Kotaku UK & GamesRadar+

If dragons were real, we’d be twice-fried corpses. Happily, until someone makes a being-eaten-by-a-dragon demo for the Oculus Rift, we’re safe in the realm of video game fantasy. But which game has the BEST dragons? If you ask me, it’s these ones – in ascending order.

  1. Blue Dragon’s… blue dragon

With the surrealist storytelling of Final Fantasy and the minimalist but colourful graphical style of Dragon Quest, Blue Dragon is a bucketload of time-waster fun. To protect his home village against the evil Neme, a bright purple ‘Mars Attack’ alien lookalike called Shu swallows a shiny orb to gain an awesome power; a shadow-dragon-monster-genie to use at his disposal. Like most dragons, Shu’s shadow loves long walks by the beach and a good book in bed. He’s also incredibly violent and likes to smash things.

  1. Fire Emblem: Awakening’s Nowi

If you’re a dude, your dreams of dating, marrying, and having little dragon babies can be realised through Emblem: Awakening’s absorbing relationship system. Nowi, one available character, is a Manakete (aka. DRAGON) descended from an ancient race. You might find her childish behaviour seriously annoying, especially when she’s supposed to be a 1000-year old wrinkly grumpus. However, invest some time in conversation, and you’ll soon discover she’s as wise and kind as she is annoying, and a fiery companion in battle alongside her fellow Manaketes.

  1. Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga’s Dragon Knight

It was during one of those irksome periods when you’ve played all the games you want and have nothing left to entice you that I discovered the re-mastered version of Divinity II: Ego Draconis. In this playful RPG, you don’t battle dragons: YOU ARE THE DRAGON. Not Viserys Targaryen, but YOU. In Divinity II, you can transform into a monstrous flying beast, thanks to Larian Studio’s literal take on the phrase ‘Dragon Knight’. Soaring over massive peaks and shimmering rivers, you are free to roam – until you suddenly smash into some kind of anti-dragon force field at the edge of the world. I guess being a dragon does have its limitations? But hey, it’s fun.

  1. Word of Warcraft: Cataclysm’s Deathwing

The lava breathing, epically square-jawed Deathwing is the ultimate troll of all dragons. Because just when you think his dark deeds can’t get any dirtier, Deathwing, previously known as Neltharion, unleashes a shitstorm to topple the world all over again. In Cataclysm, Deathwing springs from his troll cave after years of healing and sadistic plotting, tearing a barrier in Azeroth and causing mass displacement across the world’s surface. Of course, this makes the Alliance and Horde hate each other all over again.

  1. Demon’s Souls’ Dragon God

For gamers who don’t mind suffering, the intransigent Demon’s Souls is a feast of death, dying and being dead. If that isn’t your worst nightmare, then you might have come across the legendary Dragon God; a boss that, quite frankly, makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Are dragons supposed to have biceps, pecs and … hands? He’s creepy AND frightening, a colossal beast occupying an entire ruin. Surprisingly, Demon Soul’s Dragon God is actually one of the easier bosses, proving to be more of a dodging puzzle than a battle. So minus points for difficulty, but major respect for freaking me out.

  1. Spyro The Dragon

This list wouldn’t be right without mention of my favourite purple dragon-baby. With fireballs blazing and little legs charging, courageous Spyro is in a whole cute and miniature league of his own. While this scaly mohawked dude doesn’t quite fit into the ‘arghhhh run away’ dragon category, Spyro can hold his own against evildoers like Gnasty Gnorc. And Ripto, and The Sorceress, and Grendor, and… seriously, how many Spyro games are there?

  1. Fable: Lost Chapters’ Jack of Blades

Jack of Blades is the stuff of nightmares; a god-knows-what-being so old he was ancient by the time humans inherited Albion. His I-want-to-live-forever-and-take-over the-world-by-hosting-bodies plotting is very Voldemort, but his scareometer reaches dizzying heights upon his return in Fable: Lost Chapters. In his Dragon form, Jack of Blades makes you want to look in every direction except his face, owing to his scary red eye and razor-sharp teeth combination. He’s a pretty lazy evil dragon, though, only leaving his lava cushion toward the end of the battle to fly annoyingly around the Hero until you can defeat him.

  1. Final Fantasy X’s Bahamut

Given the frequency with which Bahamut has appeared in the Final Fantasy franchise, I really hope he has retired to a more peaceful life now. Sunbathing in the Maldives, perhaps? This Dragon King seriously deserves a very long vacation; he was definitely my favourite summon during Final Fantasy X, as I thoroughly abused his awesome and unrivalled power. Those overly-long, overly-dramatic cut scenes were unforgettable, as Bahamut unleashed his devastating Megaflare. Bahamut, we are not worthy!

