The 10 best anti-hero characters in video games
We’re always hearing about do-gooders and evil-doers, but what about the characters that defy categorization? Their choices and actions are so difficult to define on the morality scale that a whole new term was coined just for them: the anti-hero. In layman’s terms, an anti-hero is an individual with a questionable moral code or a dark history that leads them to behave on the fine line of good and evil, sometimes rooting for good — usually for their own personal gain — but mostly just dancing to the beat of their own drum. It doesn’t matter who stands in their way, once they’ve got their mind set on a certain goal, they’ll do whatever it takes — at any cost — to achieve it. It’s not so easy to pinpoint an anti-hero as one might think, but the general opinion is that anti-heroes are neither good nor evil, but merely exist somewhere in-between.
Throughout gaming history, there have been numerous encounters with characters that one might consider an anti-hero, even if the storyline implores viewers to consider them purely protagonists or antagonists. Sometimes, it isn’t as straightforward as that. In fact, to consider a character an anti-hero is usually based on personal preference on one’s own definition of the term, but we’ve attempted to narrow down a comprehensive list of the most ‘blatant’ — let’s say — anti-heroes to have ever lived… digitally.
Joel Miller — The Last of Us
When we’re referring to a troubled past, Joel Miller is the prime example. During the Cordyceps outbreak that swept America, Joel’s biological daughter Sarah was viciously (and unnecessarily) shot and killed by a military soldier on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. From that moment forth, Joel became a recluse. He lost all compassion, developed a blatant disregard for all human life besides his own and a few comrades, and began killing mercilessly so long as it ensured his survival. When Joel met Ellie, his icy heart melted somewhat and he found a new purpose in life to protect and raise Ellie as his surrogate daughter. It’s always been at the forefront of controversy, but Joel has made a lot of selfish decisions in his time. In The Last of Us: Part II, he gets what’s been coming to him for a few years, but it’s a bittersweet moment as Joel had just begun to atone for his mistakes. Even three years later, we’d like to believe that Joel was a decent human being who began a victim of circumstance and suffered a terrible tragedy that pushed him over the edge.
Dutch van der Linde — Red Dead Redemption 2
This might be an unexpected entry, especially as Red Dead Redemption 2 does paint Dutch van der Linde as the sequel’s antagonist, despite the downfall of the gang being a direct result of Dutch and Micah’s split blame. In 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, there’s no two ways around it — Dutch is absolutely the villain, among others. In RDR2, those lines are blurred so horrendously that not even Arthur Morgan himself — our noble antagonist — truly believes himself to be honorable. Throughout the game, players start to see a decline in Dutch’s mental state; he becomes excessively paranoid, self-centered, and even heartless towards the last few missions. It’s even a matter of discourse as to whether or not Dutch’s ‘plan’ (that he talks so highly and incessantly about) was just an elaborate ruse to manipulate the gang and ensure their unwavering loyalty. Dutch saves Arthur as a young boy and raises him as a surrogate father, simultaneously acting as prophet and a teacher to the van der Linde gang. However, as soon as the going gets tough, Dutch gets going. His true colors show when his greed gets the better of him and he leaves both Arthur and Jon to die (on separate occasions, no less) to ensure his own pay day.
Kratos — God of War
Perhaps some would say that Kratos doesn’t fit the bill of an anti-hero, but the fascinating observation with Kratos is that he’s not a good guy and he knows it. On the other hand, he has an incredibly strong sense of justice and recognizes that although he himself isn’t always on the right side of morality, he punishes those whose actions are far worse and less justifiable than his own. In the beginning, Kratos’ younger self wouldn’t have helped others unless he could benefit form it. On his quest for vengeance, there was very little that Kratos wouldn’t do to get what he wanted. Perhaps one of the most evidential moments from the franchise that confirms Kratos’ status as an anti-hero is how he chooses to abandon his daughter — with whom he had been reunited — in God of War: Chains of Olympus. That being said, even when Kratos tried to deny caring about mankind, he’d done so much to the contrary that no one could have ever believed him. Old Kratos has evolved to bury his haunting past and gain wisdom and knowledge to become a role model to his son, Atreus.
Ada Wong — Resident Evil
Ada Wong doesn’t “do evil,” so it’s not canonically accurate to call her a villain, but some of her motivations are questionable, so that’s where the teetering threatens to tip the scales a bit. We’d describe Ada Wong as more of a mysterious and neutral character rather than strictly fighting on the side of good or evil. Wong is what we’d call a “nominal hero,” essentially the type of anti-hero who fights on the side of good, but not exclusively, and they definitely don’t have good motivation. Oftentimes, their motives are purely selfish and only slightly less unacceptable than the actual supervillains of the franchise. You’ll still root for Ada, but you don’t always agree with what she does or why she does it. Generally, a nominal hero wants to keep themselves to themselves, but often gets roped into the chaos. They’ve either been wronged by the villains or it’s nothing more than plain boredom that motivates their efforts. If her mission calls for it, Ada will gladly work with Albert Wesker, even if it makes Jill, Claire, Leon, Chris and whomever else’s lives that much more difficult. In short, she’s also saved Leon’s skin several times, so how bad can she be?
