Shared universes are all the rage at the moment. Studios love to mash their various properties together, and audiences certainly seem to enjoy understanding all the references we get along the way. While shared universes are still a little less common in gaming, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Before we dive into this list, though, you should know that official and substantial video game universes are still a relatively rare thing. For the purposes of this article, I tried to focus on shared universes (and potentially shared universes) that are united by more than one or two Easter eggs. Furthermore, while many of these shared universes have been confirmed in some fashion, you will find some that have been strongly hinted at over a fairly long period of time rather than outright confirmed and embraced (at least as of the time of this writing).
Gone Home Shares a Universe With BioShock (and Possibly System Shock)
While I doubt anyone was looking for BioShock connections in Gone Home, it turns out that there are quite a few to be found.
For instance, one of the fake SNES games in Gone Home is called “Super Spitfire.” It just so happens that there’s a very early video game prototype in BioShock 2 called “Spitfire.” Furthermore, the airline that Katie uses to fly to Europe in Gone Home happens to share a strangely similar logo with the airline that we see at the beginning of BioShock.
Don’t just take my word on these connections, though. Fullbright Company co-founder Steve Gaynor previously confirmed that they intended to connect the games in a “totally non-litigious way.” He even has some interesting details to share regarding how Gone Home is bizarrely connected to the System Shock games.
Doom, Wolfenstein, and Commander Keen Are United by the Blazkowicz Line
There’s actually a pretty direct connection between Commander Keen and Wolfenstein. In Commander Keen, you play a character named Billy Blaze. A combination of Commander Keen and Wolfenstein lore suggests that Billy is the son of Arthur Blaze and Susan Elizabeth McMichaels. Before he changed his last name to Blaze, though, Arthur was born Arthur Kenneth Blazkowicz: the son of Wolfenstein’s William J. Blazkowicz. Indeed, Billy is seemingly named after his grandfather, William.
In theory, Wolfenstein and Doom are also connected by the Blazkowicz line. In Wolfenstein RPG, the Axis powers summon a demon known as the Harbinger of Doom. The Harbinger is maimed by B.J. Blazkowicz and swears revenge on Blazkowicz’s descendants. Given that a similar-looking demon with robotic limbs appears throughout the Doom series, the theory is that “Doom Guy” is part of the Blazkowicz line. For what it’s worth, the Wolfenstein series also contains some pretty substantial references to the eventual Doom mythos.
Red Faction and Saints Row Both Feature the Evil Ultor Corporation
One of the most intriguing shared universes in gaming, Red Faction and Saints Row are commonly connected through the shared presence of the Ultor Corporation. In Saints Row, the Ultor Corporation is an obviously evil corporation that grows in power throughout the franchise. In Red Faction, the Ultor Corporation has apparently grown so large in power that they now effectively control Mars (among other endeavors).
For what it’s worth, developer Volition has historically been divided on the extent of this connection. Some Volition team members have outright denied the canonical connection, while others have suggested with a bit of a wink that it’s really all up to the players’ imagination. This might be a case of the developers having a little fun and the company not wanting to make things too formal.
The Tom Clancy Universe and Other Ubisoft Games
While many developers use their new games to reference their previous projects, nobody can touch Ubisoft when it comes to building a loosely official shared universe via Easter eggs and deeper references.
If we’re just talking Easter eggs, Ubisoft franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, Ghost Recon, and more all contain direct references to each other. Some of those references are limited to hidden objects while others are significantly more overt. Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher even appears in a Ghost Recon Wildlands DLC mission! At this point, it seems that Ubisoft has softly embraced the idea that their Tom Clancy-related properties do indeed share a universe.
However, some of the most interesting Ubisoft franchise connections can be found in Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed. Not only are Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs‘ resident evil corporations referenced in each others’ games, but there are assassinations, characters, and monumental moments that seem to exist in both series’ mythologies. Some of those references have been written off as Easter eggs, but there does seem to be a connection between the two series that runs deeper than simple references.
Kane and Lynch Are Figures In the Hitman Universe
While not the most elaborate shared universe out there, this certainly seems to be one of the most direct examples of that concept.
In Hitman: Blood Money, you can find a newspaper that contains quite a bit of information on the crimes committed by the murderous duo Kane and Lynch. If that sounds a little too much like a cheeky Easter egg to you, then you should also know that Hitman: Absolution goes a step further by not only featuring Kane and Lynch in cameo roles but allowing Agent 47 to kill both of them. I guess we’re not getting that third Kane & Lynch game after all.
Drakengard Sets Up the Universe of NieR:Automata
On the surface, the medieval world of Drakengard and the far-flung sci-fi realm featured in NieR: Automata are about as far apart as you can get (aside from a developer, of course). However, the two titles are clearly connected in some truly fascinating ways.
See, Drakengard’s “E” ending suggests that heroes Caim and Angelus travel into the future (2003, actually) in order to defeat the Queen-beast. While that ending was seen as something of a gag at the time, the joke became very real when the catastrophic consequences of that ending resulted in the apocalyptic version of Earth we see in 2010’s Nier. 2017’s NieR:Automata, meanwhile, suggests that humanity must eventually leave that scorched Earth caused by the events of Drakengard’s ending.
The Grand Theft Auto Universe May Contain the Worlds of Manhunt and Bully
Generally speaking, fans are pretty desperate to find evidence that every major Rockstar game takes place in the same shared universe. While such theories are softly supported by some notable Easter eggs, they tend to fall apart pretty easily. However, that doesn’t mean that some notable Rockstar Games don’t share a universe (or elements of a universe).
Actually, Manhunt and the GTA series share some similarities that seem to go far beyond coincidences. For instance, Manhunt takes place in Carcer City: a location that is directly referenced in numerous GTA titles. Manhunt’s James Earl Cash even appears on posters and similar pieces of media found throughout the GTA series. Interestingly, it also seems like Bully exists in the greater GTA universe. Bullworth Academy is referenced in some of the GTA games, and Bully features some vehicles and logos you can also find in some GTA titles.
Granted, this whole thing is complicated by evidence that there are actually multiple GTA universes, but…well, that’s a conversation for another day. It certainly seems like there was a point when some of these games were meant to exist side-by-side, though.
Street Fighter, Rival Schools, Final Fight, and Saturday Night Slam Masters All Share a Universe That Loves to Fight
Our own Gavin Jasper previously referenced these connections, but it’s certainly worth noting that these stylistically similar Capcom games do all indeed share a universe.
Actually, the connections between these games have really only gotten stronger as the Street Fighter series has gone on. An idea that started with a few cameos has grown into a genuinely impressive example of worldbuilding. One of Street Fighter 6’s upcoming modes will even take place in Final Fight’s Metro City! There is a loose rumor that suggests that other Capcom games like Strider may also belong to this universe, but those connections are pretty loose
Mass Effect and Dragon Age May Actually Take Place at the Same Time
I’ll tell you right now that this connection is probably a bit closer to a fan theory than an indisputable part of these games’ mythologies. However, the details that connect these two BioWare titles are simply too numerous and fascinating to ignore.
You might think that Dragon Age is the historical precursor to the Mass Effect series, but one popular theory suggests that the world of Dragon Age actually exists as a planet in the greater Mass Effect universe. Again, some of the connections that support that theory (such as finding a Krogan head mounted on a wall in Dragon Age: Inquisition or a statue of an ogre in Mass Effect 2) are obviously Easter eggs. However, there are numerous instances of characters, places, phrases, and events of one game being referenced in the other. You can even find the moon that hovers over Dragon Age’s world in Mass Effect!
If anything, this might be one of those cases of developers going so far out of their way to implement some Easter eggs that they accidentally ended up creating a slightly more substantial connection.
Portal and Half-Life Are United By a Corporate Rivalry
Though probably one of the most obvious shared universes on this list, the Half-Life and Portal shared universe is still one of the most interesting in all of gaming.
The big connection between these two games comes down to the professional rivalry between Portal’s Aperture Science and Half-Life’s Black Mesa corporation. GlaDOS sings about Black Mesa during Portal‘s credits, Half-Life 2: Episode 2 contains references to Aperture technology, Aperture CEO Cave Johnson claims that Black Mesa stole some of his work…etc. If anything, it’s a little sad we haven’t seen even more crossovers between those properties. They go together quite well.
You should also know that fans have tried to connect Counter-Strike to this universe, though those connections are generally loose at best. There’s also a fan theory that events in Counter-Strike caused the zombie apocalypse in Left 4 Dead that is far more interesting than it is likely.
Yoshimitsu Ties the Tekken and Soul Calibur Franchises Together
Given that the Soul Calibur franchise features cameos from the likes of Spawn, Darth Vader, and even Link, you could certainly run wild when trying to connect that series to other universes. However, it’s generally accepted that Soul Calibur and Tekken share a universe/timeline by virtue of the presence of the fighter known as Yoshimitsu.
Yoshimitsu is the leader of the Manji Clan: a ninja organization that is referenced in both Soul Calibur and Tekken lore. Actually, the timeline of the Manji Clan’s history suggests that Soul Calibur takes place quite a long time before the events of the first Tekken game. So how is Yoshimitsu still alive by the time Tekken rolls around? Well, the popular theory is that Yoshimitsu is actually a title or shared name rather than a single person.
Bomberman Is An Elaborate Lode Runner Prequel
While the Lode Runner franchise has generally been forgotten over the years, it was once a respected series of platformer/puzzle games that helped innovate the areas of level editing and user-generated content. Lode Runner also happens to share a strange (yet substantial) connection with the Bomberman universe.
The Famicom version of Bomberman contains a direct reference to Lode Runner that strongly suggests Bomberman is actually a prequel to Lode Runner. Not only is that information hinted at in the game’s manual, but the game’s ending blatantly says “See you again in Lode Runner.” The U.S. version of the game is a little coyer about the whole thing, but its ending does include the phrase “You have succeeded in helping Bomberman to become a human being, maybe you can recognize him in another Hudson Soft Game.”
To be fair, it seems that these series are actually connected by the work of Shinichi Nakamoto, who previously drew characters for the NES version of Lode Runner and went on to help develop the NES port of Bomberman. It seems like he may have simply re-used some assets and wanted to find an excuse for the shared character models.
Wing Commander and Ultima Seem to Belong to the Same Timeline
This is another one of those video game connections that floats in the realm between Easter eggs and canon, though it leans enough toward the latter to warrant a mention.
The Wing Commander series and the Ultima franchise often reference each other in fascinating ways. For instance, you can find a downed ship from Wing Commander in Ultima 7, and Ultima Underworld features a plaque that reads “Thou canst not defeat the Drakhai” (a kind of early Wing Commander meme). Ultima Underworld 2 even prominently features a race of cat-like creatures called the Trilkhai who battles among the stars. Interestingly, Trilkhai is an anagram for Kilrathi: a race of cat-like creatures that appear throughout the Wing Commander series.
For what it’s worth, it’s widely believed there was a point when Wing Commander and Ultima publisher Origin hoped to tie some of their major franchises together as part of a bigger initiative. However, those efforts seemed to fizzle out fairly quickly.
Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden Feature Some Elaborate Crossovers
While this is another fairly well-known shared universe, it’s always fun to take a look at just how deep the connection between Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive runs.
This shared universe was really born the moment that Ryu Hayabusa entered (and canonically won) the Dead or Alive 2 tournament. Dead or Alive 2’s Ayane then played a major role in the rebooted Ninja Gaiden trilogy, and fellow Dead or Alive fighter Kasumi has also appeared in the Ninja Gaiden games as a playable character with ties to the series’ story.
Interestingly, there’s also a massive Ninja Gaiden character that appears in Nioh whose presence suggests those two universes are closely connected, though that seems to be a bit closer to an Easter Egg than anything else at this time.
Ivalice Connects Final Fantasy 12, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story (Depending on Who You Ask)
Our own Aaron Greenbaum previously talked about the Final Fantasy franchise’s elaborate multiverse. However, it’s worth giving a special nod to the world of Ivalice and how it may bind three of my personal favorite Square Enix games: Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy 12, and Vagrant Story.
Simply put, all three of those games take place in (or are closely related to) the land of Ivalice. While Final Fantasy Tactics was released before the other two games, it’s widely believed that Final Fantasy 12 is the “first” game in the Ivalice timeline. The events of FF 12 reportedly lead to the events of Final Fantasy Tactics, which eventually result in the world we see in Vagrant Story. More importantly, all of those games were worked on in some capacity by the great Yasumi Matsuno. That makes it that much easier to believe that Matsuno intended for these games to be directly connected.
However, the full story is slightly more complicated than that. While Matsuno has previously suggested that those three games are indeed all related to each other, he has backed down from that suggestion in recent years by stating that he did not originally plan for Vagrant Story to “belong to Ivalice.” Indeed, Vagrant Story‘s connection to Ivalice is actually the result of a retcon introduced in FF 12. Some believe that Square Enix may have pushed for that connection around the time that Matsuno exited the development of FF 12, but the full story remains a bit murky.