Going toe-to-toe with the tremendous (and, okay, a couple of slightly less tremendous) bosses in Dark Souls 3 is just as exhilarating as ever. It can be annoying, though, to get stuck on one for hours on end. Since I’ve slogged through all of them while reviewing the game, there should be at least one or two handy points of advice I can pass on.
Now, obviously this article has the potential to spoil bosses. It’s a list of all of them, from first to last (with a few optional ones in between). In order to prevent people being spoiled on a design, I’ve used artistic look-a-like imagery for all of them. I also did that because I found it funny. The names are still there though, so if you’re super sensitive to this stuff you should probably do Ctrl+F and pop in the specific boss you’re having trouble with. There’s also a Page 2, so if you’re beyond half way, look for the boss you’re struggling with there.
Build variety is pretty broad in Dark Souls 3, so these suggestions won’t help absolutely everyone. I was generally at a 50-60% equip load, using a Dexterity-based thrusting weapon of some sort. Most of the time I’d dispensed with a shield, but I’ll mention that in the boss text. If you’re a magic-focused type, these tips will probably be less useful. Sorry about that.
Of course, the best possible way to make a boss fight easier is to summon help. But if you want the pride and Souls street-cred of doing it solo, read on.
Tim [McDonald] says: I’m going to interject my own thoughts into this occasionally, in little asides like this, which’ll be at the end of each boss segment. It’ll be back to Peter by the start of the next segment, though. And I was running at 60-69% equip load, usually with the paired scimitars, and usually with a 100% physical resist shield. Varied from boss to boss, though.
Iudex Gundyr: Not to start this guide off on the wrong foot, but if you’re having serious trouble with this guy then the rest of the game is going to be rough. Still, he’s not simple, and everyone has to start somewhere. At this point of the game I just had my starting Thief character’s short dagger, but it turned out that sticking close to him worked out pretty well. In phase one, hug his side, and be ready to dodge (or shield) the halberd swings. If you need to back off and heal, watch out, because he can close distance pretty rapidly.
For phase two when he turns into a monstrosity, try to stick close and kind of behind him. Away from the massive arm sweeps, basically. If you stick near to him, the most dangerous attack he’ll do is a vertical hover, followed by a slam (dodge away when he starts rising up like that). Trying to tackle this second phase at any kind of range just seems like an invitation to be crushed by that massive arm, so don’t do it.
Vordt: He’s a big dumb dog, or … mole rat, or something, so tickle his belly. With a sharp object. It’s a classic Dark Souls “the big monster can’t do shit about it when you’re sort of behind and underneath them a bit” situation. When he tries to jump away (and he will), close that distance and get back under his belly. His main method of attack during the first phase is a mace swing, so if you’re away from the front 180 degrees you’ll mostly be okay. The cold breath attack has a HUGE wind-up, so just sprint to his right-hand side and hit him a few times when he tries this.
The second phase will be announced with some crazy rolls. I believe he does three in a row, in rapid succession. Be ready and learn the rhythm of dodging to the side. You may be able to withstand one with a decent shield up. Same tactics for phase two as with one really, keep trying to get at that belly. If the cold attacks are building up too much, have a look at your gear for some frost-resistant items.
Curse-rotted Greatroot: This tree fellow is technically optional, but defeating him will give you the ability to turn boss souls into weapons and you definitely want that.
His utterly gross sac-nodules are his weak spots. Phase one will feature a bunch of undead villagers endless spawning (at least, I think) and pestering you, so if you want to just hurry things along to phase two go for the dangling sacs around his groin as soon as possible. Once you’ve done enough damage there he’ll pound the floor so much that everybody falls into a cavern and the villagers all perish.
He’ll try to stop you getting at his love buds by variously stomping or swishing with his massive branch-hands. The other vulnerable nodules are on his back; you can get these ones during certain moves that end with him kind of ‘sitting’ more (or lob spells at them). There are also weak sacs on his left leg and one on a, well, I guess we’ll say left ‘hand’. In addition, there’s one more on the upper-shoulder region that only really comes into play during the second phase when he stands right up and then does a face-flop onto the floor.
In phase two he grows an additional bullshit-hand that will fuck you up (or grab you with a dodgy hitbox) if you try to go for the groin-sacs too much. The hand itself can be hit for damage if you see an opening there, as can the mysteriously regrown groin-sacs. If you can get all the external nodules (back, hand, leg, shoulder), then he shouldn’t have much health left, at which point you should go for the hand-guarded sacs. During phase two try to avoid the front as much as possible by dashing around his sides a bunch. Use the space you have in the arena.
Alternatively, if you have a lot of ranged attacks at your disposal and feel confident dodging the stomach-hand, aim all of that stuff at his groin again.
Crystal Sage: If you’re melee-centric, this chap shouldn’t be too awful. He pops out of the ground and uses dark magic spells at you almost immediately. There’s the slow, floaty ones, the quicker homing orbs, the rain of pain, and the straight-line attack. Get to know them. Get to love them. But more specifically, get to love dodging them. Wear dark-resistant stuff if you have it.
Wait for a window between spell attacks, dash up to his initial location at the opposite end of the arena and hit him a bunch. He might try to slash you with a magic sword a couple of times, so be ready to dodge that if needed. If he doesn’t bother, just keep hitting him until he disappears (two-hand the weapon for more damage, you won’t be using a shield much here anyway). When he disappears into the ground, it seems as if he pops back up in pretty much the same pattern of locations, so remember where those are and be stood close to where he should appear in order to quickly run up and pummel him again.
In the second phase, he’ll summon three decoys who fire blue-hued magic at you. The real guy is always the one with the purple orb. Again, try to remember where the real Sage is likely to appear and get yourself in the vicinity. It’s up to you whether you want to try to take out the weak decoys first, but personally I just went straight for the Sage (the decoys die every time he goes back into the ground).
Tim says: I’m not actually sure if he uses dark magic or just regular magic. It’s purple, which tends to indicate dark, but I don’t know whether “dark” or “magic” resistance should be your focus. He honestly feels like a bit of a breather boss, though, so if you’re reading this before tackling him, I wouldn’t panic too much. If you’re having a lot of trouble there’s an NPC summon sign a little way down from the arena entrance, though.
Deacons of the Deep: There’s always a comedy boss in Dark Souls. Step forward (not all at once, please), the rather endearingly shit Deacons of the Deep. They’re a weird priest-swarm, where the only person you need to seriously worry about hitting is the one who’s glowing red at the present time. Keep killing the red one, and watch out for the occasional stab or fireball that one of the priests might attempt if they really feel like it.
At about half health, a couple of blue-robed guys will spawn, along with someone I thought was the Undead Pope until it turned out the actual Undead Pope is a later boss fight. Not-Undead-Pope is your target now, with much the same rules as before. The others might start charging up some slow-moving dark miracles, but it’s easy enough to put a stop to that. If you have a slashing weapon that does a reasonable amount of damage here, you’re all set. The wider the arc, the better. Use the central object for cover (and to heal up) if you need to.
Abyss Watchers: Thought the bosses had been a bit easy so far, did you? Well here come the Abyss Watchers to fuck up your day.
You’ll start off fighting one guy, but he’ll (fairly) shortly be joined by another. Try to whittle the main target down as much as possible before this happens. When the second Watcher does show up, you have a choice: try to kill him quickly and then get back to the main guy, or wait for a third to appear. Whenever there are three, the two ‘non-main’ guys will fight, giving you a distraction. If you’re lucky, the main Watcher will join in on the new arrival too, giving you a chance to hit him from behind for a bit (watch out for him turning on you though).
As soon as the numbers are back down to two, the remaining Watchers will both go for you again. At this point, you should repeat whatever tactic you were using. I found double-handing a weapon and doing a bunch of rolling was the way forward. These guys can also be parried, so if you’re good at that, go nuts. Backstabs are possible too, on the ‘rest’ animations of some of his moves.
After you win the first stage, things get serious. The main dude gets a fire sword, some extra fancy moves, and he (appears, at least) to speed up a bit. You can effectively fight him the same way as before, except obviously it’s harder now because he might be doing some residual fire damage as well. The big charge-along-the-floor-sweeping-fire move can be punished as long as you don’t get greedy. That goes for most of this fight, really, it might sound like a bit of a cop-out but there’s no simple solution here. Learn his moves, learn when you have an opening, and don’t get greedy.
