The best strategies for defeating bosses in the Souls games typically involves staying as close as you possibly can to the boss, circling around to their backside, stabbing them in the butt, and rolling under their attacks when necessary. A few bosses in the series will break this convention and force the player to have to find different ways of defeating them. Dark Souls III has one particular boss that makes this go-to strategy almost completely futile. If you're able to circle-strafe around the feet of the King of the Storm boss in Archdragon Peak and then still beat it, then I am impressed.
The Nameless King and his storm drake require a different strategy than the typical Dark Souls boss.
Why you should keep your distance
The King of the Storm is one of the rare bosses in the series that actually requires the player to keep your distance from the boss and avoid getting in too close. There are actually quite a few reasons for this, but there are two that stand out as making this boss particularly frustrating for any player who tethers themselves to the boss's feet. The first is that you'll end up forcing yourself into battle with the most ever-present of Souls games' most formidable foes: the camera. Locking onto the enemy is impossible when directly below him, and so you won't be able to see any of what he is doing. He also moves very quickly and can cover a lot of space, so you'll end up spending a lot of time having to micro-manage the camera as you try to manually keep it focused on the dragon.
The second reason is that the dragon has a potent defense against this sort of strategy: its fire breath. If you hang around under the dragon's belly, it won't wait too long before flying up into the air and unleashing an area of effect fire breath attack that can often mean certain death if you get caught in it. Even a health bar that stretches most of the way across the screen can be more than halved simply by being hit with this attack. But that isn't the worst of it. The attack will also knock the player prone, but the fire spray also persists long enough that it can frequently trigger a second hit once you stand up. This second hit will almost certainly kill you.
Getting caught in this flying fire breath attack means almost certain death.
These two reasons should be enough to keep you out from under the dragon, but there are other reasons why keeping your distance is the better option. Hitting the dragon's feet does very little damage. Hitting the dragon's head, however, can do much more damage and can lead to an opportunity for a critical blow that can make this portion of the fight go way faster and easier! Regardless of how close or far you keep to the dragon, the camera will be your greatest enemy throughout this encounter.
What to wear
The fire breath attack mentioned above isn't the dragon's only fire attack. It also has a forward-facing fire spray that can also do pretty good damage if it hits you. Having decent fire defense isn't a bad idea. The Dragon Crest Shield can be a good option here. However, the dragon isn't the only thing you're fighting. Its rider will also attack you, and he favors lightning attacks. Since the second phase of the battle will be a duel between you and the rider, having decent lightning defense is better long-term. The Spirit-Tree Shield might, therefore, be the better option. You can consider placing a fire-resist shield in one slot of your left hand, and a lightning-resist shield in the second slot if you have the weight allowance for it. This will allow you to switch between damage reistances depending on the phase of the battle or the attack being used against you. If you have the ring slots available, then you can also consider buffing your fire and/or lightning resistance via rings.
Getting caught in this flying fire breath attack means almost certain death.
I've also found that it's important to have a weapon with a good vertical slash. I went into this fight with a halberd, and its thrusting attacks would regularly go right under the dragon's head. Spears, rapiers, and other thrusting weapons will likely have similar problems. Having good reach with your weapon is also fairly important. This boss is very large, the arena is very open, and the floor is kind of a non-distinct fog effect, which means that distances can be deceptive. Objects in game are further away than they appear. With a longer-reach, vertical-swinging weapon you'll be much more likely to hit the dragon's head while it moves. You can switch back to your preferred weapon for the second phase if you want.
And no, the Stormruler won't work here.
Weapons with thrusting attacks [LEFT] will go under the dragon's head and miss entirely,
so having a vertical-swinging weapon [RIGHT] with good range reduces the risk of a miss.
In the first phase of the fight, the dragon is vulnerable to lighting and resistant to fire. However, once the dragon is killed, the Nameless King himself (the rider), is vulnerable to fire and resistant to lightning. As such, you should forgo weapons with elemental attacks unless you have the weight allowance to equip both a lightning weapon and a fire weapon. Instead, bring your best physical attack weapon (preferably with a long-reaching vertical attack) along with a supply of Pine and Gold Resins. This will allow you to apply lightning damage to the dragon and then apply fire damage to the King. If you're playing as a caster, then you should try to enter the battle with both lightning miracles (to attack the dragon) and pyromancies (to attack the King). Regular sorceries will also work well enough against both.
