Villains, we love to hate them, and some villains are easier to hate than others. They are the driving force for the player to overcome adversity and relieve the world of this vile individual. But what makes a great villain better than any other evil antagonist? A good villain is going to give the player a reason for their actions beyond “I want to take over the world.” However, a great villain is going to have a rapport with the player. They are going to make things personal
There is going to be a back and forth, an understanding of the relationship between protagonist and antagonist that will make the adversity feel more intimate. Those are the characters that stick in your brains long after you defeat them and the credits roll. So if you would take a look at the suspects, let’s see if you agree with who is the most engaging and atrocious.
Father – Fallout 4
Hate it or love it, I think we can all agree that there was at least one interesting character that was introduced in the latest single-player Fallout experience—Father, who is the leader of the Institute. The Institute is the underground group that is trying to take over the waste and return it to a world run by technology; however, Father shows very little sympathy to those that have been trying to survive so far in the wastes. They are nothing but animals or test subjects to him.
Father was kidnapped from his parents at the age of one while they were all frozen in a vault. He is the only thing that is keeping the Sole Survivor going initially, and seeing the lack of compassion that has resulted from the years that the Sole Surviro was frozen is heartbreaking. The two try to rekindle a relationship, but only some people are going to align themselves with a son that has no empathy for those just trying to live their lives.
Handsome Jack – Borderlands 2
Handsome Jack has gotten a lot of praise since Borderlands 2 was released in 2012. He was obnoxious, arrogant, and constantly talking down to the Vault Hunters throughout the campaign. Initially, he seems like just some power-hungry monster bent on controlling the riches of Pandora and the Sirens. However, it becomes clear that things started out much differently when Jack set out on his adventure.
He wasn’t such a bad guy before but lost sight of reality as time went by. Losing sight of what his actions were doing to people, whether they were strangers or family members. He even began to perform terrible experiments on his own daughter, who turned out to be a Siren. Even when she admitted that she was in pain and upset with him, Jack blamed the Vault Hunters for turning his daughter against him as if she was the one not in her right mind. Handsome Jack is a gross human being, and that makes it all the more cathartic to take him out at the end of Borderlands 2.
Andrew Ryan – BioShock
Andrew Ryan is one of the best villains in media, period. He created a utopia under the sea that followed an Objectivist philosophy, and that philosophy led to both the downfall of Rapture and its citizens. The lack of regulation led to corruption, health issues, and eventually a civil war. When the player arrives, the city is leaking, and its citizens are on the verge of complete madness.
He thought Jack was a CIA spook at first, but it turns out that Jack was Ryan’s son that Frank Fontaine had experimented on. Ryan will threaten the player as they snoop around Rapture, discovering more and more vile acts that Ryan allowed to happen. Ryan was a villain because he had become so engrossed in his own dreams and had little empathy for other people unless they could serve him in achieving his goals.
Vaas Montenegro – Far Cry 3
I would argue that Vaas being such a hateable character is part of the reason why Far Cry 3 was so successful. He’s a psychopath obsessed with his own power and money. There are no feelings of sympathy for other human beings, and will perform any act to get what he wants. He takes joy in hurting others.
There is nothing more infuriating than when you see him laugh and taunting you as your best friend bleeds out next to you. There are plenty of great scenes like this that will get your blood boiling one minute and go cold the next as he proverbs just how divorced from reality he really is.
Hades – Hades
Hades is one of the most enjoyable roguelikes that I have ever played, and that is thanks to the character development that it has. The relationship between Zagreus and his father Hades is one of the best parts. As Zagreus, you can feel the disappointment and frustration from Hades as he grunts at you in the Underworld halls, and this only increases the motivation to conquer the Underworld.
The constant mocking and belittling is a great reminder of why you are fighting to escape, but it can only just be enough to fight the God at the surface. It can bring a smile to your face when you perform particularly well, and he is left dumbfounded, but it can also leave you burning up inside when he still doesn’t think you are good enough. Hades knows how to get under your skin for sure.
Faur Engel – Wolfenstein
An absolute monster. Frau Engel was introduced in The New Order as a typical despicable Nazi. By the final moments of The New Order, she had been beaten by Blazkowicz a couple of times, and her anger toward him and all the Resistance members was high. At the start of The New Colossus, she hijacks the Resistance’s U-boat and takes several key members hostage, and kills Caroline Becker in a heinous decapitation.
She runs around with Becker’s head mocking everyone, including her own daughter’s discomfort. She finds joy in everything terrible, and this is the exact reason why she makes such a great villain. Hunting down this monster feels like something that will actually make a difference in the world of Wolfenstein. Her toxic mentality is what’s wrong with that world, and her influence and power mean that she is one of the disgusting roots that need to be plucked and incinerated.
Giovani – Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow
My first villain in any game, I think. Red and Blue were the first games I was ever able to beat (thanks to the local kids coming together to use our small brains in collaboration). Pokemon is all about building relationships with these creatures that you send into battle. You tend to get close to them even in those early days where they look like smudges on the screen. Giovani is the leader of Team Rocket, whose mission is to steal Pokemon for their own nefarious purposes.
They destroy those relationships and make Pokemon do things they don’t want to do. Luckily, you defeat him several times, and he begins to see the error in his ways. He learns and disappears, leaving Team Rocket in disarray. It might seem simplistic compared to many of these other villains, but Giovani has stayed in the back of my mind from the moment I met him.
Trilla Suduri – Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
Another tragic character who was turned into a villain because of her own tragic past. Trilla was once a student of the force under the tutelage of Cere Junda. Suduri and Jundra hid from the Empire and tried to keep training new Jedi in the ways of the force, but they would eventually be captured. Suduri was tortured until she renounced the force and her old self and began to serve the dark side.
She would become an exemplary soldier for Vader and would become renowned for her sadistic tendencies. It’s the relationship she shares with Cere that makes her such a formidable villain. She wants to take all that Cal has and turn him too to the dark side. However, it goes further than that as she is a direct foil to Cal. She represents everything that he could become if he wasn’t careful. She is the living embodiment of letting your emotions get control of you, and this only heightens Cal’s sense of integrity.
GLaDOS – Portal
In both Portal games, GLaDOS is a treat to listen to. She comes off as a more soulless character in the original game, but she is humanized (literally) in the sequel and given a proper backstory. However, that doesn’t make dealing with her attempts at killing you and insulting your parents any easier to deal with. GLaDOS is obsessed with science and testing whatever theories she has in regard to behavior and contraptions.
Yet, despite her early tendency to kill you whenever she had the chance and the sealing you away for thousands of years, she’s become a more likable companion near the very end and definitely a preferable caretaker of Aperture Science than bumbling Wheatly. Just don’t ever mention that time she spent as a potato to her face; she might not take it too kindly.
The Joker – Batman Arkham Asylum
Alright, I have gone back and forth allowing Batman Arkham stuff to be included in these top tens, but since they are such well-adapted versions of the universe, it would be a crime not to recognize them. The Joker in Arkham Asylum is one of my favorite versions of the character in part of the fact that he feels like a more comic-book version of JigSaw in this entry.
He is constantly broadcasting his voice through the Asylum cracking jokes, mocking the inmates and Batman, and giving hints at what could be coming next. Arkham Asylum isn’t a horror game, but it certainly has the makings of one with the Joker’s unsettling knowledge of Batman’s movements and behavior and his own omnipresent actions.