I finally beat Dark Souls after 12 years of trying — here's how

Dark Souls Remastered screenshot
(Image credit: FromSoftware/Namco Bandai)
What we're playing

Welcome! This column is part of a series in which members of the Tom's Guide staff share what they're playing and enjoying right now, with the goal of helping you find great games that you might want to play next. Be sure to check out our last entry, where we talked about Endling - Extinction is Forever and how it's a real tear-jerker. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2024. That’s the date I finally slew my gaming white whale, Dark Souls. For years, I’ve had a fascination with this acclaimed, notoriously difficult action-RPG, and while I had dipped my toe into its intoxicating waters in the past, I’d never managed to see it through until the bitter end. 

That was until very recently when I booted up Dark Souls Remastered on PS5, and vanquished every obstacle in my path on a quest to not only see the final boss of this legendary video game, but to kick his butt too. After a couple dozen hours, I can finally join the ranks of gamers who have completed Dark Souls. Here’s how I achieved victory…

My personal history with Dark Souls

Dark Souls Remastered screenshot

(Image credit: FromSoftware/Namco Bandai)

My first experience with Dark Souls came in 2012 on the PS3, but I quickly bounced off after finding its unforgiving challenge and cryptic design frustrating. I tried again in 2018 when Dark Souls Remastered launched, first as a sorcerer class, which proved to be a foolish decision (my comfort zone is a melee build), so I started over as an armor-clad knight. This time I was moderately more successful, but still went hollow (Dark Souls parlance for giving up) before I’d even reached the infamous Blighttown. 

After those feeble three attempts, I figured the Dark Souls series wasn’t for me, and moved on to other (more forgiving) games. However, I always had a lingering sense that I was missing out on something special, and that I’d perhaps given up a little too hastily. For years, I’ve wanted to return to the world of Lordran, and after much (much) delay, a few weeks ago, I finally did exactly that.

Dark Souls Remastered screenshot

(Image credit: FromSoftware/Namco Bandai)

I returned to Dark Souls not just with a new-found determination, but also with more experience under my belt. Since taking my first steps into the deliciously devilish world of Dark Souls, I’ve become very familiar with the more recent works of FromSoftware, having completed Elden Ring (twice) and Bloodborne as well as Souls-inspired titles such as Lies of P and Steelrising.

This time I came into Dark Souls knowing exactly what I would be facing, and I was ready for the challenge, and this time I was confident I'd walk away victorious. 

Below, I’ve listed the five bosses that defined my playthrough, and that explain how I managed to roll credits on this brilliant game at long last. It should go without saying, but you’ll find full spoilers for the original Dark Souls if you carry on reading...

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

5 Dark Souls bosses that defined my playthrough

Boss #1: Chaos Witch Quelaag

In my previous run of Dark Souls, I’d made it beyond the Asylum Demon, Taurus Demon and Capra Demon (barely). Which made Gaping Dragon, followed by Chaos Witch Quelaag, the first two “new” bosses that I encountered. 

The former took me a small handful of tries, but it was Quelaag, the revolting mutated creature cocooned in a spider-web nest deep in the bowels of Blighttown that convinced me that I had the required skills to see this quest through to the end. 

Granted, Quelaag is not considered the hardest boss in the game, but she's still a foe that presents a stern challenge, especially for newcomers. However, I was able to slay the creepy arachnid-human hybrid on my first try, without the use of any summons to help me out. Within moments of entering her domain, I’d established her pattern, and with some carefully timed dodge rolls, I barely took a hit. 

I know to Dark Souls veterans, beating Quelaag first time won’t seem like much of an achievement, but trust me, when I chipped away the last bit of her health bar, I felt like a pro player. And I dutifully rang the second Bell of Awakening with a great big smile on my face. 

Boss #2: Ornstein and Smough

If Quelaag was the boss that proved to me that I had the skills to beat Dark Souls, the iconic showdown with Dragon Slayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough was the hurdle that told me I had the determination to complete the game this time around. 

