Ever since video gaming's early days, titles such as Sabre Wulf and Legend of Zelda have presented players with large environments to explore. And these days, with the rise of the sandbox/open world game, there are plenty of releases that pack huge landscapes to wander around. With that in mind, which game have you enjoyed exploring the most?
As always, the USgamer team is here to answer the same question. Here are their favorite games to get lost in:
I kind of want to just say "all the games," because exploration is what I live for in video gaming. Like I've said before, Metroid baptized me into video gaming and gave me a taste for discovery and exploration. However, if you put a gun to my head (which is precisely what happened during the making of this feature, honest), I would probably designate Final Fantasy XII as my all-time favorite game to explore.
FFXII managed to maintain a delicate balance between a lot of different influences and ideas — single-player RPG and MMO, story-driven and free-form progression, etc. But what made its world such a pleasure to journey through was its most controversial element, its combat system. FFXII's Gambit system added an element of automation to combat, not replacing player agency (especially in boss battles) but definitely allowing you to put conflict on auto-pilot… which was amazing when you just wanted to wander around without worry about becoming disoriented by entering into constant battles. You could also override Gambits when you needed to… which was perfect for when you wanted to stray from the designated path and venture into areas well beyond your party's current depth. Half the pleasure of FFXII was making forays into places that were clearly intended to be much too difficult for you at a given point of team development and surviving long enough to poach some high-spec gear (and even literally poach, with the correct Gambits equipped). Needless to say, I'm eager to see what kind of mischief I can get up to in the upcoming remake, now that the difficulty balance and combat system are being given a top-to-bottom overhaul...
I remember my first MMO like it was only yesterday. A friend of mine got into Asheron's Call before I did, and I recall him raving about the game, telling me about how huge its environment was, and the fact that whatever you could see in the distance, you could walk all the way there. Needless to say I was intrigued, and loved the idea that we could adventure together in the same game, so I bought a copy and never looked back
The thing to consider about Asheron's Call was that it was one of the very early MMOs, and it was pretty brutal in terms of its difficulty. You had to learn spells manually, carry the right materials to be able to cast them, and it took absolutely ages to level up. But I didn't care - I loved playing the game. Even though it was an early MMO, it boasted a huge continuous landmass that was extremely varied, and oftentimes very dangerous to explore, and that made for some truly high stakes adventuring. Asheron's Call's penalties for death were old-school hardcore - you'd drop your most valuable items, and would have to go back to your body to retrieve them, while suffering a stats penalty until you'd earned enough experience to clear it. That meant dying amongst a spawn of high-level creatures would result in a seriously challenging body retrieval where oftentimes you'd need to call on others to help you.
But despite the tough odds, I traveled everywhere I could. I invested a ton of experience points into my run skill so I could speed along and outpace most creatures, and that let me visit places where most people never went, and I just loved that. Being out on my own in the middle of nowhere, knowing that I was one of the few people to be wandering around that particular part of the game was always a big thrill.
Since then I've put time into exploring World of Warcraft, Rift, Skyrim, Everquest, and most recently No Man's Sky, but so far no game has been able to match the sheer feeling of freedom and getting out there like Asheron's Call's did for me in its early days.
I don't think it's a stretch to say that the game I've enjoyed exploring the most is likely an MMO. It was honestly a toss up between World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, Minecraft, and Assassin's Creed: Black Flag. In the end, I have to give it to the game I've been wandering around in since 2004: World of Warcraft.
Has it always been amazing? No, but I can't replace the first time I delved into Molten Core or ascended to Upper Blackrock Spire. Rolling into Silithus or Un'Goro Crater for the first time. Riding my mount across the rolling deserts of Tanaris. These were amazing moments for me.
With the first expansion, the Burning Crusade, the game took us to the floating, somewhat ethereal Outland. Zoning through the Dark Portal into the floating nightmare that is Hellfire Peninsula, which gave way to the gloomy Zangarmarsh or the treacherous Blade's Edge Mountains, with dragons hanging from its cliffs. I remember with fondness diving into Karazhan or flying towards the looming spectre of the Black Temple.
Sure, some expansions are better than others, but Blizzard always has at least a few zones or dungeons that impress in their design and general theme. Wrath of the Lich King had the quiet Crystalsong Forest, the floating city of Dalaran, and the mighty Icecrown Citadel. Cataclysm not only brought a new coat of paint to familiar zones, it also brought us Deepholm, one of my favorite zones in the game from a visual perspective. Uldum and Molten Front also stood out as solid places to get lost in.
Mists of Pandaria gave Blizzard a chance to explore a different theme overall, but I feel the region was let down by an overall 'samey' feel. Jade Forest stands out as the starting zone, and Mogu'Shan Palace is swag, but there's only so much the studio could do within the confines of the Chinese inspired region. Warlords of Draenor did for Outland what Cataclysm did for the original WoW, show everything through a slightly different lens. Seeing Shadowmoon Valley before its corruption or the Zangar Sea before the ocean tides receded was impressive. Unfortunately, there was nothing that hit me as wildly inventive as say Deepholm or Outland in general.
Hopefully, Blizzard is ready to impress with Legion. Regardless, I've had the most fun exploring World of Warcraft over the years. I do not regret it for a bit.
Over the years, I've really enjoyed exploring GTA: San Andreas, Skyrim, Metroid Prime, and Fallout 4. But the game that comes most readily to mind is Final Fantasy VIII - an RPG that isn't often remembered for its open world.
Final Fantasy VIII has a lot of interesting features: Big cities, deep sea installations, and something called the "Lunatic Pandora." There's an island called "The Island Closest to Hell" where you can fight extremely high-level monsters. At one point you find a high-tech secret city. More than almost any Final Fantasy that I can think of, Final Fantasy VIII's world feels loaded with secrets.
It's not a coincidence that Final Fantasy VIII was the first RPG that I really broke wide open. It was the game where I beat all the high-level bosses, maxed out my characters, and traveled all over the world looking for people who wanted to play Triple Triad. I have a lot of fond memories of playing Final Fantasy VIII, so it's no surprise that it remains a sentimental favorite after all these years.
Delving into Dracula’s castle in Symphony of the Night was one heck of a magical trip for a long-time Castlevania fan like myself (pun very much intended).
See, the NES and SNES iterations of Castlevania treat Drac’s flop house like a final destination: When you get there, your journey’s almost over. But all of Symphony of the Night involves trekking through Dracula’s castle. And oh boy, what a huge, chaotic creature it is. Every time you think you’ve hit a dead end, you’re merely introduced to a new nook, a new corridor, a new chamber. Remember thinking you couldn’t sink any lower than the Underground Cavern, only to discover the Abandoned Mine? And then the bone-filled Catacombs?
Even the fixtures you’d expect to see in a castle take on an eerie new life in Dracula’s shadow. The Chapel is appropriately solemn and sad, even though you’d expect it to be a twisted den of sin and scorn. I mean, vampires are supposed to hate crosses and God, right? But Dracula’s Chapel is quiet, melancholy, and beautiful.
Not to say you should seek the salvation of the Lord in its pews, mind you. The act of confession in the prayer house of the vampire king is … well, let’s say it’s literally unorthodox and potentially deadly.