NieR:Automata – a loosely connected universe (pic: Square Enix)
Readers discuss their favourite fictional worlds in gaming, from the deep lore of Skyrim to the comic book style universe of Darksiders.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Cosmo, who asked which game or franchise do you think has the most interesting fictional world? Is it because of its lore, its characters, its art design, gameplay, or something else?
With many franchises now having decades worth of lore behind them, there was no shortage of choices, although inevitably it was role-playing style games like The Witcher and Mass Effect that got the most mentions.
Best and worst
A few years ago I would’ve said Halo, as the storytelling was great during the Bungie era and there were some really good novels too. As soon as 343i took over though everything went to hell and I neither know no care what is meant to be going on in Halo Infinite, and I doubt they do either.
I’ll tell you the worst though, which is Destiny. Because despite what I just said Bungie made a hash of that from the start. I hear it’s better now but when I dived in a few months ago it was still a mess of weird names and nothing approaching an actual story.
I’m tempted to say Bloodborne is my favourite now, but since that’s just a single game I don’t think it’s really in the spirit of the question. Unmatched atmosphere and lore though, even compared to Elden Ring
I’ll go for an outside choice though and say NieR/Drakengard. The connections between different games are small but they are there and I always enjoying seeing the little nods to previous and characters plot points. What’s real appealing to me though is how crazy and seemingly nonsensical the story is until it starts hitting you with some existential lefts and rights, and you realise this isn’t just a silly, surrealist adventure but a game with profound things to say, that uses the different time periods and worlds of its universe to amazing effect.
Halo vs. Star Wars
The best multiverse of gaming is a little bit complicated if you ask me, because if you are looking at Star Wars it’s a really good franchise, the games are good and the movies and series are even a lot better! Star Wars: Battlefront on PSP, back in time, was very sick but the games now, like the new Star Wars: Battlefront 1 and 2 are a little disappointing to me. Even Star Wars: Squadrons and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order are not my type of games that I am used too.
I am a hardcore multiplayer gamer. I’ve been gaming since I was three or four years old, I was born in 1997 and am 24 years old now. I was gaming first on Nintendo 64, then later on PlayStation 2 and after that PlayStation 3. I then switched to Xbox One and now Xbox Series X. In my opinion Halo wins overall because of the quality of all its games. I am a gamer, so the decision is very clear to me. Halo wins over the Star Wars movie series and games.
Why? Because it’s always lovely to hear some badass rock music when you’re killing grunts, brutes, and elites and it is always fun to try your best in multiplayer. Try to have some overkills; trust me, on Halo Infinite I made a lot of people rage quit! Even the new TV series is very dope, that’s why I put Halo over Star Wars even when I am a true Star Wars fan.
My favourite video game universe is one that I feel doesn’t get enough attention: Darksiders! The lore, characters and art design are the main reason why. This is a series with age old gods, angels, and demons (inspired by and based on multiple different religions and faiths) not just beating each other to a pulp, but also manipulating each other.
The story of the various different Horsemen of the Apocalypse is fantastic, going back and forth between War trying to make sense of what’s happening after he was banished in a post-apocalyptic world, and Death and Fury figuring out why the apocalypse has occurred in the first place. Can’t wait to see what’s Strife role in the story will be whenever Darksiders 4 is released.
The extended media is really great too, there was a comic book I haven’t read in a while with some great art and a good introduction to each of the characters, as well as a book prequel to the first and second games which was great in fleshing out the personalities of War and Death. It also showed more of the manipulation that occurs not just from the demons but also the angels, and what the Horsemen get up to when there isn’t an apocalypse happening.
The art design is great, with the first game having a cel-shaded, comic style, the second being slightly more realistic (despite featuring more fantasy based settings), and the third striking a good balance between the two styles. The spin-off prequel game Genesis went full comic book. The environments look great too, looking grungy and in some cases down right disgusting with the way nature has taken over cityscapes.
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Welcome to Gotham
The Arkham universe would be my pick for this Hot Topic. Prior to the release of Arkham Asylum I knew very little about Batman other than a few of the classic villains like The Joker, Bane, and Mr Freeze, and that all mainly came from pop culture references and films. But the way Rocksteady created an Arkham universe made me interested in the whole Batman lore in a way I never expected.
