While I love gaming, if there’s one thing I love even more when it comes to recreation it’s traveling. While it’s always great to go out on another adventure, to find a place to explore, sometimes the next trip is a bit too far away for a brain that wants that sense of wondering and exploration right now.
Likewise, when I feel like I’ve been settled in one place too long and want to kickstart those feelings of being excited to travel and explore again, sometimes a good game with a cool world that encourages exploring can help me de-stress and get my mind planning that next trip.
For anyone who relates to either, or both, of these then this list of games might be for you.
Not Every Great In-Game World Makes The List
While these are all games that fire up the idea of exploring a world, discovering new places, and going on new adventures — not every game that is all about the in-game world will make the list.
These are about games that have a world to explore that give me that itch in real-life and aren’t just great in a narrow area in-game that I would never want to experience in real life.
For example, Kenshi is a massive and amazing video game world to explore…and so brutal and challenging that it while it’s great for a challenging RPG run it’s not the game that gets you excited about exploring the world. Unless anxiety counts as excitement.
Likewise, Fallout New Vegas is one of my all-time favorite video games, and one of the best I think has ever been made, but while I love exploring this post apocalyptic world — it doesn’t exactly fire up the “I should travel more” vibes. It’s a very contained world great for gaming time but the post apocalypse does it for me in fiction, not for getting the traveling juices flowing.
So with that out of the way, here are my picks for 11 games that hit the travelling gamer in just the right spots.
Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is the epitome of a World Exploration game where there is so much to see, so much distance to travel, and you get a truly amazing experience.
Breath of the Wild gained an amazing amount of attention when it was first released, and while at first many Zelda fans didn’t seem how to react to it, there was no question that three thrings really made Breath of the Wild stand out.
- Because it was an incredible world
- Because it was an incredible game
- Because it was so unlike any other Zelda game that came before it
It might sound weird, but Link isn’t the main character in Breath of the Wild. Neither is Zelda. The main character is the world of Hyrule itself!
Explore its seemingly endless sprawling land as you walk, run, swim, fly, climb mountains, hang glide — it’s stunning how much there is to find and explore and at its core BOTW is truly an exploration game and one that can keep you engrossed on traveling and exploration alone for dozens and dozens of hours — if not even more.
My Time at Portia
My Time at Portia followed in the the Stardew Valley vein of cozy games. You inherit a run-down workshop outside the town of Portia, finding the cutest post apocalyptic world ever as you learn to farm, smelt, craft, and build.
Portia revolves around crafting but it gives you a world you really want to explore and actively work to transform and unlock. New areas are open to explore as you build lifts, bridges, docks, and more.
This is also a game that encourages exploration, and that’s one of the details I love about it. While you can often explore in other games only to get stuck in a tower or glitch you’re not supposed to find, running to the edge of the map or roof jumping across town means you often find treasure chests with materials to help you out.
The game thoroughly encourages you to explore, something not enough other games do, and watching the world develop as a result of your work and adventures is extremely gratifying as pushing the plot keeps open up new places on the map to travel to and explore.
This might be the happiest little game ever made. You are on an alien planet where you are going to run a slime ranch. These unbelievably cute little slimes have giant smiling faces, make delightful noises of joy when eating, and them eating chickens never stops being hilarious.
This is a world you unlock by exploring it, finding new places, new slimes, and new biomes throughout the planet. Some are inside a cave or hidden, making you cut through tunnels to find them while others your can get to relatively easily.
As you build your ranch to set up automatic feeders, get your own food sources, and raise an incredible number of different slimes. You can even create large slimes that a combination of your two favorites, though might I recommend against Tabby Cat Rock Slimes…mischievous and painful if you’re slow on the feeding.
Exploring the world unlocks more opportunities to warp throughout the planet and even to other Slime Ranchers’ setups to discover more and more. Add in how unbelievably adorable the slimes are and this is just a feel good game.
I strongly suspect Slime Rancher 2 will be the same way but seeing as how I haven’t gotten to it yet (though it’s high on the list) I can’t put it up here yet even though it almost certainly belongs.
No Man’s Sky
Also the greatest modern example of a redemption story for a video game, when No Man’s Sky came out it was buggy, bare, and frankly unfinished. Underwhelming was an understatement and it received bad reviews accordingly.
However, developers stuck with the game and several years later No Man’s Sky is at the forefront of games when you think of exploring, of endless possibilities, of having another world full of discoveries just waiting for you to find them.
In No Man’s Sky a procedurally generated universe means there is always something new to explore, new places to go to, new lifeforms to discover. This is a game that has been patched, improved, and worked on until it met its original promise and now has Overwhelmingly Positive reviews — and those are also now well deserved.
