Top 10 Dark Souls bosses: Best (and worst) ranked

Dark Souls III
Dark Souls III (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Dark Souls series is beloved by millions of players for several reasons, with the biggest of them being the franchise's boss fights. Over the years, developer FromSoftware has crafted countless memorable boss encounters across the trilogy. Most of them have been excellent — especially in Dark Souls III — but some bosses stand out for the wrong reasons, too. Here's a look at our top 10 best (and worst) Dark Souls bosses.

Top 10 best Dark Souls bosses

The best bosses in the Dark Souls series generally have readable animations, a moveset that can be learned, little to no random number generator (RNG) elements, a cool design, and excellent music. Significant ties to the story and the player's journey never hurt either.

10. Velstadt, the Royal Aegis (Dark Souls II)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

While the base game of Dark Souls II has many underwhelming bosses, Velstadt is one I absolutely love to take on. As King Vendrick's "right arm," this towering knight eternally guards his king in the depths of Drangleic Castle — despite the fact that Vendrick became a shell of his former self and went hollow years ago.

The rectangular stone arena where you fight him isn't very notable, and the music that plays during the fight is forgettable, too. That being said, Velstadt's massive bell-hammer is iconic, and his golden set of armor is incredibly cool as well. The fight itself is also a blast, as Velstadt's attacks hit hard with smooth animations, and can be consistently dodged with good timing. He can buff himself with dark magic during the fight, too, which changes some of the timings on his attacks, raising the stakes.

9. Fume Knight (Dark Souls II)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

Fume Knight is arguably the hardest boss in Dark Souls II, but unlike most of the game's tough battles, it's for good reasons. Fume Knight hits like a truck and uses a sword that's nearly the size of one, but like Velstadt, you can dodge everything he throws at you if you're patient and learn the timings of his attacks. He also has a diverse moveset as well, which helps keep the fight against him interesting and enjoyable each time you challenge him.

Fume Knight (also known as Raime) is also neat from a story and lore perspective, too. He was originally King Vendrick's "left arm," but after he was defeated by Velstadt following unrest between the two, he retreated to Brume Tower in search of a new purpose. By the time players engage him, he has sworn fealty to Nadalia, the Bride of Ash.

8. Burnt Ivory King (Dark Souls II)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

The Burnt Ivory King is one of the most interesting boss fights in any Dark Souls game. It feels less like a duel and more like an all-out war between the Burnt Ivory King and his Charred Loyce Knights and you, other players or NPCs you summon, and the regular Loyce Knights that you can find throughout the Crown of the Ivory King DLC. The spacious arena where you fight him looks sweet and gives players plenty of room to work with, too, which is always great.

The Burnt Ivory King himself isn't that special, but his attacks are telegraphed well and varied in their timings. This makes dueling him after all of his minions are slain an engaging and fun experience.

7. Black Dragon Kalameet (Dark Souls: Remastered)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

I generally don't love most of the beast boss fights in Dark Souls due to wonky camera angles and animations that often feel difficult to read, but Black Dragon Kalameet is an instance where the developers managed to avoid issues with either while also making the boss feel brutally challenging, yet completely learnable and fair. With lots of patience and practice, players can master Kalameet's deadly tail swipes, nosedives, and streams of deadly fire breath.

Players with enough skill can also cut off Kalameet's tail to obtain the Obsidian Greatsword, which is one of the best weapons in the first Dark Souls. It can also be buffed with magic, which increases the damage further. Cutting off Kalameet's tail also prevents him from doing tail-related attacks, which rewards the player for their bravery.

6. Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough (Dark Souls: Remastered)

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Out of all the different bosses in the original Dark Souls, the most iconic of the bunch is arguably Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough. Taking them on at the peak of Anor Londo is one of the best climactic moments in any action RPG ever, and the reason why is because of how well the fight is designed. To balance out the fact that you're outnumbered in this battle, Ornstein is fast and agile while Smough is slow and tanky. This speed difference creates space between the two that you can use to your advantage. There are also several pillars in the boss arena that you can move between to break the aggro of both foes, too, which gives you the precious seconds you need to heal or plan your next move.

Once you take one of the two bosses down, the other absorbs the power of their fallen comrade, becomes larger, and gets a new moveset. This makes the bout even more dynamic, as players will have to think carefully about which enemy in the duo they want to fight a superpowered version of. Even the atmosphere and context of this fight are awesome — the orchestral score that plays during the battle is thrilling, and the fact that the all-important Lordvessel is just past Ornstein and Smough helps encourage players to never give up no matter how many times they fall.