Or summon someone (player or AI, there should be a sign to the left of the entrance door) so you have some back-up of your own.
High Lord Wolnir: He really loves jewellery. If he’s not wearing the hottest new bracelets, he’ll simply DIE, darling. In case that’s not clear enough: smash his bracelets as quickly as possible. Go for the pair on his left wrists first. Double-hand for maximum damage output. Watch out for when he breathes fog at you, because it hurts. This fight can get rapidly away from you if you take too long, so get smashing.
Tim says: I fucking hate this boss. Beware of the camera, beware of the arena wall behind you, and beware of the fight taking too long: as his health lowers, the skellingtons he summons get drastically more nasty. He’s not a tricky one for the most part, but he gave me way more trouble than seems reasonable. Sort of like the Four Kings, I suppose.
Old Demon King: You can take this guy on before Wolnir if you feel up to it. He’s down the ladder that you create by cutting the rope bridge to drop all the skeletons off into a pit just before Wolnir’s chamber. Keep going down until you reach the big lake with the giant centipede beast and the massive arrow-spears being flung at you. He’s through the fog door beyond the ‘pede.
In phase one, he’ll mostly do fairly obvious wind-ups to huge club swings, but will also mix in some cheeky, short-range fire-blowing. This comes out much quicker than his club swings, so be aware of those.
Once he reaches phrase two, he starts doing area attacks. If he’s pounding his hammer vertically on the floor, then fire is about to either blast from him, or encircle you and close in. Either way, leave the area. If he starts waving his club around like a bell, he’s summoning mini-meteors. You can usually get in a couple of decent hits if you’re close enough when he does this. To avoid the meteors, either use the piles of dead demons (lovely), or just be far enough away when they show up. When he’s near to death, he’ll take knee and do one last explosive mega-burst. Avoid that, because it may well one-shot you. Once he’s done this, his fire abilities are exhausted and he’s pretty much a goner. Ranged attacks are probably pretty great against this guy. So is “coming back later when you’re overlevelled for it”.
Tim says: Ranged attacks are hilariously effective. I simply couldn’t get the rhythm of melee-ing him to death down, so I switched to a bow and continually backpedaled while filling him with arrows. He was very, very easy. Just watch out for the arena edges and any of his particularly long-ranged attacks.
Pontiff Sulyvahn: A fucker. Don’t bother with a shield (or stick it on your back if it has buffs), because you won’t be getting much use out of it. In phase one, stick to (his) left, you’ll find the timing to dodge the flaming sword a lot easier. Plus, sometimes hugging his side seems to confuse him into pausing in his attacks for half a second. There aren’t too many openings to drink estus in the first half of the fight; after he’s done the big thrust with his blue sword, or the end of a big combo are about the best you’ll get.
Once you’ve got the ‘keep to his left’ rhythm down, though, phase one should start to feel less daunting. Phase two is …. also a fucker. You don’t get any free hits while he’s powering this up, so use the time to heal if needed. In this phase he’ll almost certainly summon a phantom that pre-empts his attack moves. Don’t get stuck on a wall, the camera tends to go nuts. You can kill the phantom if you land enough hits on it, and you can get some freebies while he’s popping it out.
Honestly, I came back to this guy after levelling up a bit (I had an Estoc +7, and I’d done Yhorm) and didn’t entirely learn his second phase move-set before managing to survive long enough to kill him. The big magical death wave is especially bad, learn the tell for that one. There are thrusts and flaming ground slams to avoid. More chances to get a hit in during this phase, though, I think. Just remember that the phantom is kind of giving you a preview of the attack to come – if you can dodge the first one, you can dodge whatever’s next as well. If you’re struggling, there’s at least one AI summon outside the door. Distraction will go a long, long way in this fight.
Yhorm the Giant: If, like me, you’ve completed Siegward’s questline, it makes this boss fight extremely easy. He’ll basically do all the work for you, if you want. Update: Post-patch this is no longer the case. He’s still very helpful, but you need to protect him and get some hits in with the Storm Ruler yourself.
