Fantasy is a broad genre and it incorporates many different styles. There’s high and low fantasy, depending on the amount and intensity of magical and fantastical elements present. There’s steampunk blending magic and Victorian era-technology. There’s also dark fantasy, which seems to feel quite welcome in video games.
Dark fantasy cleaves quite close to the horror genre, closer than other fantasy genres do, and dark fantasy setting are often pessimistic, dying, or otherwise unpleasant for regular people to live in. Hope is often a luxury, the world is full of monsters, and the good times are a distant memory. It works really well in video games, especially when the player takes control of somebody who can actually do something about the state of the things, or at least take a brief stand against the tide of darkness trying to consume the world.
Below you’ll find a list of quite a few games taking place in dark fantasy settings, coming from several different genres.
|Berserk And The Band Of The Hawk||2017-02-21||Action & Shooter||KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.||38%||Read more|
|Blasphemous||2019-09-10||Adventure||The Game Kitchen||83%||Read more|
|Castlevania Anniversary Collection||2019-05-16||Adventure||Konami Digital Entertainment||Read more|
|Dark Souls Iii||2016-04-11||Adventure||FromSoftware, Inc.||27%||Read more|
|Dark Souls Ii Scholar Of The First Sin||2015-04-01||RPG||FromSoftware, Inc||34%||Read more|
|Darkest Dungeon||2016-01-19||Indie||Red Hook Studios||89%||Read more|
|Diablo 2||2000-06-29||RPG||Blizzard Entertainment||55%||Read more|
|Dishonored Definitive Edition||2012-10-11||Action||Arkane Studios||80%||Read more|
|Dragons Dogma Dark Arisen||2016-01-15||Adventure||CAPCOM||89%||Read more|
|Grim Dawn||2016-02-25||Adventure||Crate Entertainment||67%||Read more|
|Legacy Of Kain Soul Reaver||2012-12-06||Adventure||Crystal Dynamics||Read more|
|Legacy Of Kain Soul Reaver 2||2001-11-20||Adventure||Crystal Dynamics||67%||Read more|
|Path Of Exile Arctic Crown Cobra Pet Key||-||-||-||Read more|
|The Witcher Enhanced Edition||2008-09-16||RPG||CD PROJEKT RED||78%||Read more|
|The Witcher 2 Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition||2017-11-05||Adventure||CD PROJEKT RED||82%||Read more|
|The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Goty||2015-05-18||RPG||CD PROJEKT RED||64%||Read more|
|Thief||2014-02-27||Stealth||Feral Interactive (Mac)||80%||Read more|
|Total War Warhammer||2016-05-24||Strategy||Creative Assembly||81%||Read more|
|Total War Warhammer Ii||2017-09-28||Strategy||Creative Assembly||78%||Read more|
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
|Developer:||KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.|
Based on Kentaro Miura’s long-running manga, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk shares the absurdly unfriendly quasi-medieval world, horrifyingly disfigured demons, and more blood than you’d expect from human sized creatures. The game follows a good portion of the manga’s story, from the Golden Age up to the Hawk of the Millennium arc, so you’ll see some of Berserk’s greatest hits.
The game belongs to the musou subgenre of hack and slash games, a playstyle best exemplified by the Dynasty Warriors series. That means you’ll never want for enemy hordes to plow through, and killcounts can go into high hundreds and special attacks will clear everything in front of you. In addition to main man Guts there are also fan favourites like Judeau, Zodd or Casca to play as
|Developer:||The Game Kitchen|
Blasphemous pulls no punches In the dark fantasy department. The protagonist is called “The Penitent One”, and wears a helmet that looks like a torture implement. The island he finds himself on, Cvstodia, is affected by a mysterious power called The Miracle, which is behind the monsters that roam the place. Oh, and the local variant of healing portions are Bile Flasks filled at blood fountains.
Gameplay0wise, Blasphemous is a really good metroidvania, complete with 2D environments done in a nice pixel-art style which works really well with environment and character designs. There’s an upgrade system which significantly improves your chances of making it to the end. And there are two ways the game can end, depending on what you choose to do during the playthrough.
|Release date:||1986 (first release) – 2019 (last release)|
|Developer:||Konami (primary), Eighting, MercurySteam, Kojima Productions, M2|
Castlevania is one of the most beloved video game series, and as luck would have it, it’s also undeniably a dark fantasy world. It has everything, powerful vampires, vicious demons, existential ennui, neo-Gothic architecture, and the grim futility of fighting immortal monsters. Not that either ever stopped the Belmonts from going against Dracula and his goons.
