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A great game, like a great book or a great movie, can transport us to a different time and place. When the writers and developers of a quality RPG or adventure title have done their jobs well, players can spend hours upon hours in another world, practically unaware of the passing of time. But for some gamers these other worlds have begun to seem like nothing more than variations on a theme: Yet another pseudo-medieval version of pseudo-England, yet another muddy WWII battlefield, yet another galaxy-spanning empire with shiny space ships and blue aliens. There's nothing inherently wrong with these settings, of course. They're wonderful for escapist adventures in which gamers can hit the ground running, without having to familiarize themselves with new cultures, environments, or character types. But many of the best titles in recent memory, such as Assassin's Creed and BioShock, have been as compelling for their original settings as for their gameplay, and there are plenty of other new worlds for gamers to explore. One of the places developers might look to for ideas is fantasy and science fiction writing - after all, even non tie-in games have long drawn inspiration from writers such as Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien. In this spirit, here are five proposals for top-shelf adventure and RPG titles set in rich but underused historical settings (and one future one), along with some reading suggestions for inspiration.
The Medieval Middle East
The Game: A Thousand and One Nights-inspired RPG set in the legendary era of Harun Al-Rashid. Players could choose from several classes, each with its own skills and powers - possibilities might include a swashbuckling "Street Thief" á la the Thief of Baghdad, "Sailor," a warrior/explorer á la Sinbad, "Alchemist," a master of arcane lore and potions, and "Djinn-Master," a mage whose powers arise from his manipulation of various sorts of genies. The PC would explore bustling, adventure-filled medieval cities, like Baghdad and Basra, the mysteries of the monster-and-pirate infested high seas, and mythical locales, like the Brass City of the Djinn. The plots and adventures would culminate in a grand battle in the palace of the Caliph himself.
Ancestors: Assasin's Creed, The Prince of Persia series, Thief
The Aztec Empire at the Dawn of the Sixteenth Century
The Game: A bloody supernatural adventure title. The player would take on the role of an Aztec Jaguar Knight or Eagle Warrior embroiled in religious and governmental conspiracies involving human sacrifice, astrological prophecy, and serpent-gods. Gameplay would feature exploration of jungle levels filled with rival tribesmen and threatening animal spirits, as well as the temples, palaces, and seedy back-alleys of the teeming city-states of Tenochtitlan and Texcoco. The climax of the plot would offer the player a chance to rewrite history by fending off the seemingly all-powerful conquistadors and their mind- boggling technology like guns and horses.
Ancestors: God of War, Uncharted
Further Reading: Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard