Open Forum: What Are Your Favourite Historical Video Games Settings?

As in any other entertainment medium, historical backdrops are often featured in video games to establish a particular flavour or motif among their chosen setting and cast of characters. It really is one of the oldest world-building tricks in the book and one that continues to serve a variety of developers as they continue to lure gamers from one time period to the next. With the imminent release of Far Cry Primal and its stone age antics, we thought we’d take a look at some of gaming’s most memorable historical series.

For me, having just reviewed Far Cry Primal, it seems like an apt choice of game to begin this discussion. Where Ubisoft Montreal has previously aimed for modern settings that mimic real-world locations, the prehistoric land of Oros feels like a complete departure. With no comprehensive records on what life was like for humans at this early stage in our existence, the developer had just as much freedom here as with its more parodical Far Cry playgrounds. Aside from blessing the open world series with a contrasting aesthetic, the change in time period also has a noticeable impact on gameplay, which feels quicker and more brutal as melee weapons coming to fore. This sense of immersion is bumped up a notch thanks to the game’s ingenious use of the Wenja language, a reconstructed dialect spoken between characters.

Aside from other, more obvious examples of historical video games like Total War and Age of Empires, another stand-out example has to be Koei’s Dynasty Warriors franchise. For more than a decade, developer Omega Force has continued to retell the same story over and over while expanding its roster of playable characters. Set in ancient China, the series traces a time period referred to as the Three Kingdoms era, triggered following the collapse of the Han dynasty. From here the games chart an expansive saga as three clans continue to wage war upon one another, rolling the carpet out for a long line of brave warriors and cunning tacticians.

Following Dynasty Warriors’ success, Omega Force followed up its flagship franchise with Samurai Warriors, this time taking place during the Sengoku Jidai period in feudal Japan. This setting has become particularly popular in its home nation, spawning entire series of games with several of these making their way overseas. In the past we’ve seen grand strategy titles like Nobunaga’s ambition as well as more cartoonish depictions, as seen in Devil Kings, Tenchu, and Sengoku Basara.

Another prominent example, as Dave points out, is the Onimusha series which fans are still waiting on for a reboot. Compared to other games that adopt the Sengoku setting, Onimusha was far more fantasy-based, transforming the powerful ruler Nobunaga Oda into an actual demon. God of War pretty much did the same in its depiction of ancient Greece, combining both historical and mythical elements. Other titles, like Spartan: Total Warrior, Age of Mythology, and Rise of the Argonauts are similar in this respect, though Sony’s visceral action series is perhaps the most memorable.


Although we seem to forget, thanks to all the jump packs and exoskeletons of the last few years, Call of Duty is another series with strong historic roots. Before its daring leap into the realm of militaristic sci-fi, CoD used to be the go-to alternative for Medal of Honor fans, next to Battlefield 1942 and Brothers In Arms. With the release of Modern Warfare in 2007, however, everything change for the series as it made one final visit to World War II the following year before severing its ties with this period completely. That didn’t stop Treyarch from revisiting later military conflicts, however, poking its nose in the Vietnam conflict before committing to a somewhat convoluted Cold War setting. Sharing the same timeline is another favourite series of Tef’s, though he accepts that No One Lives Forever has fallen on hard times despite its kitch charm and humour.

As Dom and Kris argue, one franchise that is easily relevant to this conversation is Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. From the Third Crusade right up to the Industrial Revolution, the series has taken us to a variety of historic periods and locations including Victorian London, colonial America, and more exotic locations like India and China. Dom’s favourite of the lot, however, has to be Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Swapping the congested streets of a capital city for the vast open water of the Caribbean, it continues to stand-out as the most unique instalment to date. For many, including Kris, the Ezio trilogy is where Assassin’s Creed really came into its own.

Now it’s over to you. What are some of your favourite historically grounded games? Are there any time periods and settings that you’d love to see developers adapt into a videogame? Let us know in the comments below.




  1. killzone is a nice historic game just told differently, isn’t the story about hitler but without mentioning it.

    Also wolfenstein is a good take on what if the Germans won the war.

