Games in a large part are a power fantasy. We slay giant monsters, confront world-shaping threats and make them retreat. We are the solution to any immediate problem the world throws at us.
The thing is, usually we are just some more or less prophesized hero or even a random person who ends up fixing a mess. We typically don’t get to play someone who is an actual divine being in charge of overseeing an aspect of reality. Nor do we often get to play a demiurge, an absolute ruler whose commands reshape the world and guide civilizations.
But sometimes we *are* all these things. Sometimes we take control of a being whose purpose and power is beyond any GI Joe, any upstart hero from a backwater village at the edge of nowhere.
This article is split into two parts. In the first, we consider “god games“: titles which are often quite strategic in nature, concerned with the bigger picture and playing an overseer god, a guide, and a tormentor of many. In the second part we’ll take a look at characters who either are actually gods of their respective setting or play a quite similar role, even if the game never refers to them as deities.
Games enabling God-like powers
This subset of games gives you, the player, the role of an overseer and guide. Whether you’re a literal deity or not, you get to decide the course of nations, rearrange the natural order, or even be an all-powerful god of creation. In either of these cases, however, you’re not usually in control of a discrete, unique creature. You’re more of a presence, a figure, than a character.
Black & White
|Divinity type:||A hand of god over a nation|
|Release year:||2001, sequel: 2005|
At the time of its release, Black & White was quite amazing, with revolutionary Artificial Intelligence (for which it received a Guinness World Record), interesting premise, and underlying mechanics. But what was the game about?
In B&W you play a hand of god, which gives you the ability to directly interact with the world, for instance by grabbing something (or someone) and throwing it elsewhere. Yes, that includes your worshippers. But you could also grab some trees and drop them at a sawmill, or some grain and dump it into a struggling village’s granary. You could also cast miracles by drawing a corresponding shape on the ground. Your actions defined whether you were worshipped out of fear as an evil and cruel god, or out of love and adoration, if you’re one for helping the little, insignificant, genuflecting people. Either way the appearance of your temple would change to reflect your nature.
And on top of all that you also had your Creature: a massive, intelligent anthropomorphic beast loyal to you, which you could teach many things. Your companion could learn how to cast smaller versions of miracles if you showed it the gestures, it could be taught to help or terrorize your worshippers. Through your simple actions, it would dynamically adjust its behavior. If you found the Creature throwing villagers into the sea funny, you could stroke its fur to reinforce it, or slap it if you wanted to discourage it.
Black & White is probably the most literal god game out there, with amazing reactivity and a sense of immersion. The sequel was a really good game too, although it lacked some organic solutions crucial to the original’s atmosphere.
Dungeon Keeper or War for the Overworld
|Divinity type:||Demonic overlord building a dungeon|
|Developer:||Bullfrog Productions and Brightrock Games, respectively|
|Release year:||1997 and 2015, respectively|
We lumped the two games together, because they are doing the same thing, and they are quite good at it. War for the overworld is a loving tribute to the classic Dungeon Keeper, and thus worthy of being mentioned.
The idea is simple: you’re an omnipresent ruler of the underworld who builds their own deadly dungeon filled with traps and monsters. Your iron-gauntleted hand designates chambers to be built, relocates monsters under your service and floats menacingly to motive your underlings to work faster. Eventually, pesky do-gooders come to try and thwart you, and the results depend on the strength of your defenses and how well you addressed the requirements of your subjects.
If you ever wanted to feel like Lord Satan himself, that’s the way to go about it.
|Divinity type:||Direct the evolution|
Spore was quite a curiosity back in the day. Its premise was all about taking control of evolution from the primitive organisms in the primordial soup to space-faring civilization. Along the way, the player has an incredible degree of freedom in designing each stage of their beast’s appearance and behavior.
Virtually any feature of the creature can be customized: the number, shape and type of limbs, sensory organs, body shape, preferred food, natural weapons, etc. The community has created wildly diverse organisms, which they could then save and upload for others to see and use in their game.
Throughout each phase, you can take direct control over the organisms and direct them to find food or mate, or attack other beings, but how effective they are at this depends on the decisions you made while building the creature on the evolution screen.
The game is definitely comedic in nature, with exaggerated appearance and behaviors, and it has an aesthetic closer to cartoonish than realistic. If you want to feel like a demiurge in full control of species’ form, no matter how nonsensically constructed, that’s simulator is for you.
