What's Your Favorite City in Games?


'Atomic Blonde' transported me to 1989 Berlin this weekend, and it reminded me of one of my favorite cities in all of gaming.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/a3d5d8/whats-your-favorite-city-in-games

Your Favourite Videogame Towns

More than any game I had played at the time Grand Soren & Cassardis in Dragons dogma felt (albeit a little small) like actual medieval city’s that had people who had lives that didn’t completely revolve around you.The layout of Grand Soren in particular feels believable based off my time traveling in old European towns & cities. Even though the game is mostly a straightforward action RPG with no climbing mechanic besides on the enemies, each one of these places have a surprising amount of verticality with secrets & what not. Even after hours of playing I still sometimes got lost in the urban quarter of GS & would end up just climbing a ladder, onto the roofs & jumping my way across the town back to the Inn.

God Dragons Dogma is such a good game.


I was initially thinking the open world of Los Santos from GTA or just Midgar from FF7 but as soon as I saw Dragonfall I remembered how much I loved that game and I think I just have to agree. Berlin really came to life in Dragonfall and to me it definitely beats Seattle and Hong Kong from the other games too.

I may also be a little biased though as Dragonfall had what I felt was the best “bad ending” in a game, where you can join the bad guys, kill your entire team, and watch the world come apart at the seams as it’s invaded by monsters from another dimension because you killed all the dragons. I enjoy a good bad ending.


Ecruteak City. Although it didn’t look like that in the original Pokemon Gold, it may as well have in my mind. There are many interesting Pokemon cities and towns, but this one was such a focus in the story of the games that it really stands out. It was also a very recognizably Japanese place, with the dance theater and architectural style. Also the music.


Sigil from Planescape: Torment. It combines density and economy. Two-thirds of Planescape: Torment takes place in Sigil, and at no moment does the setting grow boring. No building or place goes unused, they all relate to some sort of side-quest at least. Nearly every side-quest in the game occurs in Sigil. A town, city and two dungeons exist in the underground caverns beneath Sigil. Three dungeons above-ground exist in Sigil. From aesthetic view, the city’s inhabitants and locales vary so much that their diversity helps to convey the manifold worlds outside Sigil. The Upper and Lower Wards differ so much that they would be two different cities in a lesser game. Sigil is a paragon of small but detailed design, the antithesis of Bethesda’s maximalist bloat. I love Bethesda games for their geography, but I don’t just want to a bunch of land to cover. I want a lot of stuff to do. Sigil uses text, some great art design, and execellent character progression mechanics to feel as expansive as the endless cliffs and valleys that overfill so many open-world RPGS.


For me, it’s hard to top Paragon City from the MMO City of Heroes (RIP). Honestly, nothing has topped it for me since.

Why? It’s simple really - scale. Or, more specifically, the things the scale allowed them to do. By making the entire game world of an MMO a single city, it was allowed to feel like a city.

Atlas Park wasn’t just city hall - it was expensive fashion boutiques, towering office buildings, fancy hotels and emergency services all close at hand with the only ‘blue collar’ crime being relegated to back-alley muggings of city officials. King’s Row was packed dense with housing projects for low income families, but it was also where you found a lot of factories and Fifth Column rallies preying on the working class. And then, every now and then in King’s Row, you’d come across a small park packed between a tenement and a pipeline, and it felt like a city.

Size isn’t usually the most important factor in games, but the amount of personality and little details afforded to each district of Paragon City thanks to the sheer size of it did so much to make it feel like a place that you could go and visit, each subdivided zone being sizable enough to have a complex and distinct personality, and suffer from different villainous organizations often born from its demographics or pertinent issues. I truly hope to see another game like it in my lifetime!


Failbetter Games’ Fallen London. Even though it’s a browser game, the incredibly well written, copious text brings this version of a gothic, subterranean, stolen victorian capital to life in an absolutely fantastic way. What’s more, many of the familiar landmarks of London we know have had their names changed, so simply supplementing an ingame location with a known one and mentally changing the backdrop isn’t enough: you have to imagine and re-imagine everything, from the ground up, and mingle the presented mix of victorianna, subterfuge and eldritch mysteries the game presents, while trying to suss out exactly where you are - somehow lost amidst something that ought to be familar.


I’ll always remember City 17. It’s such a starkly gray and oddly cool portrayal of a police state. Its vague Eastern European locale while being “modernized” by alien architecture is really unique.


