Best Looking Isometric Games

Isometric games hold a unique charm with their top-down perspective that combines a three-dimensional look on a two-dimensional plane. This perspective enhances gameplay depth and detail but also allows for intricate designs and beautiful visuals. Many of you know what is an isometric game, but why did they get so popular?

The best isometric video games

Classics like “Baldur’s Gate” and “Diablo” laid the groundwork with their rich storytelling and strategic gameplay, charming a generation of gamers. Player-selected gems like “Disco Elysium” have increased the narrative possibilities within this style, while “Hades” shows how isometric art and mechanics can match together to make a good game. Rising isometric games now have sophisticated graphics and immersive worlds that attract new audiences while nodding respectfully to their pixelated predecessors. We’ll look at some of the most played isometric games, and show you why they are so popular.

Key Elements of Isometric Games

Isometric games are beloved for their distinctive style and engaging gameplay. Several key elements contribute to the appeal and success of these games:

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    Detailed Environments

    1. Complex layouts: isometric games are known for their multi-layered settings, with a pseudo-3D perspective that adds depth without the need for fully rendered 3D environments.
    2. Rich textures: these games often feature highly detailed textures, like cobblestone streets in medieval villages or sleek, futuristic cityscapes.
    3. Interactive elements: many isometric games include environments that interact with the player's actions, such as destructible objects or changeable landscapes.
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    Character Design

    1. Unique styles: character designs in isometric games range from realistic to highly stylized, fitting the game's overall aesthetic and theme.
    2. Diversity: a wide variety of character types and appearances reflect the expansive worlds these games often depict, enhancing the storytelling through visual diversity.
    3. Detail and scale: despite the smaller scale typical of isometric views, characters often boast impressive detail, allowing for personal expression and easy recognition.
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    Animation

    1. Smooth movement: effective animation is important for making action smooth, even from the isometric perspective.
    2. Expressive gestures: characters’ gestures and movements are often exaggerated to be clear and impactful from the isometric view.
    3. Consistent frames: maintaining consistent animation frames helps keep the action fluid and the gameplay feeling responsive, crucial for fast-paced or strategy-heavy games.
How to create an isometric game. isometric games key elements

Best Looking Isometric Games by Genre

Best Isometric RPGs

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    Subgenre 1: Action RPG

    • Path of Exile is one of the best isometric RPGs, a dark fantasy world where players can create and customize their characters with intricate skill trees and engage in heavy action combat.
    • Grim Dawn is one of those isometric RPGs set in a war-torn world where players must face off against eldritch powers, it offers dual-classing and a deep loot system.
    • Diablo IV is the newest entry in the acclaimed series, already made a name in top down RPG games list known for its addictive hack-and-slash gameplay and extensive character customization.
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    Subgenre 2: Strategy RPG

    • Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a critically acclaimed game with rich storytelling, deep tactical combat, and co-op multiplayer.
    • Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition is an expanded version of the original game with improved graphics and gameplay tweaks, it offers a mix of adventure and strategy.
    • Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition is a classic D&D game reimagined with new content, it features a deep role-playing experience set in the Forgotten Realms.
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    Subgenre 3: Classic RPG

    • Fallout is one of the isometric RPGs that started the popular post-apocalyptic series, known for its open-world exploration and branching storylines.
    • Fallout 2 is an expansion on the original, offering more freedom, a larger world to explore, and a greater emphasis on player choice.
    • Disco Elysium is one of those isometric RPG games with a heavy focus on narrative, allowing players to solve crimes in unconventional ways with its unique skills system.
Popular isometric RPG video games, isometric action games, isometric strategy RPG, isometric classic RPG

Best Isometric Strategies

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    Subgenre 1: Real-Time Strategy

    • Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is a remaster of the classic isometric RTS game, with updated graphics and new content.
    • Age of Empires IV: Anniversary Edition is the latest in the historic franchise, it brings modern gameplay mechanics to the RTS genre.
    • Command & Conquer™ Remastered Collection revitalizes the iconic series with enhanced graphics and modernized multiplayer capabilities.
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    Subgenre 2: Turn-Based Strategy

    • Sid Meier's Civilization III: Complete is an important game for the 4X strategy genre,where players build an empire to stand the test of time.
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    Subgenre 3: Tactical Strategy

    • Jagged Alliance 3 is a continuation of the renowned series, known for its blend of tactical decision-making and mercenary-themed intrigue.
Popular isometric strategies, isometric real-time strategy, isometric turn-based strategy, isometric tactical strategy

