Games of the Generation – Part 4: The Sublime

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In the age of the Romantic poets the idea of the sublime came to mean an overwhelming, almost religious feeling of awe in the face of nature; an intoxicating mixture of pleasure and fear. The Romantic poets and wealthy patrons flocked to the Alps in droves, and those snow capped wonders to them couldn’t have been a million miles from our experience of Skyrim’s mountainous landscape, sans dragons. In fact if John Keats had been born in the late twentieth century he would almost certainly have given up poetry to become a game designer, probably on the staff of Bethesda. It’s hardly surprising that this selection is predominantly made up of RPGs. Whilst all games relish a beautiful setting, RPGs build vast worlds to inhabit and the designers strive hard to make you feel immersed in them. These are games in which the enduring memory might not be the core gameplay mechanic, so much as wandering the landscape on horseback or just stopping to admire a sunset.

James Hamblin
Red Dead Redemption
red-dead-redemptionI’m not sure who managed to convince the bigwigs at Rockstar Games to chance their arm, and a substantial portion of their wagon full of gold, on a triple-A Western game, but they must have been a direct descendent of Nigel West Dickens, Red Dead Redemption’s silver-tongued snake oil salesman.

Prior to RDR, the Old West was a period the games industry appeared to have, quite literally, consigned to the pages of history – you don’t see many ten gallon hats amongst the Twitter generation – but Redemption revived it and returned it to relevance with its evocative open world and charismatic cast of characters.

Sure, the game had all the standard Western theme park fixings: swinging saloon doors, smoking six-shooters, malevolently bestubbled bandits and steadfast sheriffs, who struggled to uphold the law with the kind of true metal that belied the cheap tin badges pinned to their chests. But along with the lovingly crafted clichés, Rockstar also delivered breathtaking big sky scenery and a poignant tale of the price of progress exemplified by two men, John Marston and Dutch van der Linde, unable to change.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but RDR’s lawless borderlands were a near perfect fit for the Grand Theft Auto template. Better, in fact, than GTA itself. And whether it was intense shootouts in the searing heat of high noon, sitting by the glowing embers of a campfire under constellation studded skies or just standing, happily watching the light play on the meandering waters of the San Luis River, knowing that any second I was about to be jumped by a cougar from behind, I relished every second I spent out on Redemption’s dusty plains.

Juliette Deforges
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
skyrimAs I run through the fresh snow I can hear it crunch underfoot, the winter sunlight shines through the leaves of evergreen trees and, between them, I catch glimpses of mists blowing from majestic mountaintops. This is epic, this is beautiful, this is… Woah! Was that a dragon?

For a few months, starting in November 2011 with the launch of Skyrim, I was as likely to have conversations with friends about smithing armour, enchanting, or spell casting as I was to talk to them about real world events. I had friends who ducked out on social events with the excuse “Sorry, I’m killing dragons” and I even remember a debate about the injustice of Imperial occupation. There’s no denying it, the world that Bethesda created with Skyrim was as immersive as it was detailed.

Skyrim was a huge leap forward from the preceding game in the series, Oblivion, and you could see and feel the love and commitment that Bethesda had poured into this masterpiece at almost every turn. Whether it was the intricate system of perks that allowed you to meaningfully enhance your chosen style of play, the achingly beautiful soundtrack, or the visuals that could stop you in your tracks just to appreciate the view, it’s clear that Bethesda pulled out all the stops on this one.

I spent weeks immersed in the world of Skyrim, playing the main quest, looking for side quests or simply wondering around, discovering new places. The game offered such a lot of content that kept me engaged. And even when there were no more scripted adventures left, I could simply satisfy my compulsion for picking up ‘stuff’ by exploring every single remaining dungeon and cave.

And when I got bored… Hell! I never got bored.

Susan Marmito
Dragon Age: Origins
Dragon-AgeI could write ‘Alistair’ repeatedly for the remainder of this paragraph to explain why Dragon Age: Origins has such a special place in my heart among the many brilliant games of the last generation and if you’ve played the game, you’ll probably agree. The real reason I love Alistair so much is because Dragon Age: Origins made me love him. Simply put, it’s because of Bioware’s hallmark engaging storytelling and fully-realised characters. Your team members have tangible motivations, solid personalities and relatable emotions that turn a typical ‘save the world’ scenario into something special. The game feels very big because of the scope of the disaster you’re trying to prevent, but also very personal because you’re trying to build a solid team and forge relationships with people who were initially reluctant to come together, but by the end have a very strong bond.

It’s similar of course to Mass Effect, although this is a more visceral fantasy setting with magic, demons and big swords. The decisions you make over the course of the game also feel bigger, more important as they can change the story more so than Mass Effect, really making you feel as if you’re creating a legendary tale. Dragon Age: Origins is a wonderfully immersive game that asks you to get stuck in and really get invested in this fight against an ultimate evil. Who can resist, especially if Alistair, wonderfully cheeky, swoon-worthy, brave Alistair is in your party?

Fran Shergold
Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning
kingdoms-of-amalurKingdoms of Amalur : Reckoning has all the best parts of western RPGs, it’s not too complicated, and you just feel totally frickin’ powerful, especially if you have almighty mage powers. With explosions bursing all around you it feels… epic. You never feel like you’re grinding, and the lack of the voice of a main character actually helps you to feel like you’re exploring the world yourself, especially with the extensive character customization. The cartoony art style leaves enough to the imagination, so you can make the world your own, but the lands are beautiful to look at, and the map is huge.

You can also dual wield. I used a staff for short range bad-assery, and twin circle blade Chakrams for long range enemy slicing and dicing. After a hard day at work, coming home, holding a button, and managing to slice a whole screen of enemies with enchanted blades is immensely satisfying.

It’s one of the most underrated games for fans of RPGs, as no-one seemed to buy it. The benefit of that is that you can now pick it up cheap and have a whole load of fun wandering if you’ve already exhausted Skyrim, the downside is that the company responsible has folded and the planned MMORPG in the universe will now never come to pass. The story is an interesting take on the genre, but what’s really fun is the sandbox nature of the game, you can follow the quest if you like, or if not you can just immerse yourself in a compelling and largely unknown fantasy world.

Duncan Aird
Metro 2033
Metro-2033Metro 2033, and subsequently its sequel Metro: Last Light, was the most absorbing gaming experience I had with the last generation of consoles. Sure Call of Duty sucked days of my life away online, and Fallout 3 was bigger than I ever dreamed games would be as a kid, but Metro 2033 showed me a whole new world of potential.

Quickest plot summary I can give is: nuclear war occurs in Russia, forcing the remaining human population underground into the train tunnels, and making mutants roam the lands above. It’s also based on a series of books by the same name, that I also recommend highly.

The reason I chose Metro 2033, though, was because there was not one second of that game where I wasn’t in the moment. Never as I was playing did I ever think about the fact I was in a game, or that the story I was in wasn’t real, and that had never happened to me before. The game mechanics, weapon design, and feeling of isolation were unparalleled for me – and that remains true to this day. Every element of it felt perfectly crafted to fit the universe and my time in it. To add a cherry on top of it all, the game was made by a very small development team under unbelievable circumstances. Metro 2033 is my game of the last generation, it is a stunning achievement in gaming, and I will never forget it.


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