To make sure Siegward shows up, you need to help him out in Undead Settlement with the fire demon (up the lift above where the frost knight is). Then chat with him in the well outside Cleansing Chapel, and buy his armour off Patches to return to him. He should then appear on the way to Irithyll Dungeon, just before the room with the painting of Gwynevere and the knights, where he’ll offer you Estus soup. Finally, you’ll have to get him out of Irithyll Dungeon itself. To free him, go from the Profaned Capital bonfire to the swamp with the spider-ish ladies, beat up the sorcerer on the roof and make the jump through an open window on the same roof to reach his cell (the key is earlier in the Dungeon level, in the rat tunnel that dumps Basilisks on you). If you’ve done Siegward’s questline correctly, he’ll just show up for the fight in a cut-scene. You don’t need to summon him.
Without Siegward, you’ll need to grab the special Storm Ruler sword near Yhorm’s throne, or you’ll do fuck all damage to him. Charge it up with the weapon arts power (keep the weapon arts button held and do a light or heavy attack to unleash the storm) to deliver a whole lot of pain and knock Yhorm down, much as Siegward does when he’s with you. Can’t help much more than that since I haven’t ‘done’ him solo, sorry.
Tim says: I did him solo, because I fucked up Siegward’s questline by missing him before the painting. Yhorm’s not a hard boss once you realise you need to grab the Storm Ruler from his throne, though. Stick any extraneous weapons in your storage box before entering the boss room so that you can equip the Storm Ruler quickly, and replace one of your standard weapons with it – its weight is about 8.0 or so, so you shouldn’t have any Equip Load troubles. Double-hand it, charge it up with Weapon Arts, and unleash hell on him.
Note that you don’t have to attack immediately after charging the weapon up, though; you can dodge attacks and wait for an opening, as it doesn’t seem to lose its “charge.” He gets a bit quicker in phase two when he goes all fiery, but if you’ve tried dodging any enemy attacks before now, you’ll do just fine. Wait for an opening, charge up, wait for an opening, murder his face off. You can likely also kill him without the Storm Ruler (as I attempted, several times, before spotting it) but he takes very little damage and it’ll take forever.
Aldrich, Devourer of Gods: Get that stamina-boosting Crest Shield on your back again, because you’re probably in for another dodge and two-handing spectacular. In phase one, Aldritch will cast dark magic orbs at you (semi-homing, slow), and sometimes do a mega-blast of magic if you stay too far away. So don’t stay too far away. Unless he’s firing a bow in the air, in which case get well out of the way of that arrow storm. In the first phase, moving to behind where he’s firing the arrows can work as a fairly straightforward avoidance tactic. In phase two they last for ages, so just run and dodge like hell and hope you don’t run out of stamina. I never really figured out a foolproof way to avoid taking any damage from the second phase arrows, it seems to really just be a matter of distance and waiting it out, but I could be missing something.
Anyway, when you’re up close he’ll do some swooping thrusts and overhead bashes with massive wind-ups. The conclusion of these moves are a great time to poke the fuck out of him with your weapon, probably around his midriff. When he raises his scythe above his head, he’s going to disappear in a puff of dark magic, so roll out of the general vicinity. Every time he disappears, he’ll move to the opposite side of the room. Most of the time you want to be closing that distance rapidly … just watch out for the god damn arrows.
In phase two his moves are pretty similar, just with more fire. And, as mentioned, the arrow storm lasts loads longer. Oh, and every time he disappears he’ll now do so with a flurry of homing dark orbs. Basically, try to bait the big scythe swishes, get a bunch of hits in, survive, and repeat. You’ll get him eventually, especially if you have a +6/+7 weapon at this stage. It can also be worth wearing your finest anti-dark/fire outfit for this, since that’s what will do the most damage (I’m not sure what the arrows count as, but if you get badly caught on them you’re pretty screwed no matter what).
Tim says: You can use the Chloranthy Ring instead of the Grass Crest Shield, you know. Shields aren’t great against Aldrich anyway, but hey. That aside, this is another boss where the camera nearly gave me an aneurysm; try not locking on when you’re nearby so that you can poke at his tail without the lock-on freaking out and sending you into a wall. Still useful for dodging his attacks while keeping an eye on him, though.
On Page 2, The Dancer of the Boreal Valley and beyond.