The gameplay I saw this year was all too familiar but settings still give me those oooohhhhhh moments. So here’s some recognition for designers, artists and the people who bring them alive:
Planetside 2: Scale, drama and hi-tec beauty, by the light of alien suns.
Dishonored: Whale-oil-fueled Victoriana… did it even need the magic layer on top?
Dark Souls: A dank, twisting and detailed take on a fantasy world that’s a mile from the standard.
Skyrim: Er, it had an expansion this year, so I’m including it. The walk from Solitdue to Riften. An epic journey that if it existed in the real world would be one of the great trails. And it’s all like that.
Sleeping Dogs - no point having a nice setting if your GTA-clone game-style doesn’t let me do anything with it.
I haven’t seen AC3 or FC3 yet, or GW2 or Borderlands 2… should they be on here? What else should?
I disagree with this. I thought the setting was executed quite well. I’m not sure what you needed to do in it to consider it a success, but the interactivity and optional missions were as good or better than GTAIV.
They were better than GTA (as they should be this much later) but the city was still a bystander. In AC or Saboteur the city is a main character. In GTA-alikes it’s just something you have to avoid crashing into. IMHO :)
I would vote for Anno 2070. Even though I thought the gameplay was slightly overwrought for the series, the environments were beautiful. Does the setting, fictionally speaking, make sense? I’m not sure about that, but it looked amazing and taking a submarine down to gather resources at the bottom of the ocean was a unique delight.
AC3, Borderlands 2, and Dishonored all had amazing settings. I’d give it to Dishonored for its originality – Victorian steampunkish without the goofy steampunk tropes – but AC3’s recreation of the old cities and Borderlands 2’s varied planetary environments were really impressive as well.
I liked Conquest of Elysium 3 for setting. While visually each map kind of blends into the next one in a sort of dark high fantasy setting, what really made it work for me was just how differently each faction plays. Like that’s how they would be in real life or something. There are similar situations faced every time you play, like how to tackle that gold stream, or how to clear out that ancient forest so you can protect your backfield, but the character of each faction in game is what determines how you handle these common situations and how the game world gets shaped as you play. Makes me feel like I’m really playing a role in that world. Then of course there are all the little touches like rare locations that only come up occasionally, and the special monsters that defend them, and the magic items you can get, etc, etc.
Planetside 2, of course, just has gameplay on a scale I haven’t seen before, and some places in the game (like The Crown) will forever be burned into my mind because of all the inch-by-inch battles fought over them.
Darksiders 2 has some pretty imaginative location design. I don’t think I can really elaborate without potentially spoiling some parts of the game, though. It’s better when you discover it at your own pace, IMO.
Legend of Grimrock is much more traditional, but warmly evocative of Eye of the Beholder-like dungeon crawlers.
I loved many worlds this year, Dunwall in Dishonored, Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs, the ultra dreary world of Dark Souls, the Wonderland in Alice Madness Returns, Dubai in Spec Ops…hell even LA in Juarez Cartel is quite nicely depicted.
Not in any real order but Dishonored is definitely my top pick for the year, for the imagination and artistry on show. The Secret World for the atmosphere, especially the Kingsmouth area. Krater, mainly the outposts where I really liked the style and use of depth of field. Guild Wars 2, lovely cities but I found underwater especially appealing. More games need nice underwater areas.
Setting to me implies more than just artwork. It makes me think of how the gameplay relates to the location, how the location is meaningful to the story, and various other things that wouldn’t qualify if you just mention artwork. I love Mr. Bauheimer up there mentioning Conquest of Elysium in that context! But for me, I’d have to go with Xenoblade Chronicles’ twin giants, frozen mid-battle, and providing the game’s basic organics vs. machines tension. If only Mass Effect 3 had been able to do it so elegantly!
Sorry to be that guy, but Anno 2070 was a 2011 release. But I guess if Alistair is going to introduce the topic by invoking Skyrim, all bets are off. So I’m going to add Bioshock to my pick. :)
But you’re right that Anno is a frickin’ gorgeous game and the underwater stuff adds a lot. I’m glad to see Profanicus called out Guild Wars 2 for it’s underwater stuff.