Defeating the big bad dragon might feel heroic, and destroying the enemy's base in the sector can feel like a great outcome after a hard battle. But few games offer you the chance of casting those pesky, short-lived accomplishments aside and give you the chance to take absolute control of the bigger picture, and all of those games belong to one genre: 4X.
4X has a relatively simple goals: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. These sort of games puts you in the shoes of the highest levels of command, to practice in the ultimate form of virtual statecraft in your quest for world (or galactic) domination.
The RPG and MMO world is known for having deeply developed lore as a necessary element, making them in many occasions ideal settings for a genre that is focused on the big picture, rather than individual journeys. From history, universe and factions, RPG and MMO games not only check the necessary boxes for 4X games, but they often go beyond them thanks to their depth.
Here are 5 RPGs we believe have not just the lore but would make great settings to base 4X strategy games on as well.
Yes, yes...we know Warcraft 4 is way ahead in line when it comes to the "Games that should have been made by now" list. Now that that's out of the way...
Few can deny the richness and well-developed lore of the Warcraft universe. Not only does the timeline span for thousands of years, but the now well-established factions of Horde and Alliance were once not as sound as they are now. Not only that, but there isn't just evidence of violence among races of the same faction, but among the same sub-factions within a race.
And what Horde or Alliance player wouldn't enjoy pillaging and razing Stormwind or Orgrimmar to the ground and enslave or execute their captives, Total War-style?
When the first Mass Effect came along back in 2007, it didn't come empty-handed in terms of the lore. The Codex, a feature accessible from the menu screen, was a collection of information about the universes of Mass Effect that had little significance for the missions at hand but added a lot of background knowledge to help immerse a player in the ME universe and understand why some things were the way players encountered them.
From the Rachni Wars to the Krogan Rebellions, all the way to the First Contact War between Humans and Turians, the world of ME not only offers detailed accounts of events and a clear historical path, but the Milky Way is clearly detailed when it comes to who controls what:
The variety in social and political traits that ME exemplifies through the different species-specific factions guarantees variety and different approaches to gameplay similar to what we can already see in games like Stellaris or Galactic Civilization III. An aspect of the game that can be complimented further with the numerous cross-species factions, rogue factions or the infamours Terminus Systems and their renegade behavior.
One the richest and oldest fantasy universes ever created that essentially set the founding rules that other creators and writers followed decades later when creating their own. The most popular RPG of the series, the MMO The Lord of The Rings Online, makes it obvious that the franchise fulfills any requirement you could think of for a 4X game.
And if the MMO series weren't enough proof, just take a look at the various LOTR mods that the community has made for different Total War titles. The success of these mods speaks for themselves, and the most recent installments of the Total War series on the Warhammer universe exhibits that the 4X community was, and likely still is, craving for some good fantasy conquest.
One of the best Star Wars games ever made, KOTOR richness doesn't just come from its Star Wars universe, but especially from the timeline in which it takes place.
Set thousands of years before the Empire or the Galactic Republic that preceded it, KOTOR takes place in an era of a high political instability and turmoil, when the tentacles of galactic government control weren't nearly as strong as in the more familiar, later timelines. The Old Republic, the primary government entity at the time, had its fair share of conflict not just with the Sith Empire, but with the famous Mandalorians and Zygerrian Slave Empire.
The decades-old sci-fi universe has had so much content made based on it that it practically leaves every aspect relevant to the making of a 4X strategy game settled. Sources on economics, political systems and technology are so abundant about the Star Wars universe that the tough part will be deciding on what to leave out.
If you're really itching for some 4X Star Wars and can't wait, you might want to try Stellaris' SW: A Galaxy Divided mod. It's the closest (and really well fleshed-out) thing to the real deal.
What Mass Effect achieved in creating a science fiction universe from scratch and with originality, Guild Wars achieved in the fantasy realm. A fantasy game without elves, ArenaNet created one the most memorable MMORPGs to date that at times didn't even seem like an MMO at all.
Although the second title in the series takes places thousands of years later, the first one made it clear that the world you were entering with your character was one riddled with conflict and distrust both in the present and in past. Be it the conflict between the Charr and Humans of Ascalon, or the the seemingly never ending war between the Kurzicks and the Luxons, a quest for world domination 4X style would be a fascinating one to the say the least.
The games mentioned in this article possess an additional benefit in addition to their uniqueness and well developed lore: their popularity. With the exception of Guild Wars, ever other RPG/MMORPG are some of the best known games in the videogame industry as a whole. Put into the hands of an experienced 4X studio, it practically sounds like a guaranteed recipe for success. But more importantly they would allow us to experience their worlds from a perspective we haven't seen before.
If you have any ideas of other RPGs that would do well in the 4X genre, mention them in the comments below!