Universe Sandbox 2
|Divinity type:||Restructuring the universe one planet at a time|
Taking the fate (and faith) of a nation or a dungeon full of monsters is fun. Creating your own species it great. But no other game gives you control over an entire galaxy.
Universe Sandbox places you in charge of moving the celestial objects, setting them on new orbits, or smashing them together to see what happens. You can push planets close together and see how the gravity affects both of them, or change the angle of the Earth’s axis to see how it would affect the climate.
It also has a VR mode with motion controls, letting you exist in the three-dimensional space, creating planets and throwing comets at them. You don’t get any worshippers in this game, but nothing allows you to tinker with the construction of cosmos quite like Universe Sandbox 2.
|Divinity type:||Immortal ruler|
|Developer:||MicroProse, Activision, Firaxis Games|
|Release year:||1991 (the first installment), 2019 (the latest installment)|
You could say that Civilization games don’t feature deities, only religions (highly customizable, too). But the Leaders can certainly be construed as deities: immortal beings unbound by time, present from the very first stage of a given culture’s development and guiding its course.
Each leader has some unique quirk they impart on their nation, and whether it’s Gandhi, Cleopatra, or Theodore Roosevelt they are the leading figures from distant antiquity to the space age.
On the gameplay side of things, Civilization is a game about leading a chosen culture and letting it expand across a tiled, randomly generated map of a world. Each culture has a unique specialty, making them predisposed to a specific style of play: diplomatic, warlike, etc. Civilization is like a very complex turn-based board game, regardless of the installment.
|Divinity type:||Immortal and potentially sadistic ruler|
|Release year:||2006, ongoing development|
Dwarf Fortress doesn’t look like much, but in fact, it is possibly one of the most complex games out there, and it could only work in a text-based form, otherwise, your system would collapse under the weight of it.
Before you even start playing Dwarf Fortress you’re asked to generate the world, which doesn’t just create a map, but also geological layers, the band’s entire history, and a myriad other features. It probably won’t take seven days to generate, but you’re already in control of a world.
Your other duties involve helping your dwarves build the eponymous fortress and make it thrive. Crucially: the game has outstanding potential for letting you play like the most vengeful god you could imagine. The game’s modding is based entirely on .txt files, so it takes seconds to change the body temperature of a creature to a level that will make it immediately explode. The Dwarf Fortress wiki gives an example of making magma snakes into a source of leather clothing… which makes the wearers erupt into flames.
Dwarf Fortress is good fun, but it’s also incredibly hard to get into. Probably just like the whole “omnipotent god” business.
|Divinity type:||Immortal god of geneticists|
Massive Chalice is a fascinating game. It blends XCOM-like turn-based tactical battles, shades of 4X expansion across the map, and Crusader Kings’ messing with bloodlines and arranged marriages.
A part of your role as an (a form of existence explicitly stated in the game) is to arrange marriages between noble houses. They need to keep new generations of soldiers coming while the eponymous chalice gathers magical energy to defeat the invading Cadence.
The big concept of MC is that there are three basic classes, and children inherit them from parents. If parent are of different classes, say Camberjack and Alchemist, the children will have a hybrid class. They also get to inherit their parents’ physical and mental stats and acquire some of their personality traits.
Massive Chalice is a game of long-term planning only an immortal ruler could be capable of.
In the games below, you take control over a singular deity during their adventures in the world. You will not influence nations and cultures, but you still have a considerable amount of physical and mystical power at your disposal, and it’s usually used to defeat your enemies.
God of War
|Divinity type:||A literal Greek god of war|
|Developer:||SIE Santa Monica Studio, Ready at Dawn, Javaground/SOE-LA|
|Release year:||2005 (the first installment), 2019 (the latest installment)|
Kratos, the God of War series’ protagonist is an offspring of Zeus, Greek mythology’s main instigator.
As a result, he already starts out as a demigod (someone on the same level as Heracles for example), but over the course of the series he becomes a fully-fledged deity with a singular focus on war understood mostly as general slaughter. Eventually, he becomes the only remnant of Olympian shenanigans.
On the whole God of War games are action-adventure/hack’n’slash games in which Kratos carves a bloody path through enemies drawn from and inspired by mythology (Greek in the original games, Norse in the 2018 soft reboot), with breaks for an occasional environmental puzzle. The most recent release shifted the camera from a fixed point over an arena to over-the-shoulder one, but the combat remains as brutal and satisfying as it has ever been.
|Divinity type:||Horseman of Apocalypse|
Although Darksiders’ protagonist War isn’t an embodiment of a concept, he still is a force to be reckoned with, capable of hacking and slashing his way through legions of demons and angels in order to clear his name of an alleged much greater crime against Balance.
