From Software games have been known for high and particularly low quality boss fights over the years. Something else many have them have become notable for is a similar dynamic within dungeons and open fields that encompass a given game’s maps. From Software has practically touched base with every type of biome and building structure possible. In doing so, they’ve come out with some particularly memorable areas. Today’s list will examine the top ten of such creations.
Undead Asylum (Dark Souls 1)
Sen’s Fortress (Dark Souls 1)
Cathedral of the Deep (Dark Souls 3)
Old Yharnam (Bloodborne)
Research Hall (Bloodborne)
10. Blighttown (Dark Souls 1)
We begin the list with easily the most controversial pick of this list, as well as possibly any list ever seen on InReview. Blighttown has been loathed by the community for a long time for being a particularly difficult area to survive in. There are multiple enemies who can easily afflict the player with the Toxic status effect, an extremely deadly effect that will require several Estus Flasks to survive if the player is out of Purple Moss items. In addition, there are large troll-like monsters with huge clubs that have a lot of health as well as seemingly dozens of kobold-like enemies with nasty grab attacks. Finally, as if there needed to be more, a handful of small Fire Drakes and Giant wasp-like creatures will also pester the player. Truly, the simple act of surviving Blighttown is quite the immense challenge.
This is why Blighttown belongs on this list, as well as being a generally well built, interesting map. This is the first map in Dark Souls 1 that truly and greatly threatens the player. It doesn’t do anything unfair, though, as everything encompassed within Blighttown has ample counter play. For example, the player will find and locate a handful of Purple Moss items to combat Toxic. When the enemies shooting the player with toxic blow darts are slain, they uniquely do not ever respawn. While the large trolls on this map do hit hard and are very tanky, they are also incredibly slow and very susceptible to backstabs. Thus, if the player is patient and takes a ‘bait and punish’ approach to fighting them, their difficulty diminishes significantly. Finally, while the map is mostly set in a treacherous high-altitude area, where just a single mistake can see the character fall to their doom, the descent downwards is well built and enjoyable to figure out. The solution isn’t right in the player’s face, and does require some thorough exploration to figure out where to go.
All in all, this map essentially gatekeeps the game as a whole. If you’re even a semi-skilled player and have the capacity to think outside the box, you will most likely get through Blighttown eventually and feel immense triumph at doing so. If you thought you were playing a hack and slash game that requires no thought and are looking for something a bit more brainless, your journey will most likely end here.
9. Central Yharnam (Bloodborne)
When the player has gone through the tutorial and has been introduced to the Hunter’s Dream hub world, this will be the first area they find themselves going through. Central Yharnam is an excellent early game area that challenges the player in a few different, unique ways while also offering them areas to farm important resources and use a couple of enemies to practice some basic techniques.
In terms of challenges, the player will find an enormous group of Yharnamites converging around a large bonfire. These Yharnamites are hostile and will attack on sight. There are far too many of them for the average player to simply rush into it and totally slaughter, so some strategizing will be necessary; do I simply try and rush past them? Could I maybe attempt to bait in and take on one or two at a time until they’re all dead? Or should I secure a more strategic position away from the crowd, then throw projectiles at them to soften them before they get to me? All methods can work but do require the player to be quite careful executing them.
As far as farming and practice goes, this can be unlocked and set up very early in the game if a shortcut is achieved. There are a couple of Yharnamites who reside in a large building. They are easy to kill and frequently drop Blood Vials when killed, a very useful healing item the player will want to collect a lot of. Just outside and down the stairs from this building are a pair of Rock Trolls. These trolls serve as a way for the player to learn how to parry in Bloodborne. Considering that parrying in Bloodborne is very different from any other From Software game, this was very useful to have available.
Finally, Central Yharnam is host to two excellently designed boss fights. The Cleric Beast is an optional fight who is the first boss fight the player is meant to win. It’s a relatively easy fight but can be quite challenging to a player without much experience in a From Software game. The very same can be said about our other boss fight, Father Gasciogne, who is a fight the player is required to eventually win.
8. Crumbling Farum Azula (Elden Ring)
Right away, what stands out about Crumbling Farum Azula is both the area’s brief backstory as well as its aesthetic quality. The infrastructure itself is held in suspense, debris floating in mid air. In juxtaposition, there is a raging tornado right next to it that is very much active, yet doesn’t seem to impact the infrastructure or even any of the inhabitants of it.
