Hollow Knight is a game that is purposefully bewildering and confusing when it comes to navigating its elaborate and maze-like world. There are little to no instructions, even in the very beginning, as to which way you are supposed to travel first or even what your actual objective is within the game.
This is all by design as the excellent artwork and atmosphere is begging the player to explore every inch of its masterfully crafted environments but it also can be quite daunting for someone who is not used to the Metroidvania style and approach to exploring and navigation.
I believe the best way to guide your path might be to give you an optimized route by which you will face every boss in the main game that is necessary to defeat as a requisite to finish the game. If you encounter any other boss not listed here, which is many of them, just know that you can always come back to them later if you want. The bosses on this list must be defeated in order to win the game with the exception of the the Radiance, a boss that is only able to be encountered under a specific ending through your choices.
Please see our Ultimate Guide to the Bosses of Hollow Knight if you get stuck on any of these guys (and gals). Also, if you care about spoilers in either the story or the individual “aha” moments, do yourself a favor and only come back here if you get lost. This game is meant to be slowly explored and uncovered rather than mapped and guided; Hollow Knight is at its best when you are forced to discover its secrets for yourself!
1. False Knight
Location: Forgotten Crossroads
The False Knight is an excellent opening boss that teaches you the fundamentals of boss battles to come without overwhelming you with extreme difficulty. He seems formidable at first, but upon second and third playthroughs he becomes laughably easy by comparison. As with every other boss on this list, take your time, learn the patterns, and don’t get too greedy in big moments. False Knight is a pretty good start to a great pantheon of bosses.
(A great secret to make this boss even easier is that you can “bat” the falling asteroid projectiles during his slam attack phase into him to interrupt the attack and give you a window to wail on him.)
I love the first Hornet fight in Greenpath because it doesn’t feel like an unknown evil force to contend with but rather a long lost and forgotten friend, which kind of ends up being the case. Many of her own moves mirror ones that you will learn and add to your arsenal throughout the game. Although you are free to explore more of the map and earn upgrades to help you in the fight, you will not be able to progress further until Hornet knows you mean business. Just be thankful that she takes it easy on you this first time around as she will not be so forgiving when you face her again.
3. Soul Master
Location: Soul Sanctum
I will readily admit that this boss actually gave me a fair bit of trouble on my first playthrough. His attacks are mostly downward slams coming after teleportation and for whatever reason that threw me off quite a bit. Some other players I have spoken to said that he was no problem for them so maybe you will fair better. I do like his general aesthetic and moveset for the most part though and the awesome set-pieces and battle arenas make the victory quite satisfactory as well. All in all, Soul Master is one of the more enjoyable and inventive bosses in Hollow Knight, even with his steeper learning curve.
4. Dung Defender
Location: Royal Waterway
In my opinion this is where Hollow Knight takes a turn into more difficult territory, almost every boss after this one is on the more challenging side of things with the exception of a few. His arena is a literal pile of crap but don’t hold that against him. I also live the irony of an “honorable warrior” who is constantly drenched in dung. Hopefully by the time you reach him you will be knowledgeable about what you can do to beat him, but as with every other boss on this list, see my in-depth guide to defeating him if need be.
5. Broken Vessel
Location: Ancient Basin
Finding your way to this boss might actually be more difficult than the boss fight itself. Although he is challenging in his own right, navigating through the Ancient Basin blindly is a difficulty as well. He is all that stands between you and one of the three Dreamers to be eliminated so when you finally defeat him you will be one big step closer to crossing them all of your list. Those who have trouble managing space on the screen might have trouble with his AOE attacks but all he really comes down to is memorizing the proper spacing during those sequences.
6. Hornet (Sentinel)
Location: Kingdom’s Edge
The second encounter with Hornet is much, much, more difficult than the first and this may throw most first-time players for a big loop. While her general skill set and attack pattern remains the same, the addition of barbed traps laid all over the battlefield add a lot more challenge than what it might feel like at first. Prioritizing the elimination of these traps is crucial to defeating Hornet efficiently in Kingdom’s Edge. One of the coolest “cutscene” sequences in the game happens right after this, so at least you can know there is a worthwhile reward awaiting the victorious.
7. Watcher Knights
Location: Watcher’s Spire
By the time you reach the “Watcher Knight” you will probably have honed your play-style enough that they won’t present as much of a challenge as they definitely would have earlier on. Timing your strikes is always critical in Hollow Knight but maybe never more crucial than here. Knowing when to get a quick strike in and when to evade the rolling attacks in particular will lead to a quick victory on your part. Observe the patterns in each phase carefully and you are sure to overcome eventually.
8. Traitor Lord
Location: Queen’s Gardens
I think the Traitor Lord may have given me the most trouble out of any of the main bosses in the game mainly due to the fact that he is quite different from any other boss besides the Hollow Knight himself. As a large and imposing figure in the arena, he is quite difficult to get over and past to the other side when he begins backing you into a corner. Wait for his long, lunging attacks where he dips his head to head over and attacks him from behind for a moment. Attacking him head on during these sequences without getting out of the way is a sure fire way to get beat a bunch. Take it from me, play defensive with this guy as much as you can.
Location: Teacher’s Archives
I definitely wouldn’t call Uumuu difficult, much in the same way that I wouldn’t call standing in line at the DMV difficult: he is really just plain annoying. You have to dodge a bunch of “seemingly random” electric attacks while waiting for a friendly NPC to open up Uumuu to attack, which guarantees the fight to be equally as long each time you fight him no matter how good you are at learn the pattern of his attacks. Stay light on your feet and keep your eyes on the next platform as you bounce around and this overgrown jellyfish will be “swimmin’ with the fishies”.
10. Hollow Knight
Location: Temple of the Black Egg
Even though the Hollow Knight isn’t the true “final boss” of the game, he will be for many player’s first playthroughs. His attacks are varied and relentless, yet ample time to heal allows for longer fight attempts. All of these things result in a battle that feel epic in comparison with many of the other bosses. Fighting against him for the very first time is one of my favorite moments in the game and I found him to be a truly rewarding foe. The fight with the Hollow Knight will only be accessible at the endgame, after the three Dreamers have been found and slain.
Location: Temple of the Black Egg
This boss is the only one on the list that you may not necessarily see in your playthrough because it requires specific things to be found and specific decisions to be made to see. I mostly find this boss to be in the “difficult for all the wrong reasons” category, so if you don’t see him it isn’t really a huge loss. This fight boils down to pattern recognition and reaction time, resulting in many deaths that feel unfair and a fight that feels more like memorization than active decision-making. Persevere against this incredibly difficult foe and you will be rewarded with the “true” ending of one of the best Metroid-vania games ever made!