Video games have plenty of benefits that many people rarely stop to consider. From honing your hand-eye coordination in FPS games to building meaningful social interactions in MMORPGs, video games are more than just another form of escapism. Games can also serve as powerful tools for education, with titles like Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program being prime examples. And, of course, there are countless games out there that can help you learn a new language. But what about learning history? Are there any historically accurate video games out there that can teach you about the past?
Needless to say, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, there are quite a lot of games that focus on various historical periods, from the Bronze Age all the way to Modern and Contemporary history. There are even a few examples that try to tackle prehistorical times. However, the further back you go, the less you’ll have to work with when building a game, which is why the accuracy of these titles tends to be dubious.
But don’t worry because we’re not going to talk about any of those in this article. Instead, this list is all about historically accurate video games based on written records and other tangible findings. In other words, games that try to teach you actual evidence-based history. It’s worth noting that a lot of these games focus on accuracy when it comes to certain aspects, such as architecture, clothing, weaponry or battle tactics, but take certain liberties with other things. We’ll delve into these important distinctions as we move along. We’re also doing this in chronological order, so that should be fun. Let’s get started.
Total War: Attila takes place between 395 and 447 AD during what is now known as Late Antiquity, an interesting period in history that we rarely see portrayed in video games. This was a period of great transition in Europe marked by the crumbling and eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. Part of what lead to the collapse was the event known as the Barbarian Invasions (or Migration Period), which takes center stage in Total War: Attila.
Just like all the other Total War games, Attila features a blend of real-time and turn-based strategy. Meaning you’ll spend most of your time conquering regions, managing provinces, and waging war, often against the Romans but not exclusively. Although the campaign focuses on Attila’s journey to become the leader of the Huns, there are plenty of other tribes and factions you can learn about while playing the game. Especially if you own all the DLC packs.
Being set so far back in the past means that Total War: Attila isn’t exactly one of the most historically accurate video games out there. However, it is one of only a handful of titles taking place during this period. That alone makes it worth checking out.
From Late Antiquity we’re jumping straight into the Late Middle Ages where we have Kingdom Come: Deliverance. The debut project of developer Warhorse Studios, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an action RPG that takes place in 1403 in the Kingdom of Bohemia, which is located in present-day Czechia. The game features quite a few important historical figures, most notably Wenceslaus IV of House Luxembourg and his half-brother Sigismund.
Although seen as an antagonist in the game, Sigismund of Luxembourg was a key figure in Medieval European history with a very impressive political career. Among other things, Sigismund was price-elector of Brandenburg, king of Hungary, Croatia, Germany, Bohemia, and Lombardy, as well as Holy Roman Emperor. Not all of them at once of course, though there was some overlap. Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s central narrative focuses quite a bit on the conflict between the two brothers of house Luxembourg, with both of them having a claim to the throne of Bohemia.
Often touted as being one the most historically accurate video games ever made, Kingdom Come: Deliverance truly is a trip back in time to 15th century Europe. In addition to characters and locations, the game also features period-accurate clothing, weapons, armor, architecture, and more. While somewhat clumsy at times, the combat system is also inspired by historical fencing techniques. As an added bonus, the developers put a lot of effort into creating a user interface, menus and world map inspired by medieval art.
If you don’t mind difficult and complicated grand-strategy games, Europa Universalis IV is a must-play. In spite of its title, the game puts at your disposal the entire map of the world and all the nations in it. The main focus is indeed on Europe, but you can choose to play as any nation, regardless of continent. There are a variety of scenarios to choose from, with the default one kicking things off in 1444, just a few years before the fall of Constantinople and the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.
While the game’s starting nations, provinces and events are largely historically accurate, the player ultimately gets to decide how everything else plays out. For instance, you can prevent the fall of the Byzantine Empire, resurrect the Western Roman Empire or decide who gets to colonize the New World. As you conquer provinces and form new nations the game will accommodate by changing their names to fit those of the original owners.
Europa Universalis IV is far too in-depth to properly cover in this article, but just know that it can be a valuable educational tool even though it allows you to create alternate history scenarios. In fact, it’s arguably one of the best games out there for learning about where various nations were located on the globe, who they were ruled by, and who they were allied with. You can also learn a lot about important families and dynasties, though the Crusader Kings series, which was also developed by Paradox Interactive, is probably a better choice for that.