Overall, this is the last significant amount of travel and exploration the player will have to do before they can return to the Elden Throne in Leyndell to fight the last two bosses of the game. As such, all enemies and boss fights here are naturally quite difficult. There are two mini bosses as well, both instances where the ‘Crumbling Beast’ will fight the player- a large white dragon with red electricity entwined with its attacks. Travel throughout the map is very well designed and deep. The player will often find themselves as what appears to be a dead end- but with a little bit of thorough examination, they’ll likely spot just a few inches of a platform suspended midair that they’re intended to drop down onto. Clearly, the player must watch their step lest their character errantly fall into the base of the raging tornado and be immediately killed. Balancing fighting tough enemies along with maintaining their footing can be tricky for sure. Fights with the Godskin Duo and Maliketh the Black Blade await here, giving the player two difficult, memorable fights to look forward to.
7. Undead Burg (Dark Souls 1)
Like Central Yharnam, the Undead Burg is the first area the player will spend a significant period of time following the tutorial of the game. Undead Burg likewise offers the player opportunities to farm souls, gives them some unique challenges and has a wide amount of interconnectivity to other parts of the game that keeps it relevant beyond just the early game.
Hollows are the main opposition in the Undead Burg. They’ll attack the player in several different ways. Some will shoot the player with arrows and throw firebombs. Some will get into groups to try and overwhelm the player. Apart from them, if the player wants to test their mettle, there are two Black Knights within the map that make fierce opponents and are far, far stronger than anything the player will fight for a very long time. They could also drop amazing loot, including their weapons, their shields or their armor, presenting a ‘reward’ factor to fighting them. Finally, if the player chose to begin the game with the Master Key, they could potentially earn a challenge with an even more imposing name- Havel the Rock, who will drop the Havel’s Ring guaranteed if defeated.
To end off, the Undead Burg is where the player will meet Solaire of Astora, one of the most well known NPCs in From Software franchise history. As well, the boss fight with the Taurus Demon is done on a graphically amazing battlefield.
6. Miquella’s Haligtree/Elphael, Brace of the Haligtree (Elden Ring)
Similarly to the Crumbling Farum Azula, this is an end game level in Elden Ring that boasts a couple of challenging boss fights and can be tricky to properly traverse. However, the area is actually completely optional, as the player does not have to complete it in order to beat the game and achieve an ending.
The enemy variety on this map is incredibly wide, presenting a unique array of challenges to the player while doing a good job not totally suffocating them. There are also a lot of mini bosses as well; expect to do battle with a couple Erdtree Avatars, Crystallians, and a well-placed Cleanrot Knight directly in front of a Site of Grace checkpoint. In terms of design, it’s a little bit like Blighttown only with Scarlet Rot instead of Toxic. That is to say that the player will be fighting off tough enemies as they attempt to traverse tree branches that, if fallen off of, will result in instantaneous death. Exploration is similarly intriguing, as the correct path to venture forward won’t always be in the player’s face.
The area itself ends off with a thrilling, extremely challenging fight with Malenia, Blade of Miquella and Goddess of Rot. Defeating her will grant the player their choice between two very compelling rewards- her blade, the Hand of Malenia or her second phase Incantation, the Scarlet Aeonia. Likewise, Malenia’s predecessor boss fight, Loretta the Knight of the Haligtree may not be anywhere near as challenging, but offers the player their choice between Loretta’s War Sickle or the sorcery Loretta’s Mastery. As such, venturing into this map not only offers generous rewards, but compelling gameplay that challenges the player in several different ways.
5. Firelink Shrine (Dark Souls 1)
The Firelink Shrine of Dark Souls 1 definitely is the best overall hub world in From Software gaming. In these games, the hub world is typically where the player goes to level up. Additionally, if the player has a real-life occurrence come up and needs to leave the game briefly, they’ll probably want to come here, as nothing will instigate a fight with them here- this level of safety does not exist anywhere else, which will offer the player a place of refuge when they need to take a breather.
Here, the player can access many important names. They’ll be able to interact with Siegmeyer of Catarina, the Fire Keeper, Kingseeker Frampt and the miracles merchant Petrus of Thorrolund. Occasionally, even Solaire himself will turn up here after meeting the player for the first time.
A large part of what causes Firelink Shrine to stand out from other hub worlds is its unprecedented amount of interconnectivity it has with the rest of the game, only really matched by Majula within Dark Souls 2 to a slight extent. Without needing to warp via bonfire, you can quickly get from the Firelink Shrine to the Undead Burg, New Londo Ruins, Undead Asylum, Blighttown, the Undead Parish, the Darkroot Forest and Sen’s Fortress. That’s nearly half the game that’s just within walking distance! In Demon’s Souls’ Nexus, Dark Souls 3’s Firelink Shrine, Bloodborne’s Hunter’s Dream or Elden Ring’s Roundtable Hold, this isn’t possible. In those areas, teleportation is mandatory to get mostly anywhere of importance. This level of interconnectivity shows off how well designed Dark Souls 1’s Firelink Shrine is.
4. Cathedral Ward (Bloodborne)
The Cathedral Ward ultimately took on a slight de-facto hub role within Bloodborne, and is structured very similarly to previously mentioned hub areas. Here, the player can go to the effort of gathering NPCs with narrative and gameplay value who can also reward the player for helping them get refuge. Entailed within this is also a very dark, ominous storyline with an immense plot twist that the player can enjoy and possibly be horrified by.
Much like Dark Souls 1’s Firelink Shrine, the Cathedral Ward holds a lot of interconnectivity. You can get from it to Central Yharnam, Old Yharnam, the Grand Cathedral, Hemwick Charnel Lane, Ya’Hargul, the Hypogean Gaol, the Nightmare of Mensis, the Nightmare Frontier, the Hunter’s Nightmare, the Forbidden Woods and Byrgenwerth quite quickly. It was another masterful design effort by From Software that made the area one of Bloodborne’s most memorable.
3. Anor Londo (Dark Souls 1)
This area is absolutely amazing, a perfect display of why video games have become a form of modernized art and is definitely the most well put together area in all of Dark Souls 1. Deciding to put Anor Londo at the #3 spot instead of #1 is only because there are somehow two areas which are even more immaculate, and is not a way of saying there are any flaws with Anor Londo. Seriously, this place is absolutely perfect.
For one thing, the challenge of battling through Anor Londo is high, very fun and quite rewarding. Here, Anor Londo’s Silver Knights became iconic for the type of challenge they can put a player through. If someone has been through Anor Londo and tells you that they’ve never been shot by a Silver Knight Greatarrow off a ledge to their doom before, they’re lying to you. Close quarters combo is entertaining as well, in and out doors. In doors, these Silver Knights are also helped by Anor Londo Golems, large enemies with huge weapons and big health bars. Of course, the Silver Knights ditch the bow and arrow for a greatsword and greatshield approach when in close quarters as well.
Anor Londo has had a long-lasting impact on the game and franchise’s overall lore. Deep in Anor Londo is where Gwyneviere, Princess of Sunlight resides. Gwyneviere is the daughter to Gwyn, Lord of Cinder. She and the Lordvessel are guarded by the iconic Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough which, not by accident is the game’s overall best designed boss fight as well. In defeating them and infiltrating Gwyneviere’s quarters, there will be an opportunity for a perceptive player to uncover a very interesting plot twist in addition to gathering the Lordvessel.
Finally, from a design standpoint, Anor Londo is flawless. Just look at the picture provided in this very article! The outside of Anor Londo is just majestic, a beautiful sunset hanging over a graphically amazing area made more distinguishable by the game’s overall graphic engine. The interior is immersion heaven, and really makes the player feel like they’re moving through a royal medieval castle of some kind.
2. Castle Cainhurst (Bloodborne)
Another brilliantly designed map, Castle Cainhurst is unique for being one of few designed Bloodborne maps to actually be completely optional. The player does have to go out of their way to figure out how to get here. This is a shame, because imagining that an inexperienced player could accidentally miss out on this experience is gut wrenching.
Bloodborne in general is unique among From Software games for its aesthetic and atmospheric approach. It overall takes a very Lovecraftian approach to its design structure. Fittingly, the game itself is generally more dark and dreary than even the average Dark Souls game, with most areas in this game meant to initially unnerve or intimidate the player.