There’s a whole universe out there just waiting to be explored, and with No Man’s Sky you are in control to let your inner wanderlust explode.
Look there’s a reason why the game has been re-released so many times over a decade (other than money). Skyrim is hands down the best overall Elder Scrolls game ever made and it is a stunning game with a massive world that puts even Morrowind and Oblivion to shame.
Aside from amazing locations and so many interesting side quests, Skyrim is a world where you can just explore. You’ll come across locations never involved in a quest, find spectacular and beautiful areas in the wild, and maybe even go hunting as a werewolf at night.
There’s so much happening in the world of Skyrim, and the ability to not only do quests at your pace or play the game your way, but to just wander off and gather every single plant and herb imaginable while exploring the countryside.
This is a game that fires up my wanderlust, both in the video game world and outside of it, as well.
Roots of Pacha
A recent release, Roots of Pacha has hooked me from the first moment. A farm-sim cozy game that takes place during the Stone Age, this unique game follows you as you learn to explore, tame animals, develop tool technology, forage, grow crops, and advance your Stone Age tribe bit by bit while exploring an increasingly growing an interesting world.
Roots of Pacha does something that can be very hard to do: it keeps popular farming mechanics that make the game familiar and comfortable while introducing radically interesting new ideas and mechanics that make the world unique and wonderous.
This game also manages to do that without overwhelming the player, creating a world that is fun to explore, advance, and I genuinely get giddy with excitement when an entirely new area opens up to explore. It’s a blast of a cozy game that definitely has me thinking of some of my favorite camping adventures in my travels.
Red Dead Redemption 2
There’s no question that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece of a game and widely considered one of the best games made in the past decade. Open world games done well will find a huge audience, and RDR2 proves that.
Take on the quests or side quests that interest you, explore a strange version of the Wild West, and get to know some of the amazing areas that are tucked away.
Any time a game has exploring as a major part of the gameplay because the world is alive enough to be a main character in the story, I’m in, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is the best game to do this since Skyrim and many players would argue that RDR2 does it even better.
Drift, wander, hit up the side quests, chase the trains, explore how you see fit and enjoy the world that this game has to offer players.
Hey, it’s classic. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m in that group that discovered it around 2011 really enjoyed it, got a new computer, and life happened and that was it.
While I’ve dabbled back again a few times, it hasn’t hooked me the way it did initially but the appeal is there. I loved exploring a new world that just kept on generating, making my own shelters that then became ridiculous build by hand projects, and then running off to explore a new area or biosphere I hadn’t seen before.
It’s a fun little game and it very much is centered strongly around exploring the world before finding a section you want to carve and mold out to make it your own.
Dredge is a weird one. And I mean that as a sign of respect because I really love weird games. Dredge is a video game I’ve reviewed because it literally creates a new sub-genre: cozy fishing game mixed with Lovecraftian horror.
During the day the world is relaxing, the seas are amazing to explore, the islands hold a number of secrets, and I’m always curious to see what’s just past the next bend and that’s even before hitting the next distinctive region.
Excitedly jumping from fishing spot to fishing spot, looking for shipwrecks, searching around during the day lends for plenty of excitement from exposing new areas of the map — it’s enough to make a winning game in and of itself.
And I’ve always bene a horror buff, especially when it comes to cosmic horror or the anxiety of the unknown, so the nights are equally terrifying — though far less beautiful, and yet I find myself drawn to still wanting to press the luck, see what happens, and explore the terrifying mysteries that haunt these waters.
Spirit of the Island
Spirit of the Island is a little indie cozy game that is part Stardew Valley part Animal Crossing, and while it flew under the radar even for cozy game fans, I’m very happy with this Kickstarter-backed game and what it brings to the table.
You explore this island, grow it, build up relationships, explore caves and out of the way corners of the island before eventually gaining the ability to explore other islands whether for hard to get materials or trying to track down those pesky pirates.
I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the island, realizing there was a little path I missed, a second cave I didn’t find, more islands with more secrets. It’s an enjoyable little game that really deserves a little bit more attention than it has received to this point.
Who said the best places to explore had to be on land or outer space? Subnautica is a game that really gets my travel wanderlust going. There’s a great world to explore underwater, strange and wonderous creatures, and while I’ve done some basic snorkeling (so parts of this brings back memories of Isla Mujeres, Mexico), so the underwater is a cool refreshing visit — but I’m also not sure I’d ever do deep scuba diving so I still get the fantasty of that.
Plus you know, the alien underwater life.
Those are my 11 picks for great video games that not only give you a very enjoyable experience but can also get those wandering feet ready for that next real life trip.