Superweapons are weapons for which there is no practical counter. Whenever one enters a setting, their mere presence and scale overshadow any conventional weaponry available. Whether that be through:
- The ability to punch clean through armor and Deflector Shields in a setting where those are tried, tested and true.
- Having an enormous range that enables them to fire outside any hopes of retaliation.
- Being the ultimate example of Friendly Fireproof and only targetting your enemies.
- Turning their targets invulnerablenote
- Providing an Invisibility Cloak to allow operation with impunity.
- A World-Wrecking Wave note .
- Wrong Context Magic that no one knows how to deal with.
- Being able to manipulate time itself.
- A Synthetic Plague that immune systems cannot fight and for which medicine doesn't exist.
- Turning your garden-variety Mooks into Super Soldiers.
- or simply dialing the destructive power so far past eleven that nothing is left in their wake.
Whatever the specifics, superweapons are game changers exactly because conventional means of fighting is completely negated by their in-universe Game Breaking abilitiesnote , to the point that conflicts are often decided by who controls them or whether or not they can be destroyed/disabled before they can be used. Usually the superweapon's mere existence means any conventional rules go out the window, but it can also be the case that firing it might not be considered an option until no other recourse is leftnote .
Sometimes the only counter to a superweapon is another superweapon and in these situations the superweapons might end up becoming the object of a Lensman Arms Race and suffer Uniqueness Decay as a result (as was the case throughout history), while relegating conventional fighting to theaters of battle without their presence.
Compare Legendary Weapon, which often overlaps since a Lost Superweapon is prime breeding ground for legends, Infinity +1 Sword for conventional weapons that are the strongest of their kind, Super Soldier for soldiers who render the ordinary best of the best into so much Cannon Fodder, and BFG, which may overlap if all you need to utterly dominate the battlefield is a really, really, big gun.
- Colony Drop: No need for finesse here; weapons capable of this just hurl the largest object they can find at a planet and watch the devastation. The occupants will be hard pressed to stop it.
- Doomsday Device: Any device that will bring about some unspecified 'doom' if it is activated is usually one of these.
- Fantastic Nuke: Nuclear weapons are the Real Life superweapon of the 20th and 21st century, as such their destructive potential is immediately relatable to any audience, and invoking the destruction of nuclear bombs, regardless of what makes them, instantly gets across that this is a weapon above the setting's norm.
- Grey Goo: Set on nanobot on a world, tell it to make 10 copies of itself out of any available material, and then wait. Eventually, the entire planet is Eaten Alive as the nanobots consume even the weapons used to fight it.
- Kill Sat: A weapon of devastating potential capable of striking anywhere on an entire hemisphere of a planet with no threat to its owners
- Lost Superweapon: A weapon either sealed away or otherwise lost to time, and because Older Is Better this weapon is immeasurably more dangerous than its contemporaries.
- Nuke 'em: An attitude that the wielders of a superweapon might take; proportional response be damned.
- Phlebotinum Bomb: A weapon which might not be more devastating than its counterparts, but only damages specific targets.
- Planet Destroyer: If a weapon can destroy a planet, it will immediately be considered a superweapon by those on the recieving end, and seldom is the Planet Destroyer that will not destroy something smaller if it gets in the way.
- Superweapon Surprise: For those superweapons that the wielders don't advertise having.
- Superweapon Suspense Subversion: The usage of a superweapon, especially the indiscriminately destructive kinds, very often carries drastic consequences. As such, some authors up the audience's suspense by merely pretending to have a superweapon used.
- Synthetic Plague: Plagues are already deadly; with just a little genetic engineering you have a weapon that self-propagates and kills anyone it comes into contact with.
- Wave Motion Gun: Superweapons of the 'overwhelming power' variety often take this form if laser-based.
- Weapon of Mass Destruction: For the superweapons who dial the destructive power Up to Eleven, then keep on going, and don't care one iota for Friendly Fireproof.
- The New Adventures of Invader Zim: The Story Arc of Season 1 is built around the search for a Lost Superweapon called Project Domination, an ultimate weapon created by a rogue Meekrob Mad Scientist, which was then cast out into the stars by the rest of his disgusted species to be lost forever. When finally found, it turns out to be a Wave Motion Gun so powerful that at minimum power it unleashes streams of energy the size of planes, and at maximum power is projected to be capable of punching holes into a planet the size of Lithuania.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe has the Infinity Gauntlet, an armored gauntlet designed to harness the energies of the six Infinity Stones. While the individual infinity Stones that power it are powerful, none of them are insurmountable in a Superhero setting — but the gauntlet can harness all six at once for universe-spanning effects with absolutely no means of defending against it - the wielder, in essence, becomes The Omnipotent. Once the gauntlet enters play, the goals of everyone else become "Keep the Infinity Stones far away from it", and once it is used to wipe out fully half of all sentient life, the goal immediately shifts to using it to undo the devastation.
- The Death Stars of Star Wars, two moon-sized battlestations capable of destroying planets, are perhaps the most famous cinematic superweapons, if not the most iconic superweapons of all time. They have become so ingrained into the consciousness that many Star Wars games culminate in the Battles of Yavin or Endor, and not only did they influence years of Expanded Universe material, (see Literature below) but it also inspired Starkiller Base in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an Up to Eleven example that's a planet-sized battlestation capable of destroying entire planetary systems.
- The Mahabharata has celestial weapons or 'Brahmastra', which may be the Ur-Example. These are magical weapons provided by the gods and requiring years of training and austerities to acquire, and are used as a weapon of last resort in combat. They always hit their target and completely annihilate their enemies, and are described as a weapon channeling the power of the entire universe. The Brahmashirsha Astra is an even more OP version wielded by Arjuna that has the power to kill gods and annihilate the world.
- Star Wars Legends: Trying to recapture the magic of the Original Trilogy, and the Death Star being part of that magic, the Legends continuity (especially the Bantam-era novels) becomes positively littered with superweapons, both leftovers from the height of the Empire and new constructions.
- Jedi Academy Trilogy gives us the Sun Crusher, a starfighter-sized ship with literally-indestructible armor that fires resonance torpedoes that can supernova a star.
- Dark Empire provides the World Devastators, automated factory ships that strip-mine planets for resources to build other ships, notably clouds of TIE Droid fighters, becoming one-ship Zerg Rush factories. Also Sovereign, Palpatine's Eclipse-class Super Star Destroyer, which contains a scaled-down version of the Death Star's superlaser. It can't destroy planets, but can sterilize them in a single shot.
- New Jedi Order: The Yuuzhan Vong have "Yo'Gand's Core", a tactic whereby they plant a gravity-controlling dovin basal to lock on to the planet's moon and bring it crashing down on the planet's surface. They rarely use it, as it's implied one of the reasons they travelled to the Star Wars galaxy is because there aren't enough habitable planets left in their own because of this exact tactic.
- Grand Admiral Thrawn himself is considered a superweapon, partly due to Flanderization In-Universe and out, partly due to the fact that he's just that damn good. His tactical genius, ability to tailor his attacks to his enemy's psychological blind spots, and knowing when to withdraw combine to make him a very difficult foe to actually defeat decisively. It takes a string of grave miscalculations on his part, and a Bodyguard Betrayal to bring about his downfall.
- Warhammer 40,000: The dial on the setting has been turned so far past eleven that what would be superweapons in any other setting are just weapons, but there are still a few examples:
- Invoked by the means by which one can enact Exterminatus. Ranging from basic planetary bombardment by guns the size of most settings' small spaceships, to specific planet-cracker or viral ordnance which either crack the planet down to the mantle or turn everything organic into a high-flammable biological slurry, the whole point of Exterminatus is that by the time you need to use it, you need to be absolutely certain that nothing can defend against it.
- From Battlefleet Gothic: The Activated Blackstone Fortresses are treated as such; not because they are individually overwhelmingly-powerful, but because they can do a Combined Energy Attack with their main guns that fire pure Warp energy. One can be bested by a starship the size of a small moon, three using their combined power can destroy stars - there are six in existence.
- The Ace Combat series tries to include at least one per game. Many of them were built as a response to the Ulysses meteor that threatened Strangereal in 1994.
- In Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies features two:
- the Stonehenge was built as a series of rotating cannons capable of shooting down the Ulysses meteor and any other fragments from it. For the first half of the game, it serves as a long-range anti-air weapon against the ISAF forces that forms a perimeter that prevents them from advancing. It can shoot down any bombers attempting to get too close. One mission tasks you with destroying the solar farms that provide power to it, but then you have to avoid getting shot down by it by staying below a certain altitude and flying through a series of canyons just to escape its range.
- Once Stongehenge was destroyed, the Eruseans fall back to the Megalith, which was capable of firing ballistic missiles anywhere across the Usean continent. Failure to blow it up before it activates is an instant game over.
- Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War has the SOLG. It's a Kill Sat that can launch nukes. Should it lose contact from whoever is controlling it on the surface, it is programmed to fall from orbit and destroy a pre-determined city.
- Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War has the Excalibur, a Wave Motion Gun that catches the allied forces off-guard when giant lasers start blasting at them from long distance. The assault to destroy it proved daunting, as it can still fire at anything approaching it only until they actually get within half a mile.
- Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown features the Arsenal Birds, two gigantic AI-controlled airborne carriers that are able to dispense dozens of Attack Drones to do its fighting. They also have Deflector Shields that prevents damage from conventional weapons. All throughout the story, their arrival on the battlefield forces the Osean forces into retreating, because the two of them form a perimeter around the Space Elevator that is key to winning the war. It takes the final cannon from Stonehenge that wasn't destroyed in Ace Combat 4 to pierce through the shields and destroy one of them.
- In Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies features two:
- The Command & Conquer series has featured superweapons throughout its games: Each is always of the 'unretaliatory range' kind (often being the only things capable of blind-firing into the Fog of War), but oftentimes also of the Weapon of Mass Destruction variety - the only thing holding them back is a lengthy charge time between each shot, and it often is a mad dash for the enemies to ensure their destruction before they come online.
- The Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series prominently feature GDI's Ion Cannon, and it is mentioned In-Universe that it became really easy for GDI to outlaw their own nukes and shame the use of such when they possessed a different weapon of that was otherwise just as devastating and unblockable.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series is the only one of the three main series to use anything beyond range and deadliness of its superweapons; while they certainly have that, they also feature the Chronosphere, the Iron Curtain, and the Nanoswarm Barrier, the former providing instant relocation of a sizeable group of vehicles, while the latter two makes anything within their targetting area completely indestructible - while the Iron Curtain targets a smaller area than the Nanoswarm Barrier, the nanoswarm barrier marks the targetted area in which nothing can be damaged, while the iron curtain makes the targetted units indestructible, leaving them free to run rampant against a helpless opposition.
- Mass Effect 3 features the 'Crucible', the culmination of millennia worth of flinging an ever more complete light into the future, when connected to the citadel, it is capable of wiping out every single synthetic being in the galaxy, including the synthetic Reapers, and when it becomes apparent that the Reapers cannot be defeated through conventional combat, the attention of everyone in the galaxy turns towards ensuring its completion and defence. It is later discovered that it can also perform an inverted Villain Override, or subject the entire galaxy to Transhumanism, which renders the Abusive Precursors objective moot, which sets up Philosophical Choice Endings.
- Metal Gear Rex from Metal Gear Solid was designed to be a game changer in world conflicts. It is capable of launching nukes from halfway across the world with an electromagnetic railgun, and since the nukes aren't being propelled by fuel once launched, they're undetectable by radar, rendering defence impossible.
