Grab your map and get ready to get lost in a world full of areas to discover and secrets to be revealed. 2021 has some great upcoming exploration games coming out and here are some of our most anticipated titles for the PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, along with the Nintendo Switch platforms.
Disclaimer Update: Stray, Occupy Mars: The Game, Skull & Bones, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2, Everwild, Tchia, Horizon Forbidden West, Open Roads, and Season were removed due to not making the 2021 calendar year.
#17 Exo One
Exo One is an exciting game as it puts players in control of an alien spacecraft that can alter its shape. This game is all about progressing forward as you gain velocity with players quickly zip through the open world. Since you’re endlessly roaming, you’ll come across all sorts of unique lands to roll, glide, and jump off from. It’s a simplistic game that doesn’t have a specific release date attached right now, but you can try the demo out on Steam right now.
#16 Solar Ash
Solar Ash is a brand new IP coming from the development team that made Hyper Light Drifter, Heart Machine. The game was supposed to come out in October but has since been pushed to December for the developers to finish everything up. Of course, any more delays will see the title get tossed into 2022. We have been waiting for this game for a good while now. So far, we know that this is a new platformer where players take the role of a Voidrunner that is working to save the world from entering a black hole. Just how much exploration will be had here remains to be seen. Still, the gameplay showcased so far shows our protagonist fluidly jumping, skating, and gliding across some pretty colorful environments.
Sable is a bit of a different game. Visually the title will catch your attention, but the narrative is mainly up to the player. The game essentially follows a young girl named Sable, who is hunting for a rite-of-passage mask. It’s only after she finds this mask that Sable can return to her clan. Here the game is all about exploration and puzzle-solving. You’ll have to search the entire map, and thankfully you’re not just on foot. Another critical component of this game is the hoverbike. Players will be able to find new parts and make different customizations to the bike. If you need a storyline here, then this might not entice you all that much since the game simply drops you into this world where you’re simply forced into exploring.
#14 Everspace 2
Fans of Everspace finally have a sequel to dive into today. Everspace 2 kicked off its early access journey in January of 2021, so players can get some enjoyment out of this game right now while the developers continue to work on the project for a proper full launch. With that said, this title is still a spaceship-focused title with a massive galaxy out there to explore. With a narrative journey filled with characters to missions to complete, this is not an endless wandering around space shooter. Instead, the Everspace 2 journey will have players going through intense space battles, gathering loot, expanding your ship collection, and raking in the funds along the way. As mentioned, this is still a Steam early access title, so there’s the potential of changes being made within the game. Still, for the most part, it looks like Everspace 2 is filled with exciting areas to discover while you set off towards your next destination. As for how long we can expect this game to be stuck in early access, the developers hope to release Everspace 2 fully within the next year.
#13 Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the debut title for the development studio Ember Lab. It’s a reasonably short game where players are taking the role of Kena, a spirit guide who ventures out to help those that pass move on to the spirit world. With some magical abilities, players will use these powers to combatant enemies and help explore areas through platforming. The gameplay is linear, but there are some interesting open areas to explore. You might find the main pathway to be open, but there is some ability to decide how to further unlock the path going forward, which means having to venture around and using your wit during exploration.
#12 Junkyard Simulator
Junkyard Simulator is exactly what it sounds like. You’re in control of a junkyard where making money is all about finding scrap metal. Players can freely roam the open world to find junk to process, dismantle, repair, or destroy within the game. There are even quests to take on where you’ll get orders from clients, which means having to explore the open world to find the necessary items to complete their orders. Players can even gamble and purchase random containers that either have some valuable parts, old vehicles, or are filled with nothing but old boxes, leaving you with worthless scrap. It’s a bit of a wacky game that was just released onto Steam through early access.
Within Biomutant, players step into the shoes of a small creature. After a poisonous oil springing up from the ground, most of the world is quickly infected and dying off, leaving you as the world’s last hope of survival. The entire world is open for players to explore, with only sections blocked off. This is mainly a game where you’ll need to progress and find the means to open these areas up, which not only is above ground but underground as well. Since this is an RPG as well, Biomutant will give players the ability to tweak the different attributes of your protagonist, which may come in handy for different hairy situations when you’re venturing around the different biomes. It’s a game that might quickly go under the radar this year.
#10 Scarlet Nexus
We’ve made this reference before, but Scarlet Nexus is a bit like an anime both visually and with the narrative. It’s very over the top and colorful. In this title, we’re thrown into an alternate world where mutated creatures can invade the world. Luckily, there is a specialized task force that deals with these creatures. However, this task force is a bit unique because members have a supernatural element to them. With your party, players can use an assortment of extraordinary powers to deliver some powerful combo attacks. Now this game is a bit light on exploration, and you can expect it to be linear, but there are some decent dungeon layouts to spend some time within.
#9 Monster Hunter Rise
A new Monster Hunter installment came out this year with Monster Hunter Rise. This game is currently available on the Nintendo Switch platform, but we know that the installment will reach PC next year. Now this game is like the last installment, Monster Hunter World. It’s not necessarily a massive open-world, but there is some freedom to explore the different areas the game loads players into. With that said, there are some improvements made to Monster Hunter Rise. You still have larger areas to explore when tracking down a monster. The gameplay is more fluid and faster. Likewise, there’s some focus on verticality. Players are now given more freedom in climbing and getting a better advantage point.
