Hey all bearers of curses both belligerent and numerous, and welcome to part two of the Dark Souls II Bosswatch, wherein I commentate on the various boss encounters in From Software's newest in their series of masochism simulators. We left off last time with the defeat of the Lost Sinner and the acquisition of the first of the four Great Souls, necessary (well, only kinda, it turns out) to unlock the next part of the game, and a lot of grousing about how similar a lot of these bosses are. The ones that look like big dudes with a sword, specifically. I surmised last time that such encounters were the unfortunate result of it being the early game, where they wanted to impart the values of defense, evasion and choosing one's moment to strike, and didn't want to throw off new players with too many awesome 50-foot-long dragons and Cthulhoids just yet. We'll see if that theory pans out.
There are spoilers here for the majority of Dark Souls II; at least in terms of what you can expect to see, if nothing too concrete about a narrative thread just yet. I'm also going to start speculating on lore a bit more here just to keep things interesting. Given how sparse it apparently is, I'm hopefully not going to be too far off what the YouTube Lore groupthink has already come up with.
No-Man's Wharf is sort of like this game's Blighttown without the horrible venomous swamp at the bottom (which got transplanted to Harvest Valley, it seems) considering all its rickety bridges and enemies popping out of hiding places. It's also oppressively dark too, but I fixed that with one of these Pharros' Lockstones I keep picking up that turned all the lights on. Having zero trouble with the enemies in this region (the only tough ones are scared by the light), I proceeded to effortlessly clear the level and reach the dock at the end, when something made me slip and fall off to my death. This is already after meeting the NPC that trades souls for useless/duplicate items, so I had quite the number on me at this point. I bet you'll never guess what happened to me on my way to collect them. They really ought to put up some railings or something...
Hey, getting tired of all those big knight bosses that either hit slow and hard or hit fast and frequently? How about a combination of the two? The Flexile Sentry are a pair of warriors apparently tied at the hip (I thought that was just an expression), who alternate being the aggressor depending on how often you try to get behind them. Honestly, that the fight is taking place in the hull of a pirate ship is kind of more exciting than the fact that it's another big sword dude. Well, half of this boss is a sword dude, the other being a club dude. (Fortunately, they both count as the same entity as far as a health bar is concerned.)
It's an interesting twist on the usual tactic of trying to circle around and flank a larger, slower enemy, but not so interesting to distinguish it from the game's many other bosses with a similar approach. As for immediately after the fight, I took a boat to a new location, got all excited and then... nope. Lost Bastille again. I guess this was the other way to get there? So that's two paths from the start I've been hopping between, getting a little further with each, and they both lead to the same dungeon and Great Soul. Dammit. Might see what that giant pit back in Majula's all about...
Now this is more like it! It ends with another deliberately-paced battle of picking one's moment over and over, again, but at least the build-up is something different. It's also the most obnoxious boss battle we've had so far, seemingly Dark Souls 2's equivalent of the Bed of Chaos or Dragon God puzzle boss, but I guess you can't have everything.
The Chariot boss fight requires that you head down an arcing corridor that constantly has this demonic unstoppable chariot racing through, sort of like that matador black velvet painting-inspired stage in Psychonauts. There's also a dozen skeletons, and two necromancers that keep bringing them back. As you head further down the corridor, you have to deal with more skeletons on top of the chariot and any necromancer that might be nearby. It is extremely easy to get yourself overwhelmed here, and I must've died around 20 times just on this part. Add to that the 20 times I died even getting here thanks to some asshole mummy ninjas and a black phantom that was guarding the fog door. Even coming back after I'd passed through Huntsman's Copse way earlier (this boss fight is on the way to the Skeleton Lords) didn't make it any easier. Of course, once you've beaten the necromancers and have raised a portcullis to smash the chariot, it becomes the aforementioned tank boss against the demonic horses that were charging around. The relatively tight corridor makes it tricky to maneuver, but it's the same boss fight again. Circle, avoid, block and hit when the enemy's stuck in an animation for an attack that you're outside the range of.
I liked this area, for as familiar as parts of it were. From Majula, you can pass through another exit once you've brought the luckless pyromancer vendor lady back to life and have access to a lever she was blocking. It then becomes a three-way split, two of which are blocked but clearly lead to somewhere interesting further down the road, and the last to a misty forest. This misty forest immediately recalls that annoying part of the forest in Dark Souls I where there's a bunch of NPC humanoids who fight like phantoms. 50% were invisible in that game, which has been raised to 100% for this foggy copse. It's a little harrowing, and kind of a neat departure. Your options are to hug a wall and look for a way out, or to try to face down enemies you can't even see who all have the power to sneak up behind you and backstab you. I opted for the former.
