As much as I loathe relying on cliches to get my point across, in this case, there’s no better way to say it: a hero is only ever as good as their villain. Well, that’s usually the case, at least. When it comes to good villain design, I firmly believe that if the player exhibits even an ounce of regret in imprisoning/killing/defeating – circle whichever one applies – the opposing force, then someone on the payroll has done a good job.
One-dimensional villains, traditional as they may be, rarely, if ever, work in making for a suitable or interesting narrative. Not only does that direction leave nothing open to interpretation whatsoever, but it has the knock-on effect of reducing the morally just protagonist to a hollow shell, deprived of any meaningful interaction. There are a few exceptions to the rule, of course – Destiny‘s big bad, Oryx, works, due to his essentially being the manifestation of darkness. The Yin to the Traveler’s Yang, as it were. His spectacle-laden boss fight at the climax of King’s Fall warrants consideration, too, but we’ll get to that in more detail later on.
As a general rule of thumb, though, ensuring video game villains stick in the mind long after their reign has come to an end is a balancing act that’s difficult to get right. Are these folks truly evil, or is it all just a matter of perspective?