A gaming adventure is only as good as the world you are exploring. Immersion is the key and developers must rise to the occasion when crafting a living, breathing ecosystem. It’s not an easy task as stilted dialogue and largely-inept NPCs can ruin the entire fantasy when it comes to crafting a city, town, or bustling settlement.
There’s more to creating a breathtaking world than just visual design. Weather patterns, climactic events, sound design, and cohesion throughout are just some ways in which games can ensure their creations feel alive and vibrant for players.
10/10 Dunwall – Dishonored
In Dishonored, Corvo Attano must stalk the plague-ridden streets of Dunwall in order to assassinate targets to further his goal of retrieving the Empress’s daughter from conspiring forces. As a city, Dunwall has a unique and rather distinct design. It thrives on its steampunk aesthetic and the Victorian styling of 19th Century London.
Corvo is granted a degree of freedom in choosing the paths he must take to accomplish his goals. But during his travels, he encounters targets who react honestly to the assassin and carry on insightful conversations. The dank, murky underbelly of the city compliments the plight of citizens ravaged by the plague. This nightmarish dystopia feels completely believable
9/10 Novigrad – The Witcher 3
Situated in the Northern countryside of Velen, Novigrad is unmistakably one of the most sprawling centers of commerce and citizenry in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. As you take Geralt for a stroll through the bustling medieval-inspired metropolis, guards walk the streets, preachers of the Eternal Fire soap box for all who will listen, and shady figures skulk around occasionally causing mischief.
While the events that unfold in the streets of Novigrad are scripted, they feel entirely organic to the setting. Geralt’s interactions with merchants, armorers, and those willing to chat with a Witcher further the rich craftsmanship of Novigrad as a virtual settlement.
8/10 Night City – Cyberpunk 2077
Of course, the entirety of Cyberpunk 2077 is built around Night City and its outskirts. Still, the megalithic futuristic city is a real delight as far as immersive virtual environments are concerned. This megalopolis is filled with interesting characters and dotted with countless elements that you can interact with.
The city is also entirely relentless in its sales pitch of all things corporate, high-tech, or gratifying to the countless citizens that walk its streets. There’s never a moment when you don’t feel like you’re being advertised to, much like big real-world cities. There are also randomly generated criminal activities that always keep Night City feeling like the grimy future it is.
7/10 Midgar – Final Fantasy VII Remake
The first portion of the epic Final Fantasy VII Remake extended our stay in Midgar from the original game. As such, it gave us ample time to explore the far reaches of Midgar in all of its decaying and dystopian glory. It’s clear that the civilians across all sectors of Midgar live under the oppressive thumb of the Shinra Corporation.
But while there are most certainly slums in Midgar, the city also has its middle and upper-class citizenry as well. The upper-class, of course, is not necessarily wealthy by fair or legitimate means, but this social hierarchy lends credence to the city’s believability.
6/10 Venice – Assassin’s Creed 2
Venice is, perhaps, one of the most expansive cities to explore in Assassin’s Creed 2. This sprawling metropolis is meticulously segregated by canals which ultimately form several districts. As you control Ezio, exploring the city from the rooftops is like taking a trip back in time. Period-accurate architecture and the bustling crowds down on the street make us feel like we’ve been transported back in time.
Many of the game’s central missions occur in Venice. When Carnevale occurs, it feels like the entire city is swept up in the celebration. Heck, even during the Renaissance, folks knew how to party.
5/10 Raccoon City – Resident Evil 2 (Remake)
Alright, so Raccoon City doesn’t literally feel alive. In fact, it’s quite dead, or undead. But in the sense that Raccoon City is densely saturated in visual detail, it’s apparent that it was recently a thriving town. As an example, you start the game by investigating a gas station. Products line the shelves, a calendar is on the wall with legible notes and markings, and boxes of beer cans are stacked in the front. Food has been left behind or partially eaten.
There are thousands of details in just the gas station alone, and we’d be here all day if we were to recount them all. It’s this attention to detail that makes Raccoon City feel like the lived-in town that it once was until the viral zombie plague ruined everything. All that’s left now are zombies in the streets, each feeling unique in their own way like the shambling shells of former individuals.
4/10 Gotham City – Arkham Knight
Narratively, Akrham Knight created a reason for Gotham City to be emptied of ordinary citizens and overrun with the criminal element. Still, this final outing in Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy represents the pinnacle of Gotham’s representation in the Arkham saga. No longer are we in the asylum or locked in Arkham City. Now, Batman is prowling the streets lined with convenience stores, garages, shopping centers, and skyscrapers.
Perhaps, the most captivating element of Gotham City is its sheer scale. Between street-level views and gliding around the city, you can get a feel for just how massive this city feels. Teeming with villains and crooks, Gotham City is its own special kind of Hell in Akrham Knight.
3/10 Columbia – BioShock Infinite
The city in the clouds, as opposed to the one at the bottom of the ocean, is a seemingly idyllic metropolis that turns sour rather quickly. Still, before you even get into the thick of combat, you are introduced to the city as a simple newcomer. This introduction alone establishes Columbia as a vibrant, living community. Just walking down the brick and cobblestone roads, Booker can see people talking, eating, and playing in the streets.
There’s even a sequence where you can take Booker through a festival and play carnival-style games amid a bustling crowd. And remember, this is all before guns and vigors even come into the picture.
2/10 Los Santos – Grand Theft Auto 5
Los Santos is a gangster’s paradise, that much is clear. In Grand Theft Auto 5, the city is your oyster. Aside from the majestic expanse of this urban locale, there are plenty of things to do in Los Santos. From populated streets to eclectic architecture and neighborhood designs, Los Santos truly feels like a fictional realization of a city inspired by Los Angeles.
Rockstar is, well, a rock star when it comes to crafting rich open worlds. For all intents and purposes, Los Santos is just as much a character as Michael, Trevor, or Franklin. And just like any character, it takes a well-crafted narrative to explore its depth.
1/10 The Citadel – Mass Effect Trilogy
In the Mass Effect Trilogy, the Citadel is a central location for mission briefings and interactions with some of the series’ most prominent characters. In this fictional world, this space station not only hosts politicians and the Citadel Council who often interfere in interstellar affairs, but it is also a living space for several alien species.
In fact, the diversity of alien life forms on the Citadel is what truly elevates this ancient space structure as a vibrant settlement. Throughout all three titles, players can interact with many individuals in the Citadel. These encounters help formulate a complex society that exists on this massive remote space station.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.