Games With the Best Lore/Fiction/Game World

Having a great story and narrative in games is always excellent, but there is an extra element of story telling that can be just as significant. I'm talking about the lore, the self contained fiction, the back story. As a history buff, I always find this element of games extremely fascinating, and when it's done well it can turn a good game into a great game. Here's a list of the worlds I think are the pinnacle examples of this art form.

List items

  • There is no game world as detailed and fascinating as that of The Elder Scrolls. Period. Tamriel feels alive, it feels rich, it feels that decisions are made with thousands of years of history behind them. The way society has evolved, the way that races are engaged in rivalries that date back millenia, and the wonderful characters throughout the history of Tamriel, combines to create one hell of a game world. I also love the way that much of the lore is presented, through in-game books that you can hunt down to add to your collection and read and absorb.

  • This is Sci-Fi done right. The world of Mass Effect is beautifully well realised, with excellent characters and a strong grounding in meta-science. I always got the feeling that the BioWare guys spent a lot of time crafting the world in which the adventures of Commander Shepard unfolds. Again, it's also presented very well. Acquiring the codex pages adds a nice extra element, and the important pages are narrated. I also love the detailed synopsis given for all the planets that you can find in the galaxy.

  • As with Mass Effect, Half-Life's foundation in meta-science and the back story is of exceptional quality. It's a simple enough core premise, and like much in the Half-Life universe, it isn't explicitly stated, but it's there, and you can find it. From the torn out press cuttings that can be found pinned on boards, to the graffiti, to all the little apparently throw away bits of dialogue that speak volumes about the situation, Half-Life's game world is another example of fine narrative, which really helps the Half-Life games stand out as some of the memorable and engaging first person shooters ever made.

  • What can I say? Left 4 Dead's style of narrative is one about delivering as little information as possible while still providing a rich textured narrative element. Left 4 Dead's story may seem completely inconsequential, but beneath the simple premise there is more than meets the eye. Again, L4D deserves substantial credit for the method with which incidental information is presented to the player; all the real contextual information is to be found scrawled on walls inside the safe houses, written by others attempting to survive the zombie nightmare. It's so simple, but so beautifully executed.

  • I'm sure that we all had our doubts following the original Assassin's Creed, which presented some fascinating ideas, but didn't really provide satisfaction and curiosity. The sequel, however, completely reinvigorates the overall narrative, providing much more detail on the war between the Assassins and the Templars, and Desmond Miles' role in the conflict. AC also deserves credit for creating beautifully detailed and historically faithful recreations of historical locations (the Middle East during the Crusades in AC1, and Rennaisance Italy in AC2), as well as the great sense of mystery.

  • Created by Black Isle, and well adapted by Bethesda, Fallout is just about the most engaging depiction of the post-apocalyse as you'll find in any medium. There isn't a huge amount of contextual detail found throughout, but you do learn how the world was destroyed, and how those that have survived wished to return it to it's former glory. The core concept and the execution in the game world is brilliant and detailed, and the themes and motifs of future-retroism and the bleekness of the apocalyse help the Fallout games really stand out.

  • In transitioning from the D&D inspired world of Baldur's Gate, BioWare's new isometric RPG series Dragon Age features a brand new world. The lore is really what shines in Dragon Age's setting; BioWare has some of the best writers in the industry, and they really fleshed out every aspect of Ferelden and how the world works. Codex pages can seem like a really half-assed way of presenting your world's lore, but Dragon Age does it exceptionally well.

  • Irrational Games' masterpiece BioShock is remembered and revered for many reasons, but the incredibly vivid, intense, claustrophobic and imaginative setting is probably the best reason to experience the game. Rapture is dystopia done almost flawlessly.

  • Rockstar San Diego really made the Wild West feel alive in my 2010 game of the year.

  • CD Projekt doesn't get all the credit here, as the world of their excellent 2007 RPG The Witcher is based on a series of Polish low fantasy novels and novellas. Despite this, the setting's transition to video games is handled extremely well, and the characters and places feel alive. It's a fun world to explore full of characters who are fun to talk to.