A Historian‘s Perspective – History Tools (2024)

As a historian specializing in the Middle Ages, I‘ve always been fascinated by how video games represent this pivotal period of world history. While games tend to take creative liberties in their depictions of the medieval era, the best titles capture the spirit of the age and let us step into the shoes of people from a vastly different time.

In assembling this list of the top 15 medieval games to play in 2024, I‘ve taken into account both the quality of the games themselves and how they portray the Middle Ages through their settings, characters, and stories. Some nail the little details of everyday life in the period, while others successfully convey the scale of significant events like the Crusades or the Norman Conquest of England.

So join me on a journey through the best medieval games that are still worth playing today, from sprawling grand strategy epics to immersive RPGs and action-packed multiplayer battles. I‘ll share some historical context and behind-the-scenes insights for each, along with my personal experiences playing them as a medieval historian.

1. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition (2019)

The original Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings was a landmark real-time strategy game when it launched back in 1999, selling over 2 million copies by 2000. Its 2019 Definitive Edition remaster has sold over 1 million additional copies and still sees over 20,000 concurrent players at peak times according to Steam Charts.

What makes Age of Empires II so enduring is how it blends accessible yet deep gameplay with a commitment to historical authenticity. The game‘s 42 civilizations are based on real-world cultures like the Franks, Saracens, and Mongols, each with unique units and technologies inspired by their historical counterparts.

The attention to detail is impressive, with little touches like the French Throwing Axeman unit being a nod to tales of Charlemagne‘s Frankish soldiers using the francisca throwing axe in battle. It‘s a great example of how Age of Empires II adapts history into compelling gameplay.

I have fond memories of playing Age of Empires II with my friends back in high school, roleplaying as medieval rulers vying for supremacy. Even today, I still fire up the Definitive Edition for a quick skirmish or to check out new campaigns added in the latest DLCs like Dawn of the Dukes, which lets you command Central European armies during the Hussite Wars of the 15th century.

2. Crusader Kings III (2020)

Crusader Kings III was one of my most anticipated games in recent years as a long-time fan of Paradox‘s grand strategy series. It did not disappoint, selling over 1 million copies within a few months of release and earning a 91 Metascore on review aggregator Metacritic.

What I love about Crusader Kings III is how it simulates the dynastic politics and family drama of medieval nobility. You play as a ruling dynasty, scheming to accrue power through diplomacy, warfare, and a deep character relationship system where your ruler and your heirs all have unique personality traits that shape their behavior.

The game takes place on a sprawling map of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East from the Viking Age through to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. It lets you relive key moments from medieval history like the Norman Conquest of England or the Crusades, with the ability to diverge from reality based on your decisions.

Crusader Kings III also supports mods that add everything from small tweaks to total conversions to other popular fantasy universes. My current campaign as a witch coven in the dark fantasy world of Warhammer Fantasy is courtesy of the incredible "Geheimnisnacht" mod and has already provided dozens of hours of scheming and sorcery.

3. Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018)

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is one of the most impressive attempts at realistically depicting the Middle Ages I‘ve seen in a video game. It sold over 2 million copies as of 2020 according to developer Warhorse Studios and still has an "Overwhelmingly Positive" user rating on Steam years after release.

Set in 15th century Bohemia, you play as Henry, a blacksmith‘s son thrust into the conflict of a civil war. The attention to historical detail is staggering, with period-accurate costumes, weapons, architecture, and even music. The developers consulted with historians and archaeologists to create Bohemia as authentically as possible.

This commitment to realism extends to the gameplay, with a physics-based combat system that requires careful swordsmanship and a need to eat, sleep, and maintain your gear. Some find it too punishing, but I appreciated how it immerses you in the grounded reality of medieval life.

Kingdom Come also tells a gripping story inspired by real historical events and figures like the Hussite Wars and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. It‘s a reminder that truth is often stranger than fiction when it comes to the Middle Ages.

4. Assassin‘s Creed Valhalla (2020)

The Assassin‘s Creed series has become a juggernaut of historical action games, with Valhalla selling over 1.7 million copies at launch alone. It‘s a sprawling open-world RPG set in 9th century England during the Viking invasions.

While Assassin‘s Creed games play fast and loose with history to fit their centuries-spanning Templar vs Assassins storyline, they do feature stunningly detailed recreations of past eras. Valhalla brings Anglo-Saxon England to life with bustling cities like London and Winchester and breathtaking rural landscapes.

The game also touches on key events from the period like the Viking siege of Paris and the rise of Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon king who led the resistance against the Norse invaders. Valhalla even lets you participate in Viking rap battles called "flyting" based on the historical practice of exchanging poetic insults!

As an action RPG, Valhalla is a thrilling power fantasy that puts you in the shoes of a Viking raider with mythical abilities. But it also weaves in nuggets of real history that I appreciate as a medievalist, like the discovery of Roman ruins that hint at Britain‘s ancient past. It‘s a fun way to get a sense of the period even if it‘s not a 1:1 recreation.

5. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord (2022)

The Mount & Blade series is beloved for its unique blend of RPG character development, large-scale medieval battles, and kingdom management. Bannerlord, which left early access in 2022 after selling over 3 million copies, brings that winning formula into the 8th century during the decline of the Calradic Empire.

What impresses me about Bannerlord is the sheer scale of its simulation of medieval society. You start as a lowly adventurer and work your way up to becoming a powerful warlord, recruiting soldiers, fighting battles, trading goods, and playing politics to ultimately rule your own kingdom.

The game features a dynamic economy where the price of goods fluctuates based on supply and demand, as well as a deep clan system that tracks the relationships and rivalries between noble families. It‘s a complex web of systems that really makes you feel like a part of a living, breathing world.

But the real star of Mount & Blade has always been its tactical combat, and Bannerlord doesn‘t disappoint. You command your army in massive battles with hundreds of AI soldiers, directing cavalry charges and shield walls while fighting in the thick of it yourself. There‘s nothing quite like it.

Honorable Mentions

While I could go on about medieval games for ages, I‘ll cap it off here with some quick honorable mentions:

  • Chivalry 2 and Mordhau for their intense, skill-based multiplayer melee combat
  • A Plague Tale: Innocence for its dark, emotionally resonant story set in a plague-ravaged 14th century France
  • Valheim for its gorgeous low-poly recreation of Viking myth and addictive co-op survival gameplay
  • Medieval Dynasty for its detailed simulation of peasant life and multi-generational progression

The Middle Ages in Games: A Historian‘s Perspective

As a medieval historian, it‘s been fascinating to see how video games have represented the Middle Ages over the years. Games have a unique power to immerse us in the past and let us experience history in a visceral, personal way.

Of course, games also tend to sensationalize the medieval period, exaggerating the violence and romance while glossing over the more mundane realities. But I believe that even historically inaccurate games can still be a gateway to learning more about the real Middle Ages.

The games I‘ve highlighted here demonstrate the many ways developers have brought the medieval era to life, from obsessively authentic passion projects like Kingdom Come: Deliverance to more fantastical and accessible fare like Assassin‘s Creed Valhalla. Each captures the period‘s magic in its own way.

I hope this list has inspired you to try out some of these fantastic medieval games for yourself. Not only are they great games in their own right, but they can also spark a deeper interest in learning about the real Middle Ages. And as a historian, I think that‘s incredibly valuable.

So grab your sword, embrace your inner medieval ruler, and get ready to experience one of the most fascinating and misunderstood periods of human history through the power of gaming!

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A Historian‘s Perspective – History Tools (2024)

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