, but because she wishes to gather Humanity for her sister’s sake.
10. Bell Gargoyles
Here we go, the top ten. This is where the rubber meets the road as many players will all-out rage quit over facing these bosses again and again.
In my opinion, this is the first fight that truly separates those who will give up and those who will never give up. It is a standard fight if you think about it, but something about the setting and the sense of urgency to kill the first gargoyle quickly makes this fight unforgettable.
After all, downing that first gargoyle quickly is the key. I have logged hundreds of hours into the Dark Souls series and I still don’t wish to fight both of them together to this day. This is where players decide to hate Dark Souls or decide to love it.
Overall Difficulty: 8 out of 10
Interesting Fact: If you cut off the tail of the first gargoyle you get the Gargoyle Greataxe. If you cut off the tail of the second, you get my favorite weapon in the game, the Gargoyle Halberd.
9. Great Grey Wolf, Sif
Get your tissues folks because after playing through the DLC and realizing why he (or she, no one is really sure) has taken up residence in a graveyard, you won’t ever want to contest this pup again. It is a heartbreaking tale and an even more heartbreaking fight.
The strategy is simple, get underneath him and strike at his two back legs as often as you can. This will cause him to leap backward and wait for you to approach again but just keep moving towards him with your shield up, ready to roll under as soon as an attack has missed.
His attacks have varying speeds, which can mess up new players and he does quite a bit of damage if you are hit without your shield up, but he leaves generous windows to heal so if you bring a lot of Estus it makes for a more fair fight.
Overall Difficulty: 8 out of 10
Interesting Fact: If you return in NG+ with Artorius’s armor set from the DLC equipped you will get a slightly different but far more heartbreaking opening cutscene.
8. Stray Demon
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Beavis. Many players I have spoken with say that they had did not have that hard of a time with this boss so I am not sure where I went wrong.
I died to the Stray Demon more times than I can count and I honestly never want to deal with him ever again. First of all, you take fall damage to start the fight, the arena is as small as the Asylum Demon’s, he has an increased move-set that deals far more damage with each hit, and he has an AOE magic attack with a fast windup that can hit you just about anywhere you run to.
He’s called a stray for a reason because as far as I am concerned he is unwanted, unloved, and unneeded.
Overall Difficulty: 8.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: You can see the Stray Demon as soon as you start a new game by looking to the right through the bars of the first prison hallway.
7. Demon Firesage
And then there is Butthead. Once again another reskin of the Asylum Demon boss, but this time instead of magic, you have to deal with fire.
The real challenge for me wasn’t just with the boss but also with the area you fight him in. The roots of trees stick out everywhere, making dodging some of his large AOE slams super difficult. I usually spend the first half of the fight moving him around the arena so he can clear them out of the way for me!
The strategy is the same as the Asylum Demon or Stray Demon with one exception, stick to the front. Going behind will cause him to do his butt slam attack over and over again, which is tedious and annoying. Also, keep strafing back and forth as you move because all of his light attacks are followed by a fire blast that will occur where you were when the attack started.
Overall Difficulty: 8.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: You can avoid this fight altogether by utilizing the Izalith Shortcut, which requires you to give one hundred humanity to the Fair Lady, Quelaag’s sister.
6. Sanctuary Guardian
Anyone who would buy DLC for such a game as Dark Souls is really just asking for more pain in their life. From Software must have known this because four out of my top six bosses are from the DLC.
This guy is literally the first enemy that you encounter in the “Artorius of the Abyss” DLC, the first one! I took extra time to level up excessively before starting it because I had heard all about how hard it was. I thought I had come prepared but I was not at all.
I died over and over again to this thing for a few reasons. First of all getting behind him is a bad plan because he has a scorpion’s tail that will poison you in a few hits, secondly he moves in on you quickly as you drink Estus so you are bound to get hit again each time you do, and lastly he is nearly invulnerable to lightning damage, which was my entire build at that point.
The safest time to strike is immediately following the attack where he rears up and delivers a shock wave that can be seen in the water. Roll to one side then move in quick for two or three hits, rinse and repeat.
Overall Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Interesting Fact: If you return to his arena after you light the next bonfire and rest there will be two of them there for an additional challenge.
