The 10 Most Impressive Villains in PC Games

Nick Howard

2019-10-18

blog image

There’s nothing to deny: while we are supposed to support protagonists in books and movies, antagonists sometimes look much more impressive, realistic and recognizable, with enormous despite negative charisma. From fantastic Darth Vader to hyper-realistic Gordon Gecko, from Joker (heh, even after the 2019 movie he is still a villain) to Hannibal Lecter, the best villains are much more quoted and remembered. In literature and movies, at least; nit how about games? Who are the most prominent antagonists?

Well, there must be at least some reasons to call an evil-doer prominent. Not just cynical, cruel or destructive ones are of our interest; we need those with a real spark inside, those we wish were on the other side. They should be big personalities, with their own sort of morals (or insolent immorality as an idea), characterizing appearance, irony, and imagination unbound. And, of course, they should be more than just functional.

Last but not least: we tried to avoid mentioning villains that come from other galaxies, like cinema or literature. There’ll still be one exception, though. You may think we should have covered someone as classical but belonging to the gaming world – say, Bowser, or Dr. Robotnik instead. But sorry, this one just dissolved the borders with its saliva (sorry for the spoiler). So here we go.

10. Arthas Menethil

Arthas Menethil

(Warcraft)

Warcraft universe is rich in various villains, but Arthas is arguably the worthiest of them. Formerly a headstrong paladin, after the Stratholme purge he started turning bad (a familiar story, eh?) That is the place where he made his first massacre, extinguishing the whole city with its inhabitants. It might have a rational side – otherwise, they all would die and then rise as the undead. But mass killing never comes easy and never leaves easy.

Still believing he’s on the bright side (like many other villains), Arthas keeps risking, taking up Frostmourne, a two-handed sword known for its curse. His soul gets stolen by the weapon. Since that moment the Arthas we know is a death knight. Once saving the town from becoming undead, now he gathers them in his own army. It is so powerful that he turns his own subjects to undead by killing them. You know where he steps next: turning to an undead himself, he becomes infamous as Lich King.

Could it be just a coincidence that it’s the third episode of Warcraft telling the story of Arthas choosing the dark side? Well, then he appears in Wrath of the Lich King, one of the best extensions for WoW.

9. Karras

(Thief II)

It’s common for The Thief universe to fill its stories with bad guys of all sorts, and it takes something special to become The Villain of The Thief. The Metal Age, though, gave us the one we’ll remember the series for. Karras is the head of The Mechanists, and we mostly see the consequences of his actions than him in the flesh. It’s just the voice we mostly hear through the door or the speaker, with his appearance left unseen.

And that leaves all to our imagination. We just hear his manner of constructing phrases, learn about his beliefs of The Builder and cleansing, and the fear does the rest of the work. A spoiler: though the protagonist and the antagonist are voiced by the same actor, they are not the same person.

8. Vaas Montenegro

Vaas Montenegro

(Far Cry 3)

Pirates have never been nice, and it takes a lot to become the villain among other pirates. But Vaas Montenegro does the work. Brutal and enormous, he is completely unhinged, rolling like a pendulum from wild cruelty to noble manners. Equally ready to kill and reward, it’s his unexpectedness that makes the blood ooze as you see him. No wonder fans of, say, The Walking Dead wanted to see Michael Mando, the actor playing Vaas, as Negan – until Jeffrey Dean Morgan took the bat. The two characters have lots in common, indeed.
You may recollect one of the most famous scenes with Vaas speaking about the definition of insanity. It’s really one of these gems that make gaming an art. And, as for Vaas Montenegro, he certainly deserves the place on this list.

7. SHODAN

SHODAN

(System Shock)

And here comes the first completely artificial villain on our list, straight from System Shock series. SHODAN is the acronym meaning Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network. With a nice female voice (so we’ll address SHODAN as “her”), she seems not the most terrifying villain. But we are already taught by HAL 9000 and Skynet that no AI should be trusted (okay, Google, okay). SHODAN becomes the enemy to the entire mankind, seeing it as a threat.

Both System Shock games let you one on one with this destructive AI in a locked place on a spaceship or a station, so you seem totally watched, controlled and locked down by that AI. It’s the human irrationality that lets you win. And it’s that exactness, sane, relentlessly logical, undeniable cold calculation in her voice that makes SHODAN really devilish, with no mercy programmed. Her voice, by the way, is the perfect audio version of the uncanny valley: beautiful, sound, almost human, but too pitch-shifted and synthetic.

Cannot help sharing its System Shock 2 complete video instead of typing.

6. Handsome Jack

Handsome Jack

(Borderlands)

When someone is named Handsome, expect anything but handsomeness. This one made his career with blood, and now, ruling the biggest weapon manufacturer – the Hyperion Corp – he aims even higher. The planet named Pandora seems doomed to become the arena of human cruelty and selfishness; in Borderlands, the name of these is Handsome Jack who becomes the self-proclaimed dictator of Pandora.

Well, he is the one to enjoy the memories of how he scooped out someone’s eyes with a spoon, with his kids witnessing the scene. He can send killers to his own grandmother. He likes to interrogate people personally and then murder them. He fought his way up to the top of the corporation by killing its previous president. He offers you money for suicide, with a dark grin. But Handsome Jack is so sincere in all his sinister dreams and methods that he takes your breath away when he’s on the screen.

And, like any villain recently, he is the one raised in a problem family, by a strange violent granny (his reason to kill her!), and sincerely thinking he is the good guy. At least he believes his presidency and dictatorship are for others’ good. Well, that’s what makes him feel so realistic.