As one of four surviving Nephilim, he is already one of the most powerful beings in the Darksiders universe, but when empowered to perform his function as the Horseman of War, he’s strong enough to make armies of Heaven and Hell tremble in fear.
Darksiders is a game that gets the brutality of God of War, gameplay loop of Legend of Zelda, and the art and flair of Joe “Mad” Madureira to create a stylish, engaging, and satisfying third-person perspective action-adventure game set in an evocative world.
At the time of writing the series has three installments, each focusing on a different Horseman of the Darksiders’ lore: DS1 is about War, DS2 is about Death, and DS3 is about Fury. If DS4 happens, it will likely be about Strife, because the Darksiders’ universe has different mythology than our world and has its own Horsepeople.
|Divinity type:||Cyborg god of fisticuffs and infinite rage|
If War and Kratos had anger issues, Asura of Asura’s Wrath is made of them.
The deities of this highly cinematic game’s setting are closer to cyborgs fuelled by belief and emotion. Through events which best remain left for you to discover, Asura, a general of the heaven’s armies and a powerful fighter in his own right, ends up with a very legitimate grudge against other deities.
Most of the game is Asura’s roaring rampage of revenge fuelled by his infinite wrath. One of the opening episodes (the game is structured like a season of anime) has furious Asura punch a planet-sized deity so hard it explodes, and the action, and wrath, only go up from there. The angrier Asura get, the more cyber-arms he has, although they can’t always endure his power.
Asura’s Wrath has been described as interactive anime due to its reliance on Quick-Time Events, but between pleasing aesthetic, fantastic music, and always rising stakes it’s still worth checking out if you can.
Asura himself is probably the angriest deity in pop culture, and, eventually, it elevates him to unexpected heights.
|Divinity type:||Cybernetic Norse god|
While Asura’s Wrath was inspired by Eastern mythologies and put them through a cybernetic mould, Too Human did something similar with the Norse mythology.
The gods of this game are humans with extensive cybernetic augmentations, making them vastly more powerful than normal people, who worship them as gods. The Æsir, as the cyborgs are known, are tasked with protecting humanity during the harsh nuclear winter in which machines known as the Children of Ymir thrive. The protagonist is Baldur, who due to a lesser degree of augmentation is considered “too human” by other Æsir.
The game is an action RPG, with fast-paced combat with a strong emphasis on mixing melee and ranged weapons to build combos through diversifying your attacks.
If you’re interested in seeing what science fiction versions of Thor, Baldur or Loki would be like, check this game out if you can find it.
The Darkness & The Darkness II
|Divinity type:||The embodiment of primordial darkness|
|Developer:||Starbreeze Studios, Digital Extremes (sequel)|
|Release year:||2007, 2012 (sequel)|
The Darkness, and its mortal enemy and lover Angelus are the primal manifestations of, respectively, the darkness before time, and the Light separated from it. They are as close to eternal creatures as it gets in this setting and in The Darkness games we’re playing Jackie Estacado, a host of one of them, the eponymous ominous deity.
The games are first-person shooters which in addition to dual-wielding cool guns also feature two tendrils of The Darkness with which Jackie can grab, slash, and tear enemies apart while at the same time shooting their allies. It’s vicious, it’s brutal, and the game has an incredible atmosphere, supported by Mike Patton-voiced Darkness, taunting and tormenting Jackie throughout the experience. Quite devilish of it.
|Divinity type:||Incognita goddess|
The protagonist of Ōkami is Amaterasu, a sun goddess of the Shinto religion (THE sun goddess, to be exact), in a white wolf form.
As she moves through the world inspired by the mythology and history of Japan, she can heal the world bit by bit, helping humans, letting plants bloom, and paint things into existence. As she liberates stronghold occupied by demons and restores nature, the world comes back to life. This is the power of a creator of the world coming back to her full power.
Ōkami is an action-adventure game originally released on PlayStation 2, but has since been re-released several times in its remastered HD form, eventually reaching PC in 2017 and Nintendo Switch in 2018. The player takes the white wolf Amaterasu on a journey filled with combat, puzzles, exploration, and painting objects into the world with Amaterasu’s brush.
Thus ends our collection of games that either let you play a god or let you feel like you are. Hopefully, we gave you enough titles to consider and you’ll find something that will suit your gaming preferences.