One of my favourite things about the first and subsequent games was how whenever you would come across a new villain, you would unlock their biography in the menu, which would tell you their origin story and even which comic issue number they first appeared in, which was a cool touch.
Other games have done the same for their universe’s characters but I thought in the Arkham games they were always so well written. Another factor was the detail in the worlds they created, every nook and cranny looked like it had been poured over for hours, with them fitting a nice Easter egg in wherever they could, which made exploring in each game a joy.
Then there was the fantastic voice-acting through the whole cast. All this coupled with the fact that the game was super fun to play, it made going into the Arkham universe something I relished every time I played it.
Now playing: Ghost Of Tshuima (PS5), Metroid Dread (Switch), and F1 22 (PC)
I don’t know if it counts as a game universe, as it’s an analogue of a real place in Japan, but I love getting back to Kamurocho in the Yakuza games. There’s something very cosy about the place and, after playing through a few of them, I’m starting to really know the layout of the place.
I definitely think the games’ reputation as a Japanese Grand Theft Auto is inaccurate and a little bit reductive: there’s no driving, you could gently stroll from one side of Kamurocho to the other in about five minutes, but it’s the sheer breadth and depth of things to do that make it special.
You can get embroiled in a plot involving a thief who’s stealing people’s jeans off their legs, who you have to chase through the streets and beat up, visit recreations of Club Sega arcades and play fully functional emulations of some of Sega’s classic arcade games like OutRun or Virtua Fighter. Or you might become completely addicted to one of the side quests, like a cabaret club management sim or a real estate business, all of which feed back into the main game by rewarding XP and money to upgrade you character’s abilities. Every distraction in Kamurocho is worthwhile and fully fleshed out.
It’s this, as well as all the little touches like the cast of kooky characters strewn throughout or the Poppo shops at certain corners where you can buy food or healing items, that make it feel like such a living and fun place to hang out in.
GC: This definitely counts for us, it’s a good pick.
It’s Mass Effect for me. It’s not a particularly original sci-fi world (galaxy) but unlike modern Star Wars it’s not 90% humans and there are some interesting ideas and original races in there. It also tackles AI and robots in a more practical manner than just having them being objects or comic relief.
It’s a real shame about Andromeda because if that hadn’t poisoned the water we would’ve probably of had a ton of other games by now, so I hope the new one is going to be worth the wait.
Games like The Witcher 3 and The Elder Scrolls are always fascinating for being the best fictional universes due to there being so much of them, especially in the Elder Scrolls franchise. When I first stepped into Tamriel, and more specifically Cyrodiil, it obviously blew me away but when you learn of the historical storylines and other legends, immersive gameplay is imminent!
There are literally books upon books of information from lore, tales, poems, myths, and legends plus complete epic historical information, told through a large number of volumes.
The way Skyrim, Oblivion, and The Witcher 3 worked was to take you well off the beaten track and on wild adventures that ignored the main quests entirely. None of the book reading and lore is needed to complete the game, but boy it made this fictional universe so much more fun to explore and think about.
What Elden Ring and other Soulsborne games don’t have are everyday villagers going about with their lives. Yes, most people are dead and the very nature of these worlds is survival of the fittest but there’s not even much of any nice relaxing music, just atmospheric tension building musical sounds and effects.
Majula in Dark Souls 2 is, in my estimation, the only safe spot where you feel relaxed, and coupled with the sparking sunset sea and, for once, calm and very beautiful music it serenades you into a sense of relaxing your guard for once. It’s a very rare touch to have in a very dark and foreboding world of death, destruction, and misery. Plus, not forgetting you really have to work hard for the lore! Which is not too bad a thing but it’s not for everyone.
Fantasy is my thing and along with Tamriel, Middle-Earth, and Tal’Dorei from Critical Roles, Dungeon & Dragons’ massive detailed world is just my cup of tea. Immersing myself in these fictional universes is never going to get boring, as I find out even more from these detailed lands of yore.
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