In an ocean so clustered with densely populated pockets and prisms of generated video games, it’s sort of hard to try and spot something outlandish and original these days. Like finding a needle in a haystack — innovative games can be overshadowed by the sheer quantity of mediocre ones. And you can bet they’re not exactly the most easy to track and trace either.
So, what is it that makes a game stand out from the rest? What are developers able to do in order to keep the players invested? Well, more often than not, it all comes down to the setting; locations that just sort of stand out and pop. If captured correctly, average games can spiral into outstanding ones, with their settings playing a pivotal role in the overall experience. Of course, it’s making them memorable that’s the tough part. Just look at these five as a few examples.
5. Masyaf (Assassin’s Creed)
It’s fair to say that you can usually recognize the prominence of a certain location through its tourism network. Masyaf, prior to Assassin’s Creed — had zilch. Like, nothing at all, despite its relationship with the earliest assassins recorded in history. After the launch of the game, however, fans of the series actually made the sacrifice to venture deep into the Syrian city to examine the remains of the renowned creed.
Although slightly exaggerated for the purpose of painting the picture and telling Altair’s tale, Masyaf is still hands down one of the most vivid replications of an actual city ever put into a video game. Its castle training grounds, the grand staircase and double-sided library — it was all enough to piece together a perfect memory from our early gaming years. And even today, years after Ubisoft made the call to abandon the Syrian city, Masyaf remains an all-time favourite in the book of legendary landmarks.
4. Grove Street (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
“Grove Street, home. At least it was before I—”, you get the picture. It’s a place we’ve been countless times over the years, and even more recently thanks to Rockstar revamping San Andreas for updated platforms. It’s also a place that encompasses so much nostalgia from mid to late-PlayStation 2 gaming, and an overall absolute staple on the Grand Theft Auto timeline in general.
Funnily enough, Grove Street was actually the one place the majority of us flocked to the second Grand Theft Auto V hit the market. Ever since the San Andreas setting was confirmed, all we wanted was to take a trip down memory lane and revisit a few fan favourite landmarks. From Ryder’s backyard to Sweet’s basketball court, CJ’s stronghold to, well — OG Loc’s temporary party pad. The number of memories we had on Grove Street seems almost endless. And that’s why it doesn’t really need an introduction. It’s a place you know, I know — and the vast majority of the gaming population know.
3. Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X)
If it wasn’t for the humongous Blitzball sphere sitting smack-bang in the centre of the city, you’d have thought that Zanarkand was just your bog-standard cyberpunk metropolis, complete with monochrome and metal structures to flesh out its cliche world. With it, however, it’s something else entirely, and a true staple on the Final Fantasy domain.
Unfortunately, even with its blatant glamour and innovative themes, Zanarkand just didn’t stick around all that long. It was basically used to lay the grounds for the tenth tale, and then reduced to rubble and ruin for the sake of progressing Tidus’s iconic story arc. And yet, even with such little screen time, Zanarkand still managed to make a flawless impression and leave a lasting note for years to come.
2. Helheim (God of War)
It’s funny, because I can’t help but shudder every time I think back to those first footsteps taken into God of War’s hollow dimension of Helheim. From crossing the bridge through wisps of forsaken souls to braving the dreaded whispers that would rifle through the dead and dire winds. Every step and every moment spent trespassing into the realm of the dead — it all amounted to a blood-curdling tour that made us never want to return.
Of course, God of War isn’t exactly short on innovative ideas when it comes to bulking out its atlas with memorable locations. However, between Helheim, The Shores of Nine, as well as Wildwood and what have you — Helheim definitely hits a little differently. It goes beyond beauty and instead extracts paranoia and dread right from the pits of our chests. It represents death in the harshest of ways, and keeps us from ever wanting to defy and divide its boundaries. All in all, it’s a hollow place, and yet, somewhere we can’t help but remember even today.
1. Shangri-La (Far Cry 4)
Now, Far Cry 4 sure had some interesting themes. A lot of rehashed themes, granted. But interesting themes nonetheless. And while the majority of the game was made up of ascending the usual radio towers and overthrowing enemy regimes and what have you — a small fraction of its optional quests were actually somewhat unusual, and a — pardon the pun — far cry from what the series usually encompassed.
Collecting the several pieces of parchment that, when sewn together, told a rather unlikely story about a lone wolf’s expedition through the hell-bent Shangri-La — was perhaps the best part of Far Cry 4 overall. A bold statement, but true. And although Shangri-La was the polar opposite of what we might have initially envisioned, it was still one of the most memorable locations in all of Kyrat.
So, let’s talk about your most memorable locations in video games. What innovative worlds spring to mind for you? Let us know over on our socials here.