There are gaming environments out there that are massive, worlds which are deeply involving in both story and character. Worlds that take you from town to town and are filled with creatures to fight and items and weapons to attain. Then there are worlds that require you to walk for miles upon miles in what seems to be real time. Worlds that require you to micro-manage resources, items, weapons, and populations. And, as video games have improved in technology, so have the worlds. These days, there's a greater demand for such involving worlds, and these are my top ten.

Some RTS's merely require the gathering of resources, building of units, and construction of buildings. Sins requires you to conquer entire planets, and eventually an entire galaxy, winning over it's people, and building massive fleets of starships. Sure, there's no real plot running through the game, but that doesn't matter much when you get four friends together and have a massive battle for an entire galaxy that can span 3-5 hours. But it isn't enough to simply crush your enemy with brute force. You're required to explore planets, gather materials, win over the population of planets through diplomacy, and do research to improve every aspect of your empire. With several distinct races, there's a number of differences in how one plays, but this is definately not a game for a quick skirmish or for those looking to just go blow some stuff up. Sins takes RTS to an unpresidented scale in one of the most involving, and massive, RTS universes ever created.

An unsual game with a series that blew up into a massive legacy, Sim City was the original. It wasn't about warfare or managing an empire, it was all about building a city. And you REALLY built a city. You controlled taxation, built water pipes throughout the entire city, built industries, and tried to bring people to your city. Heck, you could even demolish it with natural disasters. Later entries allowed you to do much, much more, such as micromanaging populations and specific buildings. The series even created one of the most beloved series of all time in The Sims. But, the original is probably the most important because it not only laid the groundwork for future simulations of its type, but showed that people were interested. And this was a series that forced you to get deeply involved in its world, lest you fail and see your city shrivel like a raisin. But even when the city failed, it was still fun to try and micro manage all those little aspects. Of course, if all else failed, you could always create a flood, followed by an earthquake, and then a subsequent fire.

It isn't so much that System Shock 2 was a massive open ended world, but it successfully blended multiple genres, giving you multiple ways of handling a situation. You had the ability to hack, bust locks, kill bad guys, or sneak around, all in a massive ship. This was the father of Bioshock, and it shows in every way. Not only through gameplay, but through story, character, and atmosphere as well. You become deeply invested in the well being of your character, and there is a sense of dread and urgency as you explore the Von Braun, hearing the creepy noises, exploring the darkness, and reading of the ill fates of the crew through notes and tapes left behind. While future games added to what Bio Shock left behind, few games captured such an environment so effectively. Even Bioshock doesn't quite capture that same gut wrenching feeling of dread that System Shock so successfully created. It may not be a huge world, but System Shock more than makes up for it through plot, back story, and atmosphere, all which make this gaming world feel very involving.

By the time Assassin's Creed had come out, open world gaming was a staple. So many games had dealt with it, copying the GTA III formula to try and capitalize on it's successful formula. Few, however, made it look as cool as Assassin's Creed. While the story was fairly interesting, and it's choice of time period and environment were certainly very refreshing, it was the gameplay that defined both the game itself and the world it existed in. History, I have to say, has never seemed more realized in an action/adventure game. Israel and Italy have never been seen like Assassin's Creed showed them. And the views that you can get of the cities you fight in are often times breathtaking. Sure, games like InFamous created massive cities full of life too, but this was on a different level. History was alive here, and you had the ability to scale all it's walls, towers, and buildings. Crowds cluttered the streets, and you could blend in, assassinate a target, and slip away. AC2 only improved on these aspects and created a bigger game with bigger cities, and once again, history came to life. If there was ever an action/adventure that felt so alive, I have yet to see it. But, for the simple fact that this game does such a wonderful job of recreating history and immersing the player into it, it gets a spot on this list.

To call the Civilization series an RTS is to do it a great disservice. This is an RTS and Sim City rolled into one. This is a series where an empire is built and molded through ages. Battles and resource gathering are only a mere stepping stone in the game. And as the series has improved, it has gotten bigger and better, with more to do, more micromanagement, and better AI competitors. On top of this, the ages have varied. There are very few games out there that can compare to Civ on such a scale, and Civ IV is the cream of that crop (until Civ V comes out). Even religion becomes an aspect of gameplay, and your success depends greatly on how well you can micro-manage an empire. You have to satisfy your population, maintain diplomacy, maintain and collect resources, and yes, even wage battle. All the combined factors of Civ IV make it one of the most involving games ever created.

