Review - Substrata: Open World Dark Fantasy

What happens when over 80 creators from the world’s top video game studios join forces to create the ultimate dark fantasy game? Well, you get the trappings of such a game with that much talent. You also get a slew of quality artwork. Substrata: Open World Dark Fantasy is a new art book collecting designs for the heroes, enemies and landscapes of this hypothetical new game world. It's the brainchild of illustrator Paul Richards, who conceived of the project as a way to reunite his fellow artists from Vigil Games, makers of the Darksiders franchise. The culmination of that work is Substrata: Open World Dark Fantasy from UDON Entertainment.

Substrata: Open World Dark Fantasy gave us all a chance to conceive and execute our own ideas in our own voices,” said Richards, Project Curator. “This is a mighty win for artists devoted to making exciting, original game content for its own sake. In that spirit, we’re proud to say all proceeds from the book will go to the charity organization Gamers for Good. Please visit them at”

The caliber of artists on the project include those from the following games:

Allods Online – Assassins Creed IV – Darksiders I & II - DayZ - Destiny – Diablo 3 – Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze – Doom 4 – DotA 2 - EVE Online - Evolve - Firefall – Gears of War – Guild Wars 2 – Halo 4 - Hearthstone - Hunted – League of Legends – Left For Dead 2 - Overlord – Overlord 2 – Portal 2 - Rift - Runescape – Saints Row - SMITE – Star Citizen – Starcraft 2 – Uncharted 3 - Wildstar – World of Warcraft

Considering the level of talent in the book, you have to expect the illustrations to be quality and they are. All manner of imaginative creature and being is on display in the book, ranging in everything from vile monsters to human warriors. The contrast between the two is sharp, but it also offers a great look at a wide gamut of fantasy being. It's easy to see how the creators involved are at the top of their game, considering the wide range. What's more is that variety also reflects many different styles, all of which blend together very well. These creators contribute to games that cover a broad spectrum of genres, which helps keep the book feeling fresh. While many of the illustrations are varied, they all manage share a fantasy element that allows readers to rather easily visualize all the characters coming together in one game.

There's no unifying story so to speak in the book; it really is just a collection of character/level designs and storyboards. Honestly, you realistically couldn't include a story in this book, mainly because it's not meant to be viewed in that way. If you're a fan of Darksiders or one of the other games listed above, then the pertinent art will likely bubble to the top for you in terms of appeal. That's not to say that the rest of the art is bad; on the contrary, it's all very solid. These are artists who clearly know their way around the imagination and aren't shy about relaying that understanding to the page. It's just that the art in the book evokes a very specific style that's synonymous with something you would see from Brian Froud.

Substrata: Open World Dark Fantasy is a really beautiful book that is a welcome addition to any fan's library. The collection of talent and artwork is pretty staggering and their talents would make for a fascinating game if this book became a reality. Fans of quality video game art will definitely want to check out Substrata: Open World Dark Fantasy. It's $44.99 and available now (ISBN-10: 1927925134/ISBN-13: 978-1927925133/Diamond Code: DEC138127).