DJ Arruda ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
As much as characters and gameplay make a game, the places you travel to and the way you interact with them are just as integral in spurring interest while showing off the world the developers have created. In no particular order, here are ten of the best games whose immersive worlds encompass everything from quirky small towns to massive, sprawling space stations.
1. The Citadel (Mass Effect series)
One of the best things about the Mass Effect series is the rich galaxy BioWare created and shaped throughout Shepard’s story. There are so many planets and home worlds to choose from, but the location that keeps bringing the Commander back is The Citadel. A testament to the diverse galaxy BioWare has created, the hub of the galaxy shows off the various species and cultures that accompany them throughout you and your squad’s visits. Whether it is a high stakes loyalty mission or simply picking up some equipment, visiting an alien embassy, or talking to the Council, no other location in the series is able to stand as a synecdoche than the staggering scope of The Citadel.
2. Vergen (The Witcher 2)
The morally grey world of The Witcher is ripe with political intrigue, monsters (both human and not), and the heavy reliance on choice which only makes the world that much richer. Despite the fact that you can miss going to this city depending on your choices, or visit it on different terms, rather, this second act location truly shows off the many layers of complexity in CD Projekt Red’s series. A bastion of hope and freedom for non-humans, the social commentary is high as elves and dwarves and others strive to achieve a voice among the human dominated politics of the North. The twists and turns of the plot mirror the many levels of carved dwarven stone that create this city, and it stands as a testament to how fantasy can so easily inform reality. In this one city, Geralt can both understand and question the status quo while also picking up items and visiting the tavern to blow off steam. It is hard to pick just one place to showcase the richness of the world, but this second act hub speaks to why the series is so popular in the first place.
3. Orzammar (Dragon Age: Origins)
Like in Mass Effect, BioWare brought to life the richness of Ferelden with its many diverse locations and histories. From the Brecilian Forest to the capital of Denerim, there is no shortage of great set pieces in the game. But Orzammar stands out as a truly unique look into the complex social issues apparent in the game, much like Vergen. Also a dwarven city, but underground as may seem more familiar, the Warden and his companions must navigate the political intricacies of the dwarven nobles while also being so close to the Deep Roads where their natural enemy, the Darkspawn, lurk. Like the citizens of Vergen, the Warden is able to explore how unique the dwarven culture is, as opposed to the rest of the country, and, through the journey from the slums to the noble estates, uncover a greater appreciation for the game world as a whole.
4. Florence (Assassin’s Creed II)
Though Venice and Rome are also wonderfully recreated in this masterful sequel to Assassin’s Creed, Florence stands out best as it starts Ezio’s journey and allows for endless enjoyment throughout the rest of the game. It is stunning how accurately Ubisoft recreated Florence as it appeared during the time period of the game, and there is nothing more satisfying than scaling the Duomo, or simply running past plague doctors and street vendors alike. The richness of this recreation is one of the reasons why this sequel stands as the strongest in the series, as it literally brings history to life for the player in a beautiful 3D recreation. Though not a fantastical setting, it is still one of the places well worth a gamer’s time.
5. Raccoon City (Resident Evil series)
There is much to be said about the direction the Resident Evil series has taken with recent installments, but many gamers still know the name Raccoon City and recall the early days when this survival horror series was at its peak. The way in which Resident Evil 2 created the city as we followed fan-favorite Leon throughout the nightmare of zombies both human and animal is haunting, and its continued reappearance in both sequels and prequels truly speaks to how the city’s name goes hand in hand with the series’. The way in which Capcom captured a city where all hell broke loose and was able to continue to reveal its mysteries and surprise players along the way stands to why the series is so well known and why it can be frustrating to see where it went wrong. Perhaps a remake of 2 could help, but Raccoon City is forever cemented as one of gaming’s signature settings.
6. Rapture (BioShock series)
Despite the wonders of Columbia in BioShock Infinite, nothing can top the introduction and subsequent exploration of Rapture by Jack when the first game was released. Irrational Games truly captured a utopia’s fall from grace and made an atmosphere so authentic it was amazing to think it was only a game. From the splicers and Big Daddies to audio logs and leaking pipes, this city is forever ingrained in our minds as both terrifying and fascinating. If there is any location that sticks in the mind it is Rapture, and despite what the future may bring to the series, the fact that the story begins and ends in this sunken paradise shows how one of gaming’s best stories came out of a single, wonderfully created setting.
7. Dunwall (Dishonored)
When the fate of your location rests on a player’s choices, you allow a unique opportunity to develop that setting as organic and immersive. Depending on how bloodthirsty Corvo is, the number of rats, and the number of dead the overall atmosphere of the game’s location is changed. Arkane Studios took the idea of a setting and linked it to the player. Aside from the varied locations in which Corvo goes to assassinate, or not assassinate (depending on the player), the entire organism of Dunwall is directly shaped by those choices. Its signature whaling industry and Victorian style industrialism makes it stand out and be recognizable, and, with the possibility of a sequel, there is hope to once again visit this city that sticks with you; or apply the same location alternating system to a new place. Either way, Dunwall makes Dishonored unique and encourages replayability, making the setting a character in and of itself.
8. Rook Islands (Far Cry 3)
Despite the richness of Africa in Far Cry 2 and the lushness of the island in the first game, Ubisoft truly hit its stride with the third installment in the series. The implementation of organic wildlife, both predatory and prey, made the island feel constantly alive as well as the various pirate outposts that could be taken down and used. Not only was it gorgeous, but it reacted to the player’s presence with liberated outposts making friendlies appear or burning down entire fields if so chosen. The intense psychological and philosophical questions raised by the narrative take players throughout the two islands, and the land always feels alive and breathing even if the story was completed. The setting of the Rook Islands is one of the main reasons why the game was so popular. It builds hype for the Himalayas that will be featured in the recently announced sequel. Jason Brody has many ways to get around these islands, and the fact that you feel so at home there is proof of a successful setting.
9. Yamatai (Tomb Raider 2013)
Similar to the Rook Islands, the setting for the reboot for the Tomb Raider series is a living, breathing island full of mystery and discovery. It serves as the perfect backdrop to reintroduce gamers old and new to Lara Croft, as the jungles are alive with wildlife, the caves full of treasure, and a touch of supernatural mysticism lies just under the surface. From the action set pieces to quietly scaling cliffs with ease, players can really take the time to appreciate and soak in the beauty of this setting. From the WWII relics to the temples of the cult, the shining sun and whipping rains, the diversity truly tests Lara as we see her struggle to survive and begin her arc as the famous explorer gamers know.
10. Bright Falls (Alan Wake)
A love letter to Twin Peaks, Bright Falls is an eccentric small town tucked away in the Washington mountains; seemingly the perfect place to solve Alan’s writer’s block. But just like its forbear, there is a literal Darkness hiding below the surface. What starts as a hopeful vacation becomes a nightmare, and as players follow Alan through the various highlights of the town, the mysteries intensify and the stakes get raised. Taking its cues from the cult TV show, Remedy Entertainment truly creates a memorable setting to house its criminally underrated narrative as the attention to detail and passion therein makes the game all the more special. From the forest to the police station to the diner, the entire town is also a character in this amazing psychological thriller. The setting is key in that genre, and Remedy nails it to a T, and if any location deserves to be on this list, it is Bright Falls.