As the video game industry hits the stride of the current console generation, some of the best and most imaginative games are being created. Now, more than ever, video game players and designers are realizing that there’s much more to a game’s look than its graphical capabilities. A game can really sink or swim depending, almost totally, on the quality of its art style. A title can look incredibly realistic, but it doesn't matter if there's no imaginative life to the design.
Many games are an almost constant work-in-progress. More than any other entertainment medium, the finished product can be a drastic departure from the “starting line.” The look of a game really begins to form during the creation of its concept art. Often included as unlockable in the game or released separately, free or in some art book, the concept art for some games fully exhibits how a title can change from beginning to end.
While mostly video game designers make the right call in choosing which concepts to keep, which to trash, which to morph, sometimes, they can be way off the mark. The art gathered on this list are examples of when designers made the wrong choice. Whether they thought the designs were too distracting, overly ambitious, or too costly, they were abandoned in the planning stages, but in the end, they shouldn’t have been discarded.
Here are 15 Video Game Concept Art That’s Better Than What We Got.
15 Original Shirtless Lucio – Overwatch
Overwatch isn't just a video game phenomenon. It has one of the best art styles and most imaginative character designs in all of gaming. For a title with no story mode, Overwatch is bursting at the seams with personality. While no design decisions in the final game can be harshly faulted, there are some truly interesting original designs in the concept art. Specifically, those concerning Brazilian DJ, Lucio.
Originally, Lucio was going to enter the game without a shirt, having much longer hair, and a much more vibrant set of starting colors. The finished Lucio is a lot more playful, which might suit his personality better. However, this original character concept is miles ahead of any of the extra skins that Overwatch has released for the character. Every event skin for Lucio, thus far, has been either uninspired and/or overdesigned. It might be best for the next one to go way back to basics.
14 An Epic History Lesson - Ryse: Son of Rome
A launch title for the Xbox One, Ryse: Son of Rome isn't a bad looking game. In fact, graphically, it’s quite breathtaking. Yet there’s not much to the art style. Son of Rome looks incredible, but it lacks heart. The concept art, however, is a different story.
Though not as detailed, the concept art has the feel of a renaissance painting, the sort of work of art that hangs in a museum. It’s magnetic and epic, drawing the eye and giving the sense of something much “bigger” than itself. This is a tone that the game should’ve strived for and achieved.
For all its technical bells and whistles, Ryse just felt lifeless. The concept art promises a epic, historical adventure, but the game delivered a paint-by-numbers plot that just happened to take place in Ancient Rome.
13 Beautiful Urban Decay - The Division
Ubisoft’s The Division isn’t quite as popular as other MMO-esque games of its type. The fans it does have, however, are very passionate. There was a lot of conversation surrounding The Division (and its merits) during the title's release. The debate continues, but most of the discussion has to do with the gameplay mechanics. That said, it’s hard to find too many defenders of The Division’s visual aesthetic.
It’s not a cheap looking game, by any means, but The Division doesn’t separate itself very much from other cityscape open-world games. The world of The Division is less a playground and more just a necessary setting that does just enough to justify its existence.
The concept art paints a fuller picture of the setting and what the game could’ve been. It’s still dark and decaying, but there’s a inviting quality to this city in turmoil. It’s a world worth exploring, and possibly even saving.
12 The Original Kratos(es) - God of War
God of War’s Kratos is one of gaming's most iconic angry warrior characters. It’s an archetype that’s popular in the modern age, but Kratos still manages to be memorable. This is only due to the world and games surrounding him, however, as Kratos just doesn’t have much of a personality in his actions. Meanwhile, his looks are just as underwhelming. He's a scowling, pale, bald man.
In the original concept art, Kratos was much more distinctive. Kratos was going to be a much more tribal looking and ancient Greek inspired hero than he ended up. Admittedly, some of Kratos’ early designs do look a little too innocent. This would be at odds with his violent tendencies, but that dichotomy is what's so compelling about the look. A scrawny and scrappy Kratos could’ve made for a much more dynamic hero than the whirling blade of destruction that was created.
