The Best Exploration Games of All Time
Put on your fedora and leather whip, we’re about to go on an adventure through video games.
Exploration is one of the main facets of video games, especially modern ones, that take games well beyond the territory of Pong and Super Mario Bros. and invite them to immerse themselves within worlds fantastic.
Well beyond completing mission objectives and furthering the storyline, games that offer exploration as a choice allow players to fully immerse themselves within these virtual environments, discovering facets of the game that otherwise elude players who’d choose instead to breeze through the story for the sake of finishing the game.
To incentivize exploration, developers hide quests, bits of collectibles, as well as easter eggs for adventurers to find and discover, providing them with countless memories to call their own.
In this list, we cover some of the medium’s best exploration games of all time. If you think we left anything out, feel free to chime in the comments below, and be sure to tell us what you’re looking forward to playing–what game you’re interested in exploring.
Red Dead Redemption
Players can explore the western countryside in one of Rockstar’s most intrepid games, Red Dead Redemption–ranging from the game’s Texas analogue to the Mexican desert across the border. All along the way, there’s “Strangers” to encounter, all of whom have their own strange tales to share with the player.
Grand Theft Auto V
Much like Red Dead Redemption, there is plenty to explore and discover in the city of Los Santos and its surrounding environs. The city itself is filled to the brim with strange people, whose lives and stories are intertwined with that of the city.
The Knytt series of games largely revolves around the exploration of beautiful 2-dimensional spaces. They’re quite unlike any other side-scrolling platformers out there.
Etrian Odyssey series
There’s nothing more enjoyable (well, if you consider yourself the explorer type, then yeah) than having to chart out your own terrain as you delve deep into a procedurally generated dungeon. Etrian Odyssey offers players the ability to chart their own maps, which is just like how the Gold Box RPGs of yore required players to do the same thing with graph paper.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
The latest entry in the long-standing series of role-playing games from BioWare offers wide open environments, unlike the two previous games. Players have the ability to explore the map, uncovering new quests and discovering hidden treasures with the newly added ‘ping’ button that lets you investigate your surroundings.
Final Fantasy XV
Like many other titles in the series, Final Fantasy XV emphasized exploration greatly. Players could explore the wide open environments likewise, there was much to discover in the game’s open world as you completed the lengthy campaign.
This series of role-playing games from German developer Piranha Bytes offers players who are inclined towards exploration the ability to do just that. The wide open environments offered by the game give players plenty of opportunity to explore as they make their way through the world.
Far Cry Series
Whether you’re making your way through the tropical landscape of Far Cry 3 or the mountainous Himalayan regions of Far Cry 4, both games have much to offer explorers. They’re fantastic first person shooters that manage to provide plenty of opportunities for exploration for anyone willing to go out of the beaten path to find treasures–numerous of which are scattered throughout the lands.
Fancy a trip through Chernobyl without the risk of radiation sickness? Then the Stalker series is definitely for you, provided you’re willing to deal with militants, other stalkers, and mutated hellbeasts.
Players can visit strange worlds–alien planets filled with a myriad of bizarre creatures and lifeforms–generated through the game’s procedural generation system. There’s towns to visit, bunkers to attack, and underground ruins to explore in this 2D sidescrolling game.
Guild Wars 2
If there’s one thing Guild Wars 2 manages to do really well it’s rewarding explorers with special achievements–acquired through the discovery of Landmarks. This wide open environment gives players the opportunity to do more than just grind on regular monsters for experience points by encouraging them to go out of their way to investigate their surroundings.
Despite being procedurally generated, Minecraft is definitely one of the top games on this list. The game manages to reward explorers with rewards like diamonds, monster spawners, and a host of other treasures–provided they’re willing to travel outside their zone of comfort in the game.
World of Warcraft
While the vanilla version of World of Warcraft offered plenty of opportunities for players to explore, no MMO to date does it as well as the game’s Warlords of Draenor expansion pack, which sees players exploring the new land of Draenor, filled with treasures, rare monsters for players to hunt, and quests that lie off the beaten path.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world of the future, which itself is set in a world where the 1950s never ended, the Fallout series has always been big on rewarding explorers. There’s many hidden Vaults to discover, ruins to explore, and a host of random encounters out in the world just waiting to be stumbled upon by intrepid players.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
While not necessarily the best game on this list (your mileage may vary), Skyrim is definitely one of the best games for explorers to experience. There’s so many hidden ruins, hidden quests, and a mountain of gear, relics and artifacts for players to discover in the cold environments offered by Skyrim.
The Metroid series has been around for decades and continues to gather new fans while inspiring other developers when it comes to the creation of their own IP. You may have heard of the term Metroidvania tossed around for certain video game titles and its used to describe similarities from the Metroid series.
Metroid has a heavy emphasis on exploration. You’ll find yourself gathering a certain item or power that will allow players to access certain areas that were previously unreachable or locked away.
The Uncharted series is another great franchise if you love to explore a bit. Overall, the series focuses on Nathan Drake who sets out on grand adventures in search of old mysteries. Our protagonist is taken all around the world while fighting off the common villainous group and a few supernatural elements.
Tomb Raider is a bit like the Uncharted series. The franchise follows Lara Croft on grand adventures that take her all over the world. Although, while the franchise has a number of installments available, we suggest taking a look at the reboot that released back in 2013. Not only is it a great exploration adventure title, but it’s a great starting point for the franchise.
Keeping up the overall video game franchises worth looking into, we’re adding Batman the Arkham series. There are a few titles within the series, but you may want to stick towards the Arkham City or Arkham Knight for more exploration focused gameplay.
Within the series, players take on the role of the Dark Knight and must fight off the criminal scum that terrorizes Gotham City. The best part of it, Batman can freely roam the city and stop groups of criminals that pop up on within the dark means streets.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda series is well-known and beloved, as such, it shouldn’t come to much surprise that we’re adding the latest entry to the series on this list, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This is an open world video game where Link can freely go to wherever. This game doesn’t just offer a great exploration element to the franchise, but the gameplay has made this title a game of the year contender.
While islands are great settings for zombie apocalypses and evil organizations, they can also be a great place for introverted meditations. When you’re surrounded by nothing but water, on an empty island, what else are you going to do but solve 600 or so puzzles? As we noted in our review, Jonathan Blow’s open-world puzzle game wants the player to slow down and think. An abandoned island serves as a great place to emphasize isolation. This isn’t a bad thing — everyone needs some time to be alone and ruminate every once in a while.
Horizon Zero Dawn
In Horizon Zero Dawn, mankind has mysteriously fallen with cities only a shell of a once thriving society. Now only small tribal groups remain with giant mechanical beasts that roam the world openly. The plot will revolve around a female hunter named Aloy who sets out on a journey to explore the open world, meet with other tribes, and potentially learn of the reason mankind fell to being with.