This is part of why Castle Cainhurst fits the game so well. In order to even reach the area, the player must essentially steal an envelope which was an invitation sent out to visit the castle. Upon doing so, they’ll be brought to a creepy building in a desolate area which has big, aggressive and blood thirsty monstrosities meandering in front of it and itself not terribly welcoming to visitors in appearance. It’s funnily enough rather generic, but fits in flawlessly in the world of Bloodborne specifically.
Like other areas on this list, traveling through and up the castle is a fun challenge. Inside, there are hostile Sirens who will slowly but lethally assault the player with damaging shrieks and twisted magic. As the player makes their way up the castle, they’ll be forced to carefully traverse the building’s exterior. Here, the possibility of making a mistake and falling to their death is definitely there, but a new enemy type in Gargoyles is also introduced to present another complication. All of these elements are very reasonable, but also definitely keep the player honest.
As the area is optional, it’s not surprising to find that it can reward the player handsomely for making the trip. Here, the player can complete a questline which will earn them the Logarius’ Wheel, a bizarre but deadly weapon that is hard to get. They can also pick up the Evelyn, a rifle which isn’t outstanding but is also lacking in any real flaws, arguably the game’s most well rounded gun that can pretty much be slapped onto any build and be quite productive without any serious investment.
When the player gets to the end of the castle, at the rooftop, they’ll be treated to a thrilling boss fight with Martyr Logarius, one of Bloodborne’s best designed bosses- a real treat to fight. After beating him, they’ll finally reach Annalise, Queen of the Vilebloods and gain the opportunity to join their covenant. If they want, they could also kill her here if they’re interested in advancing the interests of another Covenant, as well as obtaining the aforementioned Logarius Wheel.
1. The Ringed City (Dark Souls 3)
The Ringed City was the final DLC area of Dark Souls 3. As Dark Souls 3 was the last of the Dark Souls trilogy, this meant that the Ringed City needed to be a fitting send off to the franchise, pressuring From Software to deliver. Boy did they ever, as the area has multiple thrilling boss fights, a simple and enjoyable structure and is quite challenging with plenty of decent loot to go around as well.
In the area’s beginning, the player is present with an immediate stage hazard challenge. If ignored or improperly approached, an army of conjured spirits will immediately gun them down with dozens of greatarrow shots with lethal precision all at once. The player must use cover to deflect the shots, then kill the source of this sorcery. They’ll receive many upgrade materials and currencies upon completing this puzzle. Forging onward, the player will get into the heart of the city, where dozens of different types of enemies will oppose them with a fairly brutalizing difficulty awaiting the player. The layout is such where the area became a hotspot for PvP as well, meaning that experiencing invaders was quite frequent when Dark Souls 3 was in its heyday, and even still is to this day, nearly five years after the DLC has come out.
If the player thought that was challenging, they may begin to feel true despair when Darkeater Midir begins to harass them as a mini-boss of sorts. The player must fight Midir on a rocky bridge-esque structure, and they’ll need to dish out about 15% of Midir’s total health bar before he will be driven off, venture into his lair, and be accessible for the player to tackle as a straight up boss. Incidentally, Midir is actually an optional boss they don’t have to fight to complete the DLC, though they’d be doing themselves a borderline offensive shortcoming to refrain from fighting him. The area’s first mandatory boss reintroduced something From Software hadn’t tried since the days of Demon’s Souls nine years prior; a PvP boss: the Halflight Spear of the Church. Here, the player can potentially fight another actual player in a duel, where they’ll be able to advance if they slay their fellow gamer.
The Ringed City caps off with the last boss fight ever developed within the Dark Souls trilogy: Slave Knight Gael. One of From Software’s most challenging, adrenaline inducing fight, Gael was about the best way possible From Software could’ve concluded such an iconic storyline. Overall, it had players feeling very bittersweet. On one hand, taking in everything around them as they finish the fight with Gael can be overwhelming- the sheer amounts of story and quality gameplay that have taken place to this point, with From Software giving this to us in droves. The bitter aspect, however, is the realization that it’s all over once Gael is defeated. Unless From Software has a sudden change of heart and releases a Dark Souls 4 at some point, which seems very unlikely, this was the last area we will ever see in a Dark Souls game.
Once again, From Software ended the series off about as masterfully as they could have.