The RPG Scrollbars: Cool Setting, Bro!

The problem with fantasy is that it’s often not very… well… fantastical. Far too often, even brand new worlds feel like Tolkein or Warcraft or Star Wars with a few twists, and the serial numbers scraped off. The good thing about this is that when a game does take us somewhere new, it feels all the more special for it. This week then, a quick look back at some which have caught my attention for their sense of place. That doesn’t necessarily mean super-original in the great scheme of things, or even not based on a licensed work, or even necessarily that the world contained a great game. These are just a few settings that have stood out from the crowd as cool ideas that surprised, inspired, and deserve borrowing or dusting off.

Escape From Hell

Okay, I understand this might seem like an odd starting point after the likes of Doom and Painkiller and Dante’s Inferno, and especially given that ‘set in the afterlife’ is a cliche that makes many an agent shudder. In RPG terms though, Escape From Hell was playing Old Harry’s Game long before Andy Hamilton’s sinus-challenged Satan, and taking advantage of the setting to bring in just about any historical character or reference that it wanted. It’s a game where you team up with Stalin and Genghis Khan and Hamlet to beat up Satan, using dustbin lids as shields. Sadly, the game coming on floppy disks meant very little actual characterization, and what was there was rippled with a deeply unpleasant sense of misogyny. Of the army of NPCs for instance, only two are female, and one is simply a topless blonde called “Blonde” with no skills at all. The humour is also pretty… let’s say ‘awkward’ at times, with settings including a walk through Dachau. But as said, we’re looking at originality here rather than necessarily specifics, and the vast quantities of fiction exploring similar possibilities show that there’s plenty more that could be done here.

Eternam

Okay, so Eternam is primarily an adventure game, but it has just enough combat and exploration that I’m promoting it to RPG status just to say: Theme Parks. Eternam, the world, is basically Westworld – a series of biomes devoted to different periods of Earth’s history. The main character is a visitor role-playing as a barbarian within the game, tracking down his arch-enemy who has taken over the park. The advantage of all this should be obvious. An inherently fake world allows for both playing fast and loose with mechanical rules, and allowing world-design to focus purely on the awesome. (I still say that if the Dead Rising series never has an installment set in Not-Disneyworld then everyone involved has failed). It doesn’t need to be historical, though of course there’s a lot of fun to be had with the time-travel possibilities there – of bringing a plasma gun to a sword-fight etc. Any question about ‘why this’ and ‘why that’ can be thrown out of the window to give the designer completely free reign. Though ideally without completely running out of steam, as Eternam did long before the lend.

Fallen London

A game close to my heart, and not just because I’ve had the privilege of having the keys to its kingdoms now and again (translation: I’ve written for it, and its nautical spin-off Sunless Sea). While it gets a lot of praise for its sense of mystery and the deep lore, and that’s all obviously great, the raw setting would be one of my favourites even without that. It’s one of the best cases I’ve ever seen of taking the familiar and twisting it approximately 32 degrees. In particular, the gap between the big incident of London being stolen by bats and the period in which the game takes place allows for a wonderful melting pot of old and new, but presented as completely normal. My favourite bits are actually the relatively early stuff, where your character isn’t involved in the machinations of the Masters or launching epic zee-journies, but simply tipping their hat to eldritch horrors while trying to write love poetry, or concerning themselves with whatever delightful fancy lay happens to be taking place between the paragraphs. No other universe is so comfortable playing in that margin where the mundane meets the magical. How I’d love to see a big budget TV version of it someday.

Bloodnet

Do not take this as a game recommendation. I think Bloodnet really, really sucks. I hate almost everything about it, from its combat system to its visuals to its UI. However, that said, I do love its core concept – a cyberpunk city where vampires rule, you’re trying not to become one of them, and every minute that passes is another drop of humanity draining away. The upcoming Vampyr looks to have a similar historical concept and conceit, in that you get to choose who to kill to satiate your thirst for blood. I always did like that idea, and since Vampyr’s not out yet, Bloodnet’s the game I’m throwing the shout-out to. Likewise, while I see no reason to suspect CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk will be anything other than awesome, it’s weird how little it’s been used as a setting. We’ve got Shadowrun now, but lest we forget, its first PC appearance was a team-shooter. That’s ridiculous considering that both SNES and Megadrive/Genesis consoles had an actual, proper RPG version back in the 90s. Bah.

Entomorph

Much to my chagrin, RPGs love nothing more than big bugs and creepy-crawlies. Oddly few though have tried an organic world. Tides of Numenara recently tackled this with its Bloom location – a huge monstrous world of revolting flesh-deals and putrefaction – and we’ve seen individual worlds give it a shot, like Ultima Underworld 2’s Tanaris or Sanitarium’s Hive. They’re still pretty rare though, despite the obvious scope for horror and creative biology. That seems an odd omission, though it’s not as though a few games haven’t tried. Tabula Rasa for instance was initially going to be far more organic, before turning into a fairly stock SF world whose second planet began with a character complaining how boring the world was. Nothing though has really fused body horror and bugs with a sense of an actual world. It’s a wide open field, even if they’re only there as invaders.

Savage Empire

Here’s one that’s always surprised me – the vast quantities of pulp adventure fiction ripe for the picking, yet left to wither on the vine. Obviously, bits of them show up all the time, but the crazy melting pots of things like the old Doc Savage stories are largely left to simmer over. Savage Empire presented a cool world of larger-than-life monsters, less-dressed-than-sensible characters, and crazy jungle adventures without… at least that I remember… the more unfortunate elements of the original stories. Certainly, there’s got to be potential in a Flame And The Flood style adventure down a fantasy version of the Amazon or similar, right? Right.

Darklands

There are of course three kinds of people in this world. The ones who praise Darklands for being a scrupulously historical RPG with no fantasy elements, the ones who go “Wait, it has witches and thing…”, and those who’ve never heard of it at all. Either way, the idea of a historical RPG with a few tweaks still has much potential. (A good start being to find a copy of Lionheart and then not do anything that it does.) We’ve occasionally seen dips into this territory, often tied to Robin Hood or King Arthur, but nothing that really fuses the potential of RPGs with a sense of historical veracity. That said, to a generation brought up on Assassin’s Creed, I suppose much of the tutorial would have to be taken up by explaining why everyone isn’t currently doing parkour.

Al-Qadim

Remember when the Aladdin TV show intro invited us to “Grab your shield, grab your sword, you won’t ever get bored!”? I’m not going to go that far, but the Thousand And One Nights style of world-building does offer plenty of potential. Just ask players of the Tales Of The Arabian Nights card game. Yet it’s pretty much unheard of in games. Even Al-Qadim is a Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting. So much more stuff to be done, surely?

Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura

Steampunk. Love it or hate it, it’s underused and rarely done properly when it is. That is all. The fusion of magic and technology is also always a fun experience.

Vampire: Bloodlines

Okay. I would love a Vampire: Bloodlines 2. I make no bones about it. However, this one is here primarily so that I can ask – where the hell is all the urban fantasy? It’s the perfect genre for RPGs, and you don’t need to put it in the cyberpunk future just because it’s easier to justify people wearing stripper clothes and wielding Uzis. It’s ridiculous that we haven’t seen more adventures on dark nights where monsters tread and occasionally stop for a chat. Yes, as with other examples here, there are non-RPGs that offer the vibe and the aesthetic. However, there’s a big difference between shooting the hell out of secret societies that control the Earth in secret and actually being part of them and living that life. It’s such a strange open goal, with even the likes of The Secret World largely side-stepping it in order to focus on locations with open mysteries and no sense of masquerade.

And I could go on! But as ever, I’m interested in hearing the games that would go on your list. As said, it’s not necessarily about the games themselves, but the chance to experience a different world. There are many fantastic fantasy games that simply don’t stick in the mind, and just as many awesome ideas that cry out to be in a better game. The joy of RPGs is that they can explore all of them, with sword, gun, or just a well-chosen word. And without the need for a single orc or elf within a hundred miles.

82 Comments

  1. keefybabe says:

    There absolutely needs to be more urban fantasy, there’s loads on the telly, it’s weird it’s not more prevalent in gaming.

    • skyturnedred says:

      An RPG set in the Wolf Among Us universe (Fables?) would be amazing.

  2. Rao Dao Zao says:

    MORROWIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND

    Ahem.

    • Dorchadas says:

      My wife told me yesterday that a lot of the high school students she sees who started the Elder Scrolls games with Skyrim think Morrowind is the best. There’s hope yet for the younger generation. :p

      • jeremyalexander says:

        Yeah, great. The younger generation can become just as conformist as the old nostalgia drunk gamers in believing that everything good happened in the past. Aside from the spell making aspects, and some enchanting capabilities that were removed because of the potential to break the game, I would argue that there is little argument to be made that Morrowind is the best ES rpg and I’ve played them all on release since Arena. The combat system is terrible, the UI is a mess, the npc’s are generic and 99% of their dialogue is shared between most of them, the dungeons are tiny and empty with little to make them interesting, most of the quests are really bland and lifeless, the story is overrated tripe that boils down to another stop the evil god from doing evil stuff, and even the so-called alien world is little more than traditional fantasy with a few trees replaced by mushrooms, a few unique but largely uninteresting creatures, and somewhat different architecture. I never saw anything that just made me sit back and saw WOW! Morrowind is a good game and a good Elder Scrolls game, but I think it’s ridiculous to call it the best. And anyway, it has nothing to do with this article as it is coming back into ESO and Skywind should be out in the next 18 to 24 months.

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          Harlander says:

          Your detailed response inspired me to ask: which do you think is best, and by how much is it better than the next one down?

        • sosolidshoe says:

          “…and even the so-called alien world is little more than traditional fantasy with a few trees replaced by mushrooms…”

          Haha, you almost had me there. Excellent parody of hipsterism, if it wasn’t for this little tell that you were joking you could have Poe’d yourself by looking like one of those numpties who blow minor critiques that even most fans would acknowledge exist out of all proportion.

        • flashlight_eyes says:

          bad combat aside, Morrowind excelled in a lot of things, the first of which being grit. Slavery and racism are very prevalent in this world and there are few honest factions at work, I was very taken aback as a kid to have the native elves hate me for being a colonizer despite personally doing nothing against them. The second, is in having the world feel hostile instead of welcoming to the bold adventurer. Most people disregard you and there are no royal carpets laid out upon you revival everywhere as there are in skyrim. Lastly and most importantly, THE SOUNDTRACK

  3. KingFunk says:

    I know it’s not a CRPG series, but I rather enjoy the juxtaposed settings of Persona. Currently balls-deep in P5 and the shifts in tone and pace that come about due to the contrast between the (almost) mundane quotidian of life as a Japanese high-schooler and the warped versions of the world created by deviant human cognition are great.

    • Themadcow says:

      Second this. Modern urban settings are great, and really reinforce the magical when it does emerge in the storyline.

      Haven’t started P5 due to lack of time but P4 was amazing.

      • KingFunk says:

        Find the time – you won’t regret it! Unless you have Important Stuff you’re supposed to be doing in your spare time…

  4. Shiloh says:

    I’d quite fancy playing a 20s Lovecraft RPG set in the Miskatonic river valley. Mundane on the surface but Lord, imagine the horror which lurks beneath!

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts Covenant on the PS2 are sort of that, although they are set in Europe and about a decade earlier.

      • dreadguacamole says:

        They’re also very, very funny! Number 2, especially, had quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. Not sure I’d recommend them as something in the mould of Lovecraft, though, since they didn’t take themselves very seriously.

    • ReluctantlyHuman says:

      I am not positive that it will ever be released, but I am super excited about Witchmarsh, which should take place in that particular setting.
      link to rockpapershotgun.com

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    Mungrul says:

    I’m with you on the startling lack of urban fantasy locations. Charlie Stross’ Laundry universe for example would make for some fantastic RPGs.

    One of my favourite RPG settings, while at first glance Tolkien-esque, was the world of the original Guild Wars.
    There was just enough different and foreign about it that it fired the imagination.
    This was in no small part thanks to the idyllic starting area, followed by re-visiting it after an apocalyptic event. Fantasy post-apocalypse before Age of Decadence.
    The expandalones were less inventive, but still had plenty to offer, such as the petrified Echovald Forest and the Jade Sea, an entire massive body of water that was changed to solid jade, with quarries where sea monsters can be seen frozen mid-motion.

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      phuzz says:

      There is a pen and paper RPG set in the Laundy-verse, I’m not sure how well it would translate into a computer game, although weirdly I feel like the Stanley Parable sort of covers the bureaucratic side of it.

    • aircool says:

      GW had a great groove. Some really outstanding looking places. One of my all time favourites. GW2 was also good, but the lack of skill variety limited its depth.

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    Masked Dave says:

    I really liked the world of Final Fantasy XII. Sort of renaissance-fantasy almost-sci-fi swashbuckling-sky-pirates blend with a great style and flair.

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    Drib says:

    I liked Hellgate: London for its weird mix of urban and hellscape. But then again, the game itself was a bit dumb and now I’m reasonably certain it’s completely unplayable.

    But still, yeah. Urban and magic mixes are neat.

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    Masked Dave says:

    Ooh, and Jade Empire.

    • Talahar says:

      Yes, Jade Empire! I’m replaying it right now, and while it is at its core a fantasy setting, shifting it to an asian mythology instead of the standard more european-flavored fare creates new wonders to experience and new worlds to explore. Wish there was a Jade Empire 2.

  9. Kollega says:

    I’m just going to chime in here and ask: where are, well, any dieselpunk RPGs? Dieselpunk is such a massively untapped genre, with loads of over-the-top pulpy possibilities spanning the globe (and other worlds, should the dev team decide to include that), and it can be anywhere on the scale of “over-the-top heroics versus gritty dystopia”. I, personally, wish we could get an RPG about heroes of a bustling dieselpunk Metropolis, where you get to explore the implications of a world where every street might have its own genius scientist, hardboiled PI, dashing flying ace, or roguish adventurer to solve its problems. But of course, we barely even get any steampunk games, so… go figure.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      Fallout? Bioshock? I feel like they fit the aesthetic. Also i’m assuming that given you’re aware of the phrase dieselpunk you know of Children of the Sun?

      • Kollega says:

        Fallout isn’t exactly dieselpunk – it’s atompunk/raygun gothic. Plus the whole bombed-out post-apocalypse setting puts me off. But Bioshock is definitely a dieselpunk game. And there are a bunch more that I can remember off-hand: Valkyria Chronicles, Silent Storm, Greed Corp/Gatling Gears, Crimson Skies/BOMB, Sine Mora, new Wolfenstein, and more that I’m forgetting right now. But compared to the “mainstream” genre like “modwar manshoot”, something like ten or fifteen games is still not a lot to go on. And not all of those are for me… Sine Mora, for one, is a grimdark bullet hell game, which is not something I am eager to play.

        Plus, I feel like none of them touch on the aspects of dieselpunk that are interesting to me; most lkely because all of those are war games. And what I’d love to see is a dieselpunk game that’s more about slow-paced exploration and roleplaying. I said that dieselpunk is a massively untapped genre because when we do get something in a dieselpunk setting, it’s rarely, if ever, about exploring the world of the game. Bioshock, for example, allows that, and I’ve played it through several times over. So I think we need a diselpunk RPG because it’d allow us to linger and see for ourselves the world that enables such pulpy adventure.

        • aircool says:

          Are there any punkpunk games where you go around swearing and offending old people whilst waiting for post-punk to come around and deciding whether to go goth or new romantic.

        • Eightball says:

          >Fallout isn’t exactly dieselpunk – it’s atompunk/raygun gothic.

          Language is dead and you have killed it.

          • April March says:

            It was already like that when I walked in, officer.

          • batraz says:

            So punks end their carreer as mere suffixes… makes me sad somehow.

  10. JKing says:

    I’ve played a number of RPGs, but I really must single out Betrayal at Krondor for being so masterfully grounded in its setting. No, it’s not original, but it makes use of the source material to craft some good mechanics, and really makes an effort to draw you in with the prose and particularly the dialogue scenes.

