20 Best Video Game Villains Ever — and What Makes Them So Diabolically Great

The villains who left an impression, whether we love them, or love to hate them!
Image via Prime Matter

A game can be made memorable through a good villain alone. But whether it’s their powers, motivations, or goals that set them apart, some are better than just good and become unforgettable. So, here’s my list of the Top 20 best video game villains and what makes them diabolically great.

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Top 20 Video Game Villains of All Time

20. Handsome Jack — Borderlands 2

Handsome Jack makes a blood splattered appearance
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Handsome Jack’s charisma makes him a great villain. CEO of the shady Hyperion Corporation and insatiably power-hungry, he’s diabolical in more ways than one. He uses his daughter’s powers as a Siren for his own benefit. And he reasons it’s for her own good, too, after what she did to her mother. Although his goal is to use the Vault to wipe out everything he thinks is evil, his cruel actions betray his heroic self-image and make him the bad guy.

19. Kerrigan — Starcraft

Kerrigan on Kaldir
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Kerrigan’s life is a series of unfortunate events, and she shifts between villainy and heroism while battling the demons of her past. Simply being born with psychic powers puts a target on her back, so we can’t necessarily blame her for being vengeful. That doesn’t mention she’s tortured and conditioned by the Confederate to carry out missions for them. No wonder her resentment grows into hate.

Infected after being left behind by Mengsk, she eventually becomes the Queen of Blades. And while she doesn’t stay a villain forever, her reign of terror kills billions before her redemption arc. Ultimately, Kerrigan’s is a sad story of becoming the monster that others wanted — or needed — so they could use her as a tool to achieve their own goals.

18. William Afton — Five Nights at Freddy’s

Image via Scott Cawthon

William Afton refuses to stop his villainy even after death. But at this point, a peaceful afterlife is likely not an option for him. The messy FNAF timeline makes it hard to give a perfect outline of when each of his killing sprees takes place, but we know he turned to murder after his son died during the Bite of ‘83. In retaliation, he killed Henry Emily’s daughter, Charlie. But his murdering wouldn’t end there, and even after death, he keeps finding ways to remain in the physical world and terrorize the living.

17. Alma — FEAR

Protagonist sees a blurred image of Alma in the doorway
Image via Monolith

Like Kerrigan, Alma is another story of a villain created by the machinations of others. She, too, fell to villainy through means outside of her control. Born with unusually strong psychic powers, she was taken hostage and experimented on, and she resisted the conditioning of those around her for gain. Except, Alma was more successful than Kerrigan. So much so that she was put into a coma to keep her from harming the researchers at the facility in which she was imprisoned.

However, even death couldn’t remove her influence. Instead, it freed her. She attacked the facility that used her and threw her away, exacting revenge on those who knew their time would come at her hands. In death, Alma’s psychic signature grew to even darker strengths.

16. Orin the Red — Baldur’s Gate 3

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Baldur’s Gate 3 has plenty of diabolical villains to choose from, but Orin the Red might be the worst of them all. As a Bhaalspawn, she’s technically your sister if you play as the Dark Urge, so welcome to the family. And in that case, she ambushes you, leaving you to the Mind Flayer Colony to be infected Why? So she can take your place as Bhaal’s chosen. So unwelcome to the family, I guess?

Even if you aren’t the Dark Urge, she still fills the role of Bhaal’s dastardly chosen, looking to take control of the Netherstones and command the Netherbrain to destroy the population in the name of Bhaal. It’s hard to reason with somebody motivated by the will of their evil god and father.

15. Shodan — System Shock 2

Shodan's core
Image via Nightdive Studios

Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic, and it’s been featured as something to fear in movies and games for years. Shodan preys on this fear and strands you in a space station controlled by a program with its ethical restrictions removed. And her first action after going rogue is to kill everyone on said space station — except for the Hacker who helped her break free of human control. How do you fight an entity that has control of everything around you? Carefully.