5. Apollyon

 Apollyon

(For Honor)

Here comes the first true woman on our rating (sorry, SHODAN, you never actually had a gender at all). Apollyon is the head of the Blackstone Legion, an armored woman with a knight’s body and a knight’s helmet completely covering her face. Her body, though, is itself an armor durable enough to survive a dagger hit. A spoiler: we will never see her face behind the helmet. But it isn’t that necessary: she isn’t a Boris Vallejo type of heroine.

Her sword is just as big and as long as her entire body, and her strength is impressing. It’s the dark version of Ser Brienne of Tarth, living by war, and this medieval setting suggests that a female knight should be just like that – masculine and severe, cutting her way to the top, slashing and mashing with no remorse. Apollyon is living for the war and only loyal to war. Her sword seems the only love she ever had, and she handles that two-handed weapon of terror with just one hand.
 
Well, and, as we reference The Game of Thrones, there is more to Apollyon than just physical strength. A Brienne from the outside, she is a Petyr Baelish inside, intriguing, manipulating, and playing people like chess. But again, it’s the process of war that involves here physically and mentally. She believes that the war kills off the sheep and carves the wolves, so even in her campaign against the Vikings she believes she does the enemy good by killing most of them and leaving the strongest. And it’s the philosophy that scares the most.

4. GLaDOS

GLaDOS

(Portal)

Here comes another acronym, and (even if you don’t know, you might guess) another AI from Portal series by Valve. GLaDOS means Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, a supercomputer with a female voicing (like SHODAN again, or Mother from Nostromo). The speech she generates is also full of irony, with a virtual tongue in the virtual cheek, and it’s no good sign.

When you are sent to solve puzzles with portals, GLaDOS is always here. It’s your guide and your watcher, ready to give you advice or take your life, depending on your behavior. Its voice instructions are full of very specific humor that was not supposed to be humor at all. And that makes it so convincingly funny.

In fact, we don’t know what GLaDOS’s mission is. This uncertainty makes Portal a sort of game that thrills you all the way. It’s partly due to GLaDOS that both Portal installments still keep their place in Top 10 best-rated games on Steam.

3. Xenomorph

Xenomorph

(Alien: Isolation)

And that’s the exception you’ve been warned about. The Xenomorph is not truly a product of the gaming industry, but it fits so well with its animal appetite for survival. It’s the surviving machine for the severest conditions, and in Alien: Isolation it shows you all its hunting skills. The game is very claustrophobic, reminding of the first Alien movie (1979), which also feature Mother computer mentioned along with GLaDOS.

Why is the Xenomorph stand out in this particular game? First of all, it’s depicted very close to that jumping doom from the movies. Of all the variety, including the poorest visuals of Alien 3, this one reminds the very first species, hunting you in your own techno world, lurking in the dark of corridors, jumpscaring out of steam and darkness.

Second, there’s no way to fight it when you meet: any encounter means you die. That’s why it’s a stealth game rather than action, and it exactly fits the nature of the antagonist. It may be unclear with Hello Neighbor, but requires no explanation with Alien. And it’s the fear you should practice: make no sound, don’t show up, and all that stealth.

And, third, there’s no way to predict its action, even if you play it a lot. Its AI always finds unexpected moves to catch you by surprise, and you need to expect anything when trying to steal past it or avoid attention.

2. Sovereign

Mass Effect Sovereign

(Mass Effect)

You should take it normally that too many villains on our list are unhuman. So is Sovereign, one of the Reaper spaceships in Mass Effect universe, a terrifying weapon of mass destruction, and, beyond this, a powerful AI with its own conscience, plans and aims. It seems the first and the only AI with no female voice on our list, and it’s a perfect manipulator that exploits human vulnerabilities to brainwash and subdue them. And it feels noble – in the way of the true nobility, it just doesn’t feel any regard to those below – that is, any lifeforms.

The brilliant intellect is using completely unhuman logic (at least, the one the developers can model) and, speaking finally in a male voice, but still that with an uncanny valley accent. It acts like it descends to human speech in order to let these inferior creatures hear the command and obey it. The Reapers feel like they are infinite, with no beginning and no end, and so they do feel.

Even if the Sovereign is not the most human villain (and why should it be?), it’s probably the best at making you feel insignificant, and so it’s the closest to the championship.

1. You

You

We mean you. Playing the game, thinking the protagonist is you. But, as we mentioned above, every villain feels the same. No, it doesn’t mean you are obviously playing for the bad side. What we least mean is identifying with NPCs who are as much of characters as crash test dummies. But when it comes to MMO, you are the villain.

Look: it takes a lot of victims for you to succeed. If you finished your round of Fortnite and became the sole winner, it means that 99 other players were crushed by you (and by others you crushed, but you top that pyramid). It can be accepted if you played fair. But those using any sorts of cheats are villains, beyond any doubt.

You have met someone playing with mods, letting them see through wall textures, shoot quicker than possible, launch bots to assist the main character, and so on. Well. Even simply insulting other players is not a decent manner, but if your nerves are too sensible, it can provoke mistakes. So you lose your deserved victory.

Choose Your Side Wisely

There is another way to become a villain – through the eye of the publisher. It’s enough to use hacked or modded versions of software that provide access to otherwise paid features. This means the developers get less money, the game becomes less successful, and all the decent players get fewer features in updates, or get them later. That’s how the villain affects the lives of other players.

Heh, one doesn’t even need to do anything vicious consciously! An unskilled or too selfish teammate can ruin your success just as efficiently. It’s enough not to listen to partners, pick up loot others might need harder, choose the role others do better, or just go Leeroy Jenkins.

It seems enough to ban these guys as soon as they come out, but there just aren’t enough moderators. And, in addition, all of them consider they ain’t doin’ nuttin’ wrong. Of course. So the first thing you need to do to defeat this sort of villain is simple. Don’t be one.

Follow: