It’s arguably never been a better time to be a fantasy fan, with big-name series like Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, The Witcher, and more all in the limelight in some form or another. This year has been a massive one in particular with House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power airing at the same time, but thanks to the video game medium, there are plenty of other ways for genre enthusiasts to indulge themselves.
Several talented developer studios have crafted painstakingly detailed fantasy worlds worth getting invested in ranging a diverse catalog of franchises, with, unsurprisingly, the RPG genre lending itself best to this type of setting. And from the Middle-earth games to FromSoftware’s recent collaboration with George R. R. Martin, there’s an embarrassment of riches for fans of both The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon.
It’s without a doubt the most topical recommendation for fantasy buffs in the modern age of gaming, and FromSoftware’s latest RPG epic Elden Ring will certainly be one to please House of the Dragon/A Song of Ice and Fire fans. It’s in part due to the blockbuster duo of game director Hidetaka Miyazaki and series writer George R. R. Martin building this world. The Lands Between is set in a dark fantasy universe that will be familiar for both Game of Thrones fans and those of FromSoft’s previous work (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, etc.), with the creative team’s signature subdued yet immersive storytelling and worldbuilding.
It follows the Tarnished protagonist being called back from exile to help rebuild the shattered Golden Order of the gods that banished them in the first place. Elden Ring features have arguably set the next highest benchmark for open-world game design, with something exciting worth discovering in every possible direction. Combat-wise, it blends the action of Dark Souls III with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to complement its thoroughly rewarding character progression systems.
Elden Ring is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
It would be impossible to overlook Monolith Productions’ Middle-earth duology for diehards of J. R. R. Tolkien’s expansive fantasy work. Ironically, both Shadow of Mordor and War takes a dark fantasy spin on Tolkien’s usual work and are set in their own timeline, separated from the mainline continuity. Mordor is an open-world action-adventure game that follows a Gondorian Ranger named Talion who finds himself bonded with the Elf Wraith Celebrimbor as they both embark on a quest for vengeance for their murdered families, while War aims their blood feud against Sauron himself.
The gameplay takes worthy inspiration from Rocksteady’s acclaimed Batman: Arkham series and combines it with its original and ingenious Nemesis System, letting players defeat and overtake interconnected Orc tribes that also affect the hierarchy among themselves in the background.
Both Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and War are available on modern hardware through PS4, XBO, and PC.
While, narratively speaking, Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and wider stories are structured differently than Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, House of the Dragon fans should still feel at home with the grounded and rich dark fantasy world of the latter. It’s been deservedly lauded since its 2015 launch, as developer CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt still stands as one of the most engrossing modern-day action RPGs.
The political turmoil and wars pass through in the background, as Geralt of Rivia’s quest takes him across the lands of The Continent, searching for his surrogate daughter before the titular and prophetic Wild Hunt capture her for her latent powers. The plot is more intimate in scale, rewarding role-playing mechanics that shape the stories and featuring compelling character writing throughout and a wealth of story content — including the equally acclaimed Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine DLC expansions.
While it’s become something of a tired joke in the industry, Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is undoubtedly one of the most enduring games today. It’s been re-released and ported multiple times, but the acclaim it received isn’t without merit. The game was a landmark for open-world design when it was released in 2011 during the PS3 and Xbox 360 console generation, as it featured a dynamic environment filled with unique interactions, items, and stories to discover.
Likewise, The Elder Scrolls series as a whole wears its Tolkien inspirations on its sleeve in terms of atmosphere, art direction, and storytelling conventions. Playing as the Dragonborn is highly customizable through a variety of free-flowing character builds, making journeying to defeat the draconic World Eater Alduin endlessly replayable.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available on modern hardware through PS4, PS5, XBO, XSX|S, Switch, and PC.
Even with Elden Ring elevating the game, FromSoftware’s milestone Dark Souls trilogy is still more than worth going back to. House of the Dragon fans should appreciate the grim, dark fantasy world of the series, as it essentially blends fantasy with a post-apocalyptic setting. The Dark Souls series begins ages after Lord Gwyn, the first Lord of Cinder, committed this universe’s “original sin” by cursing it with a cyclical Age of Fire that leaves people and monsters as undead husks by its dying days.
Lore, story, and world-building are expectedly subtle here as well, but it’s incredibly rewarding to learn about and piece together for fantasy fans. Aside from the inventive level designs, the grueling challenge and spectacles of boss fights are major gameplay standouts.
Dark Souls: Remastered, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, and Dark Souls III are all available on modern hardware through PS4, XBO, Switch (Remastered), and PC.
The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s pillars in the gaming industry, as well as an icon of the medium as a whole. From the beginning, the series took clear inspiration from Tolkien’s work on The Lord of the Rings with its vibrant and diverse high fantasy land of Hyrule, tone, and narrative style. Especially so with the series following the generational battle between Link and the Demon King Ganon and its proclivity for detailed topography.
Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch is perhaps the best encapsulation of these features, as it has a stunning open world that invites open-ended exploration and beautiful vistas. The game combines The Legend of Zelda‘s usual action-adventure formula with those of the action RPG subgenre in a high fantasy wrapping that fans of The Rings of Power should feel satisfied with.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is available now exclusively for the Switch, with a (still) unnamed sequel planned to release in the first half of 2023.
The CRPG subgenre is one of the more niche of the greater roleplaying genre, but they’ve seen a welcome resurgence in the modern gaming space. Developer Larian Studios (which is currently helming Baldur’s Gate III) is responsible for a good deal of that, as Divinity: Original Sin II was widely acclaimed as one of the best RPGs in general. The game built off every positive aspect of the original, crafting an experience with an excruciating level of detail.
The player takes on the role of a protagonist and a supporting cast of characters as they attempt to fight back the invading legion of monsters entering the main world from the Void. It’s a colorful and expansive world with engaging adventures that Lord of the Rings fans should appreciate, and it has some of the most satisfying and layered role-playing mechanics in a game. Strategic turn-based combat that rewards creativity and choice-driven narratives combine for a sprawling high fantasy experience.
The “Souls-like” subgenre progenitor, FromSoftware’s Demon’s Souls on the PS3, was critically acclaimed and became a cult classic in 2009. It laid the groundwork for the formula that would eventually evolve into Elden Ring; though, the game can admittedly feel dated and cumbersome by today’s standards. Thankfully, in-house PlayStation studio Bluepoint Games developed a revamped top-to-bottom remake that keeps in spirit the level and gameplay design of the original.
The Demon’s Souls accomplishes this through tasteful quality-of-life enhancements to gameplay and jaw-dropping graphics thanks to the PS5’s hardware horsepower. Tonally, the same rules apply for fans of House of the Dragon looking for a similarly dark experience. It has all the backstory and subtle environmental storytelling expected of a Souls game, with the chosen hero protagonist summoned to the kingdom of Boletaria to slay its fallen and corrupted king and the greater evil that’s shrouded the world in the soul-eating Deep Fog.
Demon’s Souls is available now exclusively for PS5.
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