5 video games with the most authentic historical representation (and 5 which take the fantasy route)
Often, video games are set in a historical period to support the atmosphere of a story the developers are planning to tell. This can be in the form of an early 90’s setting, showing a world just a few steps behind modern times. Or it can be a complete medieval setting, which is generally more common, telling an expansive story of knights in shining armor.
Such games may take a historical approach to the story, making it feel authentic for real-life events and giving it the historical simulation it can offer. Or it might choose to work through fiction and fantasy, creating its events and style, merely borrowing subtle elements from the real world.
Whichever may be the case, video games of both sorts can be seen across the last couple of years, showcasing how a periodic setting can be put to great avail. Here are five such games that were authentic with their historical representation and five which took a fantasy approach.
Historically accurate video games
1) L.A. Noire
Involving a crime drama set in 1947 Los Angeles, L.A. Noire follows an LAPD patrol officer trying to solve a series of murders taking place in the city. This Rockstar Games outing went the extra mile to make players feel like they were riding around in post-World War II California.
Using many photographs from the time the game was set in and deferring to map data from that period, developers created this historically accurate period piece of a video game. The setting is a few steps away from realism with real-life buildings, era-accurate cars, and vehicles.
While the video game’s world was intricately detailed, so was the narrative to better support the setting. Various social conflicts of the time affected the overall story. In contrast, various real-world crimes of the time are continually being referenced in the game, making the players feel immersed in the late 40s atmosphere.
2) Kingdom Come: Deliverance
While the medieval era is a prime setting for many video games that have come out, most do not embrace realism quite as judiciously as Kingdom Come: Deliverance by the developers of Warhorse Studios. Taking a step away from most RPGs of its like, this game seeks to give players a grounded and realistic experience of living in the 15th century.
Set in the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1400, this game sees a realistic world environment with accurate building designs, weapons, and clothing. However, realism extends far beyond that, as players need to use a combat system that takes itself very seriously.
Players also need to account for hunger, thirst, and weather. Eating spoiled food may lead to a disease that was lethal at the time. Events in the game also closely mirror real-life events, with the change of royalty and politics being a central aspect.
3) Red Dead Redemption 2
This second game in Rockstar’s cowboy action-adventure is now best known as one of the best video games. No small part of that achievement lies in its dedication to historical accuracy and realism.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is set to be a fictional representation of Western, Mid-Western, and Southern United States. The game takes place in the late 19th century, following the game's protagonist Arthur Morgan. Aside from the city of St. Denis, which is a nearly accurate replica of 19th Century New Orleans, RDR2 has a litany of references and world events that reflect on the real world.
Some of these include the sibling cannibals found in the woods and the serial killer, both of whom were inspired by real events. The women’s suffrage movement started around that time, as seen in the game. The Pinkertons were a real-life agency coming to clashes with the outlaws.
The overarching theme of the freedom of the West ending in industrialization was an actual situation for many who lived around that time as well.
The above are just some examples of how RDR2 nails historical accuracy. If one were to name all of the ways the game did that, it would be a list of its own.
4) Ghost of Tsushima
Developed by Sucker Punch Productions, Ghost of Tsushima is a third-person action-adventure game released for the PS4 on July 17, 2020. This video game sees the protagonist Jin Sakai trying to take back his homeland of Tsushima from an invading Mongol force.
Tsushima is surprisingly historically sound, as it is set during the year 1274, which in real-world history was around the time the Mongols had invaded the Japanese Archipelago. This was achieved under the rule of Kublai Khan after his forces had already conquered the Korean kingdom of Goryeo.
While the actual Kublai Khan does not appear in video games, his cousin Khotun Khan serves as the main antagonist that Jin must eventually defeat to free his people.
5) Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
While the recent Assassin’s Creed games have started to step into the realm of fantasy more and more, before Origins was released, they were more geared towards an authentic historical setting, with many events in the game referencing real-world situations.
One such video game was Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, released in 2010. Set in 1500-1507, the game is majorly set in Rome, with the primary antagonists being the Borjia Family. The family has a real-world counterpart as an influential name that rose to fame and prominence during the Renaissance.
The game does a spectacular job of showing players around Rome with many landmarks to visit, which can still be seen in their prime. Some of these include the Colosseum, the Pantheon (famous for containing the tomb of Renaissance painter Raphael), and the Vatican, to name a few.
Periodic fantasy video games
1) A Plague Tale: Innocence
A Plague Tale: Innocence tells the story of two siblings, Amica and Hugo, who are on the run from the French Inquisition. The story is set in the Hundred Years’ War, a prolonged conflict between the nations of England and France. Yet, the game does not strictly follow a historical tone.
While setting up this video game, the Black Plague was also a disease spreading across the nation. However, a third of the way into the game, the story starts dipping into fantasy, as it is revealed that Hugo has a supernatural evil in his blood known as the Prima Macula. Furthermore, it becomes evident that this condition allows Hugo to control the rats that spread the plague down the line.
What starts as a simple story of survival then turns into a full-out battle between two superpowered beings as Hugo takes on the game’s final antagonist, who has also developed a similar power. While the game ends on a generally peaceful note, things have gone to shit again in the upcoming sequel - Requiem.
2) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Despite being a video game series fairly based on fantasy, The Witcher games have an undeniable link to real-world history. This is none more evident than in the third video game of the franchise, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Set in a medieval era, where nations constantly go to war with each other, the game’s protagonist, Geralt the Witcher, is a supernatural monster hunter.
In a world populated by sorceresses and wizards, along with normal humans and elves and dwarves, Witcher’s toe the middle ground between these various factions. Geralt himself does this quite literally at times by choosing not to pick a side in various conflicts. The message here is to show that humans and any sentient creature will keep finding excuses to fight amongst each other, to no greater result.
It is a commentary and reminder of how the above statement holds quite true even in the real world. In the game itself, a kingdom is at war with another, and it shows the effect it has on the common folk, similar to how war functions in real life. For a video game set in a fully fictional world, it manages to hold up quite the large mirror to the real one.
3) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Possibly one of the best high fantasy games available, Skyrim tells the tale of a being descendant of Dragons who is now fulfilling the prophecy to finally eliminate the biggest threat to the world, another Dragon. As far as premises go, it's about as fictional as things can get.
However, the world of Skyrim is heavily inspired by the Nordic lands of ancient northern Europe. Much of Skyrim’s lore is based upon Scandinavian and old Germanic mythology. One common example is Draugr, a common enemy in Skyrim. It is an undead creature from a Scandinavian folktale.
The very lifestyle of the Nords in the video game, with their emphasis on being warriors and the worthiness of dying in battle, are lifted directly from the Norse culture of the real world. Vikings considered dying an honorable death with a weapon in hand was a one-way ticket to the Hall of Valor or Valhalla. The game is known as Sovngarde, a location the Dragonborn can visit via the main story.
4) Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is set in feudal Japan during the Sendoku era of its history. And in the beginning, everything seems rooted in reality and believable fiction. With era-appropriate buildings, characters and attire, this video game initially passed off as an excellent historical recreation if one were to ignore the second life mechanically.
All this falls apart, though, when players come face to face with a giant albino snake, coiling its way through a large ravine that they are meant to go through. The game starts sly from this point on, throwing in hints that not everything is as grounded as it seems.
A status quo is finally cemented when players need to defeat a 20-foot-tall albino gorilla, holding its decapitated head in one hand and a giant katana in the other.
Aside from this, water demons hidden in pots, a ghostly woman who attacks the player despite calling out to them, and a fight against a giant dragon establishes Sekiro as a video game firmly based on fantasy. That, or the Sengoku era of Japan, was a peculiar place to live in.
5) Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
While Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has a great story that complements its historical roots, it is also one that delves into the fantasy element quite quickly. Compared to previous video games, Valhalla deals with gods and monsters instead of a DLC side story during the main game itself.
Through a quest involving a seer at the settlement of Ravensthorpe, protagonist Eivor may enter a trance, by which they are transported into the body of Odin. He is the leader of the Aesir gods, which the Norse people worshipped. This narrative with Odin sees players interact with a variety of other gods, namely Loki, Tyr, Thor, Freya, and other famous figures from Norse mythology.
This element plays a part in the main campaign itself, as Eivor is revealed to be the host of the spirit of Odin, while their brother Sigurd is the host of Tyr. The trickster god Loki is also present amongst them, who later manages to find a way into the present timeline. The Assassin’s Creed series is diving fully into the fantasy genre.
Disclaimer: This article reflects the opinions of the writer.