Lorian & Lothric are bound to be Dark Souls III’s most controversial boss. You’ll call Lorian’s teleportation ‘cheap’ or ‘impossible to beat’ and die to it without really understanding it. You’ll hurl a controller across the room when you find out that you need to go back through phase one of Lorian’s fight to activate Lothric, even if you’ve beaten it before. And then, just when you think you’ve dodged the beam from Lorian’s sword you’ll be hit by Lothric’s magic homing arrow and keel over a few yards from victory. By the time you beat the boss, though, you’ll hopefully have an appreciation for its fantastic, fascinating design. The best Dark Souls bosses are those which at first appear impossible but, gradually, retry by retry, reveal weaknesses and openings and predictable patterns to exploit. Lorian & Lothric are Dark Souls III’s finest boss, and among the best bosses of the whole series.
The best thing about the boss fight is that it’s so surprising. Like the other Lord of Cinder boss fights, it is teased by the vacant chair in Firelink Shrine with a brief inscription on the back. In the case of every other fight to that point, the Lord of Cinder fight has been as described on the chair: the Abyss Watchers, Yhorm the Giant, and Saint Aldrich. The largest chair, at the back, is reserved for ‘Holy King Lothric, Last hope of his Line.’ It’s a simple, evocative teaser which, combined with the immense size of his chair sets particular expectations for the boss in question. At the least, you assume this will be a single, large, tough enemy, and veteran players might conclude Lothric occupies a similar position to Gwyn, who was teased throughout Dark Souls and fit that description exactly. Even the path preceding Lorian & Lothric is one we’ve walked before: at the Kiln of the First Flame, the whole area sloped and wrapped around Gwyn’s chamber, and here one very long road leads only to the princes’ bedchamber. It’s worth appreciating that even after what is likely to be more than 30 hours, Dark Souls III will still surprise you here. One note in front of the room when I played expressed our confusion: ‘Queen?’ The boss is not, of course, High King Lothric, but rather cursed princes. Lorian is big, but crawling around on the floor he doesn’t look it. He’s armoured, but when he drags himself across the stage he is immediately more tragic than intimidating. At least, until he attacks you.
Lorian will teleport forward and slash horizontally with his sword. The teleport was enough to make me quit the game after a few futile tries: I’d dodge one swing, only to exhaust my stamina and have him slam his sword into the ground behind me. Worse, he’d teleport mid-combo and murder me in a few seconds. On reflection, though, and admittedly after a great many failures to even trigger Lothric, I appreciate the move’s design. Every attack Lorian delivers upon teleporting is telegraphed well in advance, and by keeping track of him as he vanishes you can easily predict what’s about to happen. Even if he’s out of sight, a humming will warn you that he’s about to fire his holy beam. The teleportation shakes up the usual formula for defeating large Souls bosses: namely, attack their back legs and turn with them. In Dark Souls III, the strategy makes bosses like Vordt and Oceiros a breeze. With Lorian, it’s more difficult to execute since he’s bound to appear behind you himself and push you out of position through his double slashes which have exceptional reach. In short, Lorian’s teleport operates like the tail swipes of many Dark Souls bosses, enhanced since it’s easier for you to plan for and escape. The move makes a boss with extremely limited mobility (communicated as much by his visual design as anything else) viable, ultimately intimidating, and satisfying to beat.
When you do kill Lorian alone, of course, he’ll be joined by his brother who casts magic from his back. The central frustration here is that dying results in a full reset of the fight, back to before Lothric appears. This is understandable, since FromSoftware’s games have been somewhat inconsistent about this in the past, and players might expect an actual change in the persons being fought be permanent, as is the case with the transition from Gehrman to the Moon Presence in Bloodborne. However, in this case learning to fight Lorian on his own, even if you’ve beaten him before, is not wasted time. He has the same moves in the second phase though he appears to be more aggressive and deadly. I’m not the first to remark that the best second phase boss fights are those which expand upon existing move sets rather than fully transforming the boss, since it means previous experience is applicable and it provides a more natural difficulty curve. By the time you can reliably beat Lorian in his first phase, you’ll probably be able to take him down in his second.
If you kill him again, though, he’ll just be revived by his brother. This is signalled in the wonderfully creepy transition cinematic from the first to the second phase of the boss. Here, killing Lorian provides a few seconds’ respite when Lothric is totally exposed as he performs the same ritual as in the cutscene. Without the introduction, obviously, the power would be obnoxious but as it stands it’s a happily predictable consequence of focusing on Lorian. The introduction of Lothric changes the fight subtly since you’re encouraged to more rigorously dance around Lorian and get clear shots at his back, where you’ll likely hurt both enemies. That means anticipating his combos and positioning yourself to take advantage of the recovery window. It demands mastery of Lorian’s moves, one hopefully provided through repeated failures against his first phase.
I can’t help but continue to marvel at Lothric & Lorian. There is a now-famous incident recorded in the book Dark Souls: Design Works where the director of Dark Souls, Hidetaka Miyazaki, objected to the art for a planned undead dragon encounter (which, in Dark Souls, takes place in the Valley of the Drakes). Miyazaki’s objection to the proposed design was that it relied on the “gross factor” of an undead dragon, rather than aiming to portray “the deep sorrow of a magnificent beast [doomed] to a slow and possibly endless descent into ruin.” FromSoftware achieve the effect with the art, animation and music of Lorian & Lothric. The cursed princes share physical deformities that are more tragic than repellent. In the case of the warrior Lorian, he crawls rather than walking in his full armour, rising only momentarily to bring his sword down. Clearly, a great deal of energy went into designing his collapse, which is both a functional attack and a piece of visual storytelling which conveys his inability to stand. Often in cases like these we get caught up in the lore implications of Lorian & Lothric’s design. At the time of writing, however, there’s still intense debate among the community about its meaning. I’m excited to find out, of course, but I’m also happy to have the opportunity to soak in an evidently tragic atmosphere and fight a fantastic boss.