After this forest comes a relatively small area full of tough leonine axemen, an enormous basilisk and these tittering curse jars that sap you with a nasty status effect if you get too close. Well, nasty if you aren't going through the whole game Hollowed like I've been doing. I rescued some kind of Painted World of Ariamis crow lady here, met a depressed Dumbledore (Grumbledore?) and stopped hitting a friendly scorpionman long enough to hear what he had to say about the next boss.
The bastard daughter of Quelaag and Gwyndolin, Najka does the whole "top half is a nude woman, bottom half is a gross bug", only this time it's a scorpion. She has backstory too: her mate, a scorpion man I accidentally slashed a few times before I realized he was friendly, tells me that the two of them were created by a mage years ago and she eventually regressed to her current feral state. He gave me one of these anti-petrification logs as thanks for dealing with her, which was nice. Coincidentally enough, and another parallel with Quelaag, I was unable to talk to him until I bought the special ring that allows conversations with monsters.
Her sting is more or less death (it did about 75% of my health bar and gave me the Toxic condition, which meant I wasn't able to get out of her range and hit an Estus in time to stop the other 25% from draining out) but what's more troublesome is her array of sorceries. Lots of powerful soul arrow spells, including homing ones and a nasty barrage that I was getting destroyed by every time. Once I'd found a slightly more magic-resistant shield, it was simply a matter of avoiding the worst of her attacks (not hard, fortunately, as most of the hugely damaging ones have a lot of telegraphing) and slowly wearing her down. She leaves herself wide open after the sting, at least, which meant I could unload a few double-handed attacks before she recovered. Still, a nasty boss, and a good reminder for why I'd been leaving the Shaded Woods well enough alone so far.
Grave of Saints
Opting to drop down the big hole in Majula rather than deal with anything more on the Shaded Ruins path, the first place I came to was this relatively small crypt area full of rats. There's a bunch of places to stick Pharros' Lockstones into, at least before we start getting all R-rated, but the first one I tried was a trap and I'm not sure I want to waste the few I have left. This place reminds me a lot of The Catacombs from the last game, probably because of all the corpses interred in sepulchers around here. Even so, there's something definitely foreboding about dropping into such a dark and unwelcoming place, and it ended up being more gentle than the intimidation factor would allow you to believe.
Royal Rat Vanguard
The Royal Rat Vanguard is a mob fight against mobs that mob you. We need better terms for video game things. In this case, it's a large pack of rats that continue to multiply and pour out of the walls, like the worst archeological survey of a tomb Henry Jones Sr. ever undertook. The goal is to take down one rat in particular, the Royal Rat Vanguard, and unlike other mob battles the rest of the creatures don't factor into the final boss health bar.
I actually liked this fight. It basically amounted to killing giant rats for ten minutes, but at least it was somewhat clever and original. What you're doing is playing the shell game with a bunch of identical rat enemies, with more coming in every second. The actual boss hits way harder and can build up petrification and poison, but for a slightly larger mohawk running down its back it can be tough to pick that particular one out of the crowd. It also doesn't have that much more health, and took about four hits before finally dying. I will say, though, for as easy as I thought it was, I did go through all my Estus flasks just surviving the swarming by the lesser enemies. Dare I mention that the Fool's Idol and Pinwheel (the latter of whom also inhabited its game's version of the catacombs) were earlier examples of this type of mimic boss and risk sounding dismissive about a boss I liked? Either way, it beats another giant dude with a sword.
I'd popped into the Iron Keep briefly to grab that ember McDuff wanted, but I didn't feel like sticking around. A castle partially submerged by lava, the facts regarding how such a structure wouldn't make a whole lot of sense given how the rest of the castle probably would've melted along with the base is mitigated somewhat by the Rule of Cool. It's also packed with tough katana-wielding knights and some nasty flame traps. The goofy turtle guys from the Forest of Fallen Giants are here too, and still hit like freight trains with those clubs.
Old Iron King
It's definitely one of the Great Soul guys, given that he got his own cutscene before I fought him for the first time, and he's also one of the more impressive, visually-speaking. An enormous stony dragon dude emerging from lava to swing at you with his bare fists. It looks like a metal as hell JRPG boss and I thoroughly approve. I feel like I should switch my appearance to look more like Adol Christin before fighting him.