5. Artorias the Abysswalker (Dark Souls: Remastered)

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Artorias the Abysswalker is often considered to be the best boss in the first Dark Souls, and when you consider how perfectly his fight is designed, it's easy to see why. Artorias is aggressive, but his attacks are also telegraphed well, so learning how to dodge his combos is not only achievable but also very fun. On top of this, many of the combos have different variations. This keeps the player on their toes and ensures that each time you fight Artorias, the experience will be a little different than your last playthrough. The arena is also nice, large, and empty. There are no environmental gimmicks here — it's just you against him in a deadly test of your skills, patience, and determination.

Artorias is also awesome from an atmosphere and lore perspective. The haunting, somber soundtrack drives home the tragedy of Artorias' defeat at the hands of Manus and his subsequent corruption by the Darkness, and the fact that you find him battling Darkness creatures before your fight with him indicates that somewhere, deep down, a shred of who Artorias once was remains.

4. Soul of Cinder (Dark Souls III)

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One of the series' final bosses is also one of its best. There are many reasons why the Soul of Cinder boss fight is so memorable, but above all else, the fact that you're essentially fighting a combination of all previous Lords of Cinder is simply phenomenal. I'll never forget the chills I got when the plin plin plon of Gwyn's theme played at the start of the boss' second phase, and I'm willing to bet that other Dark Souls veterans won't, either. Having to deal with sword slashes, spear thrusts, pyromancies, and sorcery also gives this fight a ridiculous amount of variables, too, which guarantees that players will never get too comfortable during the battle. This seems like it would be overwhelming, but because the boss changes its weapon to reflect the type of attacks it's going to use next, sharp-eyed players can make accurate predictions about what's coming their way.

The boss' arena is also easily one of the coolest in all of Dark Souls, with hundreds of strewn weapons and mounds upon mounds of ash telling the tale of a battleground decimated by the endless cycle of the First Flame. The Soul of Cinder itself is also a sight to behold, with its bizarre amalgamation of plate, chainmail, and cloth representing the countless Lords of Cinder that made the pilgrimage to the Kiln of the First Flame in years past.

3. Nameless King (Dark Souls III)

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Ever since the first Dark Souls, players have been trying to figure out the identity of Gwyn's Firstborn Son that was banished from Anor Londo. While it isn't explicitly confirmed, almost all signs point to the Nameless King holding that identity — and that makes sense, as the fight with the Nameless King is about as epic as you would expect an encounter with a god to be. By the time you encounter him in Dark Souls III, the Nameless King has chosen to side with the dragons his father originally sought to destroy.

The first phase of the fight involves killing the massive storm drake that the Nameless King rides on, which is a little frustrating due to camera annoyances, but nevertheless a good time thanks to how satisfying it is to dodge the Nameless King's thunderbolts as well as attacks from his mount. The second phase is where the fun really begins, though, as the Nameless King puts his drake to rest and then brings his iconic swordspear to bear on you with terrifying speed and accuracy. With a huge, diverse moveset, delayed melee attacks that force the player to switch up their usual dodge timings, and plenty of health to burn through, the second phase of the Nameless King fight tests your patience, endurance, and skill in all of the right ways.

2. Dancer of the Boreal Valley (Dark Souls III)

Source: FromSoftware (Image credit: Source: FromSoftware)

There are so many things that the Dancer fight gets right, but I think what stands out more than anything else is the atmosphere of the encounter. Between the ominous and haunting violin theme, the Dancer's slow, predator-like movements as she inches towards you, and the sound of her footsteps echoing throughout the cathedral you fight her in, everything about this fight is designed to make you feel like you're little more than prey. Add in the Dancer's fast (but well-telegraphed) attacks and high damage output, and you'll quickly realize you're right to feel intimidated.

The second phase is where things get even more intense, as when she gets knocked down to half health, the Dancer will pull out a magic blade to use alongside her fire one and will begin to periodically whirlwind towards you with an enchantingly beautiful — and incredibly deadly — spin attack. Dodging this move can be exceptionally difficult if you struggle with timings, but successfully pulling it off is, in my opinion, the most satisfying dodge to do in all of Dark Souls. Aside from this signature move, the Dancer also uses other new moves during this phase as well that can catch players off guard if they're not prepared for the delayed nature of the strikes. Overall, the Dancer fight is as beautiful and enjoyable as it is brutally challenging and unforgiving. Aside from my top choice, there's no boss fight I enjoy replaying more than this one.

1. Slave Knight Gael (Dark Souls III)

Source: Fextralife (Image credit: Source: Fextralife)

Slave Knight Gael is the epitome of what a Dark Souls-style boss fight can be. The narrative stakes for this fight couldn't be higher — Gael consumed the dried blood of the Dark Soul from the ancient furtive pygmies to liquefy it once again, but as a result, the power of the Dark Soul corrupted his mind. Therefore, it's up to you to defeat him so you can bring the blood to the Painting Lady, who possesses the skill to use it to create a new Painted World that's free of the ruin caused by the endless cycle of the First Flame.

It's the perfect story beat to close out the series with. In many ways, Gael is a more aggressive and more challenging version of Artorias. His attacks are numerous, varied, and relentless, but at the end of the day, every single one of them can be mastered by a skilled player. The massive dunes of ashes that make up the area give the player plenty of room to work with if they need to back off for a second to compose themselves or heal, though if you're not careful, Gael may punish this with a long-range lunge.

Things get even crazier in the fight's second phase, which adds a trail of flame to Gael's attacks that force you to dodge with precise timing, as well as projectiles like flurries of crossbow bolts and dark magic orbs to the mix. Paired with the battle's swelling and fast-paced orchestral score, the mechanics of the boss fight feel like the ultimate test of your ability to execute everything you've learned across the three Dark Souls games. I couldn't ask for a better series finale.

Top 10 worst Dark Souls bosses

For a boss fight to make it on this list, it needs to have unfair or unlearnable RNG-based mechanics, poor animation quality, a bland and uncreative design, and an underwhelming amount of significance to the story and the player's journey.

10. Elana, the Squalid Queen (Dark Souls II)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

Most of Dark Souls II's DLC bosses are awesome, but one that I always hate to fight is Elana. The issue with this fight isn't necessarily Elana herself — in fact, her melee and magic attacks are very well-telegraphed and fair to the player. The problem is the fact that she can summon minions to gank you while you're trying to focus on dodging her moves, which makes the battle feel very unfair, especially if you haven't summoned a player or NPC to help you. She'll either summon in four skeletons or a phantom of Velstadt, both of which will often hit and stagger you as you're trying to dodge Elana's moves. It's simply not a good time.

9. Deacons of the Deep (Dark Souls III)

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The Deacons of the Deep encounter is technically a boss fight, but it doesn't really feel like one since all you have to do to beat them is kill regular enemies that have a glowing red aura and then wail on the Archdeacon when he spawns in about halfway through the fight. Ultimately, it's a fight about killing hordes of enemies rather than a boss, which feels disappointing considering killing normal enemies is what you were already doing in the rest of the Cathedral of the Deep. It's not unfair or cheap, it's just a snoozefest.

8. Prowling Magus and Congregation (Dark Souls II)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

The Prowling Magus and Congregation battle is essentially the Deacons of the Deep, but worse. There are only a handful of regular enemies to fight in this fight rather than what feels like an army of them, and there's not any type of mechanic present either. All you have to do is kill a room filled with basic enemies and you'll come out victorious. At least the Deacons of the Deep fight felt somewhat intense since you had to carve your way through a sea of foes; this fight is so easy and underwhelming that it often ends in seconds, which isn't what anybody wants out of a Dark Souls boss encounter.

7. Covetous Demon (Dark Souls II)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

The Covetous Demon is easily the most pathetic of Dark Souls II's true boss enemies, as its attacks are extremely slow and easy to avoid (in many cases, you don't even have to dodge). Even if you do manage to get hit, which usually happens because of the boss' wonky hitboxes, the attacks aren't even that damaging. The boss also tends to simply sit still for several seconds between attacks, which allows you to eat through its health without having to put in much effort. Pair these design issues with the fact that the Covetous Demon has absolutely zero significant ties to the narrative, and you've got a boss that every Dark Souls II player wishes they didn't have to fight during their travels through the Harvest Valley.

6. Pinwheel (Dark Souls: Remastered)

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The majority of the bosses in the second half of the original Dark Souls are disappointing, and the first of the bunch is none other than Pinwheel. This boss is even more of a joke than the Covetous Demon is, as, despite the fact that Pinwheel is located in the late game Catacombs area, its health pool is so low that even players at Soul Level 1 using an unupgraded weapon can kill him effortlessly. This is even recommended by veterans, as doing so allows you to get the Rite of Kindling that allows you to get 20 Estus Flasks right at the start of a playthrough. Pinwheel does have some interesting moves, such as the use of fire magic and the ability to clone itself, but most of these never even come out before players are able to deplete its health bar.