11 The Original Midna(s) - Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a true love-it-or-hate-it entry in the beloved and long-running series. Most fans will agree though that companion character Midna is one of the best of her kind. The Midna that shows up in the finished game isn’t bad, and even her impish form she is expressive and engaging. She just could’ve looked much, much cooler.
The concept art for Midna shows that the designers had many radically different looks for her before they ended up on the in-game version. They’re much more monstrous, but that’s their charm. The finished Midna looks too human for a person from the Twilight realm.
It would’ve been much more challenging, and therefore rewarding, for Twilight Princess to humanize a creepier looking Midna.
10 A More Vibrant Dark Fantasy - Dragon Age: Origins
The first entry in BioWare’s Dragon Age series is beloved, and for very good reason. The story of Dragon Age: Origins is engaging, and the characters are lovable and memorable. That being said, there’s no getting around the fact that the game is disappointingly ugly. Origins is full of dull textures and even blander colors.
It’s a real shame, because the concept art is magnificent. It’s dark, gritty, and bloody but there’s a real magical quality to it. It’s equally depressing and energizing. It’s high fantasy that has tones of realism to draw fans into the world.
Some of Origins’ look can be attributed to hardware limitations, but that’s not the whole story. In the next two entries of the series, Dragon Age has wildly different art styles. The concept art of Origins wasn’t just unfulfilled, it was abandoned.
9 A Beautiful Apocalypse - Fallout 4
Fallout is another beloved series with great stories and solid gameplay...that looks completely uninviting. Fallout, especially Fallout 3 and New Vegas, is a world drowning muddy colors and plastic character models. Fallout 4 is certainly the best-looking entry in the series, but the concept art promises much more than what waas delivered.
There’s a dream-like quality to the art’s depiction of an apocalyptic Boston. Fallout 4 might be one of the first entries in the series to have a clear blue sky on the horizon, but the art still has an extraordinary range of color not found in the game. It’s the perfect mix of wide-spread destruction with the glimmers of the old society and way of life buried underneath.
Fallout 4 isn’t an unimaginative or bad-looking game. It’s just that the art realizes the concept of the world far better than the game managed to.
8 An Alien Wasteland Worth Exploring - ReCore
ReCore is a flawed but still underrated Xbox One exclusive. The reason to play ReCore comes down to its gameplay and its unique main character. The world, which is a desert alien landscape, just isn’t that compelling, operating out of some very small areas. The concept art proves that the game had high ambitions - it just didn’t meet them.
The art is a case study in how effective lighting and color can be for a video game setting. There’s nothing radically different about ReCore’s world, it’s still a desert wasteland. Yet, due to the use of blues, greens, and yellows, there’s something much more dynamic and otherworldly about it.
It’s a world you want to explore, whereas the game just makes you want to fast travel to the big set pieces as quickly as possible.
7 Truly a New Galaxy to Discover - Mass Effect: Andromeda
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a much-maligned game, but it’s certainly not bad. Incredibly safe and uninspired would be more fitting descriptors. The game is supposed to be about exploring an all-new galaxy for an brand-new leg of the franchise. Somehow, it all looks remarkably similar to what came before it. The concept art, however, proves that that there were designs for a more magical world than what was realized.
Andromeda should have been full of alien worlds that were new, refreshing, and inviting. There are touches of the familiar in the art, but everything isn't as sleek and chrome-tastic as the original Mass Effect Trilogy. Sadly, the concept art doesn’t include any more designs for alien races, other than the rocky Kett and the squid-people, the Angarans. Still, the worlds themselves could've been much more alive.
6 A Radically Different Looking Universe - Injustice: Gods Among Us
Injustice is an incredible fighting series, but it does present a drastically different interpretation of DC heroes and villains that not every comic book fan could get behind. Superman is an evil murderer, and everything just goes bananas from that point. The look of the characters in the first game, Gods Among Us, wasn't all that drastically different than what we're used to, though. Wonder Woman might act a lot different, but she still looks like Wonder Woman.
