Top 5 Challenging Boss Battles in Dark Souls 2!

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Dark Souls is a series known for its robust level of challenge and punishing learning curves. Dark Souls 2 is no exception to this, and it contains several bosses that occasionally make you wonder why you are playing in the first place. Generally speaking, the bosses in DS2 are considerably easier than the original (or perhaps I am now just more skilled at the game). Indeed, some are almost laughably easy. Demon of Song and the Skeleton Lords spring to mind immediately, with an honourable mention to Nashandra and Aldia who were disappointingly easy as a final boss in comparison to Lord Gwyn.

That being said, some of the bosses were frustrating to say the least. Here are my own personal top five most difficult (or annoying) bosses in Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin.

  1. Sinh, Slumbering Dragon

The main game and the DLC material pit you against a number of Dragon bosses, but I would say that this is the most challenging of the lot. Primarily, this is due to the fact that it spams toxic at you as an after effect to its breath attacks. Bosses that like to inflict status effects on to the player are always frustrating, but in this case the combination of toxic, flying charges, fireballs and punishing melee attacks make this fight stand out.

  1. The Smelter Demon/Magical Smelter Demon

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I have included these two in the same spot as they are more or less identical in terms of appearance and move set (albeit slightly more power on the magical demon). Some players may have found this fight pretty easy but I found myself struggling. The Smelter Demons hit hard, move faster than you would expect for their size and also inflict fire and magic damage respectively. A few area spread attacks can catch you off guard, and midway through the fight the Demons will cause residual damage if you stand too close and enchant their weapons for further damage. This is challenging enough, but I think what caught me off guard the most was the fact that, well telegraphed as the attacks are, there is a slightly longer pause than you would expect between the beginning of the attack animation and the attack landing. Often you roll out of danger only to then take the attack full on in the face. Most people could probably adapt to this a bit quicker than I did but it still proves a challenge. A special nod has to be given to the magical Smelter Demon for having a very irritating run up to the boss, full of dangerous enemies and traps.

  1. Aava, the Kings Pet

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Hands up, who remembers Sif from Dark Souls 1? Anyone else feel slightly bad about killing him? I always did; he looks too cute, makes a heart-wrenching noise like a dog when hurt and just misses his dead buddy.

No such feelings accompany this fight. Aava is a bastard; a straight-up bastard. Beast boss fights are, in my experience, either quite easy or punishing in the extreme. Aava falls into the latter category. Unlike the Royal Rat Authority, whose attacks are pretty easy to suss out and avoid (roll forward), Aava’s move-set is more varied, do more damage, and he is much, much faster. All of your dodges need to be completely on-point or you are in for a mauling. There are many times where I felt that my dodge was perfectly timed only to die moments later. Additionally, Aava also has a few spells/area attacks to keep things interesting. I always plump for a melee build; I have no idea how spell-casters manage to get through this fight.

  1. Raime, the Fume Knight

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I probably died more times in this boss fight than in many of the others put together. He is another boss fight that comes in two halves; once his health is depleted by half he becomes a lot more dangerous. His initial attack pattern is quite varied but can be mastered with a few attempts. That being said, if he hits you, the damage can be quite severe as he racks up combo-hits and staggering attacks. It is easy enough to heal at this stage; sprinting across the room should give you enough time to chug that sweet, sweet Estus.

His second form is genuinely frightening. He adopts the move-set and flaming sword attacks of Lord Gwyn, the final boss in Dark Souls 1, only there is no favourable terrain to assist you in the fight. His attacks are lightning fast and it is nearly impossible to get enough breathing space to heal. I ended up two handing my Pursuer’s great sword as blocking any of his attacks was simply not an option. In order to win, your rolls and doges must be perfect every time. There is no margin for error. Additionally, he can follow up his quick combos with punishing area attacks, fireballs, and a laserbeam-like type attack. If you have depleted your stamina through dodging his combos they can be very hard to avoid.

However, the sense of triumph on winning this fight is pretty special, and has only really been matched the first time I defeated Ornstein and Smough in the first game.

