16th January 2019 – Dancer of the Boreal Valley
I took a few moments to compose myself at Firelink Shrine, and reflect on my journey so far. Three Lords of Cinder had fallen to my blade; their ashes now returned to each of their thrones, and I was sure I would soon be relinking the First Flame.
Since choosing to ‘remind myself’ of the Dark Souls III journey with a full restart, it had taken only a couple of weeks to outperform my first attempt. Not only that, but I was incredibly proud of achieving this without summoning any help whatsoever, and I was confident that this could continue for the remainder of my Dark Souls III experience…
… And then I met the Dancer of the Boreal Valley.
This was a rival that I hadn’t encountered before, and so my first battle would be to evaluate my opponent, it’s moveset, it’s range, it’s speed. The creature was large but stooped very low, almost hugging the ground. I quickly made the decision that close combat would be the most likely strategy to success.
This first fight went incredibly well. I rolled and pirouetted around the Dancer like a gymnast, and landed a succession of strikes. Somehow the Dancer just kept missing me; her blades flew over my head as I rolled around her. However, my run of good luck eventually ended with a fatal flurry of spinning weaponry. Undeterred, I rose from the nearest bonfire and began attempt number two. And three. And four…
The success that I had enjoyed during my very first attempt had lulled me into a false sense of security, and the Dancer wasn’t prepared to be embarrassed in the same way again. At one stage, I decided to farm more souls to ‘level up’ my character and improve my stats, in the hope that this would make a difference. Deep down, I knew it wouldn’t. The only way to defeat the Dancer would be through practice; learn her moves, anticipate them and know when to fight back.
Eventually, I knew enough to consistently reach the ‘second stage’ of the battle. At this point, the Dancer became less predictable, and introduced several new moves to her repertoire. I would be defeated many, many more times before finally accepting that the second stage would require a change of strategy.
Summoning another player to assist was a strategy that I briefly considered, but I knew that I would come to regret it. I chose instead to show the Dancer much more respect, by demonstrating much more patience. Stay well away, and wait for her to invite me to attack. The room itself had large pillars in each of it’s corners and I could use these to my advantage. They would provide a small amount of protection when I needed to recompose or recover health.
The learning process had been long and arduous but on the third night, it worked…
The Dancer of the Boreal Valley had fallen, and I was about to enter Lothric Castle…
20th January, 2019 – Dragonslayer Armour
Probably my favourite battle of my Dark Souls III journey so far…
Fighting my way through to the rooftops of Lothric Castle, brought with it a variety of epic vistas looking down on many of the locations I had ventured through to get here. I remembered the start of my journey, and spotting the imposing sight of Lothric Castle towering above me in the distance. I’d come a long way and felled many adversaries. But I wasn’t quite done yet.
In front of me were the gigantic doors signalling a difficult boss beyond. This fight was to take place on top of the ramparts of Lothric Castle underneath a fiery, blazoned sky. I stepped through into the arena, and ahead of me was an enormous, skeletal dragon-like creature. Its wings immediately outstretched and it gracefully took flight above me. I watched it as…
WHACK! “YOU DIED”.
At that point I realised that the huge creature that I watched take to the skies wasn’t where my attention should have been. Whilst my gaze was focused upwards, a hulking knight launched towards me, and I guess seeing that my attention was elsewhere, took it’s opportunity to plow my body into the ground with its Greataxe.
Researching the lore of this boss battle (as I was a little confused as to exactly what was happening), the skeletal winged creatures are known as ‘Pilgrim Butterflies’, and the ‘knight’ is simply an empty suit of armour, magically animated and brought to life by the Butterflies. The Dragonslayer Armour itself is a sight to behold, looking like it is made of pure granite more than metal. I was a little surprised that my weapon didn’t immediately break after striking it.
The Armour held a huge shield made of the same material in it’s left hand, and the familiar Greataxe in it’s right (we had already become friends). I thoroughly enjoyed this fight despite it taking the predictable several hours. The Armour hit like a truck and as it wildly swung it’s weapon it would occasionally crash through the walls of the rampart. The safety provided by the perimeter would gradually disappear and introduce a very real environmental danger. There were many times where I would dodge the greataxe, only to slip off the edge and fall several hundred feet to an unfortunate death.
The second stage of the fight ramps up the drama even further as the Butterflies surrounding the area begin to rain fireballs down onto the battleground. The Armour also introduces a new moveset, including a ranged shockwave that knocked me to my death on more than one occasion.
My victory, ultimately, was a little dirty but necessary. I used the environment to my advantage or more specifically, I used the relative safety of a fountain in the middle of the rampart as protection.
With the Dragonslayer Armour defeated my entry to the Grand Archives is clear. However, I’ve realised that I could be in danger of missing out on a huge part of the game if I continue further. Before entering the Grand Archives, I needed to explore another location…
22nd January – Oceiros, The Consumed King
The Consumed King’s Garden was quickly accessible from the Lothric Castle bonfire, so after converting the souls I had earned from my victory against Dragonslayer Armour this was to be my next destination. The garden itself had been contaminated with a harmful toxicity, and several abyss-corrupted monstrosities that patrolled the grounds. It was a relief when I managed to open the shortcuts providing a much safer route to the Consumed King.
