10 Best Winter-Themed Levels And Games | Column from the Editor

With Winter and the holiday season among us, the weather will begin to get colder by the day in most parts of the world. To commemorate that, we have a list of the ten best games, or modes or maps in games, in which the cold, snowy or even festive environment largely contributed to their success.

Let’s begin:

10. We Were Here series

All three of these time sensitive, thrilling puzzle oriented games begin with a basic premise — your character, along with the friend you’re playing with, is in a barren, snowy wasteland. In We Were Here Together, instead of aimlessly traveling, you and your friend eventually end up responding to an SOS to help a group of people who themselves got stuck wandering out there. In either case, you and your friend end up paying a visit to the deadly Castle Rock, where the intense puzzles of lethal and often confusing games begin.

In general, the atmosphere which surrounds Castle Rock helps to give the building quite a lot of story based integrity. When heading inside, your characters are seeking refuge from what is basically a frozen hell that they’re sure to perish in. At the end of the game, your characters come to the conclusion that Castle Rock is far deadlier than anything the elements can throw at them, and are happy when they, or one of them, is able to escape.

In the first ‘We Were Here’ title in particular, one of many deadly puzzles comes in the castle’s courtyard. Here, one player must examine a chess board as a projector recounts how a game between two chess players went down. The player with the projector must relay this information to the player whose character is stuck out in the courtyard, who must quickly re-enact each turn perfectly before freezing to death.

In the third game, one of the puzzles the players interact with depicts a scene where a group of prospectors attempted to mine a resource rich mountain. The eerie silence and seemingly lack of success, or signs of life, shown by the mining operation is perfectly complemented by the frigid cold and icy atmosphere. It prompts the player to ask- what happened to the mining crew? Did they go home and leave their setup here? Or… did *something* force them to leave?

Overall, this game does a lot with its freezing cold atmosphere in all three games. With the fourth game on the way, it seems set to do so again.

9. Frozen Hillside (Kirby Air Ride)

One of the most iconic tracks on a cult classic GameCube era video game, this map was absolutely picturesque for its time. Both the soundtrack and graphics were absolutely amazing and make the players involved really feel immersed on this rightfully named frozen hillside. 

Fans have been clamoring for a sequel, or even a remake, of Kirby Air Ride for well over a decade since the game launched. If a remake is ever made, we may get to witness this amazing map with more modernized textures, which is quite promising. 

8. Cainhurst Castle (Bloodborne)

Bloodborne in general did a great job using fairly basic graphics and fluid gameplay to set memorable, sometimes thrilling scenes. Cainhurst Castle was certainly no exception. Here, the player(s) approach the outskirts of the deadly, haunted Cainhurst Castle in an attempt to reach a very influential NPC ally. In doing so, they’ll do battle with large, hideous beasts near the front door, head inside and fight apparitions and griffons, and eventually take dangerous treks across the sides of the snowy castle, climb onto its rooftop, and engage in an epic duel with Martyr Logarius, one of the faster paced bosses in the game.

Here, the frigid environment really helps set up a tense, thrilling trek. The snow capped, black ice induced ridges leading up to the castle are intentionally placed to give off ominous vibes about the deadly castle, either encouraging players to push on bravely, causing players to tense up at the intimidating scene, or both. 

In particular, the occasional blizzard and cold environment helps complement the fight with Martyr Logarius really well. The slow, sudden but abrupt soundtrack, how slowly he moves at the start of the fight and the unnerving atmosphere made this arguably the most memorable fight in all of Bloodborne.

7. Red Dead Redemption 2 (prologue)

A game which has turned into a classic, Red Dead Redemption 2 begins with the player controlling Arthur Morgan, as a member of Dutch van der Linde’s group of outlaws. Here, the gang is on the run from the law as usual, but their escapades have brought them to the far North of the map during winter time, where it is extremely cold and constantly snowing. 

Good video games centered around combat, or a binary conflict of sorts, begin with the player being very lightly equipped and vulnerable. Bear in mind that RDR2 takes place at a time well before modern heating methods existed, so being unable to access permanent shelter makes battling the elements all the more gruesome. Simply put, this setting does an amazing job at instilling fear and vulnerability into the player.

6. Origins (Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 & 3)

One of the most popular Zombies maps of all time, Origins is entirely based in an atmosphere with endless cold, depressing weather. At random points during gameplay, a large flurry of snow begins to fall — this occurrence happens to be very important for one crucial step during the map’s main quest, or, “Easter Egg.” The atmosphere begun by the frigid, dangerous weather is well supported by an endless dogfight of fighter planes taking place in the skies above where the players reside. Of course, doing battle with mutilated, frost bitten zombies helps to supplement this as well.

5. Winter Festival of Simril (Neverwinter)

This one gets a little bit of ‘bonus points’ for being holiday themed as well. Unlike others on this list, cold, icy weather is used to instill a bright, festive mood rather than a grim, desolate or depressing one. It does so pretty well too. 

Neverwinter is well-known for being an extremely grindy game, as it has constantly added new content for the last several years while being an MMO, which are notorious time sinks to begin with. The Winter Festival of Simril helps newer or casual players by allowing them to obtain currencies for other campaigns, as well as strong gear and accessories to help them get ahead a little bit.

Even though there’s nothing tangible for longer-term players to really do, veteran players are typically drawn in anyway just by the sheer pleasant environment of the city of Twilight Tor. There’s just something so charming about obtaining a Gift of Simril, giving it to a friend, having them find a Gift of Simril, giving it back to you, and having hours of constant cycling between getting and giving gifts off the metaphoric forest fire that this event allows for. Even if you’ve put a ton of hours in this game and seemingly have everything, that type of mindless gift giving activity ends up being fun. Plus, if you or your friends are lucky enough to eventually obtain something really special, such as a rare mount, in a gift, it simply goes to enhance this distinction.