  1. Burnt Ivory King

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I am going to preface this entry by saying that I did actually enjoy it quite a lot, despite the level of difficulty.

This boss is possibly unique in the Souls franchise (I haven’t played DS3 so can’t say for sure) in the sense that the boss fight includes a melee or sorts with multiple enemies and allies. The Burnt Ivory King opens portals into the fight arena and you have to defeat all of the Burnt Knights before facing off against the King himself. It’s actually quite fun, but the enemies are not as weak as you would like which means that the changes of actually getting to the King each time you try is about 50/50. Due to the fact that he is similar in fighting style to the challenging Fume Knight, this can be problematic. He moves with terrifying speed, hits hard and offers very few chances for healing. On his own, this fight is probably a bit easier than Raime, but when you add in the extra challenge of defeating his knights, it just pips it for me in terms of difficulty.

Do you agree with my list? If not I’d love to hear which bosses made you want to never play the series again!

Dark Souls Lore Part 2: the ‘Chosen Undead’

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My last post on this topic outlined the grand deception perpetrated by Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight. Namely, that the curse of the undead was created and unleashed by Nito on the orders of Gwyn as a means to ensure the perpetuation of the Flame, and thus the continued rule of the Gods. Additionally, the myth of the ‘Chosen Undead’ and the aligned prophecy is created by Gwyn, or Gwyndolin, and disseminated by Kingseeker Frampt as another means of controlling the undead and manipulating them into maintaining the Flame.

If you are interested in reading the full post, you can find it here.

Under this context, I decided to look for other clues that would suggest that you, as the player are actually not the Chosen Undead and that the whole prophecy is meaningless.

The stated goal of the Chosen Undead is to kindle the Flame and banish the Dark, and thus averting the onset of the Age of Dark. The game plays on our expectations as players; it is natural to assume that we are special in the world in which we play. This is paralleled in the desperate desire of the undead to find meaning in their cursed state. The game uses language like ‘light’, and ‘gods’ to suggest that we are on the side of right. Dark has always had negative connotations in story telling; so it is tempting to assume that light is good and dark is ‘bad.’

However, we know that the Age of Dark actually refers to the onset of the rule of humanity over the world, subverting and supplanting the rule of the gods, or ‘light.’ Indeed, this was a major driver in persuading Gwyn to link his soul with the Flame in the first place. As I have stated before, it is interesting to note that there are no non-human undead (another factor that suggests that the curse was devised by the ‘Gods’); why would an undead, with their roots and base in humanity be chosen to ensure the continued rule of the gods?

The game often uses the ploy of the unreliable narrator when giving information to the player via exposition. This means that we should be naturally wary and suspicious of any information that is volunteered to us; why should our status as the Chosen Undead be any different? The only reason that we think that we might be is because Kingseeker Frampt tells us that we are, and his motivations are suspect at best.

This brings us neatly to Kaathe, the other primordial serpent. His dialogue talks about opposing Frampt to help right ancient wrongs and find the true lord. This could be a reference to writing the wrongs perpetrated against the dragons by the gods, or it could refer to writing the wrongs of Gwyn in linking the Flame and subverting the natural order of the world and suppressing humanity. This would again suggest that the undead were never meant to be, so it is very unlikely that there would be a chosen undead.

Even if we do buy into the concept of a chosen undead, there is some awkwardness when considering exactly who is doing the choosing. Setting aside some higher power in Lordran that is never mentioned in the game, the natural assumption would be Gwyn, as the mightiest of the Lords. However, as the time of our imprisonment in the asylum, we know that Gwyn is languishing in the Kiln of the First Flame, his power all but spent following his linking with the Flame. It is unlikely that he would be capable of overseeing the process of empowering a chosen undead, and who else would have the power?

To my mind Kingseeker Frampt providers the final clue to the chosen undead being a false prophecy. When he greets you after the ringing of the first Bell of Awakening, he goes out of his way to praise you and convince you of your status as the chosen one. However, should you choose to attack Frampt (after placing the Lord Vessel) and inflict enough damage on him, he will choose to denounce you, claiming that you are not the chosen one after all and that he will sleep until one more worthy appears. Frampt’s capriciousness is telling.

