May 3, 2024
6 min read

What is an Isometric Game?

What is an Isometric Game?

Everything You Need To Know About Isometric Games

For many older generations of video game enthusiasts the term isometric usually brings an almost instant moment of nostalgia. Games like Baldurs Gate, Fallout, Diablo, Civilisation series and plenty more titles are usually referred to as “isometric”. Let's go into what that actually means and what causes veterans to have such fond memories of these games!

What is an isometric game? 

The term isometric refers to a certain “camera view” in the game. This angle allowed developers to create a 3d effect. In 2d games your imagination plays a much larger role in comprehension of the world presented by game creators, by contrast an isometric view allows the player to quickly grasp the world around them. 

In short, it looked more like a real world while not being terribly tough on the hardware. These games were created when PCs and consoles were quite limited in power and game developers had to find ways to dazzle players who couldn’t afford to fork out thousands of dollars to enjoy a video game.

While not too heavy on the visual aspect, you can rely on the atmosphere and the story.
Source: Spiderweb software, Avernum series

And boy did they deliver!

What is an isometric RPG? 

Probably one of the most recognisable isometric RPGs of all time would be Diablo 1. It had an isometric camera locked firmly on your character, not allowing you to look around which in turn added to the tension the players would get exploring dark, dangerous environments.

While it wasn’t the first isometric RPG, its design inspired an action RPG genre that’s still played to this day.

While Diablo was focused more on dungeon crawling and finding better equipment, there were also two titles that focused more on the role-playing aspect. These two big names in isometric RPG history were Fallout and Baldurs Gate. 

While Fallout was set in the post apocalyptic world in alternate reality earth, Baldur's Gate is set in the fantasy world of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise. 

Despite having two completely different settings, Fallout being sci-fi, alternative-future while Baldur’s Gate features a realm of fantasy with magic and gods, both games had a very strong focus on your character interacting with the world and its inhabitants. They also allowed you to gain companions and offered a very high degree of freedom in choosing your adventures.

You could travel via world map to many different locations at your discretion, with Baldur's Gate having some limitations due to narrative story requirements. While in Fallout, you could skip directly to the “end game areas” if you really wanted to.

The introduction of isometric camera angles made it easier to participate in large scale battles allowing you to clearly see what’s happening on the screen with good visual feedback as to what is happening on the screen. It’s still quite popular even today with games that have multiple companions to control at the same time.

Key characteristics of an isometric game 

So what actually makes the isometric game, well, an isometric game? Here's a few most defining aspects of the subgenre. These might be a little bit different today, as they were a clever way of subverting technological shortcomings of the times. More of an artistic choice these days.

Diagonal perspective

The core of what makes the game isometric. Today isometric games are usually referred to video games that have a “top-down camera” view and certain style or similarities, rather than the actual locked-in camera. But some like Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny or Disco Elysium to name a few did indeed stick with the diagonal perspective, while also maintaining the high standards of story and gameplay respectively. 

Pseudo-3D graphics

While it may seem like there are 3 dimensions in the isometric games, that is merely an illusion. Sure you can see how tall a structure is in comparison to your character and vice-versa but you cannot see another angle of every existing object. While your character and other NPC sprites can be seen from different angles by turning around, the world and its assets are stuck in one place permanently. Often this is called “pseudo 3D” or “2.5D”. 

Grid-based movement

Games like Fallout and Diablo had your character move around actual grids. While some games today still use it, the majority offer complete freedom of movement. It made the combat more “polished” since games did not have as much “physics” or “hit boxes” as we do today.  

Examples of isometric games 


Zagreus! Stop looking at the camera! There's a Bone Hydra behind you!
Source: Hades by Supergiant Games

The roguelite, isometric, action hack and slash game created by Supergiant Games. 

You play the role of Zagreus, the son of Greek god Hades and the goddess Persephone. 

Through the use of your main weapon you pick from the armoury and the “boons” gifted by the members of the Mount Olympus you attempt to help Zagreus leave the Underworld and meet with his mother Persephone, from which he was separated from at birth. 

The game itself is very action packed, relying strongly on skill and reflexes and with typical roguelite mechanics. Meaning that each time you fail you can “become stronger” to make future runs easier.

Each time you succeed or fail, you are sent back to the underworld. Depending on your progress, you unlock new dialogue options with many colourful characters and of course Hades himself. The dialogues themselves are all voice acted, bringing extra life to each character.

The game benefits greatly from the use of isometric view, allowing you to quickly grasp the level, hazards quickly and efficiently. 


A cozy place full of friendly people! Better keep that gun close just in case though...
Source: Fallout 2, Interplay Productions / Bethesda Softworks

While Fallout 3 and every future title are not isometric, the first and second one are definitely one of the most cherished isometric RPGs thanks to the humour, pop culture references, world building and replayability. 

In the first game you play as a “Vault Dweller” , a citizen of Vault 13, one of the nuclear shelters used to keep humanity alive (and maybe some other “darker” reasons) after the nuclear war between the US and China. 

Your mission is to find a “water chip” to allow your vault to continue being self-sustaining. While you have a time limit to complete this mission, there are ways to extend it, giving you a good deal of time to explore and interact with the world at will.

The second game begins 80 years after the first game concluded. You are a “Chosen One” living in a tribe of Arroyo. As a descendant of the original Vault Dweller, your mission is to find G.E.C.K. (Garden of Eden Creation Kit), a miracle terraforming device that can be used to revitalise the soil devastated by nuclear fallout and save your dying village. 

While it also has a time limit as the first one, it’s much more lenient, giving you much more freedom to explore the wastes and interact with the world.

Both games enjoy the freedom to be either a hero or a terror of the world. And at the conclusion of the game, you get to see the “end game slides”. Giving you a short breakdown on how your actions affected each major faction and settlements. 


Do you... do you hear that music too?
Source: Diablo 1, Activision Blizzard

Diablo is a dark fantasy action RPG, which pretty much made the genre what it is today. 

At the beginning of the game you have (in the original) three characters to choose from. 

  • A close combat warrior who specialises in wielding powerful weapons and heaviest armour. 
  • A bow wielding rogue that can defeat her opponents from distance before they get close.
  • A “squishy” spell casting sorcerer capable of learning every single spell in the game and turning his enemies into cinders. 

Each character has strengths and weaknesses and the choice of character plays a huge part on how you’ll play the game. 

The game offers procedurally generated dungeons plus randomised quests, which improved the replayability of the game for those who wanted to tackle a new game+ where you keep your gear, gold and level. Allowing you to play on increased difficulty while still facing a challenge.

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Baldur’s Gate

Surely a party with this many like-minded, definitely non-homicidal people is a good idea!
Source: Baldur's Gate 1, Bioware

Baldur's Gate 1 is a fantasy game taking place in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting in the Dungeons and Dragons franchise.  

At the start of the game you get to create your avatar. Your character creation choices don’t affect how the world will interact with you too much. Mostly extra dialogue options and such. It’ll affect however how capable you are to deal with the dangers of the world. Like traps, monsters, dangerous spells etc. 

Once you complete your character you’re given a short narrated introduction. After that you have a main task of finding your mentor and father figure, Gorion. At this point you can go through a semi-tutorial in the area and learn basic game mechanics or head straight to Gorion and head out. 

After a short in-game cutscene you are allowed to free roam with the general quest to find out more about what’s happening in the lands and discover your heritage. 

The game itself is filled with plenty of stories and worldbuilding to immerse yourself in, quests to solve, party members to recruit and interact with and of course combat mechanics to exploit. 

There’s very little hand holding and it might be tough to get into for newcomers. It does however offer a great deal of fun once you learn the basics though. While not necessary, it adds some backstory for the characters and parts of the main story in the recent Baldur's Gate 3 game. Which is also a bonus!


How are isometric games developed?

A good question, so we’ve decided to answer it! Isometric games have a few things that are necessary for it to work well. Here’s the key aspects you’d expect from a successful title in the subgenre.

Isometry and game art 

Here’s a big twist when it comes to isometric games, they’re not really “isometric”. Shocking, we know! It’s actually “dimetric” but isometric got popularised enough so we’ve all just agreed to stick with it. The choice to keep the dimetric angle was to allow programmers and asset artists to complete their work a lot easier. 

And honestly, if that’s what allowed them to create the masterpieces like Baldur’s gate, Fallout or Diablo? It’s more than justified. 

The “sprites” and the NPC characters that you can interact with don’t necessarily have to be in 2d. Some older titles such as Dungeon Keeper or Syndicate Wars had fully 3d characters for example! 

Level design and gameplay 

This is quite an important aspect of isometric games. Both the level design and gameplay (yes, yes, you could argue it’s important everywhere but bear with us). The early games with both 3d and pseudo 3d graphics had the big challenge of pioneering visual medium over imagination. 

When game designers create a world, they decide what we the players see in there. What’s important for players to notice? How to bring players' attention to these things? How to make it seem like part of a living/breathing world? 

It takes a good deal of planning and polishing to achieve a comprehensive, lived-in but at the same time easy to locate the “important characters” and story bits world. 

Early isometric and 3d games had to put emphasis on the “realness” of the world they created. The world has to feel real because it has that “extra dimension” to it. Imagination could slowly take a backseat at that point. 

And of course, gameplay is there to keep you engaged as you go through the story (unless there isn’t one!) and while the typical game loop involves facing opponents, your growth opens up new abilities and options. Like in “Baldur's Gate”, levelling up and getting stronger magical equipment allows you to take on harder challenges and more dangerous areas. 

Or unlock new abilities through the mirror of night in the game “Hades” to make each consecutive “run” easier. 

The more linear the story is, the easier it is for game devs to tailor player experience and the challenges they face. The more open world becomes, the harder it is to predict how “challenging” each new area has to be.

Isometric games not up to your speed?

While isometric games definitely have a lot going for them, our upcoming Origins: The Fall of Azoria mobile ARPG offers a more intense experience. Solve puzzles, explore unique lands of Azoria and face foes who would try to stop you from restoring balance to its world! 

FAQs about isometric games


What does an isometric RPG look like? 

You can tell that whoever built this city cares about environment. There are at least 6 trees in here!
Source: Simcity 2000 by Maxis

Basically it’s a top down view with just the right angle to create an illusion of depth, making it seem like you’re observing a 3d object. Since the camera was locked in from a single angle, the objects didn’t have to be fully 3d, hence the terms like 2.5d or pseudo-3d stuck.

Can isometric games be 3D? 

The team is arguing whether they should surrender now or after one of them feeds.
Source: League of Legends by Riot Games

Absolutely, games like Diablo II: Resurrected and League of Legends could fit into that description. They have fully 3d characters and the environments use 3d assets, while the camera is still locked in an isometric camera angle.

Is Minecraft an isometric game? 

Minecraft relies on the fact that the world you interact with is visible from a first or third person perspective. An Isometric view would reduce the ability to view your glorious creations. Possibly even make it harder to create them as well, limiting its usefulness. 

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