Best isometric Survivals

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    Subgenre 1: Zombie Survival

    • Project Zomboid is a true survival experience where players fend off the undead while managing their basic needs in an ever-evolving world.
    • Yet Another Zombie Survivors offers a twist on the genre, challenging players to not only survive but to also rebuild society.
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    Subgenre 2: Open-World Survival

    • No Rest for the Wicked is a unique blend of survival mechanics with an open-world setting, where each choice can mean life or death.
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    Subgenre 3: Strategy Survival

    • They Are Billions is a steampunk strategy game where players must defend their colony against billions of infected zombies.
Popular isometric survivals, isometric zombie survival, isometric open-world survival, isometric strategy survival

Best Engines for Isometric View Games

Creating isometric view games is a distinct endeavor that requires not just skill, but also the right tools for the job. Developers often gravitate towards specific engines that provide the optimal blend of functionality, ease of use, and support for the distinctive isometric perspective.

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    Unity

    Unity stands as one of the best engine for isometric games, supporting both 2D and 3D game models. It's particularly popular for its cross-platform capabilities, which include iOS and Android, making it an excellent choice for creating isometric indie games and for developers targeting mobile platforms.

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    Godot

    Godot is a free, open-source engine that's suitable for creating both 3D and 2D games. It's a top pick among developers due to its user-friendly interface and support for multiple programming languages, including its own GDScript, C++, and C#.

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    Cocos2D-x

    Cocos2d-x is renowned for its stability and simplicity, Cocos2d-x is an open-source engine that caters to developers looking to create cross-platform games. Supporting C++, Lua, and JavaScript, it covers a wide array of platforms, from iOS and Android to various desktop and web browsers.

When choosing an engine, developers should consider the ease of use, feature set, and cost. Free engines like Unity offer great value but might have limitations or costs associated with larger development teams or commercial releases. 

How to Work with Realism in Isometric Games

The isometric perspective allows for detailed environments that can be both functional and beautiful. However, there are challenges in maintaining visual clarity and avoiding clutter. Here are some key considerations for achieving realism in isometric games:

Even with a flattened 3D world, it’s important to think vertically. Use elements like stairs, ladders, and bridges to add depth and lead players to hidden paths or secret areas. For example, one of the creators from the Level Design Department of the Path of Exile shared about the challenges of meshing different map areas with varying heights and the technical issues they overcame. A developer from “Path of Exile” discusses the process of combining two separate areas in the game’s fourth act, the Daresso Pits and Colosseum, to create a multi-leveled map with varying heights. This design choice added complexity to the gameplay, focusing on survival rather than scenery. The same concept was applied to the Labyrinth, merging two distinct areas to form a new hybrid space. These areas had several technical challenges, particularly with lighting and tile height discrepancies. But, the developer worked on the concept art for the Stone Circle feature and decided to add floating stones that would adapt to various level types.

Isometric video games depth and perspective

The design of in-game assets needs to be consistent in terms of color schemes, angles, and proportions. Think of the game world as a puzzle, with each asset contributing to the overall picture. It also shouldn’t be created just from imagination itself – it’s ok to be inspired by something. In developing the art of Hades, Zee drew inspiration from traditional and classical art, along with the pen and ink style of previous games like “Pyre”. References to dark, fantastical ink work include admiration for artists like Mike Mignola and Fred Taylor, noting the efficiency of creating assets in pen and ink, which aligned well with the game’s experiential and technical goals.

Design of in-game assets in isometric video games

Realism in best isometric games is often achieved through attention to the game’s environments and character interactions. Rich world-building, as seen in games like Encased, adds layers of realism and depth to the gameplay experience. Art Director John Mueller of “Diablo 4” shares insights into the game’s artistic vision, which is deeply rooted in the design philosophy he refers to as the “Pillar of the Old Masters”. The intent was to evoke the feeling of a gothic, medieval painting coming to life, echoing the works of artists such as Albert Bierstadt known for his naturalistic landscapes, but also channeling a dark and epic, diabolical aesthetic. Remember, achieving realism isn’t just about high-fidelity graphics but rather creating a cohesive world that players can relate to, with consistent rules, and engaging, believable content.

