It can be a disappointing moment when you put hours upon hours into a game only to realize that its lore and mythology was lacking, leaving your time in the game feeling somewhat hollow. Despite giving your heart and soul to this game, its world was never quite fully realized and the context of its setting can remain largely meaningless.
But thankfully, there are certain titles out there that don't take your participation in their little universe for granted, giving you a world that feels as real as the one you're inhabiting right now. As a wise man once said, it doesn't have to be realistic, it just has to be convincing.
So what does it take to create satisfying lore? All you need to do is look at these ten games and marvel at how they did everything they could to make their world pop, from the subtle to the more obvious.
10. Mass Effect
If you're the kind of player who loves to sink their teeth into mountains of lore, dissecting every piece of available story that the developers have left for you, then Mass Effect is right up your alley. BioWare's epic saga has an entire universe of mythology just waiting for you to uncover, with everything from the dark history of the Reapers to the Krogan genophage.
BioWare's acute attention to detail is rivaled only by their technological wizardry, all of it working together in harmony as they seamlessly weave the more nascent narrative of the first game in the original trilogy. Either through thoughtful dialogue trees or strategic level design, the Mass Effect universe is brimming with engaging stories to uncover, both big and small.
9. Fallout 3
Fallout 3 was the third chapter in the long-running series, a continuation that was spearheaded by Elder Scrolls studio Bethesda, one of the kings of great lore in games. So what they brought to the franchise was a deep, intimate knowledge of the entries that came before it, but with enough gumption to add their own ingredients to the ever-growing nuclear stew.
Bethesda let Fallout 3 stand on its own, but also realized the tremendous history that was before them and used it to their advantage. It all starts with Ron Perlman's haunting narration, then bleeds into the rest of the game, where pieces of the past interact so brilliantly with elements of Fallout's impressive future.
Bethesda's world-building abilities are almost unmatched as they utilize every narrative tool, letting the environments feel like they could exist even without you participating inside of it. The sign of great lore? Imagining what is happening in the world after you've stopped playing.
8. Shadow of the Colossus
What separates Shadow of the Colossus from the previous two games on this list is the introverted nature of the lore, where nothing is ever deliberately spelled out, but left spaciously throughout the world in a fairly ambiguous way. The backstory of the enormous Colossi that the player must fight through the game and their connection to the ancient being Dormin, it all reconnects back to your quest to save Mono.
The actual world itself, known as the Forbidden Lands, has a character and presence all its own. It feels like it's drenched in death, with a bleak skyline and a consistent sense of peril in the air. The remnants of an ancient civilization, the hauntingly beautiful empty spaces, it's all tied into the sense of isolation that the game strives for so elegantly.
7. Portal 2
Portal 2 benefited greatly from having a predecessor with such deep, rich mythology, which also had strong ties to another famous Valve franchise awaiting a third entry; Half-Life. Where the first Portal introduced a world that was loosely connected to the Half-Life universe, Portal 2 upped the ante and went all in to maximize the sequel's efforts.
But it isn't just the Half-Life tie-ins that make Portal 2 special. It's also how delicately the developers cash in on their own lore, using the in-universe rivalry between Black Mesa and Aperture Science to bolster the ongoing backstory between character player Chell and her nemesis GLaDOS. The context at work with GLaDOS' human life as Caroline is outrageously clever, and Portal 2's lore is all the better for it.
6. Final Fantasy 7
Even if you've never picked up a controller to play Square's incredible J-RPG epic, it's impossible to be unaware of just how massive and in-depth the mythology is for Final Fantasy VII. Like many great works of fiction, FF7 drops you right into the middle of an ongoing saga, with centuries of backstory having already passed. Along with its subtle connection to Final Fantasy X, the world of FF7 is larger in scope than many J-RPG's released even today.
One could spend weeks and months dissecting the game's expansive backstory, examining the fall of the Cetra, the rise of Shinra and the ultimate betrayal between Sephiroth and Cloud inside the dark halls of a Mako reactor. There's so much that has happened, so much that is happening and so much implied to eventually happen, that Final Fantasy VII seems completely open-ended in the most fantastic way.
5. Resident Evil
Upon your first steps into the Spencer Mansion during Capcom's seminal survival horror title, Resident Evil is already at work constructing its lore. It starts with the introduction of the mansion itself, a key locale in the franchise that would spin several sub-stories of its own.