Alas, he's another boss that would've been more fun were he better implemented code-wise. The old phantom hit syndrome is considerably worse here, but that wasn't the part that killed me over and over. All his flame attacks, many of which cannot be avoided (or avoided exactly once with some cover, which the boss then gets around by moving), will knock you into a block break animation (or outright kill you if you don't block) and then hits again before fading away. Either that, or it sends you flying into the lava. It's like the Scorpioness fight, in that certain attacks just seem to end the battle, but with less room to escape them. Conversely, the non-fire attacks are super easy to avoid and leave the guy open for a little too long. The harsh juxtaposition of "here's an opening even a drunk, blind wussbaby like yourself can take advantage of" and "nope, fuck you, you're dead" depending on what the boss is throwing at you, while functional insofar as creating opportunities to attack while still being maintaining a sufficient level of difficulty, just seems uneven. Sort of like Lisa Simpsons's fishsticks: burned on the outside but frozen on the inside. Though mostly just the burned on the outside. I guess some more fire resistance wouldn't have gone amiss.
The Gutter + Black Gulch
After the Grave of Saints, the Majula Hole route just goes full nightmare fuel from then on. I said No-Man's Wharf was this game's equivalent of a bottomless Blighttown, but that honor clearly belongs to the Gutter: a pitch-black zone of rickety platforms hovering over an endless abyss. It's when I finally started to burn through the couple hours' worth of torches I'd accrued, lighting sconces just to keep track of where I'd been and what still lies beneath. Additionally, it's filled with statues that spit gobs of poison in your face if you walk into their view, so it often became a puzzle of smashing them without getting spotted by another one nearby. Sort of like a game of Pick-Up Sticks, you had to find the one that didn't have another one covering it and work your way through the network. The Black Gulch was better lighted, but no less terrifying. If it wasn't the Lovecraftian creatures springing out of shallow pools and holes in the wall (the latter gave me flashbacks to the "what won't come out no more?!" scene from Big Trouble in Little China), it had about a thousand more of those spitting statues.
At the end of this terror spelunk is this guy, who has a great visual design and is definitely closer to the game's spiritual successor to Gravelord Nito. A rotting pile of flesh filled with, and apparently comprised of, semi-sentient naked bodies a la Castlevania's Legion, this venomous Frankenstein's monster is more than a little intimidating. His intro also shows that he's the one that's been building all these poison-spitting statues. It's a neat melancholy touch, as it hints that he was presumably once some kind of sculptor, but it also means I have more of a grudge against this putrefying heap. I hated those statues!
He has some slow deliberate attacks (shock) which can be stopped by lopping off his arms, which in all fairness didn't seem to have much to connect them to the central core. Though I got some items from these arms, he starts doing these nasty hex-based (the hexes of the Dark Souls DLC are now in the game from the offset, and are one of the magic types you can learn alongside sorceries and miracles) AoE spells more frequently once an arm has gone or if he's just getting down there in HP. It feels like one of those risk/reward scenarios, where you can try for extra loot at the cost of slightly tougher attacks to deal with. Of course, if you chop off both he just grows them back again somehow. JRPG bosses, you know how it is. Didn't take long to bring him down, but then I'm getting used to fighting these large, slow-moving tanks. Funny that.
The Smelter Demon
The Smelter Demon is an optional boss in the Iron Keep (at least, all I found behind him was a bonfire and a door that led to a part of the level I'd already been to) and is absolutely no joke. A giant suit of armor, powered by a burning flame core, he's a (don't say "big guy with sword") a, uh (don't say "big guy with sword") very (don't say "big guy with sword") robust (what?) um (no, keep going, this might work) physically imposing (nope, we're losing it) guy with a sword? (and there we go. Kudos, Mr. Writer.)
Hoo boy, this guy. Woof. The Smelter Demon, I would like to believe without actually going to check, seems to be "that boss". You know, the equivalent of the Artorias battle. The fight where the odds are so unbelievably stacked against you that you think someone forgot to carry a one somewhere. Early on, he's just another big, slow brute, but it's around the point where you've taken off 30% of his health that he decides enough is enough and immolates his own blade. His attacks at this point now do huge amounts of additional fire damage to anyone whose flame resistance isn't through the roof. Even blocking all his blows, I was taking equivalent damage to being out in the open just from the fire addition. It's not like this gear I'm wearing isn't particularly fireproof either: it's among the most resistant of the stuff I've found so far. Essentially, this battle goes from "all right, let me just figure out the timing on all his big swing combos and specials and find an opening" to "oh my god, how I do I stop myself getting set on fire? I'm melting, I'm melting, what a world, what a world". The Flash Sweat pyromancy and a +1 fire resist ring was what I used in the end, but it still took more than a handful of tries, let's just say for the sake of my minimal pride.
