When I wrote up the contents of every MMORPG bestiary, I stuck mostly with concepts rather than specifics, aside from dragons and slimes. There are always dragons and slimes. I don’t care how far removed your setting might seem from dragons and slimes; someone is going to come up with a reason why you’re fighting dragons and slimes. But there are other enemies that seem to crop up time and again just the same, like cultists, or bears, or zombies.
Or zombie bear cultists, probably.
This is all fine. There are a lot of these stock enemy types that are satisfying to fight and familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. But there are also some fun groups out there that we could also be fighting, types of enemies that only show up occasionally but are always satisfying to beat the stuffing out of when they appear. Thus, we humbly suggest that before we get another round of zombies, you consider the possibility of these antagonists.
1. Evil clowns
It should be noted here that “evil clowns” refers to the larger “evil circus performer” ecosystem and basically includes a whole lot of stuff that requires less grease paint but still falls under the larger umbrella. You all know the sort because at this point finding a clown in some form of media that isn’t evil is the real challenge. Admit it, if you see even the most innocuous clown imaginable in a movie, your brain immediately suspects that he’s an antagonist.
Some people might say that at this point this is played out, and they’d be largely right, but why not lean in a bit? City of Heroes is the last game I can think of that really let you beat the snot out of evil clowns and clown-related enemies. Let’s just go ham on some people in circus getups. Because they’re evil, preferably, otherwise we’re just beating up clowns for no reason.
2. “Corruption” that isn’t icky goo and tentacles
Guild Wars 2 has a number of different Elder Dragons that corrupt people, and aside from vines around Mordremoth, none of them comes down to things sprouting tentacles or being covered in some weird odd-colored goo. There aren’t even any extra eyes popping up. This is a good thing. Corruption and body horror and changes should be something that doesn’t happen every time with the exact same aesthetic. Seriously, let’s get some more creative corruption.
So actual pangolins are not remotely threatening. They’re cute armored friends who deserve kisses on the head (but you can’t really do that because they’re wild animals). I like pangolins a lot. But between that armor and their claws, they look really threatening.
What’s to be done? Well, the obvious answer is to just ignore reality and make pangolins these scary claw-monsters that have the advantage of actually existing in real life. Plus this would have the benefit of potentially allowing certain player classes to tame pangolins as pets, at which point they take their rightful place as cuddle friends. I really think pangolins are cute, and I want more of them in the world, darn it.
4. Creepy dolls
Oh, the time-honored creepy doll! Limbs moving in odd ways! Unblinking eyes moving in unusual fashions! Are they possessed? Are they just evil? Are they mechanical? Who knows, and more importantly, why does it matter? There’s a reason my least favorite boss in Final Fantasy XIV is a huge little girl doll that’s utterly terrible and should be taken apart and burned to make sure it can never come back.
Seriously, creepy dolls are great and also free of any ethical debates about what you do to them. You can go back and forth about things like CoH characters supposedly “arresting” muggers by unleashing fire powers that are more likely to leave the unfortunate thugs with third-degree burns than anything. But creepy dolls? They’re dolls. Purge them with fire.
There are a lot of MMOs wherein you get to play the bad guy and you know it. There’s no real debate over whether the Sith in Star Wars: The Old Republic are evil. Similarly, there are a lot of games wherein connotations can certainly paint one faction or the other as more malicious, giving the impression that, say, the KDF in Star Trek Online are more aggressive and dangerous amidst all the coding of the Federation as noble and selfless. None of that is what I am talking about here.
No, what I’m talking about here is the simple fun of fighting powerful holy knights that bear all the signifiers of purity and goodness even as you have to beat the crap out of them. One of the fun things about fighting the Heaven’s Ward in FFXIV was that you were getting to face off against what was apparently a group of heroes who were indisputably in the wrong. That’s a good aesthetic, and it should get used more often.
We fight a lot of giant bugs in MMOs, but most of the time those bugs are drawn from a pretty limited pool. Giant hornets/bees/wasps, giant ants, giant beetles, probably some giant spiders (I know, they’re not technically bugs, but “giant arthropods” doesn’t have the same ring to it) and maybe a gigantic mantis. But why don’t we stretch things out a little bit more? Antlions look vicious as heck, but normally they have the advantage of being tiny and not all that dangerous to people. If you’re already sizing up bugs without regard for the square-cube law, why not try something more novel than another spider?
I just think snakes are neat. For some reason it feels like we have a paucity of snakes, and I’d like to see more of them. It feels like we’re more likely to see snake people than actual snakes, and that’s just not quite right. Yes, despite the fact that actual snakes are friend noodles.
(“Are there any animals you don’t see as friends?” Yes. Cows. Cows are food.)
8. Genre-bending enemy groups
This is really a careful line to toe. A single group of robot enemies in what is otherwise a fantasy MMO can be really cool. One group of heavily armored and medieval-inspired villains it a superhero setting is neat and memorable. But too much of it and it’s easy to lose track of what your game’s genre actually is. These genre-bending out-of-left-field groups have to remain the exception rather than the rule, and there’s a fine line between a fun weird cameo and just making everything robots now.
Wait, why am I complaining? Never mind. Make everything robots now.
9. Entire ambulatory houses
One of the enemies in Final Fantasy VII is a house. Just… a whole house that attacks you and that you have to beat up. This is actually a whole thing. It’s weird and silly and it would have been easy to get rid of it for the game’s remake, but instead the designers wisely doubled down and gave it a whole elaborate boss battle. And it’s awesome because you’re fighting a house.
Seriously, housing can be difficult, I think some players would like to be able to beat up a house. Just… you know, maybe offer housing in your game first. Otherwise players might try to move in to the house monster.
Downsides: Makes your game more difficult to adapt for German localization. A certain portion of the internet will get upset because you’re calling them Nazis just because they act like Nazis.
Upsides: It’s always morally correct to beat up Nazis. They’re not rare in video games, but it’s still always morally right.