Video game art books are some of the best video game merch we can buy. I think video game art books are some of the best gaming books to collect, period, actually. I have about 50 of them now and am so glad I have each one of them. And what with today being World Book Day, there's never been a better time to peruse
The best video game art books not only look great, but they provide so much extra information and imagery for all our favourite games. Gone are the days of strategy-only books, and even the 'how the developers made the game' approach is seen less frequently now too. Now, video game art books cover concept art, inspirations, further game-universe lore and information, place histories, and character backgrounds. The best video game art books can now be coffee table perusal books, genuine reference books, quote mines for researching something, image-laden tomes featuring never-before-seen-in-game places, objects or scenarios. The best video game art books enhance almost everything about a game and what you thought you knew about it.
I'm always adding to my collection of art books, often alongside the game I'm playing at the time. Throughout 2019 and 2020, for example, I acquired all the Assassin's Creed art books as I played each one from ACIII Remastered through to Odyssey (back-to-back) - and then added the exquisite Limited Edition version of Valhalla's artbook too. I'm so pleased to have had the chance to pick up an actual, proper, physical book in this digital age, once I'd put each game down. It really does add to the experience and enjoyment.
So if you're inclined to share in my geeky art bookery fandom, then right here you'll find a selection of our favourite and best video game art books. As hinted above, these go beyond strategy or guide books; all of these are joyous glossy-paged, wonderfully-illustrated, lovingly-written, and presented art and lore books that will keep your enjoyment going long after you've finished the game. These are only a few of our highlights but there's a sea of video game art books available out in the wild to wade your way through - and I'd bet each one is totally worth it.
The Skyrim Library
This is a real humdinger of a collection. Less heavy on game-creating artworks, this series concentrates on fleshing out the world of the Elder Scrolls further still. The Skyrim Library has three volumes of delicious background, culture and supporting-content goodness with info on characters and locations, the world’s history, myths, and stories on everything in between. It's something that exists simply to give more information to fans of a particular series, and it's truly magnificent.
In addition to this, The Elder Scrolls Online book set (two volumes) is also worth a look because it packs lots of extra lore, art and information on the world of Tamriel - not just that of the online game, despite the title. The corresponding book for Bethesda’s Fallout series, The Art of Fallout 4, is also a really good value look at how they created post-apocalypse Boston.
Destiny: Grimoire Anthology - Dark Mirror (Volume 1)
Supporting one of the biggest online games of the generation, Bungie’s Destiny: Grimoire Anthology - Dark Mirror is a tremendously insightful lore book. Players have been picking up small titbits of background, myths and mysteries throughout Destiny’s long lifespan, but these only hinted at a universe rich and deep. This volume finally brings those tales together into a complete package that's much easier to follow. Filled with interesting lore and illustrations on everything from the fall of the Hive to the rise of corrupted Guardian Dredgen Yor, this Anthology casts new light on Destiny’s places, characters and their marked time in history. What’s more, a second volume is coming later this year. Result.
The World of the Witcher
Another exercise in bigger-scale world-building as opposed to pure behind-the-scenes artwork, The World of the Witcher is a brilliant compendium that accompanies the Witcher III in terms of release but also complements and contributes to the whole Witcher world. As a bit of a quirk, the in-book text is written from the perspective of Dandelion. If you’re familiar with the novels in particular, his wit and storytelling makes for a really fun way of journeying through this book - it’s a walk through the Witcher’s lands, creatures, lore and people in the form of a lyrical story.
Simply put, this book is the perfect companion to the Witcher III and its wider world, perfectly distilling a fictional land’s history, people, flora and fauna into a wonderfully illustrated, proper-sized art book. If you’ve somehow still not played The Witcher III, this does have some spoilers for it, so it's not a video game art book to get before the game - definitely buy it after.
This series of games has long been lauded as having created rich, deep worlds both in terms of its aesthetic and art, but that's also thanks to oodles of hidden lore and history. Just so we can all appreciate them more and soak up further Soulsborne goodness, there are art books with a Design Works book accompanying Dark Souls, Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III. Meanwhile, the Bloodborne Official Artworks book covers everything about the world of hunters and the old blood. Chock full of eerily beautiful and haunting artwork, each one of these books are a must-have for fans.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Creating a Champion
This is a stupendous companion to one of the best games of recent times, includes material from the DLCs, and is one of the best entries in the video game art book market from Nintendo. It’s a beast of a tome with more than 400 pages that include sketches, official illustrations, nearly 300 pages of design artwork, and commentary about the making of the game from the creators themselves. Oh, and a fifty-five-page historical section that divulges the history of Hyrule as it is known in-game.