    • Not really no. Despite the nazi inspired visuals designed to make you think they’re the bad guys it is actually the UCN/ISA that are the aggressors in the Killzone universe by using force to prevent the Helghans from declaring themselves an independent colony and to secure their trade route through Helghan space. From that point on the Helghans get the short end of the stick and are in a battle for survival, but in the games they appear to be the aggressors when in fact all they’re doing is taking back what is rightfully theirs.

      Agree about Wolfenstein though!

      • So, the Helghan and Visari were a case like with Putin, ‘the Chinese hackers’, North Korea, etc.: they should finally kick their marketing department and strongly invest into PR, like e.g. the US does… ;o)
        *quickly running away and hiding under the sofa*

  2. Rome, Constantinople, Venice, and Florence. All from the Ezio trilogy of Assassin’s Creed, all dripping with beauty and culture that appeal to the Renaissance fanboy in me.

    Whilst I understand there’s been some coverage of Rome in various games from an RTS/action game point of view, I’d be interested to see an open world game in early Roman times.

  3. Black Flag is about the only game that has nailed it for me. I could spend (and have) hours sailing about.

  4. Glad you mentioned Call of Duty Jim, my favourite historical games were the original and the United Offensive expansion. The are still wonderful examples of great storytelling and intense atmosphere, and of course everyone can get behind fighting Nazis, winning formula all round. Theyve been on my Steam wish list for years, hopefully they’ll be less than a tenner together one day.

  5. I’ll give a mention to the Age of Empires series. I love how you start off foraging for berries and hunting with spears, and then see your civilization evolve with technology through the ages.

  6. Ark: Survival Evolved has you starting out with nothing more than your underwear and your wits. Within minutes you’re making prehistoric axes, spears and the like as well as furiously trying to erect a thatch shelter so you can stay safe for a single (in-game) night. The tension, adventure and sense of awe is staggering in the beginning. Now… even though the game doesn’t adhere to a prehistoric timeline, it’s certainly the best bit about it. This is why I was looking forward to Far Cry Primal so much but, sadly, I’m also suffering from franchise fatigue and will give this one a wide berth until I fancy dipping my toes into that particular pond again.

    However, I can’t help but feel that there are a wonderful number of iconic ages that we’ve yet to truly embrace in gaming and this is one of them. Then again, I have a real love for what Insomniac did with the Resistance games and I’d love to see more diverging/alternate reality titles where something cataclysmic happened and the games endeavour to immerse you in a world that feels familiar yet disconcertingly off-kilter because of whatever’s happened.

    The more I think about it, the more I want the latter so it allows for truly creative thinking without the ties of history nailing it down at every turn.

    • That’s true. As a military dependent in Germany during the mid 80s I’ve always had a fascination with the Cold War turning hot, and loved games that explored that “what if” such as F-19 Stealth Fighter, Red Storm Rising (one of my favourite books too), EF 2000, Operation Flashpoint etc. After the mid 90s though we’ve not really seen anything along those lines as the generic middle eastern dictator/terrorist became the villain of choice, despite the Russian leadership doing a top job since then of demonstrating why they should still be the bad guys! ;)

  7. No doubt December 2137, nothing else came close to that.

  8. Rome Total War wins this one for me. I love the history of the different houses, the units and the technology they had back then.
    Other mentions go to the old Medal of Honour/Call of Duty’s that were set during WW2. Nothing beats storming the beaches on D-Day, I’d love to play a game again with today’s graphics.

  9. I’ve always enjoyed the WW2 based shooters and it’s a shame everyone (re: publishers) seems to think that it has been done to death, but could you imagine a MoH/CoD return to the Normandy landings or Stalingrad with today’s hardware?! The same would also apply to a game set in Korea, facing down hordes of screaming Chinese soldiers storming your isolated hilltop outpost.

    I also thought the MoH reboot in Afghanistan was incredibly well done, a constrained, respectful, well told story with believable action. The sequel was crap as Warfighter tried to be too much like CoD and went over the top with globe trotting and gungho action.

    As for what I’d like to see I hope that Cyberpunk 2077 has a 1980s feel to it too since the source is so obviously influenced by that period. Ah, how could I mention the 80s without mentioning Vice City?! That was the pinnacle for me, but in fact all the GTAs have done a great job of bringing the time period to life, particularly with their sound tracks and cultural references/digs. If there was one period I’d like to see in a GTA game though it’d be a 70s San Francisco ala Dirty Harry.

  10. Vice City.

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