Open World Games To Lose Yourself In While You're Stuck Inside
For reasons that I'm fairly certain should be obvious to literally everyone by now, the best thing we can all do for the next few weeks is remain indoors. Yes, head to the shop to pick up essential supplies and nip out for a walk if you can do so without bumping into other people... but otherwise we have to hunker down and do our bit.
This is obviously a difficult and challenging time, but it's not as if we're being asked to storm Omaha Beach, is it? There are more ways than ever before to ensure that staying inside for a few weeks remain interesting and engaging. Video games are one such escape in these trying times.
There are relaxing games to play for when it all gets a bit too much, and games that should keep your kids happy for when they get a bit too much. There also plenty of great new games right now, including Animal Crossing: New Horizons, DOOM Eternal, and Ori & The Will Of The Wisps.
But what about those of you desperate to scratch that wanderlust itch? Luckily, there's a wealth of video games out there that take place in expansive, gorgeous open worlds that truly feel alive. Below you'll find just ten of my favourites... although I have tried to stay away from anything too post-apocalyptic or zombie-themed because... well, you know.
Skyrim (Skyrim, 2011)
Despite being nearly a decade old and full of all manner of bugs, few open worlds have quite managed to capture that sense of adventure in the way Skyrim does. From the snowiest peaks to the darkest crypts, the world of Skyrim is a thoroughly detailed land with a real sense of history behind it.
Even if you've put hundreds of hours into multiple playthroughs at this point (and I'm sure most of us have), heading back to Skyrim feels like heading back to the holiday destination you used to go to as a kid: safe, familiar, and full of dragons.*
*My parents took me to Wales a lot.
Los Santos (Grand Theft Auto V, 2013)
If you're already sick of social distancing and want to head into a virtual city that feels truly vibrant and alive, Grand Theft Auto V's Los Santos is the place for you. Not only is it absolutely massive, it's also one of the most believable and well-built open worlds in all of gaming. In fact, I might just put my neck out and say that this is the ultimate open world. Argue with me if you want, we've not got much else to do at the moment.
Everything in Los Santos feels so incredibly thought out - as if life in the virtual city just carries on whenever you're not around. The radio stations that advertise local business that you can actually see as you drive around. The idle chat between NPCs. The clothes shops, stock markets, text messages, bars and clubs - it all just feels so real.
The simple act of driving around and listening to the radio is a thrill in and of itself, and that's all because Los Santos is just a fun and exciting place to be.
Hyrule (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 2017)
Hyrule is arguably one of the most well-known realms in gaming. It's also one of the most inconsistent - just head to YouTube to see scores of videos in which fans desperately try to reconcile the ever-shifting geography of the land with some kind of official timeline. I gave up trying to make sense of it all a long time ago, but I genuinely love the fans that can't let it go.
I don't care how the Hyrule in Breath of the Wild fits in with the other games, then. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed coming across familiar locations and references to older adventures, but all that really matters to me about the latest version of Hyrule is that it's an absolute blast to explore - and there's just so much to explore.
Every inch of Breath of the Wild - every rock, tree, river and mountain - has been designed with the utmost care and attention to detail. There are secrets everywhere, yet this is a world that never forces you to go looking for anything. The only thing driving you in this world is your own sense of curiosity, so dive in and go nuts.
Skellige (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, 2015)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is made up of various open world maps that you can fast travel between, and they're all fascinating. The war-torn Velen, with its swamps and forests and near-endless misery make for a sobering adventure. Meanwhile, the city of Novigrad is packed with taverns and crime, and almost turns the RPG into some kind of fantasy Grand Theft Auto.
But it's the Skellige Isles that stand out most to me. Simply put, they're utterly breathtaking. A series of craggy, rain-soaked islands dotted across a massive ocean, Skellige couldn't be more different from Velen. Virtually untouched by war, this is a land of noble heroes and wicked monsters.
Rather than making your way through endless mud and misery, Skellige invites you to sail across the ocean, climb mountains, and explore ancient ruins in search of adventure. That's not to say it isn't still dangerous, and there are certainly still plenty of murky morals on display... but it's a land where everything feels just a little bit simpler.
America (Red Dead Redemption 2, 2018)
GTA V might be the most exciting and dynamic open world out there (at least in my opinion), but I can't deny that Red Dead Redemption 2 is the best-looking. Horse testicles aside, Rockstar's digital western is a towering technical achievement that I could quite happily just sit and look at for an hour, never mind play.