Attention to detail and realism in isometric games

Isometric Games with Unique Art Styles

Isometric view games combine a distinctive bird’s-eye viewpoint with memorable visual designs that set the tone and atmosphere of the game. Here is an isometric games list that has captured players’ attention with their art including:

  1. Transistor – known for its cyberpunk visuals and moody, neon-lit landscapes, blending art deco and futuristic elements.
  2. Octopath Traveler – offers a 2D-HD style, which is a blend of pixel art characters and 3D backgrounds, giving it a nostalgic yet fresh look.
  3. Don’t Starve – gothic, hand-drawn characters and environments that feel like they’ve come out of a Tim Burton animation.
  4. Darkest Dungeon – a grim art style, with heavy use of shadows and a unique approach to character design that accentuates the game’s themes of stress and madness.
  5. Ocean Keeper –  is a roguelike survival game with an artistic twist, featuring an isometric view of an immersive underwater world. The game’s unique art style sets it apart, creating a distinctive environment that’s both mysterious and engaging. Survival hinges on strategic resource management and combat, with deep-sea exploration at its heart. Let’s talk more about it.

Isometric vs Top Down | Ocean Keeper

Ocean Keeper new roguelike survival game is set in a vivid underwater world, where players control a team of space pirates on a quest for ancient artifacts. This game stands out for its isometric perspective, as opposed to the more common top-down view seen in games with the best art styles.

It promises engaging gameplay involving resource gathering, battling enemies, and exploration — all aimed at upgrading mechs and uncovering the ocean’s secrets. Strategic decisions and survival skills are important in this undersea atmosphere, where players have a unique role as underwater miners. If you want to know more about Ocean Keeper and how it plays, you can join Discord.

Roguelike survival game Ocean Keeper with isometric perspective

Impact of Isometric Visuals

The impact of isometric visuals on game art and design is quite significant. Isometric perspective offers a unique way of presenting game worlds, allowing for detailed environments without requiring full 3D models. This can influence game art by emphasizing style and atmosphere through angles and shadows that standard top-down or side views may not achieve. In design, isometric visuals affect level layout, line of sight, and movement mechanics, providing a different gameplay experience. It’s a blend of two-dimensional simplicity and three-dimensional illusion that can make for intricate and engaging gameplay environments.

Isometric views in gaming have carved out a unique space, appealing for their blend of nostalgia and artistic clarity. This style allows for precise geometry and easier scaling, making it ideal for portraying environments like rooms and buildings with accurate proportions. It’s particularly popular in games with architectural precision. These advantages have seen isometric visuals becoming a staple in both indie titles and mainstream games, where they contribute to creating rich and engaging virtual worlds.

Impact of isometric visuals on game art and design

Challenges and Solutions in Isometric Design

In isometric projection, perspective and depth can be challenging as objects further away don’t naturally decrease in size on-screen, which can lead to visual confusion. Technical limitations may arise from game engines not natively supporting isometric rendering, requiring custom solutions. To overcome these challenges, strategic use of shading, layering, and visual cues can help suggest depth. Using engines with robust isometric support or adaptable frameworks can create limitations. The best features to optimise 2D and 3D isometric games that devs use are: 

  1. Efficient rendering algorithms to manage the challenges of isometric drawing, ensuring that elements are rendered in the correct order and perspective.
  2. Advanced tile-based systems for 2D games, which can speed up the rendering process and make level design more efficient.
  3. The use of hardware acceleration for 3D games to handle the isometric perspective while maintaining performance.
  4. Careful design of user interfaces to work naturally with the isometric view.
  5. Optimization of pathfinding algorithms to work within the constraints of isometric spaces, which can be more complex than traditional 2D or 3D spaces.
  6. Smart asset management to reduce memory usage and load times, which is crucial for maintaining a seamless gaming experience.
  7. Adaptive level of detail (LOD) systems to ensure that the game runs smoothly across various hardware specifications without compromising on visual quality.
How to overcome challenges in isometric design, how to optimize 2D and 3D isometric games

Another thing is sheets. Sprite sheets bundle all of a game’s graphics into one file, which helps the game run faster and smoother because it reduces the number of files the game has to load. This is really useful in isometric games, which often have lots of images for the 3D-like environment and characters. How to create a sprite sheet? Our designers compile multiple images or frames of animation into a single, larger image. This process often involves aligning the sprites in a grid format and ensuring consistent sprite dimensions for smooth animations and efficient memory usage. Tools like texture packers and graphic editing software can aid in assembling and optimizing sprite sheets for game development.

For solutions consider using professional services that specialize in isometric game development (like us). We can provide customized tools and workflows to streamline production and enhance the isometric gaming experience.