Historically, the main purpose of armor was to protect your guts from incoming weapons or look shiny and impressive for ceremonial purposes. In games, it’s often tough to tell what the blacksmith was thinking. Whether it’s over-engineered spiky nonsense or skimpy BDSM gear, its most common job seems to be making our heroes look ridiculous. But which are the craziest? We tried to pick the best of the worst from across PC gaming history, assembling an eclectic mix of armor that's hideous, hilarious, and nonsensical.
To put a cherry on top, we shared these designs with armour maker Craig Johnson, who's been studying and crafting his own period-accurate armour and weapons with Arms & Armor for more than 25 years. He also helps run a non-profit called The Oakeshott Institute dedicated to the history of armor. Its current project is using photogrammetry to create 3D models of real historical armor and weaponry. Craig had a few things to say about the worst of the worst.
Enclave - Lady Von Buckethead
Evil fashion disasters don’t get much worse than this. Where do we even start? Not only does it suffer from the standard sexy-armour problem of drawing attention to some of the worst places to be shot with an arrow, it’s clearly a size too small. And what’s with that Knightmare helmet? Not only can’t she see, those horns are going to get caught in literally everything. Just… no.
Craig's take: "Other than the fact that you can't see... when you have a helmet you're looking for protection, obviously. Having the lower face open isn't a big deal. You have sallets from the Medieval period with that feature as well. But protrusions like the side horns, those are giant levers on the side of your head that you're providing to your opponent to grab or hit with their weapon and basically give you whiplash, if not breaking your neck.
It's a tried-and-truism with fantasy stuff, put giant horns on there, but the best thing that could happen to you in a sword fight is seeing a guy coming at you with giant horns on his helmet."
Lands of Lore - Medieval Krang
Why fight when you can intimidate people into surrendering with a scary set of armour and a deep booming voice? Of course, it generally helps to decorate it with something a little tougher than this buck-toothed stomach-buddy who looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reject and seems to need to steady himself against the nearest table. Points for effort, none for style.
Craig's take: "Some of the modern fantasy stuff doesn't really do justice to the period craftsmen who created things that were fantastic. Some 'fantasy' armor from the middle ages is a lot more fantastic than a lot of the armor that's depicted in these games. Negroli is a famous armorer in Italy who created just incredible stuff. He did this breastplate that's all kind of a batwing motif with eyes on it, and they literally used a copy of it in one of the Riddick movies. The lead necromancer guy has that breastplate on. It's a steal from the Renaissance. Right there you've got incredible fantasy armor, but it's the real stuff."
Ghosts and Goblins - A knight to dismember
Okay, visually Sir Arthur here has little to complain about. His armour is sensible, if not as pretty as on other platforms, doesn’t get in the way of him hopping and jumping around the undead, and it does do something to protect him from them. But maybe tissue paper wasn’t the ideal choice? When a full set of plate armour—what every RPG tells us is the toughest—only takes a single hit before leaving you in your underpants, you’d better hope you kept the receipt.
Craig's take: "It would be pretty dang durable. Definitely not pop off after your first hit. That kind of defeats the purpose of your armor, in a sense. It's there for when you miss a strike or block with your weapon, make a mistake and get hit. In a practical sense it misses, there.
"But as an entertainment, they had forms of the joust in central Europe where they had components of the armor that were rigged so that when you got hit by a lance in a jousting pass, parts would fly away. Pop off, shoot up into the air. They had shields they'd wear on their left shoulder designed to explode into different pieces. So you see that component even in the period, designed to enhance the viewership of the joust. When you think about it, two guys riding at each other on horses trying to hit each other with a pole, kinda entertaining the first 12 times you see it, but when you get to the 30th pair that day, it gets a little dry."
World of Warcraft - Overcompensation of the Lich King
You’d think that being one of the most powerful figures in Warcraft lore would give you a certain self-confidence. Apparently not. Arthas here is a guy who just doesn’t know when to give up. Skulls! Skulls everywhere! Skulls and spikes and frosty decorations on every square inch of his armour, as if anyone’s going to see him coming and be all “I’m thinking… Illidan?" It’s particularly unfortunate that as tough as he was back in 2008, 10 years later all that armour can barely soak up a /slap emote. Can’t be comfortable sitting on the Frozen Throne in it either.
Craig's take: "You'd kill yourself wearing it, probably. You'd end up sticking yourself somehow."
Ultima VIII - Lord Von Buckethead
So bad taste isn’t just restricted to evil. The Avatar has been forced into several awkward costumes over the course of Ultima, from the goofy snake aesthetic of the Hierophant of Balance to his almost priestly look at the end of Ultima VIII. None stand out as badly as his Pagan outfit though, which makes him look less like a hero than a cosplayer whose mom tried their best.
Craig's take: "Kind of your Monty Python knight kind of look."
South Park - Well preserved
Of course, this one’s actually a joke. With all the kids of South Park playing superhero, one would have to get his Iron Man on. Cue Token Black as the mighty Tupperware, described as “A one-in-a-million pantry accident turned Token Black into Tupperware, Cyborg superhero with the power to construct deadly Tupper Turrets and keep food fresh.” His gun turrets may not have the offensive power of Cartman’s mouth, but are arguably more useful in any playground battle.
Craig's take: "Completely accurate."
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines - Pimp my hide
Hang on, you’re probably thinking. That’s not armour. That’s just a Malkavian hitting the town in style. Well, true! Except that this is officially Body Armour as far the game’s concerned, and not just because the Malks are crazy enough to think so. Presumably the hat is lined with kevlar and that fur coat… well, it does look very thick. On the plus side, it’s definitely going to get the kine to avert their eyes on the street, and warm the non-beating heart of even the coldest Kindred.
Craig's take: "Very appropriate for Mardi Gras. You could have kydex plates in there or something, it's a light hard plastic. In the dueling age of the Renaissance they talk about things to watch out for when you're fighting another guy with a sword. If you're out dueling, make sure he opens his shirt and shows you his chest to make sure he doesn't have a flesh-colored breastplate on under the shirt. Human beings, vampire or otherwise, will cheat if they have the chance."
Lineage 2 - Dank Elves
MMOs have something of a deserved reputation for "interesting" (and by interesting we mean terrible) takes on armour for women, and Lineage 2 is no exception. Honestly, we could fill this entire feature with examples, or just link to the Tera homepage and call it a day. In this case though, it’s not so much this floss bikini armour that stands out, but the fact that the Dark Elf ladies who wear it run around in the third person view doubled over to the point that fan-service practically becomes proctology.
Craig's take: "I'm guessing there weren't too many women designers in that group. If I am creating a realistic representation of someone who does combat—and I'm saying realistic in the context of creating the universe for your story or your game—then you have to stay true to it. So if the guys have lots of armor and swords and everything, you've got to go both ways with that. Whereas if everybody's in leather straps and rings, then you can go that way. But why would one group be one way and the other group be the other way? Are the guys such poor fighters that they need all this armor because the girls are kicking their asses? That's what it basically leads to."
Fallout: New Vegas - What the Romans did for us
Bad bosses don’t get much worse than Caesar, self-proclaimed son of Mars and leader of Caesar’s Legion—the misogynistic, slaving, crucifying baddies of the Mojave Wasteland. He’s a man who likes everything he does to send a Message… which is great, when you’re not running around cosplaying as Ancient Romans in a scenario where nuclear weapons can be found just sitting around for anyone to pick up. As a grunt on the ground, you probably don’t want to hear that your primary advantage is ‘numbers’, especially when your boss jealously guards all the medical supplies for himself. Nobody looks scary with a plasma burn through the guts.
Craig's take: "In the conditions they'd be fighting in, if they're down in the Southwest, having lighter materials that don't heat up in the sun would be good. Metal armor gets very hot in the sun. The Romans took over most of their known world with skirts on, so it's not anything to sneeze at. Having elements on their chest, metal plates, is also, many cultures did that. It looks like he's using hubcaps to get that Disney look. You see something really similar in some of the ancient early attempts at armor, whether it was bronze or iron, where you have these circular plates on your chest. It survived in the Persian areas of the middle east much later, even."
Planescape: Torment - World of wardrobe malfunction
This is Annah. Annah is a rogue. Rogues work best when not drawing attention to themselves. Wearing this kind of outfit in public is perhaps not the best way to accomplish that. Of course, she is wearing it in Sigil, home to some of the most stripperific outfits in all the Planes, but still. The justification is that as part demon, her blood runs hot and so she needs a little more… ahem… ventilation. That’s not quite as eye-rolling as Metal Gear Solid 5's Quiet rolling around in a bikini because she breathes through her skin and would literally suffocate if she dressed properly, but, well, it’s pretty close.
Wolfenstein 3D - Stupidly buff robo-Hitler
Sometimes dumb can still be awesome, and nothing in the Wolfenstein series has ever quite beaten BJ stumbling into the last level for a one-on-one with the Fuhrer himself, only to find him rocking this multi-Gatling gun spouting battlesuit that would have been able to win half the war on its own. Fortunately the real Hitler was too busy shouting about Pokemon in his bunker to think of such a thing, or so YouTube has taught us over the last few years.
Craig's take: "Who knows."
City of Heroes - Seeing TV stars
Look, it’s not easy being a gang of crazy homeless street people who have to make armour from whatever they can find lying around the streets. But still, the Lost don’t quite pull off the sense of terror they’re going for. Just for starters, one good headshot in their broken TV screen and they won’t be aiming a critical strike any time soon. Ten out of ten for effort, but since most of this junk will just slow them down, it’s no wonder that they don’t make many ripples against the likes of the Circle of Thorns, Fifth Column, or whatever Nemesis was up to when the game ended.
Craig's take: "Are those tires on his back? Tires would be relatively shock absorbing. Doesn't look like his TV screen's going to hold up, though."
Killing Floor 2 - Pre-packaged death
No, a cardboard box won’t cut it either. You’re not protecting yourself against zombies, just slightly inconveniencing them. You may as well have yourself canned so that your brains will last a bit longer in the apocalypse. And yes, this is a paid-for cosmetic set. Really.
Craig's take: "Anything is going to be better than nothing, in a sense, when it comes in contact with some kind of weapon coming at you. Something like this looks like it's made from warning plates or something. A cardboard box probably isn't going to achieve much. But if you rolled a couple layers of cardboard around your arm and duct taped it in place, that could probably take a hit or two before it falls apart. And it has that compressive quality against your arm so that if you are cut it's going to limit the damage in a sense, until it's pulled off and the blood starts flowing freely.
"You look at some of the very first armor attempts are animal parts put onto human beings. About two years ago they found some reindeer ribs in Siberia that had been etched, and had holes drilled in them so they could be laced together as a chestplate. That's probably very early, pre-metal age armor."
Dark Souls - Mortar meet pestle
Dark Souls is frequently a game about banging your head against things until you get through. Make it literal with the Xanthous armour set. The first game offers the most guaranteed neck-breaking way of protecting yourself from magic, with II and III thankfully toning things down just a little to the point that you may look ridiculous, but at least don’t break your neck if you nod. You’ll find it in the Painted World of Ariamis, and your dignity very much in another castle.
Craig's take: "When armor becomes less battle-oriented and more for show to demonstrate their taste and wealth, you start getting helmets designed with faces on them, big mustaches, some are what they call 'grotesques' with a monster face, things like that. Kinda 3D steel sculptures. I can't really think of anything like this. It's a like a turban on steroids. Can you whip your head around and use it to club people? It looks like a turkey leg covered in duct tape."
Overwatch - Stone me!
Oh, Reinhardt. We all know you’re a literal human tank. What the World’s Strongest Man would consider an impressive feat to lift into the air, you wear as a shoulder-pad. But still, with armour like this, you’re just showing off. If it was anyone else, we’d query whether it was actually armour carved out of stone. With you, we’d be disappointed if it was anything else. But come on. A giant lion’s head that’ll poke your eyes out if you nod too quickly? That’s just showing off.
Craig's take: "When they create these designs, one of the elements you don't think about when you're creating it... when you move your arm across your chest, that's one of the main places you're going to put your arm, but now you're going to be hitting this lion head all the time. If you raise your left arm, does that lion mane stick up and poke you in the side of the head? Those kinds of components, when armor is made, you have to think a bout where does everything go when it's moved this way or that way. I've seen some pretty fantastical pieces of real armor and go 'how did they move that?' but I've also seen people with poorly designed armor hurt themselves."
Prince of Persia 2 - The shady lady
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a beautiful, heart-touching fairytale of a game. Its sequel, Warrior Within… it started with a zoom-in of villain Shahdee’s thong-split bottom and then broke out the kind of rock and darkness only usually seen in a teenager’s bedroom after they finish painting over the Garfield wallpaper. Any attempt at gothic sexiness was immediately undercut by thoughts of just how damn uncomfortable a metal thong would be.
Mass Effect - Think pink!
There’s a couple of technical-armours that probably deserve a slot here, including Miranda’s attempt to turn linoleum into a particularly ass-flattering custom uniform, and EDI rocking a synthetic body that looks like a sexbot version of the Aibo. But it’s poor Ashley in the first game who most seems victim to a universal practical joke with this hideous bubblegum pink outfit that yes, technically other characters can wear, but rarely choose to. For very obvious reasons. No wonder that she quickly traded it in for something in a more intimidating in a fetching cobalt blue in later games.
Craig's take: "It's got a lot of elements that would be right there with a Gothic armor. Armored shoulders, chest and arms and legs covered. Gothic armored legs have that high outside hip look to them. Here they've accentuated that pretty highly. I think wit the way they've got this drawn, it might be a little difficult to move in, because you're not going to get a lot of side-to-side action with your torso with those high leg components. Those probably have to come down to be actually functional. And you'd probably bring down the sides of the torso covering, because you don't really need that area for movement. The human body doesn't necessarily move the way we think it does when we're drawing it.
"The story goes that the guys who did the first space suits for NASA went to England and studied the fully enclosed tournament armor for Henry V, where it's enclosed in metal plates. They went and studied how it moved to help their design. There were certain aspects those guys had figured out over 400 years of making armor."
Deathtrap Dungeon - Welcome to the chain gang
Something of a cheat, this one, because as players of this mostly forgotten spin-off of the classic gamebook will tell you, this wasn’t actually the lady hero’s armour in the end. She was upgraded to something a bit more like a leather swimsuit. Still ridiculous, but not quite as egregious as whatever the hell this was supposed to be. But design this bad transcends mere ‘not being released’ and deserves to live on in infamy in the ‘things that should never have left the artist’s head’ pile of rejected fantasy concept art. Plus, brrr. It’s cold in those dungeons.
Craig's take: "The biggest thing to learn from this is that guys designed this game. Anytime you are reducing the amount of protective surface in armor, you're making that choice because you need the mobility. This kind of thing, there's nothing like it in any historical realm other than berserker vikings who are running around naked to fight because they're hopped up on hallucinogenic berries."
Sacred - Sex didn't sell
Does this even count as armour? A couple of oddly coy pasties and a belt. Not only that, it looks like she managed to put her own eyes out at some point. This was the original Sacred box, and to give some idea of how well it went down, it was quickly replaced by a hastily Photoshopped sigil. Sacred Gold gave it another shot with an archer whose bikini wasn’t much thicker than her bow-string, but its heart clearly just wasn’t into the cheesecake any more.