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December 24, 2010


Top Five: Video Game Worlds

Posted by on Dec 24, 2010
World Builder

In order to get us through the holidays, and the general dearth of content on the Interwebs, I’ve dusted off a post I’ve been thinking about for a while and decided to finally finish it. Happy Holidays to all, and without any more ado:

I picked up Bioshock 2 off my shelf recently, looking for something to pass the time for a few hours, and it reminded me how artistic and imaginative an environment Rapture is.

However, Rapture isn’t the only example of a well designed environment for a game, so I’ve decided to lay out a list of my top five game worlds. I’m specifically not including the myriad of games that have great gameplay and pretty worlds, like Dead Space, because I’m talking about games that put a little more effort into making the whole world feel right. Like the other games on this list, when I play Bioshock, I feel like the world continues to exist when I leave the game. I highly recommend you go play these games if you haven’t, since they’re an experience in and of themselves. No doubt you’ll all disagree in one way or another, but hear me out and then tell me what I missed in the comments.

1. Rapture (Bioshock & Bioshock 2)

It’s hard to argue with this one. Rapture is the epitome of utopia gone wrong, a dystopian hidden city where genetic modification has gone too far and society has reverted to primal greed and violence. The underwater city evokes a steam punk aesthetic, with huge valves and doors, and underwater tunnels. You get the impression that in its heyday Rapture was a sight to behold, which makes it all the more eerie that its denizens (they were citizens once, but that hardly seems appropriate anymore) have turned it into a haunted labyrinth where survival is all that matters and distorted little girls walk around collecting the seeds of the society’s destruction.

2. Various (Fallout 3 & Fallout 3: New Vegas)

I resisted playing Fallout for a long time, largely because I don’t like the Oblivion engine (combat is horrible, don’t even try to tell me otherwise). However, I started playing New Vegas the other day after watching Wade play it for an extended period of time, and I have to say that the world is absolutely incredible. Sure they get a bit of an advantage because nuclear wastelands provide so much fodder for building a world, but there’s something impressive about the way that Fallout takes what could easily be the place I live and warps it into a dirty, dusty, “dog eat dog” world where it’s every man for himself. The feeling of desolation is palpable – even when you encounter living people, they’re clearly on the brink. From homesteaders just trying to survive and the bandits who prey on them, to the ritualistic extremes of Caesars Legion (New Vegas), everyone has adapted to the lack of civilization by creating their own – and the results are not always pretty. Fallout 3 deserves kudos for creating a world where everything feels plausible… and a little bit scary.

3. Morrowind (The Elder Scrolls III)

Its really easy to go straight to the most modern games when youre thinking about the best game worlds, because the snazzy graphics just make everything seem more complete, but there are some older games that can carry their own weight. One of those is Morrowind, the third of the Elder Scrolls series. To be fair, the whole Elder Scrolls series probably belongs up here, but Im going to choose Morrowind because I havent played the first or second games, and personally I think Oblivion gets disqualified from this contest because of that ridiculous hell gimmick. Thats one of the reasons I put Morrowind up here: its completely unabashed about creating a world that seems real and making you live it in. There’s no requirement that you actually play the storyline in Morrowind.  Hell, I’m not even sure what it was. What I do know is that there’s more to the world than “go kill this monster for me”, or “we have to save the planet”. When you stop playing Morrowind it doesn’t die, the people in it just go on with the lives they were living anyway.

4. Chrono Trigger

You may notice that the screenshot above is a little less high quality than the other ones in this list. For a game released in 1995, Chrono Trigger has one of the most immersive and expansive game worlds out there. Each of the times that you travel to (yes, spoiler, it involves time travel) is a mini world all to itself, and the actions that you take in one time period can affect things later on in the game. Its hard to say that you feel like you’re in the game world, because 16 bit graphics are a bit of a barrier there, but the world really does stand by itself. Plus, its one of the greatest games of all time.

5. Wild West (Red Dead Redemption)

Red Dead Redemption makes me feel like a cowboy…. nuff said. Really though, this game really makes you feel like you’re actually in the Old West – everything feels dusty and somewhat lawless, and of course you can lasso people and leave them tied up in the middle of the desert (or on railroad tracks, if you so choose). While I can’t give the makers of Red Dead Redemption credit for coming up with the world themselves, since all you need is a history book and a couple of renditions of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, I can give them huge props for perfectly nailing the feel of it. Theres nothing quite like being challenged to a duel at high noon in the middle of a deserted street and proving to your opponent that you really are the Fastest Gun in the West.  And, when that’s the case, who gives a shit if you cheated at poker.

  • Brendan Higgins

    Chrono Trigger was a fantastic game, possibly best on the SNES. It doesn’t really fit the motif of the rest of the games though haha

    • Chris

      Well it’s obviously a lot older, but I’d argue the world it created was just as immersive. It’s just a little hard to consider in our age of shiny graphics.

    • Wade

      Definitely the best game on available for the SNES, in my opinion, and one of my favorite of all time.

      Yeah, it is pretty different from a lot of the others going on here. Chris and I spent a while putting together the list, and while we actually wanted to include more stuff from the older eras as well, we immediately struck out things like Final Fantasy, since there are six thousand sequels.

  • Tom

    Where’s the love for Baldur’s Gate?

    • Wade

      That’s sort of cheating since Black Isle Studios didn’t create the world themselves, but instead just used the Forgotten Realms world already built up by R.A. Salvatore and others.

      • Tom

        Mayhaps, knave.

  • Brendan Higgins

    I was also looking for Psychonauts, but thats more of a personal favorite. I still have nightmares from the milkman level, or the Meat Carnival haha, plus every level in that game was sweet.

    • Chris

      Haven’t played that to be fair. Have heard it’s incredible