Dante — Devil May Cry
Dante is no goody two shoes — and he doesn’t try to be — so that means he’ll get what he wants without sparing a thought for who he kills in the process. It’s more coherent to describe Dante thusly: he’s an anti-hero who’s portrayed as a protagonist, but he doesn’t adhere to some moral code, nor does he adhere to the traditional image of a protagonist. He can be extremely flippant and laid-back, which are traits that are often misinterpreted as neglectful, arrogant or selfish. Even though he’s made some decisions that aren’t particularly heroic nor considerate, Dante does care deeply for his friends and family, even his brother Vergil, whom he’s often been at odds with throughout the Devil May Cry series. It’s definitely controversial to call Dante an anti-hero as he undergoes a redemption arc after Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, but for argument’s sake, he was initially very much an anti-hero, even if he did improve with time. He’s stylish, he’s ‘edgy’ and he generally only kills humans and demons that deserve it, so it’s all down to one’s own opinion prior to the third installment.
Geralt of Rivia — The Witcher
Similar to some other titles out there, Geralt’s status as either a hero or an anti-hero depends entirely on the choices made by the player along the way. Unlike most anti-heroes, Geralt has the capabilities and requirements to suit the ‘hero’ definition, except he has a tendency to repress those heroic qualities. We’d actually argue that Geralt likes to think he’s an anti-hero — and he certainly has the mindset of an anti-hero — but in actuality, he’s probably not. He may not want to get involved with problems that aren’t his own, but Geralt still goes out of his way to help others. Witchers aren’t typically involved in politics and therefore attempt to maintain an objective and mutual standpoint, but generally speaking, Geralt kills monsters and humans alike for nothing more than money. He can’t be blamed, considering the world is progressively more violent, but he also needs to be held accountable for the certain decisions he makes that aren’t always in his — or anyone else’s — best interest. Essentially, Geralt is morally gray until proven otherwise by the actions of the player and their own conscience.
Marcus — Detroit: Become Human
It could be said that all three of Detroit: Become Human‘s playable protagonists can be considered anti-heroes depending on the player’s choices, but much more Connor and Marcus than Kara. But how could anyone voluntarily break apart the Connor and Hank buddy cop duo? Marcus’ story is a lot more complex than Connor and Kara’s combined and directly impacts both of the latter’s storylines, so it’s infinitely the most important. After a recent surge in the unlawful mistreatment and murder of androids, Marcus decides that enough is enough and leads a revolution of epic proportions. Throughout Marcus’ chapters, the player has the freedom to choose whether Marcus should protest peacefully or start an all-out war against the humans. This directly places both Connor and Kara at risk in their respective stories. It all comes down to the player’s own beliefs, but Marcus himself shares dialogue that often highlights the uncertainty he feels when starting an uprising. He’s torn between wanting a better life for his people and also respecting humans as equals to practice what he preaches. He doesn’t want to kill, but he’ll happily do so (and sacrifice himself and his own species) to achieve the ultimate goal of peace and equality.
Arthur Morgan — Red Dead Redemption 2
Unlike Dutch van der Linde, there’s more of a choice-based system involved with Arthur Morgan’s morality. As we saw in Red Dead Redemption, there’s such thing as an honor scale. Performing immoral deeds will lower one’s honor, while helping others and acting selflessly will increase honor. In the end, the outcome of Read Dead Redemption 2, regardless of honor, rests on the player’s final choices of either going back to Beaver Hollow for the gang’s savings or helping John Marston escape with Abigail and Jack. Choosing the former option will result in a grisly death for Arthur at the hands of Micah, but going in the latter direction will allow Arthur to die peacefully from his illness. That’s generally speaking, of course, because low honor with the latter option will have Micah shoot Arthur in the face, whereas high honor with the former option leaves Arthur to watch the sunset from Beaver Hollow, succumbing to the tuberculosis. When taking into account all of Arthur’s decisions throughout, he’s the epitome of an anti-hero in every way. Although it’s by Dutch’s command a lot of times, Arthur still steals from the rich to give to the poor, and while he might save one person on one occasion, he’ll happily kill five others to compensate.
Niko Bellic — Grand Theft Auto IV
He definitely does not want to go bowling, nor does he want to adhere to any specific code. It’s no secret that GTA protagonists will always go against the law at some point or another, even with their best intentions at heart. Niko will do whatever it takes to get what he wants/needs, even if it means slaughtering a whole warehouse of criminals or gunning down cops on a whim. It’s actually more accurate to describe Niko as an anti-villain rather than an anti-hero; he commits sinful acts with good intentions, fights villains but not for justice nor peace, only for his own benefit. Niko grew up poor and depraved, finding himself forced into a war that he wanted no part in. All of that mayhem eventually corrupted him and he began living a life as a vigilante of sorts. He isn’t always in the law’s good books, but he kills those who deserve it and doesn’t usually think twice about ending the life of a degenerate if it saves his own skin. He still shows signs of humanity, which is an important distinction from a full-fledged villain. In the end, his need for revenge ended up ruining his life worse than when he started, so we can only feel bad for him.
Wario — Super Mario Bros.
If you managed to seal the deal for your own spin-off game series, how bad can you be? Initially, it’s true that Wario was introduced as your stereotypical villain and nothing more, but he’s since evolved into a no-good greedy guy that does whatever will benefit him, be it good or bad. It’s more fitting to label Wario as the ‘chaotic neutral’ of the franchise who’s neither strictly good nor strictly bad. He’s an antagonist in the eyes of Mario and Luigi, but in his own spin-off titles, he’s the hero. He’s an opportunist; depending on what your goals are, he could either be friend or foe, so long as — again — he gets something out of it. It could be said that depending on the particular game in question, his status changes. He’s a do-gooder in some games and an evil-doer in others, so there’s not much room for argument as to whether or not he’s split right down the middle. Wario has no greater goal in life than hoarding his gold, so if that means occasionally saving Princess Peach, you bet he’ll do it.