When it comes to first person shooters, story and world building usually takes a backseat. The focus for the genre is always tight controls and exciting gameplay. Halo to the average viewer may seem that way as well, it has many sci-fi tropes with space marines, invading aliens and laser guns, but Halo as a series has built up a pretty expansive universe. There is the presence of an ancient civilization known as the Forerunners, planet sized weapons of mass extinction, the developed cultures of the Covenant, the horde of alien zombies known as the flood, slipspace travel, artificial intelligence with more character than the main protagonists in may games, and the list continues on and on. Started with Bungie and continued by 343 Studios, the Halo universe has expanded over the years and contains as much content and details as you would find in many complex role playing games.
.hack is a strange case when it comes to calling its universe science fiction, since it seems to have a lot more in common with fantasy, with people in wizard and warrior outfits fighting giant monsters in JRPG-styled wide open fields. There’s more to .hack’s universe than meets the eye, however. The bulk of the franchise takes place in a virtual reality MMORPG known as The World. The World is made up of data and code; this includes the player characters, the backdrops, the monsters, and even a few Artificial Intelligences and virus-corrupted creatures wandering around the place. As well, it takes place in a timeline in which a computer virus completely obliterates all but one operating system on every computer on Earth, which leads to the internet becoming closed off to the general public for at least two years, right up until the release The World. This feels eerily prescient in our own time with both the rise of dangerous malware and virtual reality taking center stage in recent years. .hack follows in the tradition of classic science fantasy, with something very familiar mixing with something very fantastical.
People often forget that horrible, lifeless wastelands are technically sci-fi (I guess it gives off more of an old western vibe more than anything else.) But don’t forget that while these worlds are deadly deserts taken on with a gun, they were once futuristic cities just teeming with technology. Fallout does a phenomenal job of keeping the player in the desolate desert that is the near-future while alluding to the fantastical place that was the future recently passed. Ghouls, robots, synthetics, and strange mutations roam the openness of the waste alongside humans trying to find their place in this new dystopian society. Not only does Fallout draw you in with the interesting creatures and places, but the story and lore keep you up well past 4 a.m. to discover. The lore of the Fallout universe has even snuck into our own rhetoric. Many on the wild west of the internet suggest that Trump is the beginning of a Fallout-esque ending. His actions, if he were in office, would lead to “Trump Shelters,” which would eventually be bought out by a company called “Vault Technologies” which would come in use during the nuclear war of 2077. What other video game universe has ever been this close to becoming real? Better stock up on your bottle caps!
2. Mass Effect
When someone says Sci-Fi, I think of adventure, danger, space, and of course aliens. While we are accustomed to movies and books diving into deep lore, it’s not so much a commonality in video games. Mass Effect created a whole rich history around their beloved Commander Shepard and her/his universe. What made me love this series so much were the hidden pockets of information throughout the story. The more you played the games, the more you spoke with characters, and the more you interacted with the environments, the more you learned about Mass Effect’s intricate lore. Though the games offer a large amount of information, Bioware worked with Dark Horse Comics to release graphic novels detailing the lives of Shepard’s crewmates before they ever stepped foot on the Normandy. With Andromeda right around the corner, I hope that Bioware continues to expand the Mass Effect universe and intertwining stories.