  1. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim’s dragonfest

Forgetting your first spontaneous dragon fight in Skyrim is impossible. Warning of your impending, fiery doom is signalled by the beating of wings and a resonating roar. Then your mouse has a fit as you frantically try to aim at the damn thing. Putting my own dragon-slaying incompetence aside, Skyrim’s winged foes were unparalleled in realism and set a new precedent for the best dragons in gaming. Until...

  1. Dragon Age: Inquisition’s totally badass dragons

Stumbling around the Hinterlands like a baby deer, I was blissfully unaware of the danger I had stumbled upon. All I’d been doing was slaying demons here and picking flowers there, until I heard a noise.

It was a guttural rumble; like thunder. Then, as the ground shook beneath my party’s feet, I saw my first next gen dragon. It was beautiful. The Fereldan Frostback’s wings are webbed in intricate patterns, with glistening amber scales running down from neck to tail. I died under-levelled but determined to slay this ferocious force of nature. The experience was repeated again and again, from the deadly Sandy Howler to the majestic Ancient Dragon. To date, it’s Bioware’s portrayal of the legendary beast that’s the greatest, if you ask me.

GTA 5 hooks us, and coerces us to push the boundaries of human limitation in a virtual and recognisable world, and far beyond any other entry in the series, it gives us a vast bank of tools (some big, some subtle) with which to interact and manipulate the flow of the world around us.

But what if GTA 5s dynamic, open world complexity was attainable in a gritty and beautiful fantasy setting. Then we’d truly have a world without limits. Dragon flying lessons, fully emergent battles with town guards, real-time, party-based class mechanics that let you storm castles and manage battles with total control. I lead you into the realm of GTA 5 mechanics in a fantasy RPG. Here are eight thatll make you wish this game into existence.

Forget horsepower, here be dragons

Its been done before, and well worship Skyrim until the end of days for gifting such ambitious means of travel. But imagine taking dragon flying to the involved level of GTA 5s piloting. IMAGINE stealing dragons of different shapes, sizes and abilities. Imagine training them (plural because you can never have too many) to further increase and specialise their skills. Imagine having dragon flying lessons. Imagine falling in love with your dragon.. What? I mean, um

Without getting too carried away, adapting GTA 5s various open-world transportation methods into a fantasy setting is excitingly plausible. Along with various mounts, we could have horse and carts instead of trucks, Black Flag-style ships instead of yachts, even giant Mmakil to roam through treacherous wastelands. Akin to GTA 5, each unique mount and vehicle could have its own handling system, in addition to upgradable stats, and different uses for exploring different terrain. Stealing would be a fun, albeit dangerous endeavour, but getting set on fire duringa hijack would totally be worth traversing through the skies on a stolen, military grade dragon, with bright pink tinted wings.

Punishment would be harsh but hilarious

Fantastical advocates of justice who’d relish spoiling our potato stealing, four legged rampaging, manic sword swinging felonies are abundant, and would easily be just as intimidating and furiously annoying as GTA V’s police and army punishment system. As each star increases with the severity of our crimes, the force, number and strength of our punishers would rise. At the bottom tier we’d have village and town guards replacing police, and following that, hired mercenaries pursuing us for murder on horseback. At three stars, we’d face off against experienced warriors with better weapons and scarier mounts, leading us into four star territory, where famed knights would hunt us to the edge of the earth.

Finally, for the slaughtering-a-village-and-its-entire-flock-of-chickens tier of crime, we’d have the rulers army knocking on our back door, asking us to kindly repent for our sins with one thousand arrows to the knee. No longer would the RPG town be a safe, static haven. With GTA-style justice enabled, our indiscretions in civilised areas would spill out into the wilderness, covering miles of open ground and leading to all kinds of dynamic adventures and discoveries along the way. Blend Skyrim’s density of hidden areas with that classic Hang on, where am I now? moment at the end of a big GTA chase, and you have scarily great possibilities.

The central character clash is just made for fantasy race archetypes

Initially, I was dubious of GTA 5's three character set-up. Could the interwoven stories fit together without undermining our connection with the playable characters? In actuality, Rockstar ensures the opposite. The entwined stories here are effortless, with real-time actions and consequences we invest in, due to our deep integration with the multiple storylines, the likability of each character, and the unique relationships we are encouraged to explore. Not to mention the building narrative tensions we get to perceive, unbeknownst to the protagonists, thanks to our uniquely omnipotent perspective. I’ts an amazingly rich storytelling device.

I also love the way Trevor, Michael, and Franklin are utterly their own, from their taste in shoes to their individual mid and early-life crises. With fantasy, we can take this multiple character system further, using all kinds of old and new races to explore, in as much depth of GTA 5, the different cultures, behaviours, and moral compasses of each unique, playable character. Imagine the friendships we could forge; elf, man, dwarf. Well, it’s difficult to compete with the likes of Legolas and Gimlis bromance, but damnit, if any game can pull that off, its a GTA-style RPG.

