Visiting and exploring new, carefully made locations is one of the best parts about playing video games. Whether these places are big or small, fictional or not, the variety of games available means that everyone can find their own place to enjoy.
Sometimes these places are hazy, grey dystopias or towering, bustling cities, rendered in glorious detail. Occasionally they’re rich, luxurious, natural environments where the player can lean back in a beanbag and wander around at their own pace. This list is just that, virtual vistas with low stakes and high beauty, where you can kick off your shoes and watch the clouds go by.
9 Death Stranding — Grassy, Rocky Rivers And Waterfalls
Listening to the perfectly paired ambient and alt-rock soundtrack while travelling through the misty vistas of Death Stranding can be deeply soothing. Calling out into the echoing mountains and wading through rivers feels so tactile, and the current-gen Director’s Cut upgrade only furthers the cool, smoky atmosphere.
This entry (and a couple others) comes with a caveat. Sometimes, when you are hiking through the lush, rocky hills of the Iceland-inspired landscape, you’ll come across a few roaming enemies. Wasteland bandits or ghostly creatures can make the otherwise scenic vistas tense with danger, but it’s never something that good planning or a change in difficulty can’t fix.
8 Assassin's Creed: Valhalla — Quaint Old Europe
When you first drop in, the points of interest in an Assassin’s Creed game can be overwhelming. However, if you turn off the HUD in Valhalla, the starry sky of objective markers and collectibles disappears, and you’re free to meander through 9th century Europe.
The development team no doubt laboured at length to recreate the period with detail and beauty in mind. The warm dining halls, piled with food, have intricate wood-carved designs covering the beams and trusses. Outside, foxes, deer, and wild pigs roam among the flowering plant life. With a little stealth, you can take it all in without being noticed.
7 Journey And Abzu — The Fantastic Desert And Mythical Ocean
Though Journey and Abzu are actually separate games with scenic locations that couldn’t be more different, they share the same soul, and are two of a kind. They also have the same art director and composer, if you were wondering. These twins are fantasy adventures that make an excellent double feature of sweet, wistful exploration.
Filled with colour, flowing visuals, and intriguing mysteries, the atmosphere is carefree in a way that relieves tension and slows the heartrate. The only question is, which first — the sandy wandering towards a distant mountain, or the undersea exploration of ancient ruins and alien technology?
6 Beyond Blue — The World's Sea Life And Oceans
For a sea adventure that is more scientific, grounded and intelligent, try the marine exploration in Beyond Blue. It's a game for meeting and learning about the world’s sea creatures in a safe, curious environment. For animal lovers, the various creatures' deft, animations and interactions will be exciting and entrancing.
Beyond that, the game’s soundtrack (Miles Davis and the Flaming Lips?) and soothing, fully-voiced narrative are excellent. As a whole, studying marine biology and swimming amongst the ocean’s depths has never been so light-hearted.
5 Breath Of The Wild — Foraging And Fresh Air
Perhaps this goes without saying, but have you ever tried leaving the Master Sword behind and going out into Hyrule to play nature photographer or industrious camper? Breath of the Wild encourages players to take their time to enjoy the many landmarks and natural wonders, with the minimalist, symphonic soundtrack often underpinning these quiet moments.
Even with the many interrelating systems making the battling and action so unique and entertaining, there’s something so fun about trying to get the perfect photo of a honeyvore bear stalking through the forest after all the high-fantasy action is left at home. That, or climbing the Lanaryu mountain range to roast pork and bake apples by the campfire.
4 Red Dead Redemption 2 — Long Grasses And Pine Forests
After the first few hours on the run and hunting other bandit gangs, Dutch and his crew set down in a warm, spring forest in Red Dead Redemption 2's fictional American Midwest. Once here, the pace slows and players can do as they please, be that Wild West action or more sedate activities like fishing or hunting game.
There’s a lot of splendour out on the American frontier, and travelling by foot or horse will give you a chance to take photos, sketch journal entries, make new friends or help old ones.
3 Ghost Of Tsushima — Vivid Flowers And Foliage
Elden Ring and the Demon’s Souls remake have some gorgeous locations, but it’s often too tense to sit back and enjoy. Ghost of Tsushima on the other hand, has pared down the combat to allow players to find the time between the action and adventuring to really luxuriate in its vibrant Kamakura-era Japan.
Sucker Punch Productions has designed the island of Tsushima to be a landscape of heightened drama, with brilliant pink and orange trees perpetually raining leaves, and perfect fields of long grasses flowing in the wind.
2 A Short Hike — Trails And Trees
This indie adventure’s name should tell you exactly what to expect from this quick, little game. A small bird at summer camp learns to fly and climb a small mountain. A Short Hike will take you about an hour or two to complete, even without rushing, but it’s hard to fault it for that.
Each design choice seems to have been made with a chill experience in mind. The sea is bright blue, the trees a verdant green, and the other campers are out building sandcastles or running along the beach.
1 New Pokemon Snap — The Pokemon World Tour
This is an on-rails photography game you can really sit back and enjoy, with no character controlling necessary. Essentially an interactive theme park ride, New Pokemon Snap has players leisurely explore dense jungles, snow-capped mountains and everything in between.
Each safari is filled with Pokemon vibrating with personality and charm. Bounsweet roll along the forest floor, Hippowdon escape the midday heat in an oasis, and a cheeky Monferno taunts the giant Tyrantrum. This all happens from the safety of your Neo-One hamster ball-style hovercraft, while you snap pics or interact with the wildlife.
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