Games With The Best World Building

  • There aren't too many games I feel completely and totally immersed in because the world building is such an afterthought at times-but when it's done well these games are exceptional. Playing CyberPunk 2077 makes me feel that if it weren't for the technical problems it'd be an utter masterpiece and its world building is a reason I think this way. I love a sizeable futuristic cityscape and CyberPunk is always pulsing with energy and political intrigue. Rockstar's games have always contained worlds I get lost in but some fare better than others. What games do you think have sublime world building?

  • I sound like a hater at this point but I completely disagree about CP77. I feel like that game either failed or dropped the ball in almost every department, even ignoring the technical problems. Night City doesn't feel lived in at all because there is nothing interesting to discover by just venturing around. Sure, some really solid side quests are hidden in the middle of nowhere but in terms of just playing around in the game world, everything feels so robotic. The population crowd AI is so scripted where people don't do anything or react to you in any way whatsoever.

    It's framed like a GTA game but it doesn't have a simulated world to back it up because your actions don't have reactions. It's also framed like an RPG / Immersive Sim, but the game doesn't allow you to do whatever you want. Say what you will about putting baskets on shopkeepers heads in Skyrim, at least Skyrim reacts to how you decide to play. In CP77, every situation boils down to: guns blazing, hack in the front door, sneak in an open window in the back. It's all very linear.

    So if the simulation aspects are lacking, then all that is left is that actual lore and the story of CP77 itself. Which are also pretty half baked for a cyberpunk fiction. It doesn't present many tough questions and it doesn't really make any profound statements one way or the other. It feels more like a crime fiction than cyberpunk fictions.

    When exploring, nothing in Night City really tells me a unique or immersive story about the game world. Most roads and locations all feel samey. There are some glimmers of good world building here and there like the Nomad settlement outside of the city or the autonomous taxi cabs (and the self defence laws that allow cabs to legally kill on your behalf), but for the most part, you aren't going to discover anything interesting by walking into shops, interacting with NPCs, or reading billboards and advertisements. It's all so generic: cops are bad, corporations are bad, people are augmented. Whoop-de-doo.

    The best world building comes from the structured Main Storyline. It's solid and it sets up the stakeholders and the side characters quite nicely within the game world. The main story does a good job about explaining "Rippers" and other bespoke elements of Night City without going on and on and on like Kojima did about every bespoke part of Death Stranding. It's simple, effective, and you learn about the world by just being in the midst of things without a 20 minute cutscene explaining how we got to this dystopia. If I can commend anything, it's the main story and the surrounding characters and stakeholders in the plot.

    So parts of it's world building is good, but so much of it is completely mitigated by lifeless AI and generic neon shit everywhere. Every few blocks there is a scripted crime scene shootout. It all just feels too formulaic to be immersive. It feels like an open world checklist game in the end.

    Spoiler IN MY OPINION -

    I know a lot of people, including some users here really love CP77, but I feel pretty strongly about my opinions on this one. However, I am perfectly happy that many people are satisfied with this game as it is. I wanted something else and didn't get it. So I can't complain about a game not being what I personally want it to be. I just wish it was up to par with some of it's peers; in both world building and as a game overall.

  • @dipset I agree with you about about CP77. It looks impressive from a distance and it can feel immersive if you don't interact with anything. But the moment you start trying to explore and interact with the world, the whole illusion of this cyberpunk world falls down like a house of cards. The biggest problem for me was that the AI is so hilariously bad. You see it with random npc's walking in the city, cars driving on the road and when your fighting enemies in combat. Throughout my playthrough of CP77, there was not a single moment were I felt immersed in it's world. I always felt like I was playing a video game, a broken one.

  • I think the best example of world building I can think of goes to Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines.

    The world building works on so many layers. "The Masquerade" itself (a secret society of vampires hidden in plain sight), isn't entirely explained and the game overall just presents so much mystery around it's characters, factions, and greater world outside of LA. It works because it doesn't tell you everything but omits so much that you're always intrigued.

    Most video game RPGs build the world by just telling you raw facts. Like I said about CP77, you sort of know in absolute terms that the police are bad, the corporations are evil and there isn't much room for interpretation there.

    But in VTM:B, almost all of your information about the world is completely in context of who you speak to and where you go. The game lets you into the world to make your own assumptions about it's people. So world building is basically driven by dialogue and interaction with people and locations. It's a lot more interactive than, say, lore dumps or fantasy tropes with absolute good vs evil.