The Total War series has so many good entries that we just had to add more than one to this list. The reason why we chose Shogun 2, in particular, is because there aren’t many historically accurate video games set in feudal Japan. And unlike other games that heavily romanticize specific figures, usually samurai, Shogun 2 focuses more on the various clans vying for control of the country and the Daymio (feudal lords) leading them. Meanwhile, you can also learn a bit about the historical provinces of Japan, many of which correspond to the present-day prefectures.
Shogun 2 takes place in the 16th century and lets you play as one of the many clan leaders of feudal Japan. Just like the rest of the series, the gameplay consists of a blend of turn-based and real-time strategy. Each clan has its own roster of units along with various advantages that let it stand out from the others. Shogun is overall simpler (in a good way) compared to some of the previous entries in the series, complete with redesigned sieges and naval battles.
If you like what Total War: Shogun 2 has to offer, you may want to also check out Fall of the Samurai. Initially a DLC for Shogun 2, Fall of the Samurai was later rebranded and is now sold as a standalone game, a move that didn’t go well with a lot of players judging by the mixed reviews. That aside, Fall of the Samurai was considered by most to be an excellent addition to Shogun 2 and is definitely worth looking into. This time around, the action place during the 19th-century Bakumatsu era and focuses on the Meji Restoration. An event that led to the abolishment of the shogunate and the implementation of imperial rule as a result of Japan coming into contact with more and more western powers.
This is a bit of an odd one that you probably haven’t heard before. Hellish Quart is an indie physics-based game that aims to provide an accurate representation of historical sword dueling. The game is in Early Access at the time of writing and doesn’t have much of a story, but it does have an interesting historical setting. Hellish Quart takes place in the 17th century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and features period-accurate clothing, weapons, and fencing techniques.
Just like the real thing, Hellish Quart is all about timing and precision. To better convey that point, the game uses motion-captured fencing animations, realistic ragdolls, and sword clash physics. Hellish Quart is pretty unique in that it looks and plays similar to a side-scrolling fighting game, whereas most titles that incorporate realistic medieval combat systems tend to feature a first-person perspective.
The other thing that stands out is the beautiful recreation of period clothing. You can play as and against Polish Hussars, Turkish Janissaries, French Musketeers, Swedish Reiters, and more. Each type of fighter comes with their own historical outfit and has access to a variety of weapons commonly used in 17th century Europe. A few examples include longswords, rapiers, broadswords, and sabers.
I was pretty hesitant about putting an Assassin’s Creed title on a list of historically accurate video games because the series is known for taking a lot of liberties with things like important figures, events, and weapons. Among other things. However, it’s clear that Ubisoft does spend a lot of time and effort recreating landscapes, cities and landmarks as they were at various points throughout history. We were initially tempted to go with the original AC but we eventually settled on Black Flag because of its unique setting.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is set in the Caribbean between 1713 and 1722 towards the end of what is known today as the Golden Age of Piracy. A very notable event that occurred around this period was The War of Spanish Succession, which took place between 1701 and 1714. This is sometimes described as the actual first world war as it extended far outside Europe and had more than a dozen nations fighting in it. Great Britain, France, Spain, Prussia, Portugal, the Dutch Republic and the Holy Roman Empire were just some of the world powers involved.
Black Flag’s events aren’t directly related to the Spanish War of Succession but there is an indirect connection. One of the game’s main plot points is the creation and eventual collapse of an independent pirate republic in Nassau (modern-day Bahamas). Which was a real thing. The Republic of Pirates was established by English privateers as the major world powers were focusing their attention on the conflict in Europe. However, the British Empire ended up taking back control of the region a few years after the war ended.
Some of the real-life pirates you can encounter in the game include the likes of Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vance, Calico Jack, Mary Read, and the infamous Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Thatch. A few of these privateers are believed to have served in the British Navy at one point or another during the Spanish War of Succession before turning to piracy.
The Oregon Trail is the oldest game on this list by quite a large margin. Originally launched way back in 1971 by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), The Oregon Trail was one of the first video games designed specifically for educational purposes. Many Americans who grew up in the 80s and 90s have a lot of nostalgia for The Oregon Trail, however, it’s worth noting that the version that was popular at the time was a remake developed in 1985. This was the first variant that actually had graphics. All versions between 1971 and 1984 were text-based games.