- The Elder Scrolls series has Numidium, a Dwemer crafted Humongous Mecha designed to be powered by the heart of a "dead" god (and ultimately powered by what is believed to be that god's soul). It is a Mechanical Abomination that distorts reality around it merely by being activated and is prone to causing Time Crashes when used. The Dwemer intended to turn it into a new god, but mysteriously disappeared before they could use it. Thus, it fell into the hands of their longtime rivals, the Dunmer (Dark Elves) of Morrowind, led by a trio of Physical God Deities of Human Origin, the Tribunal (who "stole" their godhood from the intended power source of Numidium). After a few thousand years, however, their reformed ancient enemy, Dagoth Ur (Big Bad of Morrowind), returned and cut them off from their source of divine power. Without it, the Tribunal knew that they could not stop Tiber Septim as his Imperial Legions came to conquer Morrowind. One of the Tribunal, Vivec, met with Septim and offered the Voluntary Vassalization of Morrowind. As tribute, he also offered Numidium in exchange for special privileges for Morrowind that other provinces did not receive (such as the continued rule of the Tribunal and the practice of slavery, which was outlawed in the rest of the empire). Septim accepted and immediately put him mages to work devising a power source for Numidium. There are several competing stories of exactly what happened next (some considered heretical by Imperial historians), but his Imperial Battlemage Zurin Arctus would manage to capture the soul of Wulfharth Ash-King, a renowned Shezzarine (essentially the soul of a god in mortal form), inside of the Mantella, a soul gem of incredible power. The act would cost Arctus his life as well, but Septim would use the Mantella to power Numidium and complete his conquest of Tamriel. In particular, he used it to deal a Curb-Stomp Battle to the Altmer (High Elves) of the Summerset Isles, a Witch Species race with armies of Magic Knights who had never been conquered by an outside force, in less than an hour of fighting. A mysterious entity known as the Underking (presumed to be an undead merger of Arctus and Wulfharth), would later dismantle Numidium and hide the Mantella in Atherius, a Spirit World outside the mortal realm. Finding it and determining which regional power would get to use the reactivated Numidium is a main quest plot point in Daggerfall. Numidium would turn up yet again in former series writer Michael Kirkbride's Loose Canon web comic script C0DA as the Big Bad intent on refuting the entire world out of existence.
- The Korean Geobukseon, or 'Turtle Ship' as it has come to be known, has a reputation to this day for being a a direct counter to anything Japan had in the 1590's - It had an armored deck, so small arms fire would be hard pressed to hurt the crew; The deck was spiked to deter boarding actions, Japan's conventional sea-tactic outside of small arms fire; The dragonhead at its stem could let out both fire and sulphur, the first of which was was very effective offensively against Japan's wooden ships, and the latter which allowed for decreased visibility; finally, the cannons were much better than the Japanese contemporaries, as Japan was used to fighting land wars, not sea battles, unlike Korea who was dealing with pirates a lot. In the entire war, 0 turtle ships were destroyed in direct engagement, and the only losses that were incurred happened because of spygames putting a General Failure in charge, who proceeded to let his fleet get ambushed in the dead of night.
- In the early 20th century, the invention of machineguns practically rendered conventional battle tactics moot; the reason why so much of World War 1 was resigned to trench warfare and artillery shelling was that there was no effective way to challenge an entrenched machinegun — Artillery was not powerful (or accurate) enough to breach the entrenched positions; aerial combat was in its infancy and 'bombing' was often just dropping long-fuse grenades over the side of the cockpit, leaving it both incredibly imprecise and ineffectual; and any attempt to charge was self-destructive at best and only the suicidal (or those erroneously believing in the Marked Bullet propaganda) would do so. This sheer dominance directly led to the accelerated invention of the Tank, which never held superweapon status as the first incarnations moved so slowly they could be outpaced by walking, which — coupled with their size — made them really easy to hit with direct artillery strikes. By the time they were moving at a speed that didn't make them easy targets for artillery, personnel-carried and truck-hauled anti-tank weaponry had been invented.
- Nuclear weapons are the superweapons of the late 20th and early 21st century; weapons of such destructive potential with no viable defence, leaving no one wanting to be the first to use them out of fear of inviting retaliation in kind.