Best Setting is kind of a complicated category because it isn’t simply “Best Open World.” Open worlds certainly qualify — and may have an advantage — but these are the games that best establish a sense of place as you play them. That might be about exploration or how you interact with the world, but it could also be a combination of visual and audio execution, or even worlds with phenomenal backstory. Everything should add up to a fully realized game world. “Best Setting” is just a catchier title.
This game would have easily made the list had I finished it.
Great variety, but things are a bit too derivative here to take down any of the top five.
Definitely not a world I’d want to visit, but still an engrossing one.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Koholint Island is a weird, super fun mishmash of other Nintendo properties.
5. Pokemon Sword
Pokemon Sword and Shield got a ridiculous amount of unfair hate this year (and also some fair hate, to be fair). But the Galar Region is still incredibly fun to explore and the Wild Area is a nice addition. At this point, it can’t have been easy to make yet another Pokemon region and have it feel fresh, but Nintendo and Game Freak succeeded.
4. Kingdom Hearts III
I’m definitely not in love with the worlds Disney and Square Enix chose to focus on for Kingdom Hearts III, especially in comparison to previous games. But I guess you gotta use the new stuff in the new game. The worlds do feel pretty empty in general, but there are occasional secrets to find and the Big Hero 6 level in particular is fun to navigate. Even the worst Disney worlds are more interesting than the worlds in most other games.
3. The Outer Worlds
Fallout — but in space! I’d lob on plenty of praise to Obsidian for all the ambient humor and personality they injected into The Outer Worlds, but most of it does feel pretty expected if you’ve played a Fallout game. Still, this is a game where I actually wanted to read the flavor text and explore every nook and cranny in the hopes of finding something else funny.
2. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
Yeah, it’s just Star Wars. But this is better, more developed Star Wars fiction than we’ve seen since Knights of the Old Republic. I’ve never been a fan of backtracking in video games, and while Jedi Fallen Order doesn’t change my mind on that, at least the movement feels good and the spaces are often beautiful. While the quantity of planets you visit is slightly disappointing, each one is filled to the brim with stuff to explore and has all the sights and sounds you crave from this galaxy far, far away.
Beyond just wanting to read all the flavor text and journal entries, I absolutely could not get enough of the weirdness there is to find in Control’s The Oldest House. I read every page entry, listened to every audio log, and watched all of the absolutely insane live action videos. I also finished all of the Objects of Power side quests because I was desperate to see what they all were. Much of Control’s setting is truly unexplainable, but that never stopped me from trying to find justifications for the stuff that was clearly beyond science. This is legitimately one of the most interesting video game worlds I’ve ever seen.
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