By Leah McDonald / February 17th, 2023
2021: Shin Megami Tensei V
How well does a game’s environment immerse you in its world? How well crafted is the feeling of existing in a wholly artificial space? Best Atmosphere is awarded to the game that exemplifies these traits, and our three contenders all manage to create impactful, memorable worlds, but only one of them can be our 2022 Best Atmosphere winner. Let’s read on to see who takes the crown.
NA Release Date: February 25, 2022
Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
The Lands Between are a gorgeous, mysterious and dangerous world filled with both beauty and horror. Deep caves where no light penetrates give way to high plains bathed in the golden glow of the Erdtree that towers over almost every inch of the world. Very rarely does it ever leave the player’s sight, and when it does, it usually bodes ill. There are snow-covered fields, arid deserts, and thick forests dense with fauna. If you can think of an ecosystem, Elden Ring likely boasts it. Despite the game’s dark themes and generally oppressive atmosphere, the Lands Between are anything but dreary. I haven’t seen a skybox as gorgeous as Nokron’s in any game ever, and the first time I descended into the subterrane, it took my breath away. The Moonlight Altar, as well, is stunningly beautiful, while Caelid’s crimson tones and diseased flora are unsettling and grotesque. Traversing the Lands Between can be breathtakingly beautiful, and the scarred remains of towns and cities speak to the horrors that have befallen this world in ways words can’t quite convey. It is a world that is easy to get lost in, but is it enough for it to win our 2022 Best Atmosphere award?
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
NA Release Date: July 29, 2022
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
My sister once again graced me with her knowledge of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 to give me her thoughts on what makes the game’s atmosphere so memorable. Here’s what she had to say:
“Aionios is like a beautiful blend of familiar but different landscapes. The very first area you’re in is a desecrated battlefield that opens up into Colony 9. You traverse from valleys to plateaus and at all times you can see the broken shadow of Uraya and the distant shadow of the Sword. Everything feels nostalgic, but it’s also wrong, so you get this sense of ‘I know this, but it’s not quite right.’ Xenoblade 3 doesn’t have Elden Ring’s oppressive atmosphere, but it does carry a lot of mystery and intrigue, and the way the world always sits on the cusp of familiarity lends itself to the themes of the game and the sense that ‘something’ is wrong with the world. It makes for an incredibly melancholic but memorable atmosphere. I stumbled on one spot and had to actually stop, struck by the realization that ‘I know this place!’ because of the way the game so perfectly blends areas from previous games to create something new, but nostalgic.”
Can Xenoblade Chronicles 3‘s blend of old and new give it the win in our 2022 Best Atmosphere Award, though?
NA Release Date: July 19, 2022
Platform(s): PS4, PS5, PC
The end of civilization comes in many flavors, but I found Stray‘s version particularly poignant. It isn’t the overgrown, reclaimed world of The Last of Us; it isn’t barren wastelands and deserts like Fist of the North Star; is isn’t even the charred out husks of cities like with Terminator. It’s just a quiet, dirty city inhabited by robots mimicking the daily lives of humans they’ve never known, but still somehow remember, and it gives the game a melancholic but mundane sense of familiarity. The Abandoned City feels lived in and alive without a single living creature in it. You feel like you can walk its alleys and visit its businesses and nothing would be out of the ordinary from your life now. The neon lights, random music blaring from a robot’s boombox, and even kids playing pranks just feels comfortable. But, just beyond the boundaries of this dead city are roiling hives of gluttonous, nightmarish creatures that will stop at nothing to literally eat you alive. I love the juxtaposition of both, and it made my time playing Stray particularly memorable. But is it enough for this game to cinch the win for our 2022 Best Atmosphere Award?
And the Best Atmosphere winner is…
All three of our contenders are honestly fantastic at building memorable worlds for players to explore and live in, but Stray just narrowly beat out the competition. Considering the time you spend in the Abandoned City, it needed to leave its mark early and strong, and that’s exactly what it did.
I owe Brandon Rose a special thanks for creating the featured image for these Awards on short notice. You should check him and his works out over on Twitter.
2022 oprainfall AwardsBest AtmosphereElden RingOpRainfall AwardsStrayXenoblade Chronicles 3