In addition to the birthplace of the Resident Evil series, the Spencer Mansion is also the home to some of its most chilling mythology. From there, Resident Evil uses leftover notes and correspondence to relay what horrors you weren't around to see. Director Shinji Mikami paints a supremely stark picture of both suspense and misery, as each of the perfectly crafted journals and letters give you a look into what these people went through during the outbreak.
From "Itchy, tasty" to the suicide note written to an unknown woman named Laura, Capcom found the perfect balance between world-building and minute-to-minute storytelling that is nearly unmatched. It's true what they say: Often imitated, but never duplicated.
Your descent into Rapture is preceded by a violent plane crash, landing you right outside one of BioShock's most iconic visual hallmarks; the lighthouse. This sets up the insane amount of depth and symmetrical detail that series creator Ken Levine is known for, telling the tragic tale of the feud that tore a utopia apart and started a bloody war.
The attack on Kashmir, the ongoing civil war between Atlas and Andrew Ryan, it all spoke to how fragile the underwater city of Rapture was before your arrival. But much like Rome before it, Rapture didn't fall in a day. BioShock does a masterful job of keeping it upfront, using audio diaries and crazed ramblings of the people who lived through it to fill you in on what you missed.
This extends from the diaries to the characters you meet along your journey from the Welcome Center, to the final battle with Atlas, as you'll come along characters like Brigid Tenenbaum and Peach Wilkins, giving flesh and credibility to this harrowing tale.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Because Skyrim is the continuation of a long-running franchise, one that began back in 1994 with the launch of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, the built-in lore already existed and could be capitalized on. But where Skyrim had the luxury of referencing the land of Tamriel, the Scrolls themselves and ancient conflicts that took place two games ago, it also took the extra step to make the newly introduced concepts stick.
Inspired by films like Conan the Barbarian and the epic poem Beowulf, Skyrim utilized an extensive Viking aesthetic, taking great care with its dragons. Bethesda created a unique language for these majestic creatures and tying your very existence in the world to them. The ongoing quest to defeat Alduin, the World Eater, ties into your own character's history as Dragonborn so beautifully.
But it isn't just the dragons that makes Skyrim's lore so thrilling, but rather the in-between ideas that don't correlate with them. Venture off the beaten path of Skyrim and you'll find a world that is filled with different characters, unique histories, long-forgotten stories of heroism and one of the most fully-realized worlds in gaming.
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
If Skyrim and Fallout 3 had a few previous entries to build upon, then it would have been rather embarrassing if The Wind Waker didn't do something with nearly sixteen years of mythology. Thankfully, Nintendo was up to the task and created a Zelda game that used the extensive lore of the franchise in some of the most fascinating and exciting ways.
Taking place centuries after Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker explores the aftermath of the Adult Link timeline and sees Hyrule rotting underneath the enormous sea that the player explores. It's a haunting thought, that the kingdom we've explored for so many years has taken on a watery grave.
With no hero to protect Hyrule, The Wind Waker presents a Zelda story so unlike any other and a new piece of lore to go along with it. Theories continue to abound regarding The Wind Waker's ambiguous take on the Zelda mythos, using other games from the franchise to support their claims and cement just how pivotal the game is to this legendary series.
1. Dark Souls
Dark Souls has a deceptively simple approach to lore. While the series has been lauded for its "back to basics" take on gaming, presenting a wide-open game world that is more about challenge and skill than hand-holding, the FromSoftware take on lore is more subtle in the way that it handles it than any other game on this list.
Not much of the story is laid out as deliberately as one might expect, but rather it feels more abstract and fractured. Though you're given context for the world regarding the First Flame, Lordran's history and Gwyn, FromSoftware approaches things from a "less is more" standpoint. This internal world-building may not be as flashy, but it sure is effective.
As the first Dark Souls game begins, you discover that not only are you armed for combat with an embarrassingly weak selection of weapons, but that you are also dead, aka Hollow. The unique outlook of this world, where one could traverse between life and death at such a rapid rate, granted an eerie, yet fascinating touch to the Dark Souls landscape.
It all comes together so brilliantly, crafting a world that feels both completely realized, yet still open to interpretation. It's a marvelous feat that FromSoftware has used to perfection.
Which video games do you think has the best lore? Was there a franchise or game that I missed? Head on down to the comments and let me know.