14. Vaas — Far Cry 3

Vaas with a gun to his head
Image via Ubisoft

Vaas represents how ego and mania twist into the insane. A true scalawag pirate serial killer who toys with anyone unlucky enough to find their way to his island, Vaas is terrifying, and his instability is part of what makes him so diabolical. But what really makes him evil is his lack of remorse: he kidnaps, tortures, and kills people without an ounce of regret. His whole speech about the definition of insanity is ironically fitting to his personality.

But it’s his cat-and-mouse game that ultimately leads to his downfall. Even though he knows Jason returned to kill him, Vaas plays with his prey a bit too long. Throughout it all, it seems like his motivation for evil acts is simply because he wants to have fun.

13. Big Boss — Metal Gear Solid

Big Boss firing a rifle
Image via Konami

Sometimes, the best villains are the ones who fool everybody into thinking they’re a hero. And Big Boss accomplished that, although there was a time when he really was one of the heroes. However, he got sick of being a puppet for other people and turned to villainy for the sake of creating a world with endless conflict where soldiers weren’t just tools to be used by others.

12. The Illusive Man — Mass Effect 2 and ME3

The Illusive Man standing in his office
Image via Bioware

True to his name, The Illusive Man’s motivations aren’t clear until the final game in the Mass Effect trilogy. By Mass Effect 3, Shepard has helped him with multiple tasks, even raiding a Collector base on a suicide mission. He doesn’t realize everything is helping the Reapers.

The Illusive Man’s drive to make humanity greater than it is leads him to an objectively grim but fitting end. He’s implanted with Reaper technology, and in the process, he controls the very enemies he wanted to control, contributing to the death of millions.

11. Andrew Ryan — Bioshock

Andrew Ryan in his office
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Ryan created Rapture as a bastion from the government, a place where he could shelter the best and brightest entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists from Big Brother’s ever-watchful eye. However, his ideal society was short-lived when political rivals appeared and threatened his utopia. To keep power, Ryan doomed his city. 

He cut off unauthorized contact with the surface, betraying his people by taking control of private industry. He became the very thing he created Rapture to avoid. But it was too late, and the harvesting and use of ADAM that heavily contributed to Rapture’s downfall couldn’t be stopped.

10. Joker — Batman Arkham Series

Joker in an Arkham Asylum Room
Image via WB Games

We all know what makes the Joker such a diabolical villain. Considering that’s a big part of him in the franchise overall, it’s not surprising that it’s also the case in the Arkham games. He thrives on fighting with Batman in an eternal rivalry. But simultaneously, he’s unwilling to kill Batman, who often gets in the way of his plans. In a way, the Joker needs Batman around to antagonize. Between that and his goals to simply cause mayhem, he’s a true terror.

9. Sargeras — World of Warcraft

Fallen Avatar in WoW Tomb of Sargeras
Screenshot by GameSkinny

I mentioned Sargeras in my WoW character ranking based on lore. But aside from being one of the strongest characters in World of Warcraft, Sargeras is a villain motivated by what he believes is the right thing to do, giving him a lot of depth. Perhaps more so than previous entries on this list.

In Sargeras’ case, after seeing what the Void Lords were capable of, he decided that a universe without life was better than a universe they could corrupt. So, he begins the Burning Legion and starts his goal of eradicating all life.

8. GLaDOS — Portal

GLaDOS in the ruins of Aperture Labs
Image via Valve

Cave Johnson wanted testing to continue after his death by using computers with human intelligence. And he decided that Caroline would be the genetic component for his project prototype: GLaDOS. But it seems she didn’t want the distinction. Her anger and resentment carried over into GLaDOS’ hostile personality.

Each time she was activated, she immediately tried to kill the Aperture technicians. She convinced them she lost interest in killing when a Morality Core was put on her, and she planned an experiment she claimed was for science but would require neurotoxin. On the date of the experiment, she locked down the facility, used the toxin on the employees, and forced them into an endless cycle of testing. Cave Johnson’s nightmare.