Needless to say, this game series has a long history of its own but what exactly does it try to teach? The historical context here centers around the titular Oregon Trail, a massive 2, 170-mile (3,490 km) wagon route spanning across a good chunk of the US. The route went from western Missouri all the way up to Oregon City in the northwestern region of the US. The game takes place in 1848, two decades before the first US transcontinental railroad was completed. At the time, it took pioneers anywhere between four to six months to complete the Oregon Trail, many of whom died along the way.
The game’s primary purpose was to give students an idea of the extreme conditions pioneers had to endure while traversing the infamous wagon route. Any of your party members in The Oregon Trail can die from a variety of causes long before reaching their destination. Some of the main ones include exhaustion, drowning, snakebites, measles, cholera, and accidental gunshots. As many people who played the game back in the game can attest to, the most common cause of death seemed to always be dysentery. In reality, though, the disease that caused the most fatalities was cholera.
Battlefield 1 may have impressed a lot of players with its depiction of WW1, but if you want a truly accurate look at the Great War we recommend checking out Verdun. This multiplayer squad-based FPS was designed with maximum realism in mind and features remarkably authentic recreations of weapons, uniforms, equipment, and battlefields.
Players can experience a wide variety of military campaigns that took place between 1914 and 1918 on the western front, including the titular Battle of Verdun in 1916 where the defending French forces fought tooth and nail against a massive German offensive. By far the longest battle of WW1, the conflict latest almost 10 months and resulted in over 700.000 casualties. Interestingly enough, this was technically the second battle of Verdun, the first of which took place in 1792 between French revolutionaries and the Kingdom of Prussia.
A couple of years after launch, Verdun received a standalone expansion known as Tannenberg. The game is similar to its predecessor and takes place in the same time period but focuses instead on the Eastern front. Here, a massive battle was fought near the village of Tannenberg (present-day Stebark in Poland) between Russia and Germany that resulted in a crushing defeat for the former. The battle took place over the course of only four days in the first month of WW1 and solidified Germany’s dominant position at the start of the war. The Battle of Tannenberg led to the near complete destruction of the Russian 1st and 2nd armies. Meanwhile, it is estimated that the German forces suffered only around 12,000 casualties.
The developers over at Blackmill Games are currently working on a follow-up to Verdun and Tannenberg, which is expected to launch sometime in 2021. The upcoming title goes by the name Isonzo and will focus on the Italian front.
There are quite a few historically accurate video games about WW2 so it was difficult picking just one to represent the largest conflict in human history. Ultimately, we went with the Brothers in Arms series because it makes a real effort to portray WW2 in an authentic manner, instead of glorifying it like we see in so many other games. The tactical FPS series launched in 2005 with Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and ended in 2014 with Brothers in Arms 3: Sons of War. As it’s often the case with long-running series, some entries are better than others. Road to Hill 30, Earned in Blood, and Hell’s Highway are the ones you’ll want to be playing, preferably in that order.
The series follows Sergeant Matthew “Matt” Baker of the United States 502nd Infantry Regiment and his squads as they engage in various military operations before, during, and after D-Day. Pretty much every mission, at least in the case of the main series, is based on well-documented operations aimed at liberating the Western Front from Nazi occupation during WW2. Mission Albany, the Battle of Carentan, Operation Market Garden and of course D-Day itself are just a few noteworthy examples. The Brothers in Arms series was praised by game critics and historians alike, many of whom compared it to Saving Private Ryan or the miniseries Band of Brothers.
Although Sergeant Matthew “Matt” Baker is a fictional character, he is based closely on American war hero Harrison C. Summers. Sergeant Summers, who was later promoted to 1st Lieutenant, led one of the first units of paratroopers during the American airborne landings in Normandy and performed many of the same impressive feats as Matt Baker in the games. This includes clearing dozens of German soldiers from a building complex with the help of only two Privates. Summers also fought in a number of major battles like the Battle of Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Market Garden. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his accomplishments while also being nominated twice for the Medal of Honor.
Most people remember Rockstar’s L.A. Noire for its revolutionary mocap-powered facial animations, but not enough attention is given to its impressive depiction of 1940s Los Angeles. Many major US cities were marked by rampant police corruption and crime in the years following WW2, but perhaps nowhere was this more commonplace than in LA. The game goes to great lengths to replicate the often bleak atmosphere of the time and doesn’t just stop there. Many types of vehicles, clothing, buildings, and more are identical to the ones you could find in 1947 when L.A. Noire takes place.