  11. ohminus says:

    Who’s “Tolkein”?

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      Drib says:

      It’s a pen name Peter Jackson used when he wrote the novelizations for those movies about hobbits and elves

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      Jarmo says:

      He’s a good freind of David Bowei, Micheal Ciane and Saen Connery.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Seems to me like you’re the one Tolkien to us.

  12. riadsala says:

    Surely the Secret World deserves a special mention? I’m glad to hear there’s a new version of this on the way out.

  13. Arathain says:

    Another one on the urban fantasy train. Juxtaposing the fantastic with the familiar tends to work extremely well- it’s a big part of the success of Bloodlines and Fallen London, to mention two different examples.

    I’d add another example: brilliant, off-the-wall DS JRPG The World Ends With You. It’s a bizarre fantasy whose narrative and mechanics are inextricably tied into the specific Tokyo sub-culture that comprises its setting. In that respect its similar to Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

    • riadsala says:

      Good suggestion, I really enjoyed that DS game! I’d love to see something similar developed for PC

  14. FreshHands says:

    This question, man. Have to be careful with the blather floodgates now – let’s stick to keywords.

    Great settings that need more games right now: Vikings, Samurai and something with Orcs’n Elves, duh.

    Apart from that Albion, Bloodborne, DarkSouls, DarkSun, Morrowind and ZenoClash had settings that were quite nice.

    I don’t necessarily crave super imaginative settings per se. I mean, DarkSouls is basically Knights and stuff. But look what they did with it.

    Would really love some Bronze Age though, maybe ancient Egypt? Or even Glorantha? Both’d be well appreciated.

    And yay to Lovecraft. Still not enough cosmic horror going round these days. How about Cthulhu in Renaissance Italy?

    • mgardner says:

      Saw the article title and instantly thought of Albion as my #1 pick.

    • The Bitcher III says:

      Great, now you’ve reminded me of my burning desire to explore Way of the Samurai 4 and Nobonuga’s Ambition. As far as backlogs go, this article and comments are starting to feel like the tipping point, the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      How are there so few Samurai games when so many games are Japanese?

  15. Sin Vega says:

    Space 1889. Victorians adventure around the world and into space. I tried making a go of it last year but it’s a really awful game. But the setting is wonderful and so full of potential.

    RPGs almost all being lazy tolkien-alikes or generic sci fi was embarassing in the 90s, but today it’s frankly pathetic. There’s so much more that we could be playing, but no, let’s have more chosen ones and +1 swords of greater spodding and goddamn elves. Ugh. Fuck RPGs, man.

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      Drib says:

      Isn’t the Fallen London Sunless Sea sequel set in space?

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        teije says:

        Yes, Sunless Skies. In development now.

        • TheAngriestHobo says:

          I still think they should have called it Sunless Stars.

          • iny says:

            … the lack of stars in Sunless Skies is literally why the game is called Sunless Skies. If there were stars, it wouldn’t be sunless, because — I don’t know if you knew this, but here’s an interesting astronomy fact — stars are in fact literally suns.

          • TheAngriestHobo says:

            Yup, that’s pretty much the joke.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            In space no one can hear the woosh…

  16. golochuk says:

    Arcanum’s setting isn’t that good.

    The “magick versus technology” premise is okay, but while it presents a decent vision of what such a world would look like, it rarely results in any thought-provoking sci-fi dilemmas. Most philosophical questions the game poses are lifted directly from reality, and aren’t enhanced by the setting.

    From a less high-minded perspective, there simply isn’t much substance to the setting. Like Fallout before it, you’re expected to piece together an understanding of the setting based on lightly detailed sources: brief discussions in conversation, and a page or two of writing here and there. But in Arcanum, the world has not endured an apocalypse and the printing press has been invented, so the lack of information makes no sense. There’s an entire library filled with technical manuals, but hardly any books. Obviously budget realities make it impossible to provide endless detail, but Arcanum provides very little.

