By Joe Strange
One of the best things about video games is their ability to transport you into a completely new world or time. At the end of a long day of working in the mundane, pulling pints or pushing pencils, what you need most of all is to jump into a place where the wonderful can, and will, happen.
So in that vein, I’ve decided to put a list together of the top five settings in video games, based on the depth of the world and the atmosphere it portrays.
5: The City of Dunwall – Dishonored
Dunwall is in chaos, a deadly plague, er, plagues the streets and the high society, the only ones with any power to stop the city being crushed underneath its own illness, is corrupt and ignorant to the public need. As you skulk through the streets and plague abandoned houses, you really get a feel for the world you’re trying to help. It’s only a city, but it’s rich in personal stories and tales. The people and politics of Dunwall are as unstable as the whale oil that it is based on, and that it owes for its industrial age.
4: Clock Town/ Termina – The Legend of Zelda; Majora’s Mask
Considering that the game is from 2000, the land of Termina has a lot of detail, which really helps to craft the world. From the distressed troupe leader to the stalwart soldiers. Everyone in Termina has a story that you can shape. The reasoning behind this I think, is the time restraint that the game focuses on.
Having three distinct days that repeat and characters that do the same thing each cycle (depending on what you do to help them) has allowed the writers to give each character, even those that only play a minor role, a distinct character arc. There’s a website here, and what this fellow’s done is take a note of these developments and put them into a psychological analysis of Clock Town. If you’re a Zelda fan, especially of the incredibly underrated Majora’s Mask, it’s worth a look.
3: Rapture – The Bioshock Series
I had a hard time picking between Rapture and Columbia, but as much as I loved Columbia, the great city in the sky, Rapture was the one that really stuck with me and made the big impression.
Rapture was meant to be an underwater utopia for the world’s best and brightest. What you’re actually faced with is a leaking city full of crazed, spliced maniacs, creepy little girls and giant, drill armed, diving suits. Add the downright terrifying atmosphere to the pockets of insight into Rapture before it all went belly up and you have an unnerving look into the human condition that’s reflected in the setting.
2: Tamriel – The Elder Scrolls Series.
The lengths that Bethesda have gone to shape the world of Tamriel, and beyond, is staggering. Much like Termina, everyone has their own story, even the NPC who is cheating on his wife, but has no story or quest value at all. But it’s the lore and mythology behind these games, especially the more recent instalments, that’s really impressive.
Books that only the hardcore fans would read litter the world, and a hundred more are around the corner. The belief system is incredibly in depth, with the 9 gods and the daedric princes, and this belief system goes to making an awful lot of the atmosphere and believable feel to the world. You feel a part of a world that makes sense, you know, if you ignore the trolls, dragons and talking cat people.
1: The Universe – The Mass Effect Series.
This might seem like a cop out, I mean, it’s hardly fair to include all of space right? Well it’s the vastness of space that Mass Effect owes its incredibly elaborate and well thought out creation. Dozens of races have been created, and though some of them are more detailed in their history and culture than others, each of them have their place.
The game does a lot of this via the player’s Codex, which records and reports all the side information about races, weapons, planets and probably what an Asari’s navel fluff tastes like. It’s really easy for a lore-fiend like myself to lose hours to the codex. Mass Effect has a believable reason for everything, whether it be because of evolution, history or science, and it’s all really quite easy to understand and buy into. I suggest, if you have a few free hours, jumping onto the Mass Effect Wiki, there’s a lot there.
Except the fact that every single species seems to speak English. That’s really never explained.