If you truly are the chosen undead, you would be no matter what actions you took or how Frampt feels about you. The glib and fickle way in which he treats you may suggest that he knows that the prophecy is a lie and that the chosen undead does not exist. When he says that he awaits one more worthy, it is likely that he means someone who is more easily duped and controlled into doing the bidding of the gods, and being manipulated into linking the Flame.

It is also odd that there appears to be nothing particularly special about our character or abilities at all. Indeed, we would not even have made it out of our cell in the Undead Asylum were it not for the actions of Oscar of Astora, who tosses us the key to our cell.

I suppose it all comes back to the oft used saying “If it seems too good to be true then it probably is” (if the idea of being a sacrifice appeals to you that is.)

I’ll Show You Who’s Boss! Top Ten Boss Fights

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Whether you love them or hate them bosses are an integral part of many genres of video games. There are many different ways to make a boss fight entertaining, climatic atmosphere, dramatic music, stunning visual effects or even just straight up difficulty (I’m looking at you Dark Souls.) In order to celebrate the art of boss battles, I have out together a list of the top ten boss battles from games that I have played. These are not necessarily the most challenging bosses that I have faced (although some are), but many are included in the list for their sense of drama, narrative qualities, visuals or, in some cases, out and out hilarity. Obviously, there will be many great boss battles from games I have not played that I can’t include in this list, but if you have any that you think rival or beat the ones in my list then let me know so I can give them a go!

10. Taurus Demon (Dark Souls)

As most of you know, this game is terrifying and unforgiving in equal measure, the slightest mistake resulting in swift death. This is doubly so at the beginning of the game when you are just getting used to the controls and the combat system and just the kind of combat technique that Dark Souls requires in order to be successful. So you fight your way through the first level (of sorts) dying many times until finally you reach the pinnacle of the keep with a bridge leading to sweet, sweet freedom. NO! Out pops a huge demon boss ready to smash your face in. And smash your face in he does. This boss fight is terrifying for those just starting out in the game. Not only is your foe huge and powerful, but the confined space makes it so hard to stay out of its way. The damn thing is as wide as the bridge and there is nowhere to run. Suffice to say on my first run through I died several times to this. It really is a hard boss considering how close to the start of the game it is. Very few gaming experiences will equal the triumph of defeating this boss though. You really do feel like a hero.

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9. Trevelyan (Goldeneye)

Trevelyan himself is not that hard to face down, but when combined with the rest of the level on the hardest difficulty, this can be a real pain. Trevelyan essentially runs around the cradle as his endlessly spawning minions shoot the crap out of you. They wear armour. They re-spawn. Their guns are powerful. It is actually all too easy to run out of ammo just trying to get near enough to Trevelyan to wear him down. Eventually, (assuming you live that long) he makes a break for the final showdown at the base of the level. There is a pretty good chance you will get shot in the back by minions on one of the narrow sections were dodging is impossible and distance makes no difference to enemy accuracy. Still, once you have him cornered its a simple enough task to shoot him off the satellite to his painful death. Unless your foolish enough to try and use the ladder to get to him. Then you die 100% of the time as one hit will see you off the edge. Beware.

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8. Krauser (Resident Evil 4)

This is one of my favourite games of all time, and Krauser is just a pretty entertaining, hilarious friend turned enemy. This battle is not especially difficult, but it is a lot of fun. The first encounter is done entirely through cut-scenes and quick time events, which at the time was very innovative, and is incredibly tense, one wrong move seeing Leon stabbed viciously to death. The dialogue between these two former friends is great and full of emotion. The second encounter sees Krauser morph into a powerful and quick mutant with a huge claw. Going toe-to-toe with Krauser at this point is great, using quick time events and doges to avoid his powerful strikes before catching him off guard and putting a few rounds into him. His attack patterns are varied and quick enough to catch you off guard many times. This is by far one of my favourite parts of this game.

