You’ve just completed an important chapter point in a game that’ll finally unlock a new region, the doorway opens wide, you step through the loading screen and then… wow!
The beauty of the virtual world is that it allows us to create such incredible vistas and panoramas that would be made utterly impossible by such constraints as geography, planning permission, and physics. Designers and artists have delved deep into what makes a world real, engaging, stunning, compelling, and have broken all the rules of login in order to create places that we will remember long after the distant memories of real places have faded into oblivion.
I have seen the gardens of Paris, the Blue Mountains of Australia, the great lakes of Cumbria but no places have struck me with such awe as those dreamt in the minds of game designers. Welcome to the Top 10 awesome places in games.
Also a huge thanks to Murray Butler who weighed in on this week’s Top 10 and offered his contributions to the list! Nice to have you on board this week Murray, hopefully see you soon.
10) Hell – Doom 3
When people say “Go to Hell”, Doom 3 decided they would take that premise literally. With the third instalment of this already well established horrifying first-person shooter, Hell becomes a whole lot more atmospheric. It’s not exactly a holiday, it’s nothing like you’ve ever encountered before. You go right to the belly of the beast and you have to face the hordes of Hell alone.
Hell in Doom is a staple; it’s always had some feature present in their games but in Doom 3, you actually go through a portal into the depths of Hell. It’s grotesque and a stark reminder to you that you’ll be in it all alone. You know you’re in it, not because you want to be there, but because you have to do this for mankind… Or what’s left of it. Hell feels like a literal hell… And I love it for that!
9) Hades – Titan Quest: The Immortal Throne
In this rather blatant Diablo 2 clone, the copy-pasting is almost made complete by including a trip to the underworld and land of the dead. But the truth is that despite the unashamed homage, Titan Quest (and especially the expansion) improved in a lot of areas such as combat, class design, monsters, item appearances, and landscapes. And Hades beats the rolling Grecian hills, the deserts of mighty Egypt, and the tropical jungles of Asia.
Souls burning like fire, reason defying physics, alien plants growing in dead soil between the deadwood trees, roving packs of demons and the dread-wardens of the damned souls may seem a given, but you can also roam the fields of Elysium with the souls of long-dead heroes. Tartarus is a place of lost hope and terrifying abysses, the Styx itself becomes a weapon under the command of the mad ferryman Charon, and the three judges themselves watch over you. All in all Hades is a major improvement on the Hells surrounding Pandemonium Fortress in Diablo 2, but I’ll always love them both equally.
8) Bastion – Bastion
Being the main hub area, you are probably going to be spending a lot of time in The Bastion. And that’s a good thing. Because through exploring and spending time with all its inhabitants, you see how it grows and develops. In a way, The Bastion itself is a visualisation of how the story is changing. You see it change throughout the seasons depending on where you visit, you see your hard work of retrieving supplies as the buildings expand and improve, and most importantly, you see how the characters grow through your actions and the items you show them.
7) Waterfall – Undertale
When playing through Undertale for the first time, Waterfall is where the game suddenly became serious for me. Even with some of the aspects from the previous areas, it was in Waterfall that I felt both serene tranquillity and paranoid fear. Stalked by an unknown assailant with intense music before switching to a peaceful swampland with soft visuals, the atmosphere of Waterfall is truly an amazing feeling…
You know, despite Temmie.
6) Temporal Tower – Pokemon Mystery Dungeon
Standing at the foot of Temporal Tower, its sheer size is enough to intimidate and amaze most players, but that ominous red storm cloud at the top spells out your goal: if you fail here, the tower will collapse and time itself will cease to flow. This is truly the end of your journey; it’s now up to you to make sure the future beyond this end is a good one.
Climbing the tower will increase this feeling, as the end of time looms over you the end of your journey becomes clearer. The consequences of your actions are all too clear but reaching the top shows you are committed. All this combines into an incredibly memorable experience.
5) Amateria – Myst 3: Exile
Exile is filled with beautiful Ages , perhaps more so than any other Myst game, and this is a series lauded for its artistic beauty and elegant worlds. But despite my love for the soaring tusks of J’Nanin, the arid gorge of Voltaic, and the lush, spiralling forest of Edanna, there was only one world we could choose above them all for sheer beauty. One of the Lesson-Ages crafted by the world crafter Atrus for his young sons, Amateria features Asian-styled architecture built onto a small spike of Giants-Causeway styled stones rising from an endless ocean kept in eternal sunset.
As if that vision were not magical enough, the puzzles come together to form a rollercoaster, though which you roll in a massive ball of crystal formed by an energy field. The same crystal appears in places around the age, lending a soft blue glow to the orange hued light of the never-setting sun and ultimately forms the climax of the puzzles to be solved in the age. The ride can be viewed here but be warned! Some viewers may experience motion sickness if viewed full screen. Worth it though…
4) Blitzball arena – Final Fantasy X
Stand before the grandest stage of all in Final Fantasy X, where you stop battling with Flans and beings like Gilgamesh, in an attempt to be the very best. “At what?”, I hear you scream in anticipation. Be the very best manager and player of Blitzball, of course! It’s an incredible sight, standing in the middle of a Blitzball Arena, with fans pumping their fists into the air, screaming out your name.
That’s the impression you get when you first enter this place, with a cutscene that’s so emphatic about where you are, sending such a strong statement from the get go, that you realise Blitzball is as big there as Football (or Soccer) is in the real world. You feel as if people have travelled far and wide to watch some Blitzball action and you’re not only there: You’re a bonafide superstar.