The designs were much more ambitious in the concept art. Every character, even the ones who are still "good guys", got radical overhauls that made them look much creepier. These looks fit better with the darker tone of the universe. The concept for The Flash’s helm is particularly insane (and pointy).
While these designs might look a little too edgy, they’re much more distinctive. The game’s sequel also proved that these looks could work in motion. Many ideas from the concept art made their way into the sequel, in the form of Injustice 2's popular gear system.
5 A Real Mix of Fantasy and Science-Fiction - Destiny
Everything we mentioned about how fans felt about The Division is also true, on a much larger scale, for Destiny. For hardcore fans, Destiny isn’t just a game, it’s a borderline religion. As much fanaticism as Destiny has caused, it’s not exactly the most imaginative game. Destiny tries to strive for a perfect mix of fantasy and sci-fi, but ends up much more on the sci-fi side of equation. Ultimately, Destiny ends up looking like a game in the Halo universe.
Conceptually, the balance between the two genres was going to be struck much more cleanly and clearly. The concept art for Destiny gives off a real medieval knight in space vibe. It’s vibrant and colorful. It feels completely otherworldly, but still with a dash of familiarity.
Destiny is divisive, but even the most ardent fans should agree that the art promises a more customizable and interesting world.
4 A City Under Watch and In Crisis - Watch Dogs
There are few modern games that are bigger disappointments than Watch Dogs. It was meant to truly launch the new generation of consoles into the future. Instead, it delivered a mediocre GTA-clone with simple hacking mechanics. While the sequel went with a more colorful and wacky route with great results, the first Watch Dogs was supposed to be a modern-day 1984 open-world adventure.
The concept art nails that moody and atmospheric world the game was trying to deliver. Everything is drenched in rain and dark colors, but there’s still enough shocking dashes of light to suggest that salvation is possible.
It’s a world in crisis, but still one with a personality. This world certainly has more life in it than the protagonist of the finished game, the walking handkerchief/hacker, Aiden Pearce.
3 Tali's Real Face(s) - Mass Effect
As controversial as Mass Effect: Andromeda is, it isn’t the series’ only problem in regards to its design. The reveal of the face of beloved squadmate Tali under her mask in Mass Effect 3 is proof that even excellent games can make terrible design decisions. After three games of build-up, Tali’s face was revealed to be essentially a slightly photoshopped stock photo. It was the definition of laziness. The concept art shows that there were imaginative designs for the Quarian love interest, however.
It’s likely down to personal preference, so it's tough to say that there’s one design of Tali’s face that is “better” than another. The important thing is that all of them are distinguishing and decidedly alien. Some are closer to a human ideal of beauty, but they still feel like they come from another world.
All are adequate substitutes over a simple photoshop job, of course.
2 Familiar Frights - Alien: Colonial Marines
Alien: Colonial Marines is a masterclass in how to NOT adapt a beloved film franchise into a video game. Colonial Marines is a buggy, nearly unplayable mess, and it’s the worst thing to happen to Aliens since Resurrection.
Worst of all is the game’s look. Colonial Marines hides its ugly, bland environments in as much shadow and darkness as possible. It’s not scary, it’s just very boring. According to the concept art, however, Colonial Marines knew how an Aliens game should look. It just didn’t deliver.
The art isn’t exactly original. It doesn’t look much different from the movies, but that’s precisely the point. It honors the legacy of the established franchise, it doesn't mar it.
1 Fulfilled Promises - Mighty No. 9
It might be a recent example but Mighty No. 9 is the ultimate example of the concept art being better than what we got from a game. The infamous game, which got its life from Kickstarter, radically over-promised consumers about what to expect from the final product.
The art for Mighty No.9 was colorful, vibrant, and compelling. It was a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. The game was colorful, but not in an interesting way. It was a blocky, lifeless mess that was full of dull character designs and even duller levels. The heart and soul promised by the Kickstarter campaign was gone, replaced by a barely passable platformer.
Mighty No. 9 was promised as being the next generation of Mega Man. Yet even Mega Man’s earliest 8-bit games had more design and love going into them than Mighty No. 9.
Do you agree? What's some of your favorite video game concept art that's better than the final product? Sound off in the comments!