TA Top Five: Settings

By Jonathan Barnes, 2 years ago
Video games take us to places beyond some of the wildest imaginations. Some of these places are so well-developed and amazing that they simply stand out and demand attention. This list represents a slice of some of the best settings on the Xbox 360. It should be noted that there are SO many good settings that some of your favorites have no-doubt been left off. I think Mark Lisanti of Grantland said it best when he said:

We will leave out a vast number of things that will enrage the people who love them to the point of spittle-flecked apoplexy, with optional seizures of disdain. Sometimes this will be intentional. You'll never know. You'll be tempted to go into the comments and write something like, "No [character or thing from that (game) you love]?" Realize that you have been intentionally lured into that action by a maniac driven insane by (Top Five) lists who's nevertheless still thinking two steps ahead. He is invincible because of this disclaimer.
With that happy and completely NOT antagonistic note out of the way, let's dive into this list.

Honorable Mentions

The Land of Metal - Brutal Legend
"You can't kill The Metal. The Metal will live on." ~ Tenacious D
I defy you to spend a few hours rolling around in The Deuce, cranking up the game's AMAZING soundtrack and not be completely awed at how Tim Schafer and Double Fine created the setting for their homage to all things METAL.

Dunwall - Dishonored
From the steampunk gadgets, to the Tesla-homages, to the reliance on whale oil and Victorian architecture, Dunwall is a land begging to be explored and snuck through. I've often referred to Dishonored as a "master class in level design" and the love and care with which Dunwall is crafted is a testament to that.

The Old West - Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption made The Old West cool again. With the ability to hunt wildlife, pick wild herbs and flowers, and basically play around in one of the largest environments on the 360, Rockstar San Diego created a world, filled it with life, and made it one of the most fun places in which to get lost.

Columbia - BioShock Infinite (Xbox 360)
There is one golden moment that almost perfectly encapsulates the wonder of Columbia. As Booker rounds the corner, a hovercraft floats in front of him with a barbershop quartet singing the Beach Boys' classic, "God Only Knows." Much like LOST, that moment created the thought of, "Where are we?" In the steady hands of Irrational games, Columbia was a setting of depth and substance that few video games have ever achieved.

TA's Top Five Settings

#5 - Lordran - Dark Souls
Character Creation 9

Hey, see that skeleton over there? It'll kill you. Hey, see that guy over there? He'll kill you. Hey, see that rock over there? It'll kill you. Hey, see that kitty over there? It'll kill you.

The reason Lordran is on this list is mainly because you can't imagine Dark Souls happening almost anywhere else; it's dark, it's mysterious, it's full of danger, it's unrelenting, and it's light on answers and explanation. As the home to one of the most punishing games of this generation, Lordran is the perfect mix of difficult and fair.

#4 - Skyrim - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
6/6/11 Screenshot 1

From the snow-capped peaks of the mountains, to the grass-covered plains, Skyrim was a gorgeous setting that sucked in every Dovahkiin and begged to be explored. Its true value can be felt in taking a long walk between quests. Try it sometime. Start with the goal of walking from Riften to Whiterun and see how many things jump out and beg to be explored.

#3 - The Capital Wasteland - Fallout 3
Fallout 3

Really you can't mention Skyrim without mentioning Bethesda's other sprawling, massive, inviting open-world, The Capital Wasteland. Much like Skyrim, the events and stories of The Capital Wasteland made for amazing water cooler talk as gamers compared notes and stories of their adventures in these massive worlds packed with fun quests, vibrant characters, and incredible events.

#2 - USG Ishimura - Dead Space
Ishimura

That tentacle thing, man... it was always that tentacle thing. No matter how "comfortable" you managed to get on the USG Ishimura, death was always right around the corner. A haunted house for the new millennium, the USG Ishimura was packed full of nightmares that drew comparisons to the Nostromo of Alien; you never quite knew when something was lurking around the corner, in a vent, or behind a jammed door. In terms of atmospheric quality and depth of experience, the USG Ishimura is only second to one.

#1 - Rapture - BioShock (Xbox 360) & BioShock 2 (Xbox 360)
Big Daddy and Little Sister

Rapture is the bar by which all game settings are measured. The dilapidated dystopia isn't just a setting, Irrational considers it a key character in the BioShock series. As Jack navigates his way through the leaking metropolis, Andrew Ryan expounds upon this amazing city, its qualities, its uniqueness, his love for it, and almost treats it like his own child. Imbued with more personality and depth (sic) than many game protagonists, Rapture simply begged to be explored and understood. Those who were willing to do that exploration were rewarded with audio logs that provided a small measure of understanding as to the who, what, when, why, and how of this incredible setting.

The TA Team will be bringing you The TA Top Five every Sunday until we run out of coolness to debate and discuss. If you have an idea for a Top Five you'd like us to do, be sure to let us know in the comments!
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.