3) Nagrand – World of Warcraft
Outland, or Draenor, is a place that has been utterly shattered thanks to the Burning Legion and the Fel Horde. Couple this with Illidan, Kael’thas and Lady Vashj bringing new threats to the lands and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The beautiful lands were no longer beautiful, they were just destroyed – seeping with Fel energies and littered with demons. Corpses from the past were littered and strewn across the lands of Outland. These were bleak times.
But there in the corner of Outland was a small area known as Nagrand. The spiritual home of the Orcs, this is where it all began for them. But most importantly, this is one part of Outland that is not too tainted by the Fel energies which corrupted the rest of the lands. Here it was, a natural beauty, tucked away and preserved by all of its inhabitants. Sure, it was a warground the same as most places on Outland, but it was a warground where everyone respected that nature rules here. They must protect what little purity is left in the land, no matter what the cost is. Whilst the neighbouring Zangarmarsh was proof of what happens when you corrupt nature, Nagrand is proof of how powerful nature is when left preserved. It’s strikingly different to the rest of that expansion.
2) Throat of the World – Skyrim
Stop for a moment and just look at the scene presented above; a tundra, a snowy mountaintop upon which is scarce of all life. It’s unforgiving, it’s maleficent and it’s not a place you want to be for no reason. In fact, you’re not sent up there much, but when you do get to the very top, you realise that there’s more to this mountain than just being a big mountain with a lot of snow. It’s a brilliant outlook over the lands of Skyrim.
Just like how you would stop and take in the beauty of a snow-covered mountain top in the real world, you can’t help but take a minute as you take in the Throat of the World in Skyrim. It’s the highest mountain in all of The Elder Scrolls games, making this an ideal place to just look around at. The snow at the top of the mountain is said to never snow, so a powerful alchemical apparatus was made from the snow up top. Dragons have tried to fly through, but not all have survived, with the skeletal remains of a dragon being easy to spot up here. Furthermore, it seems foolhardy adventurers have lost their lives too: Either that or Notch of Minecraft fame got lost up here and a creeper went by, as there is a Notched Pickaxe up here – Perhaps a tip of the hat to the man and company Bethesda tries to sue over the word “Scrolls”.
1) Rapture – Bioshock
Rapture is claustrophobic. That’s possibly the best word to describe it, even if you go into a glass tunnel and see the lights before you; you’re still trapped in a watery wasteland. From the grand description from Andrew Ryan as you descend down (and quickly get distracted by the whale) you are instantly shown why Rapture is so messed up. A hive of decadence, despair and delightful madness, you will want to leave Rapture as quickly as you arrive… but at the same time, you want to stay and see how sideways the world under the waves is.
Unlike Throat of the World, Rapture isn’t amazing because you can take it all in, it’s amazing because you can’t.
We have barely even begun! There are so many places we could discuss at length, many worlds unrecognised, and quite a few we had to leave out to restrain ourselves to a mere ten entries. But how could we neglect those fallen entries, those locations that haven’t quite earned an exalted place in our lists?
Well we do honourable mentions, that’d be a good place to start…
My First (Crappy) House – Minecraft
When you first enter the realms of Minecraftia, you’re greeted (usually) with lots of grass and trees. You realise that when you hold down the left mouse button, you start to punch said trees and grass. It’s great, everything is grand, but then suddenly the day turns to night and you realise that you’re not all alone in this world after all. Even after you’ve made a pickaxe and some basics, you realise you’ve now got no time left: You need to get shelter and get it fast.
Lo and behold, your first home in Minecraft. Its simple, usually consisting of whatever you could find, but it’s your safehold against Creepers, Zombies, Skeletons and more. It’s a chance to survive against the elements and even place to prop up your bed. So what, it’s just made of dirt? So what it’s not pretty: It’s your home and it’s amazing just the way it is… Ooh, A poppy will look perfect outside of this!
Full Art Lands – Magic: the Gathering
One of Magic’s greatest strengths is its artwork, for all much of it is limited to a panel that occupies roughly half of a card a few centimetres on a side those of us who probe the web for some of the galleries and artists are rewarded by visions that add depth, complexity and life to the incredible planes that the game builds. The land cards especially give the worlds a theme, a real vision of what the designers and writers of the rich planes of existence and the stories they live. But why restrict the art of such places to a tiny panel when basic lands perform one very simple and memorable function?
The recent return to the plane of Zendikar also resurrected the beloved Full Art Land cards. The scattered Hedrons cast amidst the staggering geography, floating motes, and impossible landscapes of the besieged plane make for incredible sights that no card could do true justice, but at least when the card is filled properly we can appreciate it just that little bit more.
With that our worlds tour of gaming is done, but so many places have been left unexplored, so many awe-inspiring sights left unacknowledged. Another big thanks to Murray Butler for joining us, and here’s his final contribution to this week’s Top 10, an option in the vote for next week. No I won’t tell you which one it is, you must be unbiased! Vote away for another geeky listing next week.
As a side note, a couple of places that were mentioned that never saw the light of list – The Milkman Conspiracy from Psychonauts and the valley of Avalar from Spyro 2. Do not think that that we are not thorough, but feel free to disagree with us. Did we miss anything? Where have you gamed and thought “Wish I was there?” Put us in our place in the comments below, or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.