Sci-fi games aren't always about traveling through space and time, but their worlds are fascinatingly futuristic, turning familiar environments on their heads or creating entirely alien, innovative new universes for us to explore. Sci-fi worlds often exemplify the heights and depths of humanity in unexpected ways, showing what we're capable of for better or for worse. And these five sci-fi games and their mind-blowing worlds are exceptional examples of this pattern.
Fallout's Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland Is Desolate But Not Dead
Bethesda's Fallout series takes place in a post-nuclear war America, reimagining iconic places like Southern California and Washington D.C. as radioactive husks of their former selves. Following an alternate timeline that diverges from our own following World War II, the Fallout series uses 1950s-era technology and aesthetics to paint a post-apocalyptic picture filled with paranoia and retro-futurism.
What's great about Fallout's imagined version of the future is the way it's just different enough from our own reality to feel new without being totally estranging. As you wander through Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland, you spot familiar landmarks like the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial in ruin. But the world isn't abandoned; it's inhabited by Supermutants and "ghouls," humans with decayed skin, raspy voices, and extended lifespans thanks to high radiation exposure. This isn't an alien world; this is our own world made strange, constantly confronting us with horrific visions of what could be.
Halo's Galactic Conflict Paints a Vivid Futuristic Picture
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="700"] The masterful story and creative worldbuilding in the Halo series make it one of the most beloved sci-fi games. Image Source: Commorancy via Flickr.[/caption]
Halo is perhaps best known for solid shooter mechanics, but it also boasts an engaging story packed with a deep history and unique technology. Ages after a now-extinct race called the Forerunners constructed the Halos—giant rings intended to wipe out a parasitic race called the Flood—humanity discovers faster-than-light travel and journeys to new areas of the galaxy. In their exploration, they encounter the Covenant, a race of theocratic aliens who accidentally release the Flood again and plunge the galaxy into warfare.
The story is intriguing, but that's due in large part to the series' complex worldbuilding. Inspired by Larry Niven's Ringworld series, Halo imagines technology so large and impactful that it overshadows human accomplishments, even in the game's universe. The settings in Halo are packed with ancient ruins, alien structures, and an interesting range of enemies to battle. Combined with great mechanics and a well-developed story, Halo's in-game world is memorable for all the right reasons.
Mass Effect's Wide-Open Galaxy Features World and Species Diversity
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="700"] The range of planets and species in the Mass Effect series make it feel as varied as a real universe. Image Source: Annakie via Flickr[/caption]
Like any BioWare game, Mass Effect is known for its in-depth worldbuilding. Taking place over a hundred years in the future, when humanity has made contact with many alien races with varying degrees of advanced technology, the series shows the achievements and limitations of the human race on a galactic scale.
With enemies too big and powerful to comprehend, and a slew of conflicts both small and mind-blowingly huge, the Mass Effect series has been lauded for its minute attention to detail, and for its amazing world and species diversity. Each race is different from the next with their own religions, beliefs, and biological composition—this isn't a universe where every alien (except the Asari) is a slightly tweaked human. The planets and civilizations you visit are also incredibly different from one another; Tuchanka is a scarred and battered wasteland while Omega is rife with corruption despite the opulence and indulgence of its nightclub, Purgatory. Indeed, when you turn on this game, you are immersing yourself in a whole new, fully realized galaxy.
Valve's Shared Half-Life Universe Shows the Power and Horror of Advanced Technology
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Half-Life and Portal share the same universe, leading players to speculate how these two sci-fi games connect. Image Source: Tux404 via Flickr.[/caption]
Half-Life is one of the most beloved games of all time, and continues to inspire new FPS developers—in large part due to its solid shooter mechanics, but also its intriguing world. Half-Life gives us experimental science going both very right (fun Gravity Guns) and very wrong (dimensional rift granting access to threatening race of aliens). In Half-Life 2, things take a turn for the worse—now Earth is under the thumb of a dystopian government run by the Combine.
As if all that wasn't interesting enough, Portal exists in the same universe, leading players to wonder exactly how these two mesh in the grand scheme of both games. Is the world Chell sees at the end of Portal 2 before, after, or during the Combine's rule? The inventiveness of the current story and universe is made all the more tantalizing by the pieces that aren't filled in yet—until we finally get the Half-Life 3 announcement we're all slavering for.
EVE Online Lets Players Roam A New Galaxy
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Eve Online allows complete freedom to explore its expansive universe. Image Source: Arcticpenguin via Flickr.[/caption]
EVE Online is an MMO unlike any other. While MMOs typically offer you a wide world to explore, EVE does it without the restrictions. What would be griefing in other games is standard play here, and players are encouraged to run wild and let their inner space pirate take over. In fact, the game's universe supports it. EVE Online takes place some 20,000 years in the future in an entirely new galaxy, long after memories of the Milky Way and the values and tenets of human culture have faded.
What makes this world great is its size and openness. You can be truly free in EVE Online's enormous space, exploring planets, helping other players, or preying on the weak. If space is the final frontier, this game embraces that idea wholly, backing up its sprawl with interesting cultural dynamics and lots to learn. While it might be chaotic to newcomers, that's part of the fun. There are no quest lines to follow and no set path to take, allowing you to customize your own experience and character motivations in whatever way you see fit.