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7. Fyrus the Fire Demon (Twilight Princess)

I think that this game is underrated generally, the visuals are great, the music is fantastic and the dungeon design is some of the best that I have seen. Yet people seem to have a real downer on this game and I can’t understand why. Sure it doesn’t have the same charm as Ocarina or the absorbing weirdness of Majora’s Mask, but it is still a well designed and entertaining game. The dungeons are fantastic and the bosses are very well done. My favourite though is the Fire Temple boss. A huge, possessed Goron elder this boss just looks so menacing and beautiful that it really deserves a place in this list. It also has more than a whiff of a Balrog about it which for me only adds to the overall awesomeness of this boss fight.

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6. Mr Patch (Banjo Tooie)

If i had to try and list my top 5 favourite video games ever, this game would almost certainly make the cut. I love it that much. Its one of the best adventure platformer games out there. The boss fights are all good, but I have chosen the fight with Mr Patch as the best of them. The witty dialogue between our heroes and a self-important, smug inflatable dinosaur is hilarious and there is something inherently fun about flying around inside a big top circus tent shooting egg grenades at a dinosaur. There is also a certain degree of satisfaction in watching the boss slowly deflating to a humorous paaarrrp noise before exploding.

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5. The Bounty Hunters (Metroid Prime 3 Corruption)

This game is brilliant but, way, way too short. That being said the boss battles are beautifully designed, a visual feast and always challenging. My favourites though are the battles against your former bounty hunter allies. I absolutely love seeing the way that their Phazon corruption has altered their forms into twisted, energy charged versions of their former selves. The friends you knew are gone, time to take them out and give them peace.

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4. Ganon (Ocarina of Time)

So, you have fought your way through Ganondorf’s keep, killed his minions, climbed his tower and beaten the crap out of the evil sorcerer and freed the princess. You are feeling good at this point, just starting to relax after a job well done when suddenly a huge monster erupts out of the wreckage of your enemie’s ruined castle, wielding two enormous swords and angry as hell. Oh, and he takes your sword away and traps you in a ring of fire. Great. This boss battle looks fantastic. The figure of Ganon was designed so well, he looks evil as anything and really is huge and threatening. More than that, though, is the feeling of pressure which comes along with this boss, the feeling of being suddenly put upon and attacked is very real at that point. When you finally retrieve your Master Sword and drive it into the King of Evil’s face…..priceless.

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3. The Star Magician (Golden Sun 2 GBA)

In my opinion, this is one of the best RPG’s ever made, I love it so much. I may do a separate post about this game so I won’t say too much here, but suffice to say that it does so many essential RPG elements well creating an absolutely fabulous game. It was a toss up between the final boss and the Star Magician for this spot on the list. The final boss certainly feels dramatic and climatic, but I have gone for the Star Magician because it really is just so challenging. He possesses numerous attacks and spells that can wipe out most of your party’s health in one go, but he can also summon familiars to aid him. Some of these attack you with magic, others just straight up explode for huge damage; but worse than these are the healers. They can heal almost all the bosses health back in just a few turns of combat, making all your work up to that point useless and essentially restarts the combat. This means that you have to really fight tactically and oh so carefully. You need to strike the right balance between attacking the boss, killing the familiars (he can summon these many times) and not leaving yourself vulnerable to counter attack. You definitely need to have at least one party member spamming party heals every turn just to stay alive. This sounds frustrating; it isn’t. it’s very fun, and the sense of reward is proportionate to the difficulty of the task.