Doors of Pharros + Brightstone Cove Tseldora
The Shaded Ruins route, which appears to be only one left open to me, eventually leads to the Doors of Pharros, which appears to be a limestone cave filled with rectangular rocks and more Lockstone holes. It's also got a few beefy knight types roaming around, including these mastodon guys which I very much like the look of. It feels like a place I'll need to comb to find all its secrets. And more than a few of these Lockstones to boot, though most seem to lead to more enemies and traps. The Brightstone Cove is a little more interesting, as it starts as a dilapidated military encampment before moving to a valley of asshole mages and eventually a spider temple. The look has gone from wet limestone to dry sandstone too, with a very desert-y feel to a lot of these adobe abodes.
Prowling Magus + Congregation
Boy, what did I interrupt here? The Prowling Magus is a sorcery-casting hollow surrounded by his "congregration", which collectively take up the second boss health bar. The congegration are a couple of miracle-casting clerics (they heal too) and a bunch of minor hollows, some of which are crawling. It's an odd group, and like the Rat Vanguard battle is a lot of bodies packed into a relatively small chapel. It's long but not wide, at any rate. I mean the chapel, weirdos.
I imagine the only way someone could lose this fight is if they got surprised by the numbers and overwhelmed. The priests are obviously the first targets, given that they can heal everyone, but they're always surrounded by the other congegration and you can't take your eyes off the big mage guy for a second. Once they're dead, the other congegration members quickly follow, and then it's just a particularly squishy mage with no protection.
The Duke's Dear Freja
Imagine Nickelodeon's Catdog, but with "spider" instead of "cat". And "dog". Not for arachnophobes (sorry Jeff, I know you were itching to get into more Dark Souls), this boss is an enormous two-headed spider who moves slow and is easy enough to predict. But I'm not entirely sure that's what the odd title of this boss is referring to. Nearby is the corpse of a colossal dragon, and it appears to be the source of the smaller spiders, presumably growing inside of it. Once I killed the boss, the Great Soul actually appeared below the dragon's mouth. It's possible given the numerous Duke's Archives allusions (the use of Duke in the name, the many crystals on the way in, the fact that Seath was a giant white dragon too) that the dragon is the "Freja" the title refers to, and was possibly the mate of Seath (who was made a Duke by Gwyn, don't forget) long ago. While there is a human Duke around, he's also like Seath in that he clearly went mad digging too deep into his scholarly pursuits. That's my theory anyway, probably debunked by a lot of Soulsian Sleuths on YT and the like, and now that I've thought about it I'm noticing a lot of other parallels to the big soul bosses of this game and the last too. The Lost Sinner is a female (thanks to user @savage for pointing that out) and has links to the First Flame, like the Bed of Chaos. Nito and the Rotten both live in a very dark pit far below the Earth and are apparently made out of lots of undead stitched together somehow. I suppose there's not much linking the Old Iron King and the Four Kings, beyond their titles, but both were brought to ruin when their respective kingdoms were destroyed by catastrophe, though one was water and one was fire (and yes, the Four Kings kind of effed up their own kingdom with dark magicks long before it got flooded, but I have an elemental theme going here so don't interrupt me with all your logic).
As for this boss fight, the issues are really twofold: a legion of smaller spiders, who have a charge attack that frequently drops my HP by 60% unguarded; and a floor covered with sticky cobwebs that restrict one's movement. It often feels you're trying to wade through molasses attempting to escape the big spider's beam o' death (which gives you ample opportunity to go whack its other head, which is how I beat it) and all the smaller spiders. I actually died a few times because I ignoring the smaller ones: I simply assumed they would keep respawning indefinitely. It turns out I was right, but not to the extent I was thinking. While they were definitely respawning, they were doing so at nothing like a constant rate. Removing the half dozen from the start made the battle way easier, as I only ended up seeing about three or four more throughout the entire battle.
After obtaining all four of the Great Souls, I was finally able to move past one of the locked doors at the crossroads bonfire in the Shaded Woods. It lead to this immense and foreboding castle, clearly the game's equivalent to Anor Londo, where the rest of the game's central quest line takes place and where more of the overarching plot is revealed. We get a comparatively huge dump of lore here, courtesy of an invisible chancellor who greets newcomers at the door. Turns out the erstwhile King Vendrick once did what I'm doing, uniting all the ancient Great Souls in the defense of his Kingdom. Something went awry though, possibly involving an invasion of giants or his mysterious foundling wife Queen Nashandra, and the next few zones after this one appear to be digging into this mystery of what happened to Dranglaic. Like Anor Londo, it's a lot of pristine walkways and corridors filled with tough knights and archers and traps and weird mechanisms that power elevators and other impressive feats of engineering.
Well, it's the Dragonrider boss again, but now there's two of them. Probably some HP inflation too, given how long it's been since Heide's Tower of Flame, though I seemed to get through them both pretty quickly. They're in what appears to be a treasury, which would be neat if I was allowed to take anything. This fight just seems like an excuse to add a boss in somewhere to break up Dranglaic Castle a bit and give players something to do besides get ganked by archers. I've enjoyed exploring this place well enough and absorbing what little lore about King Vendrick and Queen Nashandra I can (the latter appears to still be alive and well, though I've yet to ascertain if it's a Gwynevere illusion ploy or there's something amiss about this enigmatic waif-turned-monarch), so I'm not sure these diversionary tactics are really necessary.
The fight's made trickier by the fact that one of the Dragonriders remains out of reach and has one of those enormous Anor Londo Knight greatbows, traditionally used for harpooning dragons. I'll admit I came to the solution for this fight entirely by serendipity: the raised platform the archer is on (which I hid underneath so it couldn't shoot me) can be demolished by the other Dragonrider's swings, and for some reason the archer doesn't put the bow away after they drop down. That meant an easy kill as it just stood there trying to get a bead on me as I sliced its back to ribbons, with a very slow partner who was easy enough to defend against. Once the archer had gone, the other quickly followed. I want to say it was an interesting boss fight, but how interesting can "but now there's two of them" possibly be? Just filler, really, and nothing more. In fact, I'm not even counting this as the tenth boss to conclude this episode of Bosswatch. It can be nine-and-a-half.
Looking Glass Knight
If you said "another big guy with a sword", then kudos. You've just joined me on the least interesting game of Dark Souls Boss Bingo ever played, currently in progress. The LGK looks sort of neat, at least, as a giant suit of armor that sorta resembles the suit Tigris of Gaul wore in Gladiator, with that intimidatingly serene mask. I suppose I could've said the Jason Vorhees mask too, given how it serves a similar purpose. With a closer look, it actually sort of looks like the Virgin Mary with a crown of thorns, which is getting that particular strain of mythology mixed up a little. His only other notable feature is his enormous reflective greatshield, from which he presumably draws his name and which comes into play in the battle itself.
Beyond the usual swings, most of which bottomed out my stamina pretty rapidly, he has a number of lightning-based moves (with a bit of charge up for the truly daring to exploit) and one where he sets his mirror shield down and creates a phantom. Oddly, this phantom was always either Benhart, a friendly mercenary I keep meeting with a crystalline greatsword, or myself. Needless to say, the "me" phantom was considerably easier to kill, which is why the boss summoned it exactly once during my four attempts on this fight. For as common as these giant knight bosses are becoming (and that should probably be a past participle rather than a present one), I quite liked the purity of this fight. The way he'd finish a swing combo in such a way that his shield ended up between us meant that the usual tactic of blocking and then hitting during the downtime wouldn't work, as everything that hits the colossal shield simply bounced off. Ditto my spear's sweeping strong attack, which was usually quite reliable against armored foes. A bit more tactical, which I don't mind.
The Bit at the End
Anyway, that'll have to do it for this episode of Bosswatch. It's the last day of November, which means I've got to start preparing next month's big daily series. Please stick around to see what that's all about. As for Dark Souls II, I imagine I'll get a few hours in here or there whenever I'm not knee-deep in this new series or busy with other stuff in the run up to Christmas, but I might be putting off the next (and probably final, given how things appear to be coming to a head) part closer to the holidays, possibly around the time the GOTY podcasts start showing up. Until then, take care, and keep a cautious eye on any suits of armor you happen to walk by: you never know, it might be a Dark Souls II boss.
(And hey, if you want to offer your thoughts or knowhow on any of the bosses featured in this episode or last, by all means drop them into the comments. I'm intending to leave all the lore absorption until after the game ends, to help bring context to whatever conclusion its building towards, but I can't imagine there's anything too spoiler-y about any of these guys. Unless it turns out that the reason half of these bosses are giant suits of animated armor is because the Guild of Blacksmiths is behind everything.)