4. Mt Ormond (Dead by Daylight)

Mt Ormond has been a part of the game for a few years now, and still remains DbD’s only snow oriented map. The map itself is basically a giant wooden lodge atop a big snowy mountain which resides next to a large ski slope.

Overall, gameplay on Mt Ormond is consistently engaging. The contrast between white snow and character cosmetics means that hiding and stalling out a game is less prevalent for Survivors here than on other maps. On the other hand, there are enough strong structures for Survivors to evade the Killer reasonably well- this does a good job facilitating consistently engaging gameplay.

Aesthetically, the map is incredible. The interior of the lodge looks like a labor of love from Behavior Interactive, as it has been clearly tediously mastered between the open, warm fire, counter place where transactions presumably took place, and the slightly ruined, decaying hallway and bedrooms on the top floor which suit a horror themed game well.

3. Until Dawn

The entirety of this game is based on Blackwood Mountain, a snow-filled getaway for a group of mid aged friends to spend a getaway vacation at. Here, the chilly atmosphere works in two different ways — watching Beth and Hannah fall off of a cliff side to their doom is made more terrifying by the enormous blizzard and slippery slopes which make them slip off and fall. Later, when they’re discovered, it is done in a frigid, desolate cavern that tells the tale of what happened to them after they fell by itself. 

The snowy atmosphere also does a good job seeming friendly under its horror themed guise. A long scene in which Sam and Chris engage in a snowball fight makes the environment seem friendly and ready to facilitate a fun vacation. 

For the most part, however, inspecting a large abandoned Sanatorium, taking refuge from the deadly Wendigos or hastily running about the Mountain trying to find lost, possibly killed friends lets the atmosphere really shine as it complements each of these scenes well. Until Dawn probably would’ve been a vastly different experience without the cold weather that supplemented it.

2. Storm King’s Thunder (Neverwinter)

Note: This pertains to the video game, not the larger scaled campaign done in tabletop Dungeons & Dragons by the same name

Storm King’s Thunder offers a series of maps, a dungeon and a battlefield with an amazing skirmish, which all utilize the snowy, frozen atmosphere perfectly.

Bryn Shander is where the player begins the campaign. Here, the blizzard is so harsh that the player cannot see more than about fifteen feet in front of them, which can make trekking through it amongst dangerous Dire Polar Bears, Winter Wolves and enemy Barbarians all the deadlier. There’s also a Yeti which attacks the town every seven days whose approach is masked by this blizzard.

Lonelywood is much more tame, but drearier in contrast. Here, many of the townsfolk have begun to suffer immensely from the crippling Everfrost. It’s up to the player to help them out, while also driving off enemy Trolls and Frost Giants, with a neat weekly quest taking place at the town’s local religious shrine as Trolls will attempt to defile it.

Cold Run is where the gameplay becomes a tad one dimensional, but engaging nevertheless. It is here where the race to locate the legendary Ring of Winter comes full scale. The Frost Giants have mostly left behind their Troll underlings and are the main opposition here. Frequent encounters with Frost Giant commanders take place, on graphically well designed ships and the terrain itself.

The Sea of Moving Ice is the largest non-dungeon. The name says it all- the player frequently must use a small boat to traverse the map, where they then need to raid Frost Giant ships and inflict losses onto them. Here, the feared Bear Tribe becomes a nuisance as well.

Finally, Fangbreaker Island and the Assault on Svardborg cap off the campaign very well. Affectionally known as ‘FBI’ by the player base, FBI has always been viewed as a right of passage of sorts- it represents an enormous difficulty spike juxtaposed to its predecessor Castle Never, and is very mechanically demanding. This, of course, means the treasure found at the dungeon’s end is usually pretty solid.

The Assault on Svardborg is the campaign’s epic end. Here, a group of players invades the Frost Giant stronghold ‘Svardborg’ and does battle with their leader, Jarl Storvald, to take back the Ring of Winter and end the campaign.

Overall, fun gameplay, beautifully designed maps and thrilling combat made this campaign incredibly memorable.

1. Mt Silver (Pokémon Gold, Silver, Crystal and various Gen. 2 remakes)

Mt Silver is a simple beast. It’s a long hike up a frigid, treacherous mountain which ends with the hardest boss fight ever experienced in a mainstream Pokémon game. The duel with Pokémon Trainer Red was designed as a secret boss, and it was a rousing success. If the player has played the game without copious amounts of level grinding or help from a friend, this battle becomes quite challenging. There is an enormous spike in Pokémon level, meaning Red will typically have roughly 15-20 levels of advantage. He also uses strong Pokémon, leading off with a Pikachu using its deadly signature item Light Ball, before deferring into a formidable team consisting of a Charizard, Blastoise, Venusaur, Snorlax and Espeon.

When the original games came out in 2001, there wasn’t originally an indicator that this battle would ever exist. This is what made it all the more abrupt and epic. At this point in the game, the player has to have defeated both Kano and Johto’s section of eight gym leaders, run through both region’s Elite Fours and conquered both region’s champions. In the midst of doing so, they’ll come upon Mt Silver, but will be denied entry until they complete the entirety of the game up to that point.

Lame creepypastas aside, the frigid atmosphere really helps supplement the surprising challenges that lie within Mt Silver. Upon locating Red with his back turned to the player, the lack of dialogue (specifically him saying “…”) is surprisingly powerful as it leads up to the immensely challenging battle. If the player is victorious, it really helps as a conclusory note to the large, entertaining game that was a second generation Pokémon game.

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