The three-protagonist set-up is perfect for RPG parties

GTA 5's three character infiltration missions are what I live for; the thrill of meticulously preparing and orchestrating heists from various angles and strategies gives me all kinds of scary-good palpitations. So, what would happen if we put these types of missions into a fantasy RPG? Magical things, that’s what. You know how Lord of the Ring’s stand-out moments giddily amplify the action through their constant switching of different perspectives? Helms Deep, anyone? Now imagine that in a fantasy RPG, in which every key player is you.

Embracing each characters individual strengths, we would utilise different skills during assassinations, robberies, getaways, and large battles, at different times, and often in different locations. Whether its scouting from afar with a bow, commanding armies with brute force on the frontline, or executing Assassins Creed style infiltrations on castles, dungeons and scalable fortresses, the gameplay and narrative scope would explode in unforgettable ways. And we mustn’t forget the dragon factor. Never forget the dragons. Because why bother using explosives when we have balls of fire?

In-game socialising would be elevated to magical new levels

Down-time in GTA 5 is ample, and with so many hobbies to choose from, in-game procrastination can get pretty addictive even if you just stick to the bars for excessive cocktail consumption, awkward drunken banter, and dangerous driving. If you’re the type of person who daydreams about frolicking at cute village festivals and partaking in the odd dragon flying lesson (yeah, I really am into that idea), then having such activities readily available in a fantasy world, whether Witcher dark or Final Fantasy pretty, would be the ultimate nerd-dream.

This fantasy open-world, replicating Los Santos jocular environment, would be our very own magical playground. Stunts and races involving mounts would supply hours of fun, in addition to agility tests like GTA’s triathlons, board games, archery competitions, and watching medieval plays instead of movies. The village inn would no longer be a sterile environment of looping conversations and unchanging clientele. You could even take Trevor the elf to village dances! Throw in enough mead, and the aforementioned law enforcement, and that’s going to make quite the weekend escapade.

There would be much better ways to spending our not so hard-earned gold

I remember looking at my GTA 5 Achievements and spotting ‘You have spent over 30,000 on clothes’. 30,000 ON CLOTHES. Good god, I’m such a fashion whore. But having the right shoes for murder is imperative, right? Imagine if a fantasy world had as many shopping choices as GTA 5; from cloaks, to boots, to badass weapon belts. Imagine if the look of your character wasn’t simply defined by your current best armour set-up, but fuelled by just as many, if not more, options designed for pure aesthetic fun? Character attachment would skyrocket, and real-world shopping would never be the same again.

Though obviously were not going to be all spending our cash on new threads, since GTA 5 also incorporates property investment, from cinemas to golf clubs, in addition to purchasing expensive merchandise from in-universe online stores. Translate this into fantasy speak, and were talking about buying pubs, bakeries, apothecaries, and forges (no doubt taking discount supplies from their various storerooms), and then moving on to bigger, more financially rewarding stuff, such as mines and wilderness forts. Investing in stocks might be tricky without an in-universe internet (just imagine Gerald asking for the WiFi password), but players could visit banks for this purpose instead, and enjoy the many insane luxuries a fantasy world has to offer.

Where we’re going, we don’t need phones

In GTA 5, phones play a crucial role in missions, as our most reliable source of communication and information in tricky, escalating situation. Impossible to realise that dynamic, organic vibe in a world in which rocks are the height of technology? No. I have a viable fantasy alternative to cell phones, and I’m not talking about cans and string. Magic is our best friend here, since really, there are no limits to possibility when it comes to doing the impossible.

Portable magic mirrors would allow us to talk and send messages to other characters in-game. Small portals and telepathy would do the job as well. We could use seer abilities during assassination and search quests, and occult abilities aside, important mail could be dispatched by eagles, for surprise story pay-offs later down the line. And we mustn’t forget an alternative to GTA 5's phone camera, which is one of my most consistent sources of fun. Using a sketch book and some magically accelerated drawing abilities, you could capture all those magical moments – from discovering magnificent waterfalls to pillaging the poor – and adorn the walls of your customisable castle crib with permanent records of your adventures.

A world you won’t want to leave

One of the most absorbing aspects of GTA 5 is its environment; a world with a perfect balance of scale and detail. Every region is teeming with life and vibrancy, packing with fully fleshed areas that you wont even see if you just stick to the main story; making the city, natural landscapes, and ocean feel impressively organic. Take that, along with the abolishment of loading screens, and its extremely easy to get lost in the stunning, thriving, damaged world of Los Santos.

It would almost be dangerous to experience a similar environment in a fantasy setting, owing to the genres flexibility when it comes to imagination. We could scale active volcanoes. We could search for rare beasts in all-enveloping forests. We could explore uncharted oceans brimming with aquatic nightmares. It would be an unkickable open-world drug addiction. We could also build upon what GTA 5's world lacks, such as a Witcher 3-style weather system with the ability to change the landscape, animals we can tame, and a vastly more varied array of structures to interact with. Yay for tree climbing!