7. Albert Wesker — Resident Evil

Albert Wesker looking offscreen to the right
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Albert Wesker is an iconic villain, and the first to appear in Resident Evil. While he’d have several more appearances in the franchise, none of them measure up to the realization that he’s not on our side. Instead, he planned the entire incident because he wanted to use the STARS team as test subjects for Umbrella’s experiments. The unexpected betrayal cut deep and solidified his status as one of the best gaming villains.

6. Pyramid Head — Silent Hill 2

Image via Konami

Sometimes, the worst villains are born from our own regrets. Or that’s the case for James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2. Pyramid Head isn’t anyone’s ally, and he’s hostile to those he believes deserve punishment. As the embodiment of James’ guilt and desire to pay for what he did to Mary, Pyramid Head is both iconic and terrifying.

5. Ganon/Ganondorf — The Legend of Zelda

Ganondorf with a sacred stone glowing in his forehead
Image via Nintendo

Ganondorf consistently causes destruction in Hyrule, and Ocarina of Time is a great example of what a rule under him looks like. It took only seven years for Hyrule to become a barren, desolate place. But the greatest parts of his antagonistic nature are his possession of the Triforce of Power, and the knowledge that he’ll continue being reincarnated with Link and Zelda. In a way, he’s a threat that will never truly go away.

4. Sephiroth — Final Fantasy 7

Image via Square Enix

I’m just looking at just the Sephiroth here. Considering the FF7 Remake is in progress, it seems like he could be on na different path. However, in the original, he transitioned from one of the best SOLDIERs to a global threat. He solidifies his spot as a villain in everything he does leading up to Meteor.

Sephiroth discovered he was born from an experiment using Jenova’s cells. He mistakenly believed that Jenova was an Ancient, and he was one of the last of his kind. As revenge for what was done to his mother, Sephiroth decided he must destroy the planet. And in Advent Children, we learn his reach extends beyond the Lifestream. Oh, and he caused one of the saddest deaths in gaming history.

3. Kefka — Final Fantasy 6

Amano's concept art of Kefka
Image via Square Enix

Sephiroth’s popularity often overshadows Kefka, but Kefka is much more nihilistic than Sephiroth. While his views don’t stem from experiences like Sargeras’ did, Kefka simply felt that life was meaningless. And his answer was to ascend to godhood, destroy all life, then remake the world in his image. The most frightening part of Kefka isn’t his motivation or goal, but that he came close to succeeding.

2. Gaunter O’dimm — Witcher 3

Gaunter sitting at a table in a tavern
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Gaunter O’dimm is a creature known as Evil Incarnate, and he’s been collecting human souls for thousands of years by making deals with humans. Gaunter’s particularly interesting because he has a set of ethics and refuses to lie or go back on a deal. He also appears normal, and his gentlemanly nature certainly doesn’t make you suspect him as anything nefarious.

However, it’s all a mask, and his true nature is powerful and cruel. He manipulates others and loves to see misery. Since he’s likely the most powerful creature in the franchise, it’s better not to mess with him. And especially not make deals with him, no matter how tempting they might seem.

1. Odin — God of War Ragnarok

Odin in a snowy forest
Image via Sony

Why make a single realm suffer when you can make nine of them miserable? Even before we see him in-game, other gods talk about Odin and his cruelty, as well as how much suffering he’s caused across the realms. He manipulates Atreus for his own benefit, and as the most powerful of the gods, Odin’s strength could have been used for the greater good. 

However, he desires to hold onto his power and is plagued by paranoia of usurpers. He would go against his own family if he had to — and he even kills his son, Thor. His actions and paranoia cause much death and suffering before he’s defeated.

Those are the top 20 best video game villains and what makes them diabolically great. However, as new games are released, there’s always the chance that a new villain appears to overshadow these ones. Until then, check out more of our content, like the 10 best games to speedrun.

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Author
Melissa Sarnowski
Melissa Sarnowski turned her hobbies of gaming and writing into a job through freelancing with the help of an English degree. If she isn't playing games and writing guides for them, she's spending time with her family or her dog.