Mass Effect has some very apparent limitations, but you wouldn't realize it playing through the game. You can't do the play-your-own-way as you can in games like Fallout and Elder Scrolls IV, but the world Mass Effect takes place in is huge nonetheless. What really makes it shine is the population of the world and the ability to meet this population. We're talking Star Wars level epicness here. You can talk to practically anyone, and choices you make in conversation affect the world around you. Even your character is shaped by how you treat the world around you. While the entirety of this world is not always apparent or visible, the back story is collosal. There are a huge number of planets, species, characters, and items to explore. This is a massive, living, breathing universe far from Earth that humanity is new to. Sure, the gameplay lacks, but the game is no less enthralling. The characters are well designed and conversations and exploring the information available turns the Mass Effect series into one of the deepest and involving sci-fi series available since the original Star Wars trilogy.

Elder Scrolls IV took a rarely explored type of hybrid gaming and turned into something that became hugely popular. Previously established in such series such as Deus Ex and System Shock 2, here was a world that was both massive and deeply involving. Not only was there physical and magic combat, but there were a whole plethora of other activities to do, such as crafting, stealing, riding horses, shopping, etc. Sure, most of these things are staples of RPG's, but much like the previously mentioned games, this combined those RPG elements with action, stealth, and other genre elements. You weren't limited to one solution and exploration in this world spanned hours. While it might not appeal to those not terribly interested in a fantasy setting, it certainly opened up the door for some interest. And the fact that it took place through the eyes of an FPS only made it that much more involving. This hybrid form of game would soon shape expectations for the future of gaming and game design, giving people something to expect out of future game worlds.

Fallout 3 had to be one of the most anticipated games at the time of its release. It had a heck of a legacy to live up to, but if Elder Scrolls showed anything, it's that it could easily be done. And sure enough, it lived up to it's monumental expectations. Fallout 3 is so chock full of choices, ways to play, and little bits and pieces here and there, it could take a whole month of straight playing to get through it all. Though the game only covered an immediate area, it's still absolutely huge, and in game time easily covers months. It's populated with interesting characters, all of whom have their own lives to live, filled with problems, joys, sorrows, and needs. This is another RPG/Action hybrid, but unlike Elder Scrolls, this one was closer to home, with a setting in our own world, and people and plights that were more relatable. Here, you had the ability to play as you wished, whether that meant making your character a smooth talker, a brainy scientist, or hard boiled soldier. To get to places you had to cross miles, and once there, you could easily spend hours taking on missions. Fallout 3 may very well be the modern definition of a deeply involving game world.

While System Shock 2 could be considered the father of the hybrid genre game, Deus Ex nearly perfected it. This is just a game that allowed you to play the way you wanted to, this was an immersive novel of a game with a deep mythology rooted in our own world. The games core story involving a conspiracy alone covers government involvement with its people, military matters, and other philosophical and political aspects. This game took a style of gameplay and created a story and world that expanded almost indefinately. People here engage in talks of philosophy, politics, military matters, socialism, and even simple everyday matters. There's humor sprinkled liberally, the conspiracy story is extremely heavily involving, the plethora of characters are the definition of three dimensional, and you travel to various real world locations that art expertly recreated to fit a near future existence. Sure, it doesn't look pretty, but what is there more than makes up for it. And the fact that you are able to play as you desire, whether thats taking a stealthy approach, negotiating and bartering, or blasting you way through, only makes the game's world that much bigger. Deus Ex didn't just create a large gaming world, it filled it to the brim with life and character in one of the most unforgettable gaming environments ever created.

I know it seems a little obvious, but credit should go where credit is due. Grand Theft Auto III might have been the most revolutionary game in the new millineum, but GTA IV improved on it's father in nearly every way. The city was bigger and more involving. There was more to do, more characters to interact with, and endless hours of seemingly useless fun. What makes GTA IV stand out so far ahead of any other game is the sheer fact that you can play without a goal. There are very few games that you can play for the aspect of just playing them, but GTA IV does a great job of making this happen. Just cruising the city or getting the military to come and stealing a tank, these things bear no significance on completing the game, but make it worth playing anyway. But what's more is how alive the city is. This is a pretty authentic recreation of a real life city, and it's filled with people, vehicles, and life. Citizens of Liberty City commit top their own goals and tasks and you really feel like just another citizen living in the city. One can imagine how many stories there are, and the expansions released after the game prove that there is more story to tell in GTA IV than just Niko's. GTA III redefined the model for gaming, showing that linearity, and even goal oriented games, didn't have to be the only option for development. It showed that, simply by creating an open ended living, breathing world with plenty of things to do, people could have fun just playing. GTA IV improved on all of this. The series after GTA III is defined by the world it takes place in, and it remains the most involved gaming world in the history of gaming.

Gaming environments are a key ingredient to a good game. A huge gaming world with deep characters and a great story can create a timeless experience that can warrant repeat playing time and time again. But when a game strives for something more, a scale that few would dare try to achieve, and actually succeeds, then you have games that are worthy of mass recognition. The games in this list have created worlds that we can get lost in and, to me, remain some of the best examples of what a perfect gaming world should be.

List by Pierce_Sparrow (08/02/2010)

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