Which video games have the best lore/cosmology?


#1

This thread started as a request for game recommendations in the Waypoint fan discord, but I’d love to open it up to a broader audience/more in-depth discussion. One of the things I love most in games is the feeling of slowly unearthing the history of an imagined world, often finding out that this history is more complicated and usually more frightening than you’d ever imagined. I’m thinking of the kinds of games where at some crucial point in the plot, your character bears witness to an event that radically alters the way you conceive of the world in which the game takes place. (Think of, for example, the conversation with Vigil near the end of Mass Effect 1.)

This kind of storytelling is often broadly called “lore” (the history of a civilization), though it might also be called “cosmology” (the history of a universe). So I’d love to hear forum thoughts on which games do the following best:

  1. The game has a rich lore/cosmology that is interesting to explore.
  2. This lore/cosmology is effectively communicated within the confines of the game itself (no appealing to book/movie tie-ins to explain things).

Here’s a quick list of examples that I mocked up if you need a better idea of what I’m talking about:

  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent
  • Bastion
  • Dark Souls
  • Half Life 2 + Episodes
  • Mass Effect 1
  • Metro 2033
  • NieR: Automata
  • STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl
  • Undertale

#2

I think the lore in a game that I’ve enjoyed the most was in the Legacy of Kain series, it really made me get invested in the series.


#3

Alright, let me talk about a little series of games called the Legend if Zelda. For real tho, thise games get shit on for their split timeline, but they do cyclic storytelling better than anyone else (looking at you, Dark Souls).


#4

I rather liked how the Mega Man Battle Network series was set up as an alternate universe of the original Mega Man series, Dr. Light and Dr. Wily each having different specializations and which one received priority(networks or robotics) from the government led to either Mega Man or Mega Man Battle Network.


#5

Speaking of cyclic storytelling: Dragon’s Dogma has a pretty great thing you can do after “winning” to start New Game + that also perfectly ties into how the world works.


#6

For my part, I really do enjoy the lore/cosmology in Dishonored. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of the series, despite the underwhelming main narrative of both the original and its follow-up. I find the way Dishonored communicates information about its world through the level design, ancillary characters and heaps of notes to be really engrossing. In a game all about exploring tightly-designed small spaces, the reward of another lore titbit is just as satisfying to me as another rune or some extra coin.

I think in some ways the series also gets unfairly labelled as steampunk + lovecraft when there’s more going on under the surface. The Outsider (and his connection to “The Void”) is where this reaction is most often seen, as he tends to be seen as a Lovecraftian trickster god bestowing power to those in the position to abuse it, in the hopes that they’ll weave chaos throughout society. My interpretation of this character is closer to that of Hazel Monforton, who wrote a fantastic piece about The Outsider’s connection to the Ancient Greek Pharmakon, which explains how the character’s role in Dishonored is closer to that of a scapegoat.

Having said all that, I can’t talk about the series without mentioning that Dishonored’s world as it exists in the original game is often gross in its depiction of female characters and sparse in its representation of other minorities. It has gotten better with the release of DLC and Dishonored 2, but it could always serve to do better. I’m hopeful that the upcoming expansion will continue in this trend of expanding the lore to include more perspectives beyond cishet dudes, seeing as it has us assume the role of a bisexual woman of colour.


#7

The Zelda series has done this very well and kind of poorly. Skyward Sword’s attempt at a structured chronology stumbles because the recurring elements of that series are more thematic. Breath of the Wild, by contrast, takes the themes that series fans have been familiar with since Ocarina and chops and screws them enough that they feel fresh.

Also I’m a big fan of the notion that Ganondorf has reincarnated and wished for more power on the Triforce so many times that by the time Breath of the Wild rolls around that he’s lost all of his humanity (Gerudoinity?) and is a mindless biotechnological virus.

Bloodborne takes a lot of Lovecraft’s cooler ideas and weeds out all the racist nonsense, and consequently you have a captivating apocalyptic story that makes me want to finish that game even though Souls games are absolutely not my thing.


#8

Morrowind has some super interesting lore, and a fairly unique way of presenting it. All the events of history and cosmology are detailed in books scattered throughout the world, from children’s prayer books to academic treatises, radical pamphlets and hallucinatory religious texts. On top of that, each book is coloured by the background and opinions of its author, and parts of history are in a quantum state or have simply been rewritten by gods, so you can form your own opinions about what really happened. Searching out, cross-referencing and decoding everything really makes you feel like a historian, rather than just an audience.


#9

#10

Drakengard and FF14 are the only ones i really keep up with but theyre both interesting takes on fantasy settings.


#11

The Trails series(Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel) are by far the most invested I’ve been in the world/lore of a game. Big part of that is the in universe church/religion being absolutely fascinating. Religion is games usually sucks because there’s seemingly not much thought put into it beyond your usual “murder cult wants to be God or whatever.”

There are also ancient mechs and full on in-game books telling legends and fables that both flesh out the past and tie into present circumstances. I love love love love it.


#12

Morrowind is the gold standard of world building in my book - the different houses and landscapes, the abandoned dwemer ruins, the question of what really happened on Red Mountain all those years ago, all felt like a fully fleshed out world that you were just exploring and working out what it all meant.


#13

“Oh please, dr_monocle, is it Xenogears time yet?”

Why, yes, I believe it is.

I’ll try to keep this as general as possible so as to avoid spoilers for this almost 20 year old game.

(Also I had to look up the release date so I could say that ^ and oh boy do I feel old-ish now.)

So at the very core of what I love about Xenogears is how its plot balloons from what looks like it might be a redemption story with a dash of coming-of-age narrative to “We clearly have to kill god if we want to be free.” You start out as a man from a small town who makes a…mistake and basically gets kicked out and has to wander around aimlessly with this mysterious black gear (mech) that’s been dropped into his lap that he has no idea what to do with. Throughout the course of the game you discover hidden elitist civilizations, a nano machine colony that is thousands of years old, god gears, and the truth behind their (extremely close) analog of the Catholic Church. It’s all very Anime and it becomes almost impenetrable if you’re not paying close attention, but it’s a game that actually goes out of its way to ground the immediate plot in thousands of years of philosophical and religious lore. The spectacle and grandeur of it all still gets to me.

Unfortunately it’s not finished and much of the latter half of the game is you reading large chunks of text related by the main characters sitting in chairs (not joking). I haven’t really encountered anything like it in a game before or since (while I like Xenosaga generally it always seemed like an imitation to me and yeah I know it’s the same team.)


#14

Uh so this is a really weird one but I actually like the lore in the Killzone games? Like a lot of it is standard sci-fi fare but the political struggle brought about by different groups vying for control of viable planets to colonize is interesting, and it has a lot of background involving powerful corporations using their clout against governments to literally purchase planets and form an empire of their own.

The idea of the Helghast people, imperialistic ultra-nationalist types and the primary antagonists, being actual descendants of employees of a fallen corporate empire from generations ago and a bunch of other things like that make it a cool universe to read about, even if it’s all packaged in a pretty run of the mill first-person shooter series.


#15

The Ogre Battle saga of which we only got the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters yet, hmmmm :thinking:

Matsuno & lore is always the best thing that can happen in videogaming


#16
  • Mass Effect 1

I like how this excludes 2, 3, Andromeda, comics and novels.


#17

people have of course already mentioned it, but i feel compelled to add that the main plot of morrowind literally revolves around a theological dispute over the nature of divinity and church hierarchy, this is #topteir.


#18
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order for its alternate history stuff
  • Doom (2016) for its dedication to being so silly and metal as fuck
  • Grim Fandango for goddamned everything about it

On the technicality that its lore already existed before the video game adaptations, I’m only giving Blood Bowl an honorable mention. Any fictional universe where yetis, Frankensteins*, dinosaurs, hobbits, and steamrollers can play football against each other is a very good setting.

*'s monsters


#19

I came here to say exactly this. There’s so much untapped potential in the world of Dishonored. For one, I think the world itself is fascinating.

The empire in which both games take place is basically a large archipelago, with the largest landmass in the game’s world, Pandyssia, taking months to reach by boat, and nearly entirely unexplored. There’s some notes in the first game that make allusion to an expedition Sokolov made there, and it’s bizarre and alien - there’s properly Lovecraftian monsters stalking the continent.

I think the idea of situating this faux-Victorian empire in a world that is still so thoroughly unexplored and misunderstood is really unique. I think the incomplete knowledge of the continent is meant, at least superficially, as a parallel to European knowledge of Africa for most of that era, but in Dishonored the unexplored area is something like 2/3rds of the planet’s landmass.

I really hope there’s at least a brief trip there in Death of the Outsider, which would make sense considering the Outsider was (I think) born there.


#20

Oooooo! I love this question.

I’ve been playing Planescape: Torment recently and the lore of that game is what keeps me coming back. It really does feel like literature at times with how complex and well-realized it is. I also really love the world of Alpha Centauri from the little bit I’ve played after hearing Rob rave about it on podcasts. That world is so grounded, and feels the most like what WOULD happen if humanity made it’s way out into space.

There’s probably some JRPG I can’t think of because I’m not looking at my shelf rn, but these two definitely spoke to me. Definitely agree with Dishonored and Dragon’s Dogma.