5. Ceaseless Discharge (Dark Souls: Remastered)

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Camera shenanigans, awful hitbox consistency, attacks that go through walls, and an absurdly high health pool all make your fight with this giant lava monster a painful, rage-inducing chore. His gross name and lame narrative significance aren't doing Ceaseless Discharge any favors, either. The fact that you basically have to cheese him by making him fall off of his standing area speaks volumes about how poorly the fight is designed. It's possible to run into the rocky alleyway that's present in the boss arena and try to get him to slam his hand down so you can hit it, but it takes forever to kill him this way, and he may decide to roast you through the walls instead with his fire attacks instead.

4. Belfry Gargoyles (Dark Souls II)

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The Belfry Gargoyles are essentially a copy-and-paste of the Bell Gargoyles from the first Dark Souls, except with none of the balancing that made it an enjoyable fight. In this battle, up to six gargoyles attack you all at once, with individuals from the group joining the fray one-by-one the longer the fight goes on. This wouldn't necessarily be that bad if the gargoyles weren't tough to kill, but each of them boasts strong damage resistances and a sizable health pool. In addition, these gargoyles are much faster and hurt a lot more than the original duo from Dark Souls, too, which makes things even more difficult. Even if you're good at dodging, it's hard not to get hit by three or more gargoyles once, and with how staggering works in the Dark Souls games, that might be all the gargoyles need to gank you to death. Thank God this boss is optional.

3. Royal Rat Authority (Dark Souls II)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

Oh, how I despise this fight. The Royal Rat Authority himself isn't even the main issue here; it's the squad of five normal rats that inflict Toxic on you in as little as two or three hits, which drains your health in seconds. If you get Toxic, you're forced to try and heal your way out of it, but the problem here is that doing so gives any surviving rat minions and the Royal Rat Authority himself free hits on you that will either finish you off outright or hasten your death by eating a chunk out of your HP and staggering you out of your healing animation.

If you manage to kill the rat minions before they Toxic you, the rest of the fight is a pathetic cakewalk. The Royal Rat Authority makes use of a cloned moveset from the Great Grey Wolf Sif boss in the original Dark Souls (really, FromSoftware? You couldn't even give him his own attacks?) but he does them more slowly, which makes him laughably easy to dodge. The only redeeming quality of this fight is the fact that it, like the Belfry Gargoyles fight, is optional.

2. Ancient Dragon (Dark Souls II)

Source: Dark Souls Wiki (Image credit: Source: Dark Souls Wiki)

The Ancient Dragon battle is the third optional Dark Souls II boss fight on the list, and it also happens to be the worst one as well. The main reason why is because 90% of the time, the Ancient Dragon will fly into the air and cover almost the entire boss arena with fire that instakills you. Making matters worse is the fact that the camera doesn't allow you to look at the dragon when under it, meaning that it's hard to tell when the fire is actually coming. Therefore, the only "strategy" you can employ here is to run away from the center of the arena as fast as you can when the dragon flies up and pray that you won't get cooked alive.

Beyond this one infuriating attack, the Ancient Dragon also makes use of stomps that have inconsistent hitboxes and areas-of-effect. I've never yelled "What? I dodged that!" in a Dark Souls encounter more than I have at this boss.

1. Bed of Chaos (Dark Souls: Remastered)

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A rage hotter than the lava lakes of Lost Izalith itself builds up in my heart whenever I think about the many hours I've spent trying to kill the tree-like Bed of Chaos across my Dark Souls playthroughs. The fight sounds relatively simple, dodging the arm sweeps and cut through the branches on the right, left, and middle of the boss to kill the bug within. The problem is that as you progress through each stage of the fight, the floor of the arena begins to crumble, threatening to send you to your death.

This is already difficult to deal with as it is since the player has no way of telling which part of the arena is going to collapse before it does, but making matters even worse is the fact that the Bed of Chaos' wide, sweeping attacks will often push you into the holes in the floor regardless of whether or not you're dodging at the right time. This makes the fight feel entirely luck-based, which is awful. The only way I've been able to semi-reliably beat this boss is to suit up with the heaviest armor I have and pray that it reduces the distance the arm sweeps push me enough to save my life.

Among the four bosses leading up to your final showdown with Gwyn at the end of the game, the Bed of Chaos is the most disappointing by a wide margin, and to me, it's easily the worst boss in the Dark Souls series. It's a real shame, too, because when you consider how significant the Flame of Chaos is in the lore of Dark Souls, this boss fight could have been grand.

Your thoughts

Do you agree with my list of the top 10 best (and worst) bosses in the Dark Souls series? Let me know. Also, for more Souls-related rankings, check out our ranking of FromSoftware Souls-likes from best to worst. If you're looking for other action RPGs to play, don't miss our best Xbox role-playing games roundup.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.