The fight itself
Once properly equipped, it is time to enter the boss arena and begin the fight. As already stated, you don't want to follow the typical boss strategy of running right up to the boss and tethering yourself to its feet. Instead, this is one boss in which you actually want to keep out in front of it, at some distance. It's important to be able to see both the dragon's head and the King riding it, since both will offer tells for their respective attacks. The battle takes place above a layer of clouds in a mostly-rectangular arena. For the sake of simplicity, I'll refer to the cloud surface as "the ground" for the remainder of this strategy. There's some statues in the arena at the start, but the dragon's attacks and flight will likely destroy them, leaving the arena clear of any obstructions. Feel free to move about the arena. You can't fall off, but you can run into an invisible wall along the sides of the arena (beyond the dragon statues), so try not to get yourself backed up against the invisible wall.
Phase 1: The King of the Storm
In the first phase of the fight, you'll be up against "The King of the Storm", which is the Nameless King mounted on a feathery storm drake. The dragon is very large, moves very quickly, and can cover a lot of ground, so keep focused. Try to keep yourself positioned out in front of the dragon, at the far reach of the King's attacks.
Stay out in front of the dragon in order to watch both the dragon and King for attack tells.
While the dragon is standing on the ground, the King will attack with his spear, and you should be able to dodge these attacks fairly easily as long as you have sight of the rider. These attacks will sometimes flow into a two or three-hit combo, so be sure to keep enough stamina to dodge or block all three. Avoid rolling under the dragon, and instead, try to always roll side to side under its neck. The dragon will also periodically fly up into the air and start circling around you. When it does this, the Rider will charge up a Lightning Spear attack to throw at you while the dragon is flying. This attack should also be easy to dodge as long as you wait until the King actually throws the lightning, so once again, keeping sight of the dragon and rider is important. If you're trying to time your dodges based on audio cues, it might be tougher to time the dodge correctly. After the King throws the Lightning Spear, the dragon will swoop down towards you for a strafing attack. I've been successful at dodging this by running at the dragon and rolling under it as it lands on the ground. If you turn around quickly, you'll see the dragon sort of bounce off the ground and then stop and turn around towards you some distance off. At this point, you might have an opening to charge in and attack the dragon's head.
The dragon will fly a circular strafing pattern around you while the King throws a Lightning Spear.
The dragon's head should be the focus of your attacks. Bait out the attacks from the King's spear, dodge them, and then charge in for one or two easy attacks at the dragon's head, then back out to a distance again so that you can watch the dragon and rider for attack tells. As mentioned before, having a vertical-swinging weapon with good reach will make it easier to hit the dragon's head. By rolling side to side (instead of towards the dragon), you'll keep yourself close enough to its head to possibly get in an extra attack or two after dodging.
Always try to keep yourself at the far range of the King's spear attacks. If the dragon gets right on top of you, then it'll likely perform its downward fire breath attack. The dragon will rear its head back, lift up straight into the air, and breath fire directly down on you from above. This attack will knock you prone if it hits you (even if it isn't a direct hit), and the flame will persist long enough that you will likely take an additional hit's worth of damage when your character stands up. If you see the dragon fly up to perform this attack, then you should try to run in the opposite direction as quickly as you can and roll as the fire breath attack lands in order to hopefully get out of the blast range during your rolling i-frames.
Watch for the dragon to begin its forward fire breath attack [LEFT],
then run around to the side to get some hits on its defenseless head or neck [RIGHT]
The last phase 1 attack that you'll have to look out for is the dragon's forward fire breath. You'll recognize this attack by the way that dragon arcs its neck to the side before spitting fire. Running around to either side of the dragon's neck is an easy way to dodge this attack, and the dragon will leave its head and neck vulnerable to attacks during its breath attack. This is also one of the times when having a good fire-resist shield comes in handy, as such a shield can also block the fire with little damage. Run around to the side of its head and unload a few hits on it while you can. It's also possible to roll through the fire if you are closer to the dragon's head. Doing so will put you in perfect position to get in multiple attacks.
After you get a certain number of hits on the dragon's head, the dragon will reel back in a stun animation for a few seconds. During this time, you can run up to the dragon's head in order to perform a critical hit. With a powerful enough weapon, this may be enough damage to immediately kill the dragon and end this phase of the fight. If not, you might be able to quickly run up and hit the dragon's head one or two more times in order to finish it off, or use a ranged attack like Lightning Spear. Once the dragon falls, the second half of the fight will begin.
Phase 2: The Nameless King
When the storm drake is killed, the Nameless King will stab it through the head with his spear during a cutscene. This is remeniscient of what Ornstein and Smough do to each other in the first Dark Souls (and there's a very good lore reason for that, which I may go into in a later blog). After this, the duel with the Nameless King will begin, and you can go back to the more standard fair boss strategy of staying close, dodging under his attacks, and keeping an eye out for spells and other special attacks. If you equipped a good lightning-resist shield, then switch over to that one immediately after the cutscene finishes. The Nameless King's Swordspear is a versatile and deadly weapon, but it has a lot of tells for its attacks. It can be both thrust and swung in arcs, but dodging both types of attacks is fairly easy. Just like while on the dragon, he'll often follow up an attack with a second or third combo swing, so be ready to make multiple dodges or to block through multiple hits, and don't get yourself caught up in a combo while chugging Estus. Some of these swings have very wide arcs, so don't feel safe just because you're standing behind him. Also, I'm not sure, but I think I've been hit once or twice by his backswing while standing behind him.
Watch out for his lunging attacks.
Nameless King also has some Stormruler-type ranged attacks that kick up a wave of clouds. These should also be fairly easy to dodge. The more difficult attacks will be the jumping and lightning attacks. Just because the dragon is dead doesn't mean you'll be getting out of this fight without defending against more attacks from the air and having the camera screw things up for you. Nameless King can jump up and perform a long-range thrust attack with his swordspear. He can also perform a sort of jumping lunge, which can often move so fast that it looks like he's teleporting behind you. This will often cause the camera to snap around as it loses tracking on the boss, and can lead to a moment of disorientation as you try to figure out where he went. Swing the camera around quickly, and be prepared to dodge or block in case he follows up with an attack. He also has a potent spell in which he crouches down to charge up the swordspear, then lifts it into the sky to summon a blast of lightning from the sky. You'll have to dodge just after he thrusts the swordspear into the air in order to avoid being caught in the blast of the incoming lightning. If you have a shield with high lightning resist, then you can block this attack, but it will drain all your stamina.
When he gets down to half health, he'll add a couple more lightning attacks to his repertoire. He can hold his swordspear up into the air to charge it, and then slam it into the ground for an area of effect lightning spell that can be very damaging if you get caught in it. This attack also has a secondary-effect in which lightning shoots out from the point of impact in a small area-of-effect around the boss. Even if you dodged the initial attack, this secondary effect can still catch you. Back away when you see him charging this up, and be prepared to roll just as the swordspear hits the ground, and then again when lightning shoots out across the floor, in order to avoid any possible damage. He can also throw a lightning spear at the ground for a much quicker, close-range area of effect attack similar to an attack used by the Lord of Cinder. If you're up in his face, he'll probably try this attack, and you'll have to quickly roll away from it.
He'll charge up a lightning blast from the sky [LEFT].
Be ready to dodge it [RIGHT] or block it with a high lightning-resist shield.
After you hit him enough times, he'll be staggered for a second or two, at which point you can get some free hits on him and knock him to the ground. As he's standing up from this stagger, he'll also be vulnerably, so continue to pound on him if you have the stamina for it. I've found that most of his attacks are easy to predict and avoid, but you have to play very patiently and deliberately. If you overcommit yourself, you will be punished.
Dying to this boss is more convenient than deaths to other bosses. This is because your bloodstain actually appears outside the boss arena. This means that if you managed to make it up to the boss without spending the butt-ton of souls you got from the Ancient Wyvern encounter, and you die to the Nameless King, you'll easily be able to pick up your bloodstain and get those souls back. There's also a bonfire right outside the boss's fog gate. Make sure you light it before entering the fight! Otherwise, you'll have to trudge all the way through the castle again.
If you die, your bloodstain will appear on the platform next to the bell.
If only the camera were better...
Nameless King is one of the better boss fights in the game, and maybe even in the entire series. If you maintain a proper distance and equip yourself properly for the fight, then it can be a very tense and exciting challenge to cap off a tough optional area. It's too bad that this series has as many camera problems as it does. With a better camera, this fight could have become - hands down - the best fight in the entire series.
The Nameless King is also an interesting boss from a lore perspective. While you're in Archdragon Peak, I highly recommend that you pay close attention to the items that you pick up, where an how you find them, and what their item descriptions say about them. You might find an answer to one of the most pressing questions from the original Dark Souls game. But that is a discussion for another time...