We Don’t Need No Wimpy Bad Guys

What makes a game great? Is it the graphics? Is it the story? I don’t know about you, but for me, the most rewarding part of a game is beating the bad guys. In any game, whether it is a board game, a pen and paper Role Playing Game, an arcade game or a video game, nothing really tops the feeling of satisfaction when you take down a powerful enemy. Enemies are important in games of all kinds. In some types of game, such as chess, they call the enemies opponents, and you still do your best to outmaneuver and destroy him, her or it. But it is in video games that we really get to show our tactical acumen and skill. We can do things in video games that would get us at the very least arrested in real life. If you did half of what you do in video games in real life, you would be a mass murderer on par with people like Hitler and Pol Pot. But it’s okay, because it’s just a game.

Plot, story, action, adventure, all of these make games good. Enemies are what make games great. How many of you remember the original Atari Space Invaders? The enemies in that game were about as bright as a box of rocks. But they didn’t need to be, they had numbers and time on their side. Games like Galaga, Centipede and others were great, but they lacked something. The enemies were predictable. Once you knew the pattern, the game lost its challenge. So you went to find another game, one to challenge you.

Games have come a long way since then, and so have the enemies in those games. With many modern games it is hard to believe that the avatars that you shoot at are not real people, they react fast, and are utterly vicious about using whatever they have to take down THEIR enemy which happens to be you. Case in point, one of Bioware’s latest creations, Mass Effect 2. I recently played through on the insanity level of difficulty and it is insane. The enemies work together to flush you out of cover, and use their weapons and powers relentlessly. They are incredibly tough, requiring teamwork to take down simple soldiers, let alone bosses. My only true complaint now; is that after playing through on insanity level, every other level seems simple.

The rest of the game may be utter garbage, but if you have a memorable foe to face and defeat, it will likely be remembered. I still remember the arcade game Solar Warrior, not for the action, which was repetitive, nor for the planets which were boring. But for the sheer number of bad guys, lieutenants and bosses that the game threw at you. Even Force Commander, which in my opinion stands as one of the worst Star Wars games ever made, had some incredible foes to face and bring down. Trying to sneak out of an Imperial base while defecting to the Alliance, WITHOUT having the alarm raised, was a pain in the rear. My favorite games, X-Wing and TIE fighter, had battles with some serious opponents. Taking on a Star Destroyer in an A-wing took hours, but what a sense of accomplishment when the thing finally went boom.

And who can forget the first Star Wars: Dark Forces game? Being swarmed by stormtroopers hurt – a lot! I remember the first time I played that game and wound up on the Executor, a Super class Star Destroyer. All of a sudden, about 50 of them came around a corner! Ouchtime for me.  After that, you have Dark Forces 2, then Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy, Republic Commando and others. Each time, it is the enemies that stand out. Dark Jedi, Stormtroopers, droids, criminals, bounty hunters, you faced them all. Each required different tactics. I still recall swearing all night at the Rodian snipers on Nar Shaddaa in Jedi Outcast. Or the Trandoshans with the concussion rifles in Republic Commando.

But Star Wars: The Old Republic is going to be a different kind of beast. Multiplayer, by its very nature, add a great deal of complexity to any game. Any time you have a real live person controlling things from the other side, you will have interesting times. You have no idea whatsoever what they are going to do, as the famous “Leeroy Jenkins” scene played out in WoW proved to that raid’s dismay. And facing real live opponents in player versus player combat is always a challenge, because they know the game as well, or in some cases, better than you do. This adds a massive amount of complexity to the game that is missing in any other type of game. First person shooters are a case in point, how many times have you set up, expecting an opponent to come at you like a robot and they blindside you with a sneaky tactic? And in an MMO, well, the complexity goes up a notch further. As does the challenge and the feeling of victory when you succeed.

And that is, in the end, why we play games. To succeed, to win. And that is why we want enemies in games that challenge us. Winning a game against a weak or pathetic enemy is just kind of blah. Facing a horde of low level minions as an endgame just kind of sucks. We want the bad guys to be real bad guys, not whiney fools with a weak spot between their eyes. Facing someone like Darth Vader in The Force Unleashed was just EPIC! Facing the Emperor after that was kind of boring; yeah he was powerful, but predictable. Vader was much more difficult to defeat, at least for me.

So it is the enemies that really make a game memorable. Fighting mobs can be challenging, depending on your level, their level, their resistances, etc. But nothing beats the sense of accomplishment in taking down a difficult boss. People at Bioware have a history of making memorable villains. Sarevok from Baldurs Gate, Saren from Mass Effect, the Archdemon in Dragon Age: Origins, or The Outlander in Jade Empire. Oh come on! How many video game bad guys with such cool dialogue have been voiced by John Cleese?

I personally do not think that Star Wars: The Old Republic will lack for epic enemies. My concern is that they may be a bit too easy to beat. The devs talk of soloability and that is a good thing. But I want the bad guys to be uber, so when I beat them I can say ‘I DID THAT!”

Over to you: what do you want in enemies in a game? What don’t you want?