I’m the kind of gamer who spends hours exploring everything a game has to offer. We’re talking looking around every corner, talking to every NPC, or just trying out every piece of content I can find. Whether that involves flying across galaxies or just getting knee-deep into a gritty fantasy world, any game that lets me explore to my satisfaction is one I’ll always enjoy more than one that doesn’t. These are 5 games that feed the appetite of curious gamers and ones that those with an inquisitive mind should consider adding to their libraries.
These are in no particular order and range across a few genres and settings.
5. Witcher 3
Let’s come out swinging with this modern classic. Most gamers like myself will have played through this RPG masterpiece by now. But for those who haven’t: You are missing out.
I could go on about the many great qualities this game has, but I’ll try to keep it on topic. The world is filled with tons of locations to discover and offers up a nice variety in what you can find. Some of it is the usual exploration you’d expect in the genre in the genre: hidden chests, towns, unique NPC’s, the whole shebang. Where Witcher earns its stripes, however, is how alive it makes the world. So many aspects of the gameplay and world both encourage and reward you for having a curious nature.
Stumbling across NPC encounters can lead to unique and interesting quests and conversations. Exploring undiscovered locations can lead to ruins filled with loot or lore. Some of my highlights are how this sense of exploration applies in the storytelling and quests. You can often discover different ways to progress a quest that are completely different from one another, all by simply exploring dialogue options or using your detective-like Witcher senses. Plus, the world feels alive and diverse with a huge range of areas, characters, and stunning detail in its art and sound design.
It’s so easy to get absorbed into, and those who want a gritty fantasy epic to explore can’t get much better than this entry.
4. The Pathless
This indie title does things a bit differently than most others on this list. But as a result, it makes for some of the most rewarding explorations I’ve experienced.
The Pathless strips away a lot of the conventional aspects of open-world/exploration games, like not having a map or waypoints. It may sound like a strange choice for a game about exploring to not have these basic features. However, removing these makes for a far more immersive and refreshing experience, encouraging you to find your way using high areas and your spirit vision to highlight unexplored areas.
When I reviewed The Pathless last year, I fell in love with it the moment I first flew into the world. With no irritating markers or constantly having to open maps, it was so easy to just slip away into the world. There were plenty of distinct zones with landmarks to find that gave treasures or rewards, and getting to them is a breeze. It’s also got smooth and elegant movement, a huge sense of freedom, and absolutely beautiful design and visuals. Though it’s developed by Abzu creators Giant Squid, so this should come as no surprise.
Frankly, it’s one of the literal examples of exploration you’ll ever find in gaming, and it’s an incredible game. Those wanting a truly open experience should be sure to grab this indie gem.
3. Ghost of Tsushima
This Playstation exclusive might be the most gorgeous I’ve ever played. That alone made exploring the island of Tsushima an incredible experience.
Set in a fictional version of feudal Japan, this open-world RPG goes above and beyond in so many ways to make its world one you can’t help but explore. Much like The Pathless, certain gameplay aspects like waypoint markers are used in a far more creative way, like letting the wind guide you as it flows through the trees and grass to point you in the right direction.
There is also the obvious reason, which is just how amazing the game looks. Seriously, it’s beautiful no matter where you go. The environments are colourful, vibrant, and lively, with a ton of detail in both their visuals and sound design that draw clear influence from classic samurai films. Along with it being a stunning world, finding your way through its regions and discovering a plethora of landmarks comes so naturally; you’ll find yourself roaming for hours and still find more to see and do.
I hate to use the word immersive, as I think it’s used too often. But there is no other way to describe this game. Ghost of Tsushima is rewarding on so many levels. Ghost of Tsushima constantly feeds your curiosity without taking you out of its rich world. Whether that’s following the wildlife to guide you to a shrine or just riding through a lush forest, it doesn’t hold your hand constantly or drag you along; you get freedom and plenty of environmental storytelling and details that do a better job of guiding you. Ultimately, it made my time playing incredibly fulfilling and one that had a slower pace, making my time there feel meaningful and more rewarding as a result. So much so that it’s one of the few games I’ve earned the platinum trophy for.
This is one for players who want a truly beautiful world to just lose themselves in; believe me, it’s well worth it.
2. No Man’s Sky
It’s a list about exploration games, so of course, we would be going to space.
Originally released in 2016, this sci-fi epic has you travel across a literal universe full of unique planets. We are talking millions of potential planets, each with unique views, wildlife, and ecosystems to explore and catalogue. You’ll also be able to gather resources, meet alien races, trade, sell, and battle across the thousands of galaxies. It’s not exactly a narrative-focused experience, as you are just dropped into the universe and left to find your own way. But it’s this sense of open-end gameplay that makes travelling across the vast space so rewarding.
When this game was first released, it certainly didn’t live up to its lofty goals. But over the years, it has grown by leaps and bounds with tons of changes and content updates. You can now build bases on planets, have fleets of ships, travel with friends, just to name a few extra ways to explore and enjoy. No other game can boast the sheer amount of exploration that No Man’s Sky offers. I’ve spent many hours flying across its huge universe, searching for new kinds of plants, wildlife, and planets. Frankly, the amount of content to explore and discover is unfathomable.
It’s truly made for those wanting an epic sci-fi pilot simulator, and it’s one you will always have something new to explore or find, given how massive it is. Seriously, you could play this forever, and you might just do that once you get a taste.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Seriously, was there any doubt this wouldn’t make the list?
This classic franchise underwent a major reinvention in 2017 and resulted in one of the best open-world games out there. Breath of the Wild embodies this list’s title in every aspect, from design to gameplay. Hyrule is huge, sprawling, with tons of beautiful locations. They range from small ruins in crowded woods to the huge and imposing Hyrule castle and everything in-between. In these areas, you’ll find shrines, new weapons, items, cooking ingredients and so much more. The game can be played any way you like, with the openness of the story letting you roam freely and tackle the plot and game world however you want with true freedom.
Breath of the Wild does pretty much everything right when it comes to player freedom. It lets your curiosity go wild with the aim to let you explore and play however you want. I spent over 300 hours playing this, and across all that time, I constantly felt like I learnt something new. Environmental storytelling lets me imagine my own stories of the world through carefully crafted design. Combat rewarded experimentation, as I’d often find strategies thanks to the incredibly diverse game engine to tackle problems. On top of that, It’s just stunning in every direction you look. It practically begs you to search every nook and cranny and I found myself doing exactly that.
Breath of the Wild is truly a game that defines exploration and freedom as well as being generation-defining, and with its sequel coming in 2022, we can look forward to returning this version of Hyrule in the future. If you want to play the best of the best when it comes to feeding your curious nature, look no further than this triumphant adventure.