While I'd always prefer the hustle and bustle of a modern Los Santos to the comparative quiet of this forgotten America, turning off the HUD and minimap in Red Dead Redemption 2 and just letting yourself get lost is a real joy. Few games are as immersive as this.
Next time you're feeling stressed, I thoroughly recommend booting up Red Dead Redemption 2 and taking a walk through the woods. The way the rain soaks the ground and it starts to become softer underfoot - you can almost smell the damp trees and sad cowboys.
New York City (Marvel's Spider-Man, 2018)
All of the other games on this list ask you to explore the world by car, horse or boat. But what if you want to spin a web any size, and catch thieves just like flies? Luckily Insomniac Games has you covered, thanks to 2018's excellent Marvel's Spider-Man.
Explore a gorgeous recreation of New York City in the way only a spider can. Leap off the Empire State Building, swing through central park, inevitably get a little bored after an hour or so and start jumping on cars to see if they'll drive you around - there's plenty to do.
Oh, and if you don't care about BORING real-life landmarks, there are plenty of Marvel Easter eggs in there for fans. Avengers Tower, Doctor Strange's digs, the law offices of Nelson and Murdock. This is one game that's always worth booting up for half an hour or so, even if it's just to swing around the city a few times and tear crime a new one.
Ancient Greece (Assassin's Creed Odyssey, 2018)
Say what you like about Ubisoft, but the company really knows how to make an open world. They can feel a little... formulaic a lot of the time, but Ubisoft's approach also results in some truly epic, sprawling creations. Creations like Assassin's Creed Odyssey's Ancient Greece, which is well worth exploring every beautiful inch of.
There's a genuinely overwhelming amount of stuff in Odyssey. Track down (and be tracked down) by ruthless mercenaries, engage in naval combat, explore ancient ruins, battle mythical monsters, have all the sex - that doesn't even really scratch the surface. You'll do all this across a recreation of Ancient Greece that has quite clearly been put together with love and care by a team who have done their homework. It's also massive. Really, properly, disgustingly massive.
Space (Outer Wilds, 2019)
Less of an open world and more of an open... solar system, Outer Wilds is best described as a smaller and focused version of No Man's Sky combined with Majora's Mask and Return Of The Obra Dinn. Armed with nothing but a crappy rocket and a flashlight, you head off into space and set about discovering the cosmos. That's it. That's the game.
There's not really a massive story at the heart of Outer Wilds. There's no combat to speak of, or bosses to conquer. It's just a game that asks you to head out into a terrifying, beautiful universe and peel back its many layers. There are ancient ruins to see, crumbling space stations to traverse, and stormy oceans to brave.
The way you approach the solar system is up to you. There are no limits or gates blocking you off from seeing any part of it before another. The only thing that ever stops you from seeing something new or going that little bit deeper is your own knowledge, and you'll use everything you learn while exploring to further your understanding of each planet and slowly paint a clearer picture of the universe. There really is no other game quite like Outer Wilds.
San Francisco (Watch Dogs 2, 2016)
In terms of truly immersive open worlds set in "modern" locations, I do have to say that Watch Dogs 2's San Francisco comes amazingly close to GTA V's Los Santos. This digital version of the city by the bay is perhaps the most accurate recreation of any real-life city in any video game. It's that impressive - and criminally underrated.
Drive along the Golden Gate Bridge, or zip up and down the city's steep hills as you attempt to keep away from the police. Head over to Alcatraz Island or wander along Pier 39 and take a look at the sea lions. Live your best San Fran life, and do it all with the ability to hack almost any machine or phone and mess with people in whatever you see fit.
Watch Dogs 2 is one of gaming's most authentic-feeling and constantly entertaining virtual playgrounds, and way too many of you slept on it back in 2016. Now is the time to fix that.
The Kingdom of Bohemia (Kingdom Come: Deliverance, 2018)
I warn you now: Kingdom Come: Deliverance will not be to everyone's tastes. It's a strictly historical RPG that is heavily grounded in realism, and actually takes quite a while before it really gets going. If you can stick it out though, you'll eventually be able to take a stroll through a stunningly realised - and historically accurate - open world.
Ignore the main quest completely and simply hop on a horse and ride across the countryside. Explore new villages, get into bar brawls, pick a fight with a solider and get an absolute hiding for your trouble. Basically, live your best 15th century life your way. You might even learn a thing or two about a thing or two, and that's never a bad thing.
Are there any open world games you'd recommend to pass the time over the next few weeks? If you've got any inspired picks, we'd love to hear about them on Facebook or Twitter. And remember, we'll all be absolutely fine. We just need to stay inside and carry on gaming. We've trained all our lives for this, guys.