In my experience as a writer, I have discovered that a good villain is made when you are able to sympathize with them. The Prophets and Ripa Moramee were just radical, Tartarus was a sociopath swayed by lies, and the Gravemind was just pure, unadulterated evil. Don’t get me wrong, all of these characters were top notch villains, but here are my top three:
At first, you are made to think that Atriox is just an angry Jiralhanae that has a passion for blood sport, but his backstory reveals something more tragic. He hates the Covenant for what they did to his pack. They sent them to die over and over and over again. One day, as anyone would, he snapped, and the best part is, you can understand why. I would have him higher on the list, but unfortunately we haven’t had much time with him. Hopefully he’s developed in more in future games.
2. Guilty Spark
Guilty Spark is a poor sap who is just trying to follow orders. Activate the rings, contain the Flood. Unfortunately, this big green dude keeps getting in his way, and destroying the thing he’s supposed to protect and curate. Oh, he killed Johnson? Wouldn’t you? The man is about eliminate your sole purpose in life. Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken.
“The Mantle of Responsibility for the galaxy shelters all, human. But only the Forerunners are its masters.”
The Didact began as a simple Forerunner Warrior-Servant, doing his best to assure his people’s place in the universe. I mean, of course the were the Reclaimers of the Mantle. They were the most advanced beings in the galaxy. The Flood are a threat, yes, but the shield worlds will ensure his people’s safety. Now the Builders are proposing what? To create an array of weapons to eliminate all life in the galaxy? What good will that do? That will only lead to the fall of the Forerunners! He built the shield worlds anyway, knowing his plan was the most effective survival tactic.
Now, put yourself in his shoes, your people think you’ve gone mad. Your own wife has betrayed you. You are just doing what is right for your people, but instead your are being imprisoned.
When the Didact was released, he learned that his people were all but extinct, and these humans were now taking up the Mantle. This revelation, combined with his millennia of silent rage filled contemplation, has now thrown him over the edge. He calls up his only allies, the Prometheans who once served him, and a practically useless bunch of species who consider him a god, and use them to assure you, the last Forerunner, your rightful place.
Yet, you are still defeated. Defeated by an Ancilla, a human, and an impression of your lost love, tasked with stopping everything you’ve worked for.
This is injustice.
The Didact hits number one for me, because in his mind, he is trying to do the right thing, and everyone he is sacrificing for is against him. You can hear in his voice and occasionally see on his face the pain he experiences, and the books make that even more apparent.