Travel is a big part of my job. Maybe not to the degree of a truck driver or airplane pilot, but many of my mornings and afternoons are spent in the car. I travel for various purposes – attending meetings, conducting trainings – and most of my trips are somewhere between 90 minutes to two hours long. This requirement has allowed me to see a lot of the state where I live. Sure, I’m just passing through, but I can take in the view of places that I never really had much reason to go before. And when I chat with my coworkers in those areas, I learn fun little things about the culture of each town, or the best place to stop for an ice cream or a hot meal.
I spend my time on the road in different ways. Often I’ll listen to playthroughs of RPGs on YouTube, a way to experience them vicariously since I don’t get to play tabletops nearly as much as I’d like. Other times I’ll listen to music, free to sing out and destress after a long presentation. Sometimes I turn off the radio or my phone and use the time to think, brainstorming a blog post or some RPG hack I want to work on. On my most recent trip, I found my thoughts wandering to the very places I was traveling past. I felt a desire to stop in the quaint shopping centers, to turn down the side roads, to eat at the local restaurants – it occurred to me that traveling would be a lot more fun if I had the opportunity to explore a little bit.
I’m not the kind of guy who always thinks he needs a vacation, but in that moment I definitely found myself wanting one. Not because I’m exhausted of my job, but because the idea of being able to travel freely and to actually enjoy the little places I pass by appeals to me. I found myself thinking back to some of my favorite vacations – visiting castles in Germany with my mother and stepfather, exploring the southern US with my grandfather, driving down the highway with my best friends on the way to a wedding – and wanting to experience something like that again. I felt the call of the open road and the desire to travel for travel’s sake. No plan, no agenda, just myself and some people I care about exploring places we’d never been. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to strike out on vacation anytime soon. But while I wait, I have other ways to get my exploration fix: gaming in an open world.
I wouldn’t describe open world games as my favorite style of game by any means. I tend to find a contained world filled to the brim with activity and lore infinitely more interesting than a vast, empty one. Most open world games I have experienced struggle to tell an engaging story, and story is just as significant for me as gameplay more often than not. Still, open world games definitely appeal to this part of me which desires to explore.
I haven’t necessarily played a ton of games that could legitimately be called “open world,” but of the ones I have, each one has something about it that appeals to me and something that kind of holds me back. In Breath of the Wild, I love how the freedom is tied not just to the ability to explore the world but also the ability to solve problems and fight enemies. In Skyrim, I love how the world is filled with little villages, caves, and dungeons, and it’s easy to get distracted with new places to explore. In Final Fantasy XV, I love the different methods of travel, and how camping with your crew really invokes the feeling of a roadtrip. Each new game open world game I play seems to capture a different facet of what makes exploration exciting.
Of course, video games aren’t my only alternative to actual travel. As a fan of tabletop RPGs I found myself thinking of which games could best give me the sandbox feeling at the table. My mind naturally drifts first to my favorite RPG, Dungeon World, which certainly has the ability to reproduce the Elder Scrolls effect. However, there’s another game which I haven’t had the opportunity to play yet which places even greater focus on the pleasure of taking a journey: Ryuutama. This game focuses more on travel than many other RPGs and offers a lot of tools for collaborative worldbuilding that players can use to design cool places to explore.
I’m not sure right now which game I’m going to end up playing in order to satisfy my desire for some open world shenanigans. I’m kind of leaning towards Final Fantasy XV because it has my favorite mechanisms for travel and a greater focus on some of the more practical aspects of traveling, but as it’s a PS4 game I wouldn’t realistically get a lot of playtime. The same issue distances me from Skyrim somewhat – though I have that on PS3 and the console would be available to me more often, it’s still stationary. I’ve come to rely on the Switch’s portability more than I’d previously realized, and the fact that I couldn’t play Skyrim or Final Fantasy when I’m out of town would be a turn off for me. And no, I will not buy Skyrim for the five billionth time on the Switch.
This leaves me with Breath of the Wild, and honestly that’s probably the title I am the least interested in picking back up. I enjoyed the game, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t consider Breath of the Wild to be the pinnacle of the open world formula. It’s also the game I’ve played most recently out of my three options, and the one I have explored the most thoroughly. It wouldn’t feel nearly as fresh to me as revisiting one of the other titles – I’d just as soon pick up and replay a different Zelda title.
I don’t know what I will ultimately do to satisfy my open world cravings, but in the meantime I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Do you find that open world games help you when wanderlust strikes? What is your favorite open world to explore? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!