Oceiros was waiting at the end of the boss room. A cavernous underground room, gradually shrinking as the roots from the trees above found their footing within it’s walls and broken stone floor. As I entered, the dragon-like creature became very vocal about me not taking his baby ‘Ocelotte’, which he held close to him as he turned to face me. Except, it appeared that Ocelotte was simply a figure of Oceiros‘ imagination. Yes, it sounds weird and it was, especially when the child is heard crying during the battle.
Researching the lore of this character reveals there is no proven theory as to the story here. What we do know is that Oceiros was once the King of Lothric who discovered the worship of Seath the Paledrake in the Grand Archives. One theory suggests that his eventual obsession with Seath, may have lead to him fusing himself with the dragon-child Ocelotte , in an attempt to gain the power of dragons. The time had come to end his madness.
The first half of the fight against Oceiros, The Consumed King didn’t present too many problems. He held his imaginary baby to his chest with his left arm, and a large staff in his right hand. He moved slowly and I found that he had trouble hitting me if I positioned myself directly underneath him. Often, he would be forced to take a retreating jump backwards instead. A sign of weakness that was incredibly rare to see in a Dark Souls boss. Oceiros was obviously much more concerned about protecting Ocelotte than punishing me.
The second half of the fight was very different. Oceiros, realising that Ocelotte is missing, becomes frenetic and overwhelmed with rage. He became far less predictable, often charging at me from across the room. The tactics that had worked so well for the first half of this fight just weren’t any more, and it took several attempts before I realised this.
Eventually, I found that keeping my distance from this rampaging beast provided opportunities to dodge his charges and follow up with a couple of hits. It was far from perfect; the maniacal and unpredictable nature of a baby-free Oceiros continued to cause many problems until eventually…
…Oceiros, The Consumed King was slain. The cavernous room which had been witness to the King’s insane ramblings and torment, fell silent.
24th January – Champion Gundyr
After uncovering an illusory wall at the back of Oceiros’ room, I found myself following a cliff-side pathway, that eventually dropped down to a very familiar area. The Untended Graves were a replica of the Cemetary of Ash, the place where my body rose from the ground as an ‘Unkindled’ and my journey began. This time however, the area was shrouded in darkness.
It seemed odd to me that this place had been given a different name, and therefore acted as a sort-of ‘duplicate’ of the previous area. Again, I decided to research a little to discover how this fitted in to the Dark Souls lore…
It turns out theories on this place are complex and incredibly detailed. The most simple explanation is from the Dark Souls wiki that explains that The Untended Graves is located in an alternate reality where the Flame has already been extinguished and the Age of Dark is upon the world, perhaps as a warning to future unkindled champions as to what might happen if they choose to extinguish the Flame.
I made my way through the familiar paths, this time filled with unfamiliar enemies who caused me more trouble than they had any right to at this stage. After grabbing all the shiny collectibles I dared to, I made my way to the arena where I knew the next boss would be waiting.
Yes, it was the very first boss that I had defeated, but this time… with red eyes. Far from being just a pair of glowing contact lenses, they signified that this was going to be Iudex Gundyr on crack cocaine. Champion Gundyr is faster, stronger, and has some lethal combinations in his moveset. Having recently defeated Dragonslayer Armour, another humanoid, warrior-like opponent I approached my new adversary with a quiet confidence.
Champion Gundyr tests reaction speed and resilience to the absolute limit. By this stage I was holding a dozen or so Estus Flasks, and to defeat CG I would need every one of them.
After some time, and as had been the case with Iudex and many other bosses, I found that staying close to Champion produced the best results. I was able to wait for his move, dodge and follow up with a heavy strike. It wasn’t too long before I reached my first ‘boss fight goal’ of consistently reaching the second stage of the fight.
Champion Gundyr is an absolute tyrant in the second stage. The fight becomes a titanic battle of concerntration with nowhere to hide, and barely time to chug an Estus flask. He buffs his moveset with a variety of attack combinations, typically made up of three seperate strikes or slashes. Sometimes, the second stage of a boss battle requires a radically different strategy. This time however, it just required me to be a lot better.
“Move like a butterfly, sting like a bee”
Champion Gundyr‘s lethal combinations meant I needed to do a lot more dodging. It was important to pay particular attention to Champion‘s giant halberd and make sure to dodge in the right direction, often three consecutive times, before being given an opportunity to counterattack. I also found that it wasn’t overly difficult to parry Champion‘s halberd, leaving him open to an incredibly satisfying critical strike.
On two occasions I came within one single successful strike of victory. My blade needing only to graze across Champion‘s armour to secure the win. Maybe it was a lack of discipline, a lack of patience or maybe just rotten luck, but on both occasions Champion remained unfelled. I felt frustrated. It had been several hours, it was after midnight and I was close to calling time. One last run.
Roll. Roll. Ro… the other way! Roll again. Back off. Estus. WHACK! Back off. Estus – this time without getting hit! Roll. Hit…
Unbelievably, the battle once again came down to a contest of ‘sudden death’. I had used all of my Estus flasks and the battle was about to be decided literally in a ‘next hit wins’ scenario. I had to be patient, but at the same time clinical. It was important to find the right moment to finish the fight early, as the longer the fight went on the more danger I was in. I saw the opportunity, an opening giving me a window just wide enough for me to fly in with my blade raised…
Often, I would learn a technique or know enough about a boss’ fighting style to eventually win with Estus to spare. It was never the case with Champion Gundyr. I was constantly made to fight right on the edge, with almost zero room for error. Champion Gundyr fell after the most intense fight of my journey so far.