Flying through space is great, and it’s always interesting to see real-world locations reimagined after an apocalypse, but there’s nothing quite like the immersion of a lovingly crafted fantasy game world. With unusual creatures, unprecedented political struggles, and intriguing magic systems, these five fantasy game worlds are some of the best to get lost in.
Thedas – BioWare’s Dragon Age Series
Yes, Thedas is quite clearly your stereotypical medieval England fantasy setting, and its name is just “the” plus the acronym for Dragon Age Setting. But once you move beyond that, things get complicated, and awesome. The geography of Thedas ranges from haunted swamps to deserts, with major cities locked in petty squabbles over land and titles. What makes Thedas a great fantasy game world is these power dynamics. Many mages hate the Templars, who are under the thumb of the Chantry, the religious body of most of Thedas—and that’s just one of many conflicts in this fantasy game world. The worldbuilding in the Dragon Age series requires some codex reading to fully comprehend, but to even the casual player there are fascinating cultural differences—like the Orelesian propensity for wearing masks or the Tevinter social hierarchy—that make it one of the most complex and involved fantasy game worlds there is.
Tamriel – Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls Series
Like Thedas, Tamriel is a wonderfully complex fantasy game world with elements of real-world mythology and inventive worldbuilding, but just because they share a genre doesn’t mean they’re all that alike. Spanning five core games and an MMO, Bethesda’s world of Tamriel is packed with fascinating characters, dire political conflicts, and enough magic and combat to keep anyone entertained. From the Summerset Isles to Morrowind, Tamriel encompasses not only the physical realms but also Oblivion, the home of the series’ Daedric Princes, powerful supernatural entities worshiped as gods by many residents of Tamriel. What makes Tamriel extra fascinating is the way thousands of years of history shape each conflict, and how the player can gain a richer understanding for the complexity of the worlds with each replay.
Rapture/Columbia – 2K Games’ BioShock Series
While it may be cheating to include two fantasy game worlds in a single entry, Rapture and Columbia represent two radicalized game world ideals in (arguably) the same universe. While Andrew Ryan’s Rapture epitomizes self-reliance and the survival of the fittest, Columbia takes what a religious zealot believes to be the most important tenets of America’s founding fathers and draws them out to a ridiculous extreme. They’re complete opposites—while Rapture springs leaks beneath the ocean, Columbia sails through the clouds, rife with corruption. Both are fascinating, gorgeous settings that draw you in immediately, leading you to want to understand how such strange places can come into being.
Azeroth – Blizzard’s Warcraft Series
Though many World of Warcraft players bypass the story in favor of the game’s addictive gameplay, Blizzard’s Warcraft series boasts a rich and lore-heavy world where magic is as likely to cause problems as fix them. Though there’s an ongoing struggle between the Horde and the Alliance, it’s hard to say exactly who the good guys are—the Horde’s Thrall is as benevolent an Orc as you’re likely to meet, and the Alliance’s Arthas became the dreaded Lich King. Beyond the conflict, Azeroth and its surrounding lands of Outland and Draenor are diverse, often beautiful landscapes ranging from cracked, dry deserts to lush jungles full of pirates. Players can wander Azeroth’s varied landscapes on foot or fly above on winged mounts, but a full exploration of the world takes many, many hours, making it one of the most detailed and involved fantasy game worlds out there.
Lordran – From Software’s Dark Souls
While the other games on this list are content to hand you exposition and cutscenes to fill you in on the lore, Dark Souls lets you figure just about everything out on your own. Lordran is a crumbling kingdom full of skeletons and other creatures bent on the destruction of the player, as well as a host of godlike beings. Dark Souls‘ worldbuilding is deep and complex—it’s meant to be discovered as the player moves through the world, mimicking the player character’s Undead ignorance about the world. Featuring gorgeously decrepit settings and an epic, dark story, the fantasy game world of Lordran and Dark Souls is memorable for its bleakness and lack of handholding.