Historical games tend to be either strategy games or feature magic or sci-fi as heavy influences. When games do take the plunge into portraying a historical setting, the results can be incredible—and while these five games don’t always represent history accurately, they are some of our favorite representations of history in an interactive form.
Yes, the Assassin’s Creed series does have some sci-fi influence and yes, every game in the series features a rich and detailed historical setting ranging from Crusades-era Jerusalem to Revolutionary France. But the level of detail and historical context in Assassin’s Creed II make it a favorite. The Renaissance was a time of scholarship, art, and philosophy with a heavy religious influence, as academics and clergy alike studied the importance of religion in their society.
This is a perfect complement to the series’ interest in science and religion, which work against one another as well as in tandem as Desmond and other subjects explore their past lives and the way that religion, the mysterious Precursors, and scientific achievement have shaped history.
Aside from the story connection, the setting of Assassin’s Creed II is varied, beautiful, and involving, encompassing multiple areas of Italy with tons of historical landmarks and hidden locations to explore. While the series has plenty of rich and diverse settings, Assassin’s Creed II is noteworthy because of the way its setting mirrors the plot, demonstrating human achievement alongside the reality of death and politics.
There are far fewer western-themed historical games than you might expect, but maybe that’s because it would be hard to improve on the world depicted in Red Dead Redemption, which is as gritty and wonderfully rich a setting as one could ask for. Set in the American West and Mexico, the game allows you to explore cities, towns, and the wide-open Wild West as former outlaw John Marston. Historical context plays an important role, as this game takes places in the West on the cusp of modernization—Marston’s world is changing, and his role in it is uncertain. Automobiles and machine guns are replacing horses and good old-fashioned pistols, and the wild landscape is becoming more civilized.
Red Dead Redemption features one of the most gorgeous desert landscapes in modern gaming. While many deserts are bleak, sandy wastelands, the landscape of this game never feels dead—it’s teeming with both wildlife and people and the random encounters serve to make the world feel truly alive.