    In speaking with so many people across different Bloodlines (imagine factions in Fallout), so much of your info about every person, gang, and bloodline is completely bias. The way the ruling class, The Camarilla, describe other Bloodlines is night and day to your personal experiences when you meet them. No bloodline is ever telling the full truth and no backstory is completely filled in. People's motivations are often layered behind greed, fear, or impulse to be on top. Basically, all of the info you learn about the world is filtered through people's personal beliefs and biases.

    There is one quest that I would rate as probably one of the two greatest RPG quests I've ever played. I won't spoil it but it's between you and this vampire in the Malkavian bloodline named Therese (Isla's DnD namesake fyi):


    I'll tip toe around spoiling the quest, but the gist of my point is that you learn about the world by just interacting with people. In this case, other people told you that Malkavian's are crazy as in, clinically insane. Therese is a Malkavian but she is a pleasure to interact with. So is it true what other people say about them? As the quest unfolds you start to learn a lot about this bloodline where you can make informed decisions for yourself.

    All in all, when the player character is so grounded in the world, and everybody talks to the character (not the player) in such a realistic way full of the usual personal subjectivity that any conversation would have in real life, it adds this extremely heightened layer of depth to the world unlike anything I've ever played.


    On top of that primary point, VTM:B is essentially a film noir set in a seedy representation of Los Angeles. It can be closely compared to a gritty film representation of LA like Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown.

    Some screenshots of my own:

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    It just has this natural cool-ness to it (unlike the forced edginess of some other RPGs). Like the nightclub literally just plays Ministry, industrial rock music. The aethetic reminds me of the nightclub scene from The Matrix 1 when Neo follows the white rabbit.

    Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (RPG) - Dancing in the Confession
    Youtube Video

    I'd say it's overall aesthetic is Tarantino characters meet The Matrix clothing meet underground goth club from the 80s-90s:



    Just too many cool characters, clubs, streets. Everyone has distinct personalities and experiences in life. Honestly, top tier world building.

    1. Super Mario Maker
    2. Dreams
    3. Minecraft
    4. Lego Worlds
    5. Super Mario Maker 2

    Mario Maker's world feels much more lived in than 2. The addition of slopes is just superficial and adds nothing to the through line.

  • Bioshock was one of the best at world building. The beginning of that game is one of my favorite video game introductions. I like the way the world is presented as you make your way through the beautiful crumbling underwater city. I was completely immersed in the city of Rapture with it's great visual design, music, characters and environmental storytelling. It does use audio logs a little too much but they also help with the world building.

  • Some of my favorites in no particular order:

    1. Shenmue 1. The act of walking around in the game's world alone is already so immersive, with how detailed the game is. You can easily put yourself in a regular schedule, just like everyone else. Waking up in the morning, continuing to look for clues, taking a break at the arcades', and so on. It's a "each frame is worth a thousand words" kind of game, with how life-like it is.
    2. Carto. It's probably one of the most wholesome world in games. The world is filled with problems in each of it's locales, and yet it always has this sense of hope and adventure, as if it's welcoming these challenges, in a quirky way. Not to mention each of the locales being so distinct and full of personality. Plus, the cutesy art style helps.
    3. The Last of Us Part II. The first half was more than enough to immerse me in Seattle's rainy ruins, but the second half of the game completely opens my perspective to how big Seattle is, in pretty much every way. This feeling also impacted my feelings about the story, in a very positive way.

  • @bam541

    The Last of Us series in general has really solid world building with quarantine camps, Firefly symbols spray painted in your trot across America, and enough mention toward events of the past without overexplaining it, means there is an implication of a bigger world out there and you are just one small part of it.

    I love when games (and any media) does that. Imply the bigger universe without going too in depth. The prime example would be TLOU Pt II on the whole. I never would've guessed Seattle was a military settlement, but enough about the dissolve of America was implied in the first game for that reality to be pretty reasonable.

  • I loved CP77, spent a lot of time (literally hours) exploring the different districts on foot, lots of cool stuff when it comes to architecture and physical characterisation. Lots of jank too, I have to agree.

    Gears 5, I think it did a great job with environmental detail. Made me wish MS gave the series more attention.

    HL2, that opening is still fantastic today in how it establishes the world.