5. Four Kings
Now we are really getting to the tough guys and we begin with the Four Kings. Their name is kind of a misnomer though because you could end up fighting as few as two or as many as eight, depending on the strength of your build and the skill that you have.
When you first land in the Abyss quickly turn your camera around in a circle until you see the first one spawn then move in quickly. Time is of the essence in this fight and you must defeat each one as quickly as you can.
Each of them can summon a homing orb that will absolutely devastate your health bar if you don’t have a strong magic shield but they will only summon it if you are far enough away so stay close to them. Rolling into their attacks and to the right is the key to victory for this fight.
It may take you two or three tries (or twenty-four) but this is a winnable fight for most players.
Overall Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Interesting Fact: Each of the Four Kings were given a piece of Gwyn’s Lord Soul and a section of New Londo to rule in Gwyn’s stead. It would seem they did a stellar job keeping everything afloat.
4. Ornstein and Smough
I love this fight. The arena. The music. The opening cutscene. Everything about it. That’s not to say it isn’t tough as nails, but it is hard for the right reasons. There is a balance to how they attack and allow you to recover from it, there is almost an honor to it and it makes this fight unforgettable.
Taking on Ornstein first is probably most players best bet as you can draw him away a bit easier and deal with him one on one. Whomever you choose, after one is down the other will absorb the fallen’s power and heal completely.
I wasn’t even mad when I got to that point, I was excited. It made me feel as though the boss I was facing was as desperate to win the battle as I was. It is still the only boss in the series that I am sad to defeat now because I know I have to wait for another entire playthrough to face them again.
Overall Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Interesting Fact: It is rumored that originally both Ornstein and Smough were concepts for the same boss but Miyazaki loved both so much he put them together in the same fight. If that is true it is the best move he ever made.
3. Artorius the Abysswalker
There is a reason that this fight is overwhelmingly considered the favorite among the Dark Souls player base. Even as an undead husk of his former glory, the Knight Artorius is more than a worthy adversary.
His attacks have odd timings and reaches, the way he glides across the floor while dragged his massive greatsword is almost mesmerizing, and he can go into a rage at times that truly frightens me to this day.
I feel like I would be robbing a certain joy in overcoming this fight with extensive tips and tricks so just get in there and give this amazing Knight of Gwyn the death he wants and deserves.
Overall Difficulty: 9.5 out of 10
Interesting Fact: You can find and rescue Artorius’s beloved companion Sif as a pup in the area leading to the Manus boss fight filled with Humanities.
2. Black Dragon Kalameet
An absolute beast of a fight in every way. He has the largest HP pool of any boss, a handful of attacks that can kill in one hit. and extremely limited windows to exploit for damage.
Learning to fight this boss is like learning to waltz in perfect timing. Every move must be memorized and immediately evaded or countered.
He can breathe fire in front of him or he can fly up and breath it straight down. He can swoop down towards you (or fake like he is going to) and swipes at you after you roll.
Bring your best gear, your best weapon, and every ounce of your concentration to help this dragon join his ancient brethren.
Overall Difficulty: 10 out of 10
Interesting Fact: The Obsidian Greatsword will drop if you can manage to sever Kalameet’s tail. Have fun with that.
1. Manus, Father of the Abyss
Here he is, my number one, hardest to kill, made me want to cry myself to sleep boss fight. On my second playthrough, even Manus didn’t feel that bad anymore but he was the bane of my existence for several days on the first go around.
He is unrelenting, super powerful, resistant to most forms of elemental damage, can strike from any distance, has a huge HP pool, and can utilize a dark orb homing attack that is extremely difficult to block or dodge. Oh and he has a massive left arm.
Manus does not just require you to be good at Dark Souls, he requires you to have mastered it in almost every way. The estimated percentage of players who have at least played one hour of Dark Souls Remastered and defeated Manus is 5.4% (which is also mostly players who had the original and felt they were good enough at the game to buy it again).
Overall Difficulty: I BROUGHT YOU INTO THIS WORLD AND I CAN TAKE YOU OUT OF IT out of 10
Interesting Fact: Using the Silver Pendant during this fight with good timing will make all of Manus’s dark orb attacks null and void.