The protagonists change from game to game, but what doesn’t change is the fact that killing monsters is fun, and exploring locations is great. Depending on the game there’s also a different degree of gathering loot and improving abilities, and exploration, because there’s a reason the “metroidvania” genre has “-vania” in its name. There aren’t many new ones, but the classics remain excellent.
|Release date:||2011 (DS1), 2014 (DS2), 2016 (DS3)|
It has “dark” right there in the name! Obviously was going to end up on this list. In all seriousness, Dark Souls really is a full dish of dark fantasy. The setting is quite gloomy, slowly sliding towards apathy and darkness, while the undead of all sorts roam the ruins of ancient castles, protecting the undying demigods sheltered inside. And your characters have to reign in these waking horrors, somehow.
Part of the dark fantasy atmosphere comes through the famously demanding combat system of the series. Enemies hit like a ton of bricks, and while you are restored to your miserable state fairly quickly, you lose all souls (currency/XP) you hadn’t banked before dropping dead. Between horrific monsters, twisted heroes, and subtle story of a dying world, Dark Souls is a must-play dark fantasy game.
|Developer:||Red Hook Studios|
Another game with “dark” right there in the title, and this time it’s in superlative, so you it’s a big deal. Darkest Dungeon is less about hard boss fights and more about trying to keep your mercenaries sane and healthy as they explore and clear the mansion you inherited from monsters. It turns out that fighting undead and mutants in dim dungeons is very hard on people’s psyche
Your inheritance consists of a large manor, sprawling grounds, and the dungeons running deep below it all. You need to watch your hirelings’ stress levels, or they’ll acquire mostly detrimental quirks, and could even have a heart attack if you aren’t careful. Low light, taking damage from traps and in turn-based battles, even some abilities, all of these contribute to accumulating unhealthy levels of stress.
|Release date:||1997 (Diablo), 2000 (Diablo II), 2012 (Diablo III), TBD (Diablo IV)|
|Genre:||Action role-playing, hack and slash|
|Developer:||Blizzard North (Diablo 1 &2), Blizzard Entertainment (Diablo 3 & 4)|
Sanctuary, the world where Diablo games take place on, is hardly a happy place. Humans of Sanctuary are playthings in the machinations of hell, with little to no aid from the heavens. Nobody is safe from demonic influence, the undead emerge from ancient crypts and dungeons, and nobody can do anything about it, except a handful of driven and powerful individuals acting as player characters.
Each game has a different set on champions who take a stand against the monstrous hordes of Diablo or other devils. There are barbarians, necromancers, druids, even bare-fisted monks. There are also untold tonnes of loot to collect, skill trees to climb, and class builds to plan and complete. Better yet, Diablo is excellent in co-op, especially when players find a way to synergise their abilities.
|Release date:||2012 (Dishonored), 2016 (DH2), 2017 (Death of the Outsider)|
Weird prehistoric-looking whales are hunted for the highly energetic oil their produce. Religious authorities of the country terrorize the populace. A mysterious man, residing in an extradimensional void, whispers secrets and ideas into the ears of people, and ominous cults hoping to get his attention skulk in shadows, while witches plot how to extend their influence. The sequel even has murderous flies.
The dark fantasy themes don’t even stop at defining the general setting. The game assesses the way you play and adjusts the world accordingly. Leaving a trail of bodies in your wake is going to reflect negatively on the city and will affect the tone of your ending. But hey, at least you get cool eldritch powers from the void guy which let you, for example, turn into murderous smoke demon.
The game begins with a dragon burning down your hometown and eating your heart. Then things get dark and weird. Monsters roam the land, the local ruler is unhelpful, and there are undead right outsice the capital’s walls, shambling out of the ground every night. Only the player character, the Arisen, seems able to do anything about it, aided by creepily emotionless Pawns.
There’s no lack of monsters, both small, like goblins, and big, and a whole freaking Hydra to kill, and you get to train in one (or more, if you want to) Vocations, each falling somewhere in the Warrior-Mage-Rogue triangle. Downing a swooping Griffin with a swing of a greatsword or summoning a meteor storm feel amazing, and make you stand out among regular inhabitants of this unfortunate land.
True, it doesn’t have “dark” in the title, but it does have “grim”, which is just as good. The world of Grim Dawn is called Cairn, and it’s been a battleground for a war between two extradimensional powers which don’t care much about the well-being of humans and view them as a resource at best. Over time, however, humans learned to fight back, and some, like the player character, even have odd powers.
Outside of the world’s and characters’ backstory Grim Dawn is a pretty damned good hack’n’slash game in the vein of Diablo and its ilk. There are several classes, and you can mix them, there’s a lot of loot dropping. To break the mould GD also introduces some choices to be made for the story and world, and there are a few factions to deal with, and certain choices last between playthroughs.
Legacy of Kain (franchise)
|Release date:||1996 (first release) – 2003 (latest release)|
|Developer:||Silicon Knight, Crystal Dynamics|
An ancient war between vampires and demonic Hylden ended in the Hylden exiled and vampires cursed with immortality and thirst for blood. Humans are screwed until the likes of Sarafan order come to fight against the vampires. And from the depths of the world, stretching across all of time lies a horror of many eyes and terrifying influence. The world of Nosgoth isn’t a good summer vacation spot.
Across the series players follow vampire Kain and his former lieutenant-turned-wraith Raziel as they travel across the realm, delve into forgotten temples for power and information, and fight numerous enemies, both human and supernatural. The story is engaging, the locations are interesting and well-designed, and the characters are compelling as they explore a dying and uncaring world.
Path of Exile
|Genre:||Action role-playing, hack and slash|
|Developer:||Grinding Gear Games|
You wake up on the beach of Wraeclast, a continent that is pretty much a tomb for a long-fallen empire. You’re a convicted criminal and instead of wasting away in a cell you got sent to a penal colony established on Wraeclast. Oh, and there are undead and other monsters shambling towards you. Good luck, it only goes darker from that point, with secrets to uncover, and other exiles to deal with.
Gameplay-wise it’s similar to Diablo, with action viewed from an isometric camera, plenty of loot, and a lot of room for detailed builds. In fact, progression in Path of Exile is very complex, with a dense web of passives to unlock as you gain levels, while you get new skills by slotting relevant gems in your equipment. It’s a fantastic game with tonnes of content and hundreds of builds to try out.
The Witcher (franchise)
|Release date:||2007 (The Witcher), 2011 (TW2), 2015 (TW3)|
|Developer:||CD Projekt Red|
The conflict between humans and the non-human rebels is in full bloom, while the Nilfgaard empire is preparing for a new invasion of the Northern Kingdoms. Sorcerers scheme and plot behind the scenes, and Geralt, a simple monster hunter is often found caught in the middle of all this political turmoil, and forced to make hard choices with long-reaching consequences.
Choice and consequence are big parts of each game in the series, and many decisions play out in a big way, including splitting the game into two separate storylines, like in The Witcher 2. There also, of course, a lot fo monster hunting, both small fries and big and dangerous creatures which require good planning and prep work to kill. Only witchers like Geralt can hope to go alone against them and live.
|Release date:||1998 (Dark Project), 2000 (The Metal Age), 2004 (Deadly Shadows), 2014 (Thief reboot)|
|Developer:||Looking Glass Studios, Ion Storm, Eidos Montréal|
One of the grandparents of the stealth genre, the Thief series takes place in a deeply gloomy steampunk place known only as The City. There is magic, surprisingly functional mechanical eyes, and plenty of dark secrets to uncover. There are also dark cults, secret organisations, and plenty of valuables to grab as you go about your business as Garret, the eponymous thief and ally of the Keepers.
At its time the series was a masterclass of the stealth genre and remains solid even today. You need to skulk in the shadows, douse torches with water arrows, and avoid moving across hard surfaces, because the guards have a decent sense of hearing. There are quite a few gadgets you can use on your heists, provided you can afford to buy them: in The City thieving requires some investment.
Total War: Warhammer 1 & 2
|Release date:||2016 (TW: Warhammer), 2017 (TW: Warhammer 2)|
|Genre:||Turn-based strategy, real-time tactics|
Warhammer is one of the most popular dark fantasy universes in interactive entertainment. Sure, there are elves, of several varieties, powerful magic, and dwarven gyrocopters, despite that it’s hardly a nice place to live in. Violent beastfolk constantly threaten small communities, demons seek entry into the world, aided by deranged cults, and there’s a huge region twisted by refined chaotic magic.
Total War: Warhammer plays out on two levels. On the turn-based strategic layer you forge alliances, direct research, and recruitment, and moves your armies. When you encounter enemy armies, you shift to the real-time tactical battles with hundreds of units under your control. These games are a great look at the scale of conflicts ravaging the Old World and how screwed many nations are.
Warhammer: Vermintide 1 & 2
|Release date:||2015 (Vermintide), 2018 (Vermintide 2)|
|Genre:||First-person shooter, action|
Where Total War: Warhammer takes a look at the grand scheme of things, the Vermintide games play out on a more personal level. Instead of commanding hundreds of soldiers in real-time battles or moving entire armies around on the strategic map, this time you’re in control of one character, and in assistance of friends you take to imperial streets to fight against Skaven invasion.
In both games you’ll hack, slash, and burn your way through hordes of swarming ratmen of several types, and Vermintide 2 adds a big serving of Chaos worshippers to the mix. It seems that while armies fight open battles elsewhere, the regular imperial citizens can only be protected by dedicated individuals such as a dwarven fighter, human fire mage, or elven ranger, but only if they cooperate well.
Hope is dying, but you can keep it alive
Like all things, so does our list need to end, but hopefully you’ve found something that caught your attention. There are, of course, many more dark fantasy games out there, and the list above is just a brief primer, not a comprehensive look at the genre. From grand classics like Diablo to modern hits like Dark Souls, there are plenty of worlds for you to keep from collapsing.