    What setting information does exist does not lend itself to novel interpretation. The dwarves and elves are familiar Tolkein derivatives. The orcs are the industrial underclass. The human nations besides Tarant are incredibly sterile; the second-largest human nation in the game receives so little attention that I’d barely heard of it before the game dragged me there.

    If the plot is to be considered, it’s terrible; for most of the game, you’re teased with the suggestion of intrigue but given nothing of actual interest. By the time I started receiving digestible information, I was past caring, and the plot twist at the very end of the game washes away everything learned before, resulting in a rootless and unsatisfying final conflict.

    Also, half-ogre island was a terrible idea.

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      If there were as many steampunk rpgs as there were generic elf-and-wizard fantasy rpgs, Aracnum would have been forgotten within weeks of its release. But because there are so few steampunk rpgs, Arcanum always kind of lingers. It attained cult status not because it’s a good game, but because there were so few like it.

      I know I put many, many hours into Arcanum fully aware of its many flaws because of its unique setting.

    • tomimt says:

      I recommend playing Arcanum through with a character of lowest possible intelligence, as it effects the story a lot. There’s some comedy gold moments there when the people realize their intented saviour is a drooling moron who can’t even talk properly.

    • Rainshine says:

      That island and the associated questline were excellent, you are so entirely wrong! I do wish they would have added some other options to that story though…

  17. RuySan says:

    No Albion? Really?

    For me it’s still the game to beat as far as settings go. So unique, so beautiful and so atmospheric.

    As for as modern games go, The Witcher 3 and Bloodlines stand tall and way in their own league when compared to most og the generic crap that is most RPG settings?

  18. jblakely10 says:

    Trolled me with the City of Heroes pic.

  19. tomimt says:

    Now that you’ve mentioned Eternam… All around a badly designed game, but I do think it has enough merit to it, that a modern remake could make it work.

  20. kud13 says:

    You got the big ones, AFAIK, with Arcanum and Bloodlines (and an honourable mention to Shadowrun, which is just awesome).

    I want CDPRed to license China Mieville’s Bas-Lag universe once they are done with Cyberpunk. I think that would be my next “dream setting” .

    I also think Planescape deserves a mention. I know it’s based on D&D, but I never even heard of the setting until I started following PC gaming lit, and the setting sure isn’t your typical “Tolkien spin-off” .

    I also wish we got the planned sequels for “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth” . Although it got very shooty in the end, the beginning of that game had superb exploration/horror atmosphere.

  21. Lacessit says:

    I like the (somewhat) historical settings of the Expeditions games. Conquistador and Viking both have a lot to offer about being in a certain mindset in a certain timeframe. Looking forward to Kingdom Come!

  22. sagredo1632 says:

    Urth.

  23. lglethal says:

    For world building, I’ll admit i’m hard pressed to think of a better one then the Mass Effect Universe as set up in ME1. It really feels like a living space, politics, racisms (speciesism?), misunderstandings, and prejudice, but even with all that the races basically getting along and moving forward. It really feels like a real galaxy to me, rather then your standard sci fi filler…

  24. Fnord73 says:

    I could really really do with a Iain M. Banks Culture RPG: “Adventures of the Special Circumstances”. In the mold of Htman, a series of different political tasks, where your skills build up over time, including those of your drone.

  25. Foosnark says:

    I think Bloodnet really, really sucks. I hate almost everything about it, from its combat system to its visuals to its UI.

    Let’s not forget the execrable dialog and voice acting!

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      Addie says:

      And the less said about the overall pacing, the unfathomable progression of its plot, and the guide-dang-it puzzles, the better. Which is gutting, because it’s the kind of game I wish I had liked. Fortunately, the floppy-disk version doesn’t have any voice acting.

      Can we just agree that all RPGs should have character creation via multiple-choice questions?

  26. poliovaccine says:

    Is it a coincidence that the bulk of these Cool Settings are from ancient, pixelated games from the very early days of gaming itself? I think that maybe the technological constraints of the time – being not some stylistic, retro design decision, but rather just a fact of life in those days – incentivized players to really invest their imaginations in the games, to really meet em halfway, and the heavy reliance on text adds more than you sometimes even realize (and probably forced devs and writers to have a little more imagination, too!).

    I mean, with all due respect to these games, which were remarkable achievements in their time, nowadays they’re all vaguely similar-looking, pixelated, and essentially unexciting to behold. Visually, they’ve aged. What that means is that they made this list solely on the merits of their writing and their details and, ultimately, their *text.* Which is nothing bad – on the contrary, I wish there were more RPGs like Morrowind – the 3D open world but with the text-level detail of an isometric CRPG. Actually, I’ve often wished the default way to interact with the incredible gameworlds we’re sometimes given was something other than “kill by clicking.” I’d like if the default mouseclick action was “Look,” like in the old LucasArts adventure games, complete with a bit of commentary to every little thing, which tidily doubles as worldbuilding exposition and characterization. It’s a good gimmick, why wont anyone use it?

    Anyway – bring back text in RPGs! Up with reading! Never TL; never DR!

    • Sin Vega says:

      Ih, I think a lot of it is that time has filtered out the piles and piles of generic orcs and fodro gabbins shite that has always clogged up the arteries of the genre.

  27. Pink Gregory says:

    So I’ve never heard anyone talk about Nethergate – which is a Roman/Celtic fantasy type thing (well, magic is involved and I seem to remember a giant). It’s by Spiderweb, so not exactly and unknown developer.

    Also made me think of Final Fantasy VIII, which enraptured me as a small one. It’s got the same magic + technology thing as 6 and 7, but it’s got this wonderful almost baroque-like quality to its environments.

    Only in the early environments though, really, eventually you end up in a big scifi future city, and in space, and then in just a big magic castle; but bumming around on college campuses and cobbled streets and trains makes a striking impression.

    • Michael Anson says:

      Honestly, any of the Spiderweb Software settings would count. Exiles in a giant cave system with gray alien natives? A world of magical genetic engineering? Both Exile/Avernum and Geneforge should qualify as unique settings in their own right.

  28. Darth Gangrel says:

    I mainly read this, because Bloodlines was in the tags (as it ought to be). It feels great to just walk around in it, something that I also like in The Witcher and KotOR. Anachronox also had a very weird and alien setting and just like the others here, the music and watching/interacting with NPC’s had a great part in setting the mood.

    I’m fine with generic fantasy or science fiction, just give me some good gameplay and soundtrack, but some more darker, mystical/mythological settings like Bloodlines and Witcher would be nice.

  29. TheAngriestHobo says:

    You can’t list Savage Empire without also tipping your hat to the other Worlds of Ultima game, Martian Dreams. It was basically set in a universe inspired by 1930s pulp sci-fi, which I’d argue is even more awesome.

    I mean, it’s a game that sees you going back in time to be fired from a freaking space gun that takes you to Mars, where (massively butchered spoilers follow) you team up with Teddy Roosevelt and Warren Spector to fire cannons at Rasputin. Except he’s been possessed by a half-dead Martian plantman, so you have to build a sexy robot and enter his dreams. Or something. Seriously, it’s amazing.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Specifically you go and face him – or rather the evil alien riding him, Raxachk or something – in a dream world where substance can be created out of nothing. Still, he hides behind a force-shield and goes “Ha! No weapon for the next HUNDRED YEARS will be able to defeat this!”

      At which you go “Time travel, bitch,” and whip up an M60 machine gun to blow him to pieces. A most satisfying finale.

  30. Captain Yesterday says:

    What I really, really loved about VtM Bloodlines was the feel that there was the whole parallel culture that emerged after dark, when all the respectable people were in for the night. The whole city was filled with freaks and weirdos that only came out when the sun came down, and being a vampire made you one freak out of many.

    It’s kind of hard to articulate, I’ve yet to have played a game that manages to create such a distict, slightly alien atmosphere that just feels like home the minute you step into it.

  31. Chaoslord AJ says:

    JRPGs in general offer a lot of technomagic fantasy mixed in with a bunch of angels and mechs.
    Been playing Xenoblade Chronicles X right now which is like the RPG version of Mass Effect Andromeda essentially exploring one huge new planet (which unlike other game planets features 5 biomes) and having a complex battle system and having interesting characters + plotline.
    Beside that yeah more stuff with Vampires like Kain & Raziel, steampunk settings and oh what about time travel? Severely lacking.
    I guess they should leave Tolkien alone. We got the Forgotten Realms, Warcraft, Warhammer and most of the other franchises are also just carbon copies. Why not try Robert E Howard instead.

    • Premium User Badge

      Mungrul says:

      Good point!
      Howard’s a touchstone for me. One of the first books I read on my own (at the age of five!), was a copy of Conan of Cimmeria that my Dad bought for me in a WH Smiths while we were on our way to see my Gran in Kettering.

      His friendship with Lovecraft was evident in some of the weirder elements of the world he created, with lost cities populated by ancient beings and gibbering horrors haunting stygian halls.

      I played Age of Conan for a while, mostly because while the generic MMO tacked on top was ultimately disappointing, unbalanced and broken, the world itself was a fantastic recreation of the Hyborian Age.

  32. April March says:

    Echoing the desire for more urban fantasy and steampunk games. It’s indeed astounding that there aren’t more games in those settings. If there were a lot of crappy games that were hastily and lovelessly thrown together to take advantage of their popularity, at least it would make sense. But there aren’t any!

    I’ve been reading a lot of World of Darkness lore lately and boy, do they have a lot of it. I don’t doubt a full-on Dragon Age Origins style game would work on it. Between vampires, werewolves, wizards, changelings, sin-eaters, frankensteins and friggin’ mummies you’d have a hell of a roster, most of them more interesting than ‘human’ ‘short human’ and ‘tall human with ears’. Too bad I wouldn’t trust anyone who ever held the IP to do a cool game with their setting – first because they’ve always had a tendency to make sure each kind of critter was its own thing, so vampirers and wizards were rarely rubbing elbows, but mostly because they’ve always had a tendency towards the edgelord. Maybe if we could get to do it?

    As for steampunk, my girlfriend loves it. We like to go to a stationery shop and every time we go that we see a notebook that has the word “Steampunk” over a sepia picture of a regular motorbike. She dispairs over it.

  33. April March says:

    Does the html even work as it states it does at the bottom of the comment box?

  34. The Bitcher III says:

    I’d play Salem Witch-trials, where the witchery is real. As is Tribal / Native magic. Keep your magick out of sight? Save yourself / save your fellow witches? Turn them in to save yourself? Kill the Witchfinders, deal with the ensuing furore? Curse accusers? or reason with them? bribe them? Popularise yourself with townsfolk? cure illness, help the farmers? Hoard your magic and resources to overpower and control the town? Destroy indian attacks? Trade goods…Collaborate, exchange magick with them? Help make peace? Fight with them for survival? Pick flowers and herbs in the unspoiled landscape? Find ancient tribal sites?

    I mean, it sounds like TW3, but it isn’t. No boring geo-politics etc. No monsters. Witchfinders don’t ignore you when you magic right under your nose.

  35. jeremyalexander says:

    All of those would be very good to explore. I would love to see EA do a proper reboot of the Ultima series, I’m just not sure which studio I would trust to do it. Before the last couple games, I would have said Bioware, but most of the original talent there is gone. Arcanum as an open world first person rpg would be insanely fun. Two other settings I would love to see would be the AD&D Spelljammer setting, and for the old schoolers out there, I would love to see an rpg set in the world of the old SSI strategy game named Sword of Aragon. Still my favorite strategy game to this day and I am not a nostalgia junkie. It’s just that much fun.

  36. Levity says:

    Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea?

    Bronze-age societies, an archipelago (lots of sailing), magic and wizards who live alongside nature and normal society. Also free from the European/White-centric model we are so used to. The books are also awash with colour; it paints such a nice picture in my head when I imagine its world.

    • theapeofnaples says:

      Yeah, this. Or a Jack Vance Cugel/Dying Earth setting. (also sailing)

  37. KingJoff39 says:

    A game set in any of the worlds that Bradon Sanderson has come up with.

    The systems of magic that he has managed to come up with are incredible.