The Toughest Boss In 'Elden Ring' Is Also One Of FromSoftware's Best Ever Enemies
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Featured Image Credit: FromSoftware, Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe
The potent punch of FromSoftware games comes from their unique mixture of disparate elements, and nothing brings them together like their boss fights. These are the peaks of the studio’s revered titles, asking players to rise to the occasion while delivering them a condensed helping of the staple tough-as-hell combat and a narrative in motion. Its best bosses teach players not just about new depths to the particular game’s mechanics but also about the world and its characters, showcasing the (often tragic) stories of these unique foes in their phases and movements. Stages of a fight are loaded with meaning and it's this blend of storytelling and challenge which elevates FromSoftware's fights above their many imitators.
Elden Ring has no shortage of foes populating its massive world. With more boss fights than ever before on show, it takes even more effort to help each one stand out from the pack. Sometimes that comes from the sheer craft on display: Margit the Fell Omen and Godrick the Grafted both leave an impression because of how impressively animated they are, confronting players with intricate move sets to be learned and studied. Sometimes it comes from the unexpected, like the surprisingly gentle encounter with the Regal Ancestor Spirit.
If you need a breather in Elden Ring, did you know you CAN pause the game at any time? It's a bit of a fiddle, but our video below will show you how it's done...
But the very best FromSoftware fights tend to pack all of that together. And for my money, no boss in Elden Ring does so quite like Malenia, Blade of Miquella.
Players have already been dubbing her the hardest FromSoftware boss ever, a claim that's impossible to measure given we all struggle with different bosses for different reasons. Certainly though, even on paper, she's a cruel design. That she’s fast moving and hard hitting is brutal enough, but then there's Malenia's core conceit: every time she hits you, she gets some of her health back. At first, it seems wildly unfair. You'd be forgiven for simply accepting that the boss is impossible. She's a challenge degrees of magnitude greater than anything that surrounds her.
Thorough players will have been forewarned of this fight, thanks to the Millicent questline which somewhat prepares you for the legend you're set to face. The moment you see her it's clear why. Her body is being attacked by the Scarlet Rot, the vile substance that's eating away at the world. That it's taken over entire regions but is being kept at bay by her says a lot. She's replaced limbs to stave off the infection, and has gone blind from it, yet she stands as a formidable fighter all the same. “I have never known defeat,” she warns us. Engaging her is a choice, as the fight is entirely optional. But if you’ve come this far, surely you’re up for the (entirely optional) challenge.
For all her deadly moves - and once she gets going she truly is a whirlwind of steel - Malenia isn't so punishing to begin with. Retreat from her and she'll slow to a walk, giving you a chance to heal. This battle is fought in quick, decisive flurries. Mistakes are costly for you both. It's not a fair fight exactly, but it's the closest to an outright duel the game has. She isn't a monster of flailing limbs or a grotesque general of unbridled fury - she is controlled and measured. She possesses a cool-headed composure that speaks volumes for her resilience in the face of the blight she was born with. Again, this is FromSoft fleshing out a key character through combat.
If you manage to best her, think again: now you get to experience the real twist of the knife. The curse that has been kept at bay for her whole life finally emerges, and she returns from death stronger but less composed, more aggressive but less decisive. Her moves feel less predictable but they also seem easier to avoid. A deserved second chance - and a second phase that might seem cheap but, again, on that duelling level, we get to throw ourselves at her as many times as we wish until we achieve victory. (Check the embedded video below to see the victory in action.)
Hit what I think is by far the toughest boss in Elden Ring (M****ia). It's a beautiful fight but... I was anguished people. I couldn't beat them. The one I just couldn't solo.— Samantha 'Finger Maiden' Greer (@SamMGreer) March 9, 2022
Until along came best summonees: Shard and Herald. You two are god damn HEROES! pic.twitter.com/Vbp4tFNVIX
Of all the bosses in Elden Ring, Malenia was the one I struggled with the most, by far. The only one where I was compelled to summon in other players. It was also one of the most engaging encounters in the game. There are dozens upon dozens of bosses in Elden Ring, most of which are optional and only a couple feel outright cheap (looking at you, Glintstone Dragon). So, even when I'm struggling, I'm interested.
Any time a boss isn't defeated on my first try, it's like a little reset button, a chance to rethink my build and my tactics. Malenia didn't have me changing my weapon or class but I did swap out talismans, to think deeper about how I can best use my weapon. Fighting her didn't just train me to beat her, it made me a better fighter for the rest of the game going forward. Malenia's lesson, captured in her own hardships, is to make peace with sacrifices. Death isn't defeat. Runes can be lost but you can always try again. Once you start to see her and many of the game's foes less like obstacles and more like challenges to meet, there's a delight to be found in learning and overcoming. Well, sure, there will always be frustration. We're only human. Like Malenia, we all have a breaking point.
My advice when facing Elden Ring's toughest foe is to take breaks, summon aid if you need it, and rethink how you play. “I have never known defeat” - those are her own words, and so long as you don't give up and keep learning, neither will you.