What's more, the book chucks in some interviews from heavyweight names behind the games for good measure. It’s part of the broader series that started with the the The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia book in 2013, but also has The Legend of Zelda: Art and Artifacts and The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia in it, so you could collect quite the collection of informative and rich books if you are a big Zelda fan.
The Art of Final Fantasy XV
Being a series of such distinct worlds, vivid imagery, styles and aesthetics, there’s no surprise that the Final Fantasy franchise has art and lore books to spare as well. There’s so much to show from these game worlds that there could be a whole plethora of supporting material (and certainly more than that which is actually, readily available), but we lead with the available-at-most-retailers The Art of Final Fantasy XV, a great art companion to the latest entry in the gargantuan series, as well as the Kingslaive movie. It’s unashamedly a coffee-table artwork book stuffed with brilliant information, images, art work and screens that gorgeously show the background to XV across glossy pages.
However, if you’re looking for more Final Fantasy art and background and perhaps particularly from the earlier days then The Sky book series may well be for you. It’s a three book series covering the first 10 games’ artwork, sketches and supporting info: Volume 1 covers 1-III; Volume 2 spans IV, V and VI; and Volume 3 goes from VII to X.
The Art of Super Mario Odyssey
This seems to be the rarest of all beasts - a shame considering it’s one of the most popular series of all time. This is a joyous book that collates all the wonderful glory of the recent Mario hit featuring loads of artwork, sketches, and notes from designers in one of the most colourful books you’ve ever seen. However, it is currently only available in Japanese - but you can still get it from Amazon.
If you’d prefer to wait and see if that one gets translated, you could instead go for the very comprehensive Super Mario Encyclopedia. This will give you great insight into the world of Mario and its creators from its beginning in 1985 right up to 2013’s Super Mario 3D World.
The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV
This fantastic book covers a lot of ground and is crammed full of video game artistry of the Metal Gear Solid series featuring environments, characters, weapons and vehicles to fully flesh out and give insight into Hideo Kojima’s stealth spectaculars. Coming in at an absolutely massive 800 pages in length, you get an enormous amount of bang for your buck.
Split into two books, it arrives in a smart case to keep both safe and is perfect for those Metal Gear fans who have a thirst to devour as much lore, art and supporting content as possible. From sketches with the original Japanese notes to completed artwork shots and screens, this has it all... and more. Yes, there’s no Metal Gear Solid V content, but that has its own designated book that you can get if you’re looking to complete the whole set.
The Dunwall Archives
An exercise in brilliant place-making and telling stories through a world and its environments, Dishonored’s Dunwall and surrounding world simply had to be complemented with a lore or art book. And so it came to be that the Dunwall Archives came out in 2014, after the DLC had all been finished.
It’s a rather understated entry in this list as it’s not a pure ‘making of’ book with concept artist’s work on display showing development behind the scenes; it's more an art and lore book that collates and presents artwork, maps, writings, and pictures that were found in the game instead (as well as some more artwork from the Dishonored aesthetic, of course). It is fascinating to re-read, re-visit, and sort of ‘re-see’ some of the excellent portrayed posters and book extracts that you originally found in the game organically.
If you’re on the lookout for more of the concept artwork behind the making of the Dishonored series and its expanded world, you’ll want to pick up The Art of Dishonored 2 as well.
Renowned for having some of the best artwork and representations in games, Naughty Dog’s collective book, The Art of Naughty Dog, gives a comprehensive picture of the paintings, research, and styles that went into creating their biggest titles, from Crash Bandicoot through to The Last of Us. This is truly a video game art book in the purest sense, featuring loads of behind-the-scenes concept art, supporting essays and commentary covering the company’s 30+ year game-making history.
It should be said that there are independent books for the first Uncharted games in The Art of the Uncharted Trilogy (though this now seems, Nate’s swansong in The Art of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, and, my personal favourite, the art and stories behind Joel and Ellie’s journey in The Art of The Last of Us.
The Art of the Mass Effect Universe
While the latest game in the series received a lukewarm reception, there can be no denying the impact of the series' place-making, locations, and the wider universe. It’s incredibly varied and beautiful, not to mention full of different cultures and aesthetics. This book also covers the first three games so you can see how the world was built upon with each entry thanks to new characters, planets, and places. A personal favourite of mine is the work that went into creating the Citadel; it’s a piece of landscape architectural brilliance and the images that provided the basis for it are exceptional.