Billed as the first major skill-check, and considered by some to be the hardest boss fight in the game, Ornstein and Smough lived up to their reputation. This buddy-duo kicked me across the floor of Anor Londo time after time. Eventually, after many failures, I relented and turned to my good friend Solaire of Astoria to engage in some jolly cooperation. 

With the sun-loving knight at my side, I was able to better manage the combination of Ornstein’s fast thrusts and Smough’s devastating hammer blows, and brought the duo down with my adrenaline spiking to dangerous levels. Bring on your worst, Dark Souls — I was ready. 

Boss #3: Great Grey Wolf Sif

One of Dark Souls' biggest strengths is its freeform design. You can reach many areas designed for late-game players straight away, and several bosses that seem mandatory can be skipped, if you know the right methods. However, this open philosophy can also mean you stumble on bosses later than intended, and that’s what happened with me and Sif. 

This colossal wolf posed almost zero threat to my level-up character and heavily upgraded Claymore. After an embarrassing first attempt, in which I didn’t register a single hit, I cruised past the initially intimidating boss on my second try. 

However, I had to include Sif on this list purely because of the awesomeness of the fight. Not only does the wolf have one of the most well-crafted move sets in the whole game, but the lore implications are also fascinating. As easy as I found Sif, it was my favorite boss fight, hands down. 

Boss #4: Gravelord Nito

One of my biggest pet peeves in gaming is bosses that are made artificially difficult by forcing players to also contend with regular enemies that team up with the Big Bad. So when I realized that Gravelord Nito could raise an army of skeletons to do his bidding, alongside being capable of dishing out serious damage himself, I knew this wasn’t the boss fight for me. 

And, yup, Nito proved to be my least favorite fight in Dark Souls. Not helped by a character design that looks better in concept art than it does in gameplay, my strategy for Nito was a simple one: kindle the nearest bonfire to its max level and then tank as much damage as possible, safe in the knowledge that I had a frankly ridiculous 20 healing flasks at the ready. 

This strategy proved effective, and soon enough Nito was brought down. My resulting elation was primarily because I could quickly warp out of the horrible catacombs area (seriously, it's the worst part of the game!), and go somewhere with significantly fewer skeletons. 

Boss #5: Gwyn, Lord of Cinder

In theory, the last boss of Dark Souls should be the toughest. After all, a natural difficulty curve would result in the final encounter being the most demanding, but that’s not the case here (at least, in my opinion). Gwyn, Lord of Cinder is an epic fight, but the much-heralded Lord of Sunlight is a surprisingly big pushover. 

Because you can parry the flame-covered boss, so long as you can nail the timing with at least somewhat regular accuracy, you get a lot of chances to do big damage. Gwyn’s main trick is that he’s pretty unrelenting and rarely pauses his attacks, so finding a second to heal can be tough, but even this issue is negated by the conveniently placed rock formations in the area — hide behind one of these and Gwyn will spend his time literally kicking rocks. 

Nevertheless, Gwyn is a suitably epic encounter to end a game like Dark Souls, and I loved the piano-driven, almost serene, score. This adds a dose of melancholy to the fight, which is appropriate to the game’s story as your defeat of Gwyn isn’t necessarily a victory thematically. 

Dark Souls is a memorable masterpiece

Dark Souls Remastered screenshot

(Image credit: FromSoftware/Namco Bandai)

With Gwyn defeated, my journey through Dark Souls was almost over, all that was left was to pick an ending (I went with the “Link the Fire” finale. It’s what Solaire would have wanted), and as the credits rolled, I was able to sit back and reflect on one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. Dark Souls is every bit the masterpiece it’s so often labeled. 

In some ways, I’m glad it’s taken me this long, and a few attempts, to finally see Dark Souls through to the end. It made my experience all the more memorable, and made each victory, no matter how small, feel monumental. And I’ve still got the acclaimed Artorias of the Abyss DLC expansion to enjoy when I’m feeling the desire to return to Lordran again. I even purchased the Nintendo Switch edition to play on the go. 

I’m now looking for something to fill my time until Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree Tree launches next month, so perhaps it’s time I returned to the other FromSoftware game that kicked my butt the first time I tried it several years ago, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

More from Tom's Guide

Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.