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2. Bowser (Super Mario 64)

Earning enough stars to climb the endless staircase and confront Bowser for the last time is a hugely fun journey. It was, and remains, one of the best games ever. The level leading up to Bowser with its dramatic and tension building music is just perfect. It really creates the atmosphere of a reckoning, an evil doer about to face justice through a final confrontation. It manages to successfully impart the feeling that every action in the game so far has been leading to the pivotal moment, this final clash. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

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1. Ornstein and Smough (Dark Souls)

This is probably the most intense moment in a video game that I have experienced so far. Cliche as it sounds, this boss battle really will have you on the edge of your seat as you desperately try and stay alive. Either one of the two enemies alone would be manageable, but together they are a brutal and remorseless boss fight. One huge and powerful, the other quick and deadly. Focusing your efforts on one of them while avoiding the other is the only way to go if you want to survive. You kill one of them and think “Success! One down, this is going to be easier now!” Wrong. The surviving boss pulverises the body of its former ally and absorbs its energy, mutating into a massive version of itself. It’s debatable which one is worse to face as a mega boss, but I always ended up with Smough, and it was hard. Its so nerve wracking, knowing that if you fail (chances of that are pretty good) then you will have to do the whole thing all over again. Even killing one of these foes can be health sapping. Then there is just mega Smough to deal with. Already big and powerful, he becomes only more so, and is quicker than you would expect, with a huge reach using that giant hammer of his. A tough battle then, but its hard to get anymore enjoyment out of a video game than this boss battle offers.

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Honourable mention: All the bosses from Jet Force Gemini (N64) they are all just hilariously fun.

A Rarity Indeed

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There have been several articles that have caught my attention lately about the sad decline of games company Rare since its sale to Microsoft almost ten years ago. The quality of the company as it stands has been blamed on both the direction set out for it by Microsoft and a number of the creative talent leaving to pursue other companies and projects. An analysis of this, however, is not the purpose of this post. The articles written on this subject made me remember just how large a part of my childhood the games made by Rare actually were. At least half of the triple A titles on the N64 were created by Rare; Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Tooie, Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps, Diddy Kong Racing and the slightly less well known, but equally good game, Jet Force Gemini.

 

Most game producers have a few well loved hits to their name, but the achievements of Rare in this relatively small period of time dwarf the efforts of others by comparison. Rare seemed to be able to produce hit after hit after hit. I think that one of the most impressive facts about this herculean feat of game production is the sheer variety of games that they made. They seemed capable of making an outstanding game in almost every genre; first and third person shooters, racing games, adventure platform games, action games and fighting games. Many companies specialise in games of a certain genre; Rare seemed able to turn its hand to pretty much anything and do it well.

 

So how did Rare manage to achieve this level of success? Obviously the design talent at the company was outstanding, but there is perhaps more to their success than that. Rare were an incredibly secretive company and had very little to do with the wider games production community. Therefore they were not influenced much by gaming trends or following from the production habits of others. This possibly made it easier to create games from an almost outsider viewpoint and make games from the perspective of gamers rather than businessmen, allowing for greater innovation and ingenuity. Perhaps it is because they don’t take themselves too seriously; many of their games are laced with the humour and personality of the developers. Often this humour is poking fun at themselves or established gaming conventions. The dialogue and story in the Banjo series and Conker’s Bad Fud Day particularly are good examples of this. It is possibly this style that has endeared the company to so many and still causes so many to call for Nintendo to buy back Rare. Despite the many amazing childhood (and indeed present day) memories that Rare are responsible for, I am not one of those who wish for their return. A large amount of the talent has left Rare; and in this next gen gaming setting it is harder and harder to innovate in games. This would inevitably lead to disappointment in those people who would be expecting Rare to make games which create the same level of impact that the N64 era games did. Despite this, I will always have a soft spot for Rare. The games they made in their hey-day were phenomenal and I still play many of them to this day. It is also worth noting that some of the creative talent left Rare near the end of the N64’s life cycle to form a small independent company called Free Radical Design. This company was responsible for the excellent Timesplitters 2 and a relatively obscure game called Second Sight which made fantastic use of psychic powers and a lovely design style which combined to make a wonderfully unique game. Happily, despite being under a different name and being diffused across several companies, the ethos and spirit of Rare has lived on. However, a huge thank you to Rare for many fantastic games.

