Exploring the real world can be expensive, time-consuming, and dangerous. Exploring the digital world is all of those things… but losing an hour of game time, a few gold pieces, and a “life” doesn’t really hurt that bad. If you want to poke around some of the most breathtaking environments modern games have to offer, check out the titles below.
Outer Wilds (PC/Xbox/PS4)
Outer Wilds takes you through a simulated solar system of unique and interesting planets that hide plenty of secrets. While there, you’ll unravel the mysteries of an ancient civilization and learn their compelling history. With some fun space-flight mechanics, some lovable characters, and a fantastic soundtrack, Outer Wilds is sure to be a game that snags any fan of this particular genre.
Subnautica focuses much more on survival gameplay than the other titles listed here, which requires you to keep an eye on your character’s food, hydration, and oxygen supplies—but it has a beautiful, hand-crafted world to uncover. You get to explore the underwater world of planet 4546B, which contains diverse biomes teeming with alien wildlife to discover and document. And you’re not just stuck there until you get bored; in fact, unlike many other survival games, Subnautica has a compelling story to follow with a definitive ending.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
There’s a decent chance you’ve already heard about Breath of the Wild—after all, it was a pretty big game upon its release. However, while it may seem like a standard open-world RPG at first glance, Breath of the Wild still brought to the table enough fresh ideas to impress many players and, of course, injected some of the classic Zelda tropes into the formula. This world is packed with things to discover and since Link can climb any surface in this game, your way of traversing it will be unique.
A Short Hike (PC/Switch)
A Short Hike will seem rather… well, short compared to the other games here, but that’s also part of its charm, being an hour and a half in length. But the unique art style and charming writing support the game throughout. The island you’ll get to explore during your playtime has various secrets to discover, and there are even some side quests to complete if you want to squeeze some extra time out of this title.
No Man’s Sky (PC/Xbox/PS4)
Featuring a practically infinite, procedurally generated universe, No Man’s Sky has plenty of things to discover. Everything from the plants, animals, and buildings you’ll find on each world is generated on the spot, and there’s a decent amount of variety in it all. Just like any procedural generation system, No Man’s Sky does have its limits, but it should take a while to reach them between all the available activities such as base-building, multiplayer, and following the storyline.
ABZÛ takes you under the sea with some smooth and realistic swimming mechanics to explore the nautical world. You’ll see loads of underwater creatures along with breathtaking vistas, all while uncovering the larger mystery that awaits you as you plunge deeper and deeper into the ocean depths.
In this atmospheric title, you’ll work as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness who stumbles into a mystery deep in the forest. While the game mostly involves walking from place to place, the great animations and story-driven moments keep things entertaining. It also doesn’t hurt that Firewatch’s visuals are wonderful and that the voice acting is no less superb than the game’s great storytelling.
Journey is a peaceful game about traveling across a great desert. The story is told in fragmented pieces between gameplay sequences and the terrain is surprisingly varied for a desert. But Journey’s most iconic feature is how it handles multiplayer.
Throughout the game, random players can drop in and out of your game to explore with you as you play. However, you won’t have any way of communicating with them besides a simple ping, and you won’t know their names until the credits roll. It’s a completely unique mechanic even though the game was released eight years ago. However, it is unfortunate that you can’t choose to play with a friend.
From beautiful cities to large cliff faces, there’s plenty to find on the island of Eastshade, and you’ll see it all from the perspective of a wandering painter. You’ll meet a variety of characters to befriend, uncover ancient secrets, and more, all with a relaxing and laid-back vibe in the background. Eastshade doesn’t ask too much of you and allows you to explore the world at your own pace. Just relax and take it all in.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (PC/Switch/Xbox/PS4)
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is all about taking it easy in a fantastical world. There’s plenty of secrets to uncover throughout the lush world of Gemea. NPCs are abundant, and you can go on quests with them or trade one of the many items you’ll discover in your travels. There’s also some farming and crafting mechanics to keep you engaged over the long-term.