One of the most important aspects of any decent multiplayer game is a well-designed arena, stadium, field, map or sarlacc pit for players to collectively enjoy. Even the most seamless and entertaining multiplayer gaming experience will feel lacklustre if it is placed in an empty rectangular area with no interesting objects or angles to exploit.
Thus, in the interest of recognising some of the finest level designers and their masterpieces, I have compiled a list of the five best multiplayer maps ever made. A list made with scientific precision, highlighting the five best examples of multiplayer gaming architecture and engineering. Find out which maps made the cut after the jump.
Dust 2 (Counter-Strike)
It seemed almost inevitable that I would have to include a Counter-Strike map on the list. While not everyone’s favourite game (justifiably so), there is no denying the shooter’s enduring popularity. Given that people have been playing different versions of Counter-Strike on a largely similar pool of maps for over a decade now, one or two of the maps were bound to stand out as particularly well-made. For me, Dust 2 was that map.
It is arguably the most popular and most played Counter-Strike map and is one of the most iconic maps of the franchise. Still played regularly at eSports events and in casual games online in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the map is considered level designer David Johnston‘s best work for the game. For those of you unfamiliar with getting AWPed through doors or flashed in tunnels, check out this compilation of kills on the Counter-Strike: Source version of the map:
Overgrown (Call of Duty)
Again, it was somewhat inevitable that a Call of Duty map would make the list given the massive popularity the multiplayer portion of the franchise has achieved. Introduced in the original Modern Warfare, this large, open map brings snipers, shotgunners, assault riflers and SMG slingers together in an aggressive mosh pit of doom.
The wide open areas contain much vegetation and cover spots, while the number of small buildings also provide for intriguing close-quarters combat. Anyone who has played this map online has probably experienced the terrifying feeling of running away from a shotgun-wielding maniac in the barn, only to be shot down by a sniper hiding behind the hay bales outside. Fast-paced, frenetic, and most of all, fun.
Battle Course 4 (Super Mario Kart)
Now we enter more serious territory. Super Mario Kart differs from the other titles on this list in that it is not a title associated with eSports, but is still a multiplayer classic and the Battle Course tracks (in the genre-defining Battle mode) are some of the most enjoyable arenas in the game.
Battle Course 4 achieved multiplayer excellence through simplicity as the uncomplicated layout above shows, with colour-coded right angles making it an optimal duelling experience. Players are able to quickly slide behind the walls to deflect incoming turtle shells or tossed banana peels and an expert driver can literally run circles around a lesser opponent. What at first glance appears to be a childishly simple design becomes remarkably complex and diverse when actually in-game and provides for some of the most inspired battle tactics. Don’t believe me? Watch this from the Mario Kart Wii version of the map:
Lost Temple (StarCraft)
Lost Temple is arguably the most famous RTS map of all time and, included in Blizzard’s original map pack, it defined the early StarCraft era. It continued its existence throughout the Warcraft III era and was included in StarCraft II‘s ladder map set before later being replaced by a revised version of itself, The Shattered Temple. In a promotional statement prior to the release of the StarCraft II beta, Blizzard went so far as to label the map as “basically the best map on the face of the planet”.
A large number of cliffs overlook most expansions, allowing for aggressive drop-oriented play as well as more defensive, turtling styles. The size of the map makes it excellent for FFAs or team games. Having played hundreds of FFAs on the map (in both Warcraft and StarCraft versions), I can say that a hilarious (albeit not very viable) strategy is to simply sneak off to one of the island expansions in the corners. Simply looking at a history of some of the notable eSports games played on this map illustrates Lost Temple’s brilliant design.
As if it could be anything else. Loosely based on the equally brilliant The Edge from Quake II, Campgrounds (or DM6 as it is known) was introduced in Quake III Arena in 1999 and is still the most played map in Quake Live today, over 14 years later. Hundreds of eSports tournaments have been decided in this arena and a countless number of casual duels, team games, and FFAs have taken place in its elegantly crafted halls. The map became so famous that even a common trick jump, known as the bridge to rail circle jump, was included in a tutorial mode for Quake Live and for April Fools’ Day in 2011 id Software released a spin-off of the map titled Space Camp. The layout was mirrored (so left became right), and several geometry and item placement changes were made.
As you run around the arena, you get the sense that those who designed it truly understand what multiplayer gaming for shooters is all about. Whether it be an intricate battle around the pillars and yellow armour, or a contest of vertical rails in the epic central chamber housing the most vital power-ups, or even a straight-up dogfight in the confined spaces on the lower level, the map has it all. It is also the only map on this list that I consider truly beautiful to look at. The curved walls, subtle lighting, and intricate architecture not only provide the most interesting combat situations, they provide you with an attractive backdrop upon which to explode your opponent into giblets. DM6 will always be, in my opinion, the epitome of excellent level design.
At this point I was going to do an “honourable mentions” section – to include maps such as the header image’s Valhalla – but I soon realised that I might as well have done an article on the 100 greatest multiplayer maps of all time. Hundreds of old CTF maps, RTS favourites and even a few special race tracks came to mind, but it would be impossible to mention them all. Everyone has their favourite maps and these are simply five of mine. What are some of yours?