Game Review: Hidden in Plain Sight

Unexpected surprises. Mostly, these are bad: that extra bill you weren’t expecting, that deadline that you didn’t know about, visits from distant relatives. Sometime however, you are lucky enough to get a welcome surprise. I’m happy to say that I had such an experience in the form of a little gaming gem called Hidden in Plain Sight, a wonderful game which is available to download on Xbox live for about 70 pence. The game is also very hard to describe. There are 5 game modes in total; Ninja Party, Catch a Thief, Death Race, Knights Vs. Assassins and Assassins. The game is both incredibly simple and absurdly complex at the same time. Take Death Race (my personal favourite) as an example. Four friends are put in a starting line-up with many other NPC’s. The aim is to make it across the room first without being shot by any of the other players who each have one shot in their sniper rifle. Sounds simple. The catch is that no player starts knowing which character they are. You have to figure it out without giving away that you are a human player. If you are too obvious you will get shot and be taken out of the race. However, you also can’t dawdle. If you don’t make reasonably swift progress someone else will cross the finishing line first and you will lose. Having only one shot means that you have to be so careful to make sure that you take out a human player to give yourself a lesser chance of being shot or beaten to the line. All characters have the same top speed to if someone else is ahead of you and no-one has a shot left you are doomed. You have to simultaneously figure out who you are, who else is a human player, try to remain inconspicuous but still race and shoot other players. The complexity of the game is amazing, but because each game lasts for less than 2 minutes it still feels like frantic multi-player action. All of the game modes focus on tactics, misdirection, stealth and observance to a certain degree. This game, with four people playing, is so entertaining that hours will literally fly by as you explore all of the different game modes and is guaranteed to have people jumping around in their seats and screaming as they get shot/stabbed by a knight, punched by a ninja just millimetres away from victory. This is definitely one of those games which turns out to be an unexpectedly amazing multi-player experience and is all the better for being such a surprise. I know I haven’t done the game justice in my description, therefore I urge everyone to go and download this game. It’s less than a pound and I guarantee that you won’t regret it. This is definitely one of the best indie arcade games to have been released in a long time. So invite three friends over, download the game, and watch how your entire evening is swallowed up by this absolute gem of a game.Image

Killer is Dead: Misogyny is Not

There are some flaws in video games which can be forgiven. Frame-rate issues and ropy graphics in places can be absolved bImagey the player if the gameplay itself is engaging and fun. For many players, a whole host of issues can be forgiven if a game stands out as a work of art, a creation of true beauty. And so on. It was with some disappointment that I realised that Suda51 had created a flaw in their latest game ‘Killer is Dead’ which is completely inexcusable;  the misogynistic nature of its content. In too many sections of society the way in which women are portrayed and represented is completely unacceptable. It seems that video games have also been unable to avoid this problem. The way in which women are used in this game is appalling. The awful nature of the ‘Gigolo Mode’ is pretty self-explanatory. However, in addition to this, many of the female characters in this game are made into sex objects or targets for violence. A game which encourages people to act in this way through its gameplay is shameful; by turning this subject matter into a medium for entertainment it is tacitly giving approval and propping up the messages that the game is putting across. It has no place in video-games or anywhere else. Not only is it on very morally questionable ground with its content, but it also makes the game utterly exclusionary. Suda51 has seemingly forgotten the fact that video games are also extremely popular with women. In creating a game like this it has essentially ignored half of the potential video game market. This game’s ability to alienate cannot be overstated. Perhaps as equally depressing is the fact that Suda51 clearly feels that it is responding to some sort of perceived market for this game. They have assumed that there are plenty of people out there who want this sort of content in their games. Clearly, they have aimed this game at men. It is insulting to think that this developer has assumed that just because I am male that I would want to play a game of this sort. There is no need to make games aimed at men or women in the first place; in my experience men and women tend to want to play the same kind of games. All gamers want quality in their games, not pathetic attempts at gender stereotyping in games. If you type ‘girls for games’ into amazon, all that comes up are terrible games which all seem to exclusively feature horses and make-up. These games are not quality games and no-one will want to play them if they are over the age of 5. Gender aiming should not be part of the game designing process. If it is, games featuring the kind of misogynistic gameplay evident in ‘Killer is Dead’ will be the end result.