In addition to recreating the city to the best of their ability, while taking some artistic liberties here and there, the developers also included many characters and crime cases inspired by real-life counterparts. Perhaps the most famous one being Mickey Cohen, one of the game’s main antagonists who was based on the real-life gangster bearing the same name.
The real Mickey Cohen began his criminal career in Cleveland before moving to New York and later Chicago where he is believed to have met the infamous Al Capone. Cohen eventually made his way to L.A. in 1939 where he would become a major figure of the city’s criminal underworld for the next two decades. The gangster spent his remaining years between 1951 and 1976 in and out of various prisons, including Alcatraz.
The developers over at Team Bondi spent a lot of time studying aerial photographs of L.A. and newspaper articles from the 1940s in order to inject as much authenticity as they could into the game. Unfortunately, the team disbanded shortly after its release following a series of controversies, making L.A. Noire their first and only game.
There are some partially historically accurate video games we couldn’t quite fit into the main list that still deserve some merit as educational tools. Make sure to give these titles a chance as well because they’re all very good in their own right.
I know what you’re thinking, “but isn’t this the least historically accurate game in the entire Assassin’s Creed series?” Overall, yes. The game features many fantasy elements and creatures, however, these can actually be very educational if you want to learn about Ancient Greek mythology and religion. If not, you can still enjoy the most impressive recreation of Ancient Greece to date and get an idea of the atmosphere present around the time of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.
As always with these games, Ubisoft did put a lot of effort into making the environments true-to-life and many of the important landmarks found in the game do have (or had) real equivalents. Just maybe try not to pay too much attention to your character’s equipment because there are plenty of historical inaccuracies to be found there. And in a lot of other areas, too.
We figured this one would be a good addition to the list given the recent announcement that the original Rome: Total War is getting a remaster in late April. So why not play the original to prepare for the remaster? Well, the first Rome: Total War is pretty infamous for having a lot of anachronisms and various other problems.
The sequel was by no means perfect, but by that time developer Creative Assembly started putting more effort into making these games at least somewhat historically accurate. Besides, the game’s storyline is set against the backdrop of a very important event in Rome’s history – the end of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. A very interesting period that’s worth learning more about.
There are next to no historically accurate video games focused on China. At least not in the west. The ones we do have tend to focus on mythical figures like the Monkey King or over-the-top fantasy martial arts. However, there is one game that at least tries to present a believable depiction of China during the Three Kingdoms period.
Total War: Three Kingdoms covers events that occurred in the 3rd century AD that have always heavily romanticized, so expect certain elements in the game to be closer to fantasy than history. That aside, the game can help you learn at least a little bit about dynasties and states from China’s Imperial period, such as the Wei, Shu, and Wu.
Despite taking place in a fictional universe, the various factions of Bannerlord and kingdoms are based on real-life counterparts from the Early Middle Ages. Just like its predecessor, the game offers some good representations of medieval politics and warfare, complete with mostly period-accurate armor, weapons, clothing, and architecture.
Pretty much every element in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord draws inspiration in some way or another from actual history. Admittedly, this can be somewhat confusing if you’re not a history buff. It might help to familiarize yourself a bit with the Early Middle Ages before you jump in, just so you can easily differentiate between the in-game factions and their real-world counterparts.
We couldn’t end this list without also giving the venerable Red Dead Redemption 2 a little shoutout. The game takes place in 1899 towards the end of the American Frontier era, more commonly known as the Old West or Wild West, and spans across five fictional US states that have fairly obvious real-world equivalents. Such as Saint Denis taking inspiration from New Orleans, to name just one example.
Essentially, it’s the same formula Rockstar uses with the GTA series but in this case, the game world is less of a parody and more of an example of fictional history grounded in real history. You won’t run into too many anachronisms while playing the game. In addition, you’ll find that plenty of RDR2’s main characters are based on actual people that lived during that time. Unless some other developer comes up with a more accurate representation of the Wild West, this is pretty much as good as it gets.
If you enjoyed our list of historically accurate video games, make sure to also check out our list of 10 realistic medieval games that don’t feature any sort of fantasy themes.
I’m a classic jack-of-all-trades author who loves to write about most topics, though gaming has always been my strong suit. That said, I definitely won’t turn down the chance to cover some juicy news involving superhero movies, Stephen King novels or space travel. Or robots. Or space-traveling superhero robots disguised as Stephen King.