#8 Tales of Arise
The Tales franchise has gained quite a bit of popularity over the years, but the latest installment has managed to hold a record for the fastest-selling entry to the series. This series has been around since 1995, so it’s quite the feat for the developers. Fortunately, these games are typically standalone, so you don’t have to worry about going back and playing all the previous installments. Tales of Arise is an RPG that follows a party looking to end the enslavement and corruption between two planets. Like with previous installments, we’ll have a party of characters aiding players in the journey, each having their own reasons for teaming up in this new fight. Again, like some of the games on this list, Tales of Arise is linear. But, there are some fairly large areas to explore as you venture around from one area to the next, along with some dungeon exploring.
#7 The Forgotten City
The Forgotten City initially was just a mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, due to its popularity, the developers decided to make a full video game release. In this game, players discover an ancient ruin city from Rome, and through some time travel, our protagonist ends up within the thriving city. From here, players are tasked with finding out what caused the city to fall. There is a bit of combat, but overall, the game is a narrative journey. You’ll meet with various NPCs, get them to trust you, and find out just who in this city will result in its ultimate destruction. If you enjoy a narrative-driven game with plenty of mystery, then this is the one well worth checking into.
#6 Subnautica Below Zero
The Subnautica franchise has two installments available for players, and both are intense exploration-heavy video games. In 2021 we saw the release of Subnautica Below Zero, which puts players into a new protagonist that ventures to the planet 4546B. Like the previous game, this world mainly consists of water, but you will find some new tundra landmasses to explore. This time around, the reason we’re venturing to an alien planet is to uncover information about a mysterious accident that has left an abandoned research station, which your sister worked at. If you played the first game, then you know what to expect here. It’s a survival game with plenty of exploration. However, you’ll not only have to keep in mind your vitals but the hostile enemies that lurk below the ocean depths.
Returnal puts players into a female space pilot that ends up crashing on an unusual alien planet. Stuck in this unfamiliar new home, players will need to figure out how to escape. However, this world is full of hostile enemies making it a difficult uphill battle. To make matters worse is that not even death will be an escape as players will be stuck in a loop with each death putting players right back at the start. Fortunately, our protagonist has a few weapons to use against the alien parasites that come across her path while she attempts to piece together her past and find a way back home. However, this is very much a bullet hell game. As a result, you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings and evading projectiles from the enemies roaming the world.
#4 Sherlock Holmes Chapter One
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is set to be the origin story of Sherlock Holmes as he begins his first big case to find out the truth behind the death of his mother. As you can imagine, this will be a younger Sherlock Holmes who’s more arrogant and quick to action while also not having his companion Watson to aid him in his journey. Sherlock will need to carefully examine the area for clues along with finding out information behind his suspects. So far, we know that there are five main quests in the campaign, along with a series of side quests available. Likewise, this game is set to be placed in an open world where players can explore the map after they complete the first mission freely. As a result, you’ll be able to investigate the entire city both normally or in disguises as you attempt to gain enough evidence to build up a case.
#3 Far Cry 6
The Far Cry franchise is known for having some excellent sizeable open-world maps to explore. That holds true with the latest installment to have come out into the marketplace this year, Far Cry 6. This installment puts players into a guerilla fighter set in a fictional Caribbean island, Yara. With an evil, ruthless dictator running the country, it’s up to the players to stop the regime and restoring peace onto the beautiful island once again. However, there is quite a bit of exploration to be had in Far Cry 6. Set on a tropical island, you’ll find the environments might not drastically change, but there are some points of interest. Likewise, there are plenty of secrets the developers had tossed into the game for players to catch.
There is usually a few indie games that blow up in popularity each year. For 2021 we had the release of Valheim. This is an early access game, but it puts players into the role of a deceased Viking. Instead of waking up to the grand halls of Valhalla, our hero is instead on the lands of Valheim. It seems that to gain access to Valhalla, players will need to prove their worth to Odin. This is by taking out the enemies on the land while also maintaining your vitals to stay alive. There’s an incentive in exploring the land either solo or with some party members. You can hunt down enemies for loot, resources to gather, and simply uncovering what the next landmass holds. Of course, this is a challenging game, and you might end up dying out in the open, which means it’s best to make portals to help get back to your base.
#1 Metroid Dread
Metroid Dread is set as the last installment chronologically at the time of writing this game description. In this title, players find that the Galactic Federation has discovered new X parasites on a distant planet. Sending out specialized EMMI robots to take care of them, the advanced androids quickly go offline once they land. Now Samus is forced into finding out what’s going on in the planet, where she’ll also discover the nearly indestructible EMMI robots will attempt to hunt her down. This is a classic Metroidvania game. Players are forced to explore the map, backtracking, find new power-ups to progress forward and mark down on the map points of interest. The game was such a big hit that it’s causing a surge in players going back to replay some of the more classic Metroid games over the past several years.