I really liked Greenvale in Deadly Premonition, and I think it’s because of how difficult it was to find my way around.
The map was hard to read and couldn’t be zoomed all the way out, and I didn’t know there was a fast travel item until after I finished the game. This made me actually have to learn the layout of the town, just like I would an actual area, instead of follow a line on the minimap. A few years after I finished the game, I watched one of my friends play through it and was happy to find that I could still give him general directions without needing the map at all.


Does Rapture (BioShock) count? Because definitely Rapture.


Opelucid City from Pokemon Black/White.

While Pokemon version exclusives usually feel kinda negligible to me, the two versions of the city (In Black it’s full of this bluish, futurist architecture with rounded buildings and lights and in White it’s all brownish, angled stone buildings with ivy and trees and cobblestone walkways) were so memorable for me that I still think about them 7 years after playing those games. For me at least, before Sun and Moon, Gen V was far and away the narrative peak of the series, and Opelucid was this physical manifestation (also auditory, because the city’s music was different as well) of a split between tradition and progress that those games tried to discuss. And since it’s implied that the city in Black is either the future or a potential future of the city in White by the land around the gym (full of trees in white/a bulldozed dirt lot in Black), it creates this underlying sense of conflict between past/present/future without ever explicitly bringing up those ideas.


I think all games in the series do a good job of portraying cities, but Lost Heaven from the first Mafia is my top choice. It was so full of detailed alleys (and some real secrets) and generally did a great job of portraying a time and place. I also loved how new buildings would appear as the game progressed.

I guess Vivec City would be my second choice, but honestly it’s a pretty distant second.


Hengsha, the two story city from Deus Ex Human Revolution. The lower level is so densely packed with details that make it feel not just lived in, but conveys how overcrowded it is. It’s back to back shops, apartments, and neon signs competing for attention. There are hardly any walls that are just, you know, walls. Why waste space with bricks when you can cram a little storefront in there? You can spend hours wandering around the maze, trying to figure out what’s up with those air conditioners, and exploring a surprising number of buildings and apartment you can enter.

What makes it really stand out is how later on, after you’ve spent a bunch of time in the “first floor” of the city you get to see what it’s like on the top level. You go from a black and gold themed, perpetually night, urban sprawl into a fairly generic (but still great looking) warehouse, ride an elevator up, pop out into a gorgeous office complex and this song starts playing. It’s all bright florescent lights, sharp lines, hardwood floors, and bold colors. You can look out the window to see a city that, while it’s probably still pretty crowded, just looks so much more livable. There’s even this massive multi-level park that takes up so much space because the people up here are wealthy enough to spare it. It’s maybe my favorite view of any game.

On paper this literal interpretation of upper class/lower class sounds a little too on the nose, but the style and subtly of Deus Ex makes it work in ways other games couldn’t. Oh and sorry about all the links! Thinking about it made me want to look up a bunch of screenshots.


Ogrimmar tops the list for me; after spending my first levels in the beginner areas, where the player populations were relatively sparse, coming into the city and seeing how alive it was with player activity and interaction was a big moment for me; I wasn’t the central character in the story anymore – there was a whole world out there that kept bustling while I was logged out.


The Orange Army Castle in Suikoden 1 and 2. I built it, I stocked it, I made it better, it was mine.


New York City circa Spider-man 2.


Following on from Vivec & Dragonfall’s Berlin, I’d probably say the city from Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, which definitely accomplishes the whole “city as another character” thing talked about in the article. I’ll also always have a soft spot for the atmosphere & vibe of Rabanastre from Final Fantasy XII, that city always felt alive to me.


High Pass Hold from Everquest 1 still has a dear place in my heart.


Seems as if people are picking a favourite city as in “this city was well-depicted, fun to play in the game,” but I wonder if we’d see different responses if the idea was to pick somewhere you’d want to live. Venice from The Longest Journey seems like a pretty chill place.


That is an interesting thought! A lot of what makes a city great to me in a game is how alive it feels but also what activities my player can do in it or the stories being told. As a regular citizen I’d probably not want to live in many cities I’ve grown to love in games like City 17. Because as a city I interact with as a player, I’d probably say Dunwall or (I know I know I know) Columbia. But as a place to live I couldn’t even begin to figure out.

Come back to me in November when I’ve explored New Donk City :stuck_out_tongue: