Let’s be honest, history is not the most popular of subjects – in school or otherwise. That doesn’t preclude games based on history from being fun. A game based on historical events, and a game being fun to play, are not mutually exclusive of each other. The thought of possibly learning something about history while playing a video game turns a lot of gamers off, but there are plenty of games that are so good that one hardly notices that their knowledge of history is being subtly expanded. Here are ten historically based games that are not only fun, but also fairly accurate in their portrayal of history.
10 The Age Of Empires Series
Age of Empires was Microsoft’s foray into the once saturated real-time strategy game genre. There was a time when it seemed like every development studio was making real-time strategy games in an attempt to tap into the market that Warcraft and Command & Conquer established. This game was good enough to stand out in that crowded market. In Age of Empires the player starts by picking an ancient civilization; then begins in the Stone Age with a few workers with the goal of defeating the other civilizations. The historical accuracy in the main game is not perfect, but the scenarios do a decent job of teaching the player some history.
9 Panzer General
This game (seems) loosely based on the incredibly detailed board games from Avalon Hill. As the name suggests, this game is a historical combat simulator set in World War II. The development studio, Strategic Simulations Inc., went to great lengths to make this game as historically accurate as possible. All the military equipment of both the Axis and the Allies are faithfully represented in Panzer General. The game also takes many aspects of war into account – such as morale and the role of competent leadership. The slow, turn-based gameplay is not for everyone, but it certainly will please those looking for a historically accurate combat/strategy game.
8 Medal Of Honor: Frontline
The modern Medal of Honor games use fictional storylines, but there was a time when the Medal of Honor games tried to be historically accurate. Medal of Honor: Frontline, released shortly after the movie Saving Private Ryan, did a fantastic job of recreating the Western Theater of World War II. The game starts with a hyper-realistic portrayal of the Invasion of Normandy. The game is somewhat limited by the hardware of the PlayStation 2, but still looks and plays well. The soundtrack in Frontline is particularly good. If you’ve never given Frontline a try, play the superior re-release for the PS3.
7 L.A. Noire
In this title, from Rockstar Games, the player takes on the role of a police detective in 1947 Los Angeles. The cases the player must solve are fictional, but the development team did an excellent job of portraying Los Angeles in the mid-twentieth century. The cars, buildings, and clothing are all faithfully recreated in L.A. Noire. The lexicon used by the characters is also a very accurately depicted. Many of the landmarks of Los Angeles circa 1950 that have not survived to the present have been reproduced in L.A. Noire in great detail. Hopefully the rumored sequel will be as historically accurate.
6 The Hearts Of Iron Series
This franchise began in 2002, and has been described as a “grand strategy game”. Hearts of Iron is a World War II combat/strategy game that also incorporates some empire building by giving players some control of their nation’s economy. This game, as the name suggests, is focused on engagements that feature tanks, and other mechanized military vehicles. The games in the Hearts of Iron franchise have been praised for being some of the most accurate portrayals of World War II available. The fourth title, released in 2016, is the best reviewed, and allows the player to play through the entirety of the war – from Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 to the fall of Berlin in 1945.
5 Rome: Total War
Let’s get the ugly truth out of the way – there are a lot of historical inaccuracies in Rome: Total War. This game takes place at the outset of the first Punic War; which was the war fought between Rome and Carthage – a civilization in northwestern Africa that began as a Phoenician colony before gaining independence. Where this game is highly accurate is in recreating the battles. This game does a fantastic job at depicting the epic, and always chaotic, battlefields of the ancient world. Thousands of soldiers are shown onscreen during the battles, and the tactical options/formations of the time, like the shield-wall and phalanx, are reproduced very well.
This is an empire building simulation from Sierra set in ancient Egypt, and based on the engine from the Caesar series (which is also pretty good). The graphics are vividly colorful, and the excellent sound effects really help immerse the player. Pharaoh doe an expert job at the city building aspect, but the combat seems like it was more of an afterthought. The game has many pop-up displays that give the player some historical facts relevant to what is happening onscreen. Building a smoothly running infrastructure that allows for uninterrupted construction of your pyramid is one of the most satisfying experiences in gaming.
3 The Civilization Series
Sid Meier’s Civilization games have always been the standard bearer for historically-based video games. Every installment in the series has improved over the previous title in terms of depth of strategy and gameplay options; however, we’re still waiting for the option of building canals. In the Civilization games, the player chooses a civilization and guides them from the Stone Age to modernity. Since the player is in control of the civilization’s advancement, the standard game won’t be too historically accurate. The set- piece scenarios are very historically accurate though, and allow the player to participate in some of the most defining moments of the past five thousand years.
2 Oregon Trail
It should be no surprise to see Oregon Trail on this list, being one of the first examples of an “edutainment” game. In this game, often called “Dysentery Trail Simulator” by some, the player is in control of a pioneer family as they make their way west along the Oregon Trail. The level of detail in this game was revolutionary for the time; forcing the player to maintain supplies, and make life or death decisions. Oregon Trail is such a great game that it is still receiving remakes nearly forty-five years after it was first released (1975).
1 Crusader Kings 2
This game gives the player control of a kingdom in medieval times, and is perhaps the most historically accurate game of all time. The game begins in 1066 C.E. (or A.D.), which is when William the Conqueror conquered England with his army’s victory at the Battle of Hastings, and continues to 1453 C.E.– the year Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. There are numerous real-world historical figures in this game, and all of them are portrayed very accurately. The learning-curve in Crusader Kings 2 is a bit steep, but after a little bit of practice the game becomes manageable and thoroughly addictive.