Top 10 Exploration Games

Exploration is a very important aspect to many games. Considering all the hype over enormous open-world games, it’s important to look back at some classic paradigms of this emerging element that is nearly ubiquitous in AAA games.

A world is truly explorative when the player can derive a sense of story from every little aspect, elements that tie to the main plot. This gives gamers an excuse to spend hours of our attention scouring the land, just to experience some fantastical element yet to be seen.

To the player, freedom is just as important as providing a great backstory or polished gameplay, for immersion within the game is what truly keeps people playing. Exploration drives us all to break free from the predetermined mold of a campaign to create our own unique experiences within the world. This list contains games that open up unique landscapes for us to voyage across and are interlined with a memorable, engaging atmosphere.

#10 Batman: Arkham City

Batman crouches on a rooftop with images of Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Joker, Penguin, Harley Quinn, Solomon Grundy and the Riddler.

From developers Rocksteady Studios comes the dystopian, crime-ridden streets of Gotham in a modern light. With the prison situation needing a new renovation after the first installment, Batman: Arkham Asylum, The leaders of Gotham transform half of the their town into the institution known as Arkham City. Arrested, Bruce Wayne is tossed into the walls of this psychopathic funland, surrounded by those who despise him. Luckily, Alfred sends in a care package and the Batman is free to scale the rooftops to stop the nefarious schemes of the villains residing within the city. Exploration is truly rewarded, as many mysteries and plot threads become sealed as they’re solved. The city is a landscape inspired by the comics and is rich in hidden extras and infamous characters. The atmosphere is complimented by an intuitive “FreeFlow” combat system that makes exploring the world fun and engaging.  Batman: Arkham City is a real dream for fans of this caped crusader, and a rich surprise for the gamer experiencing the sheer amount of goodies contained within this city.

#9 Two Worlds 2

Lost queen overlooks a ruined battlefield with mountains in the horizon

An overshadowed gem developed by the Polish company, Reality Pump, comes the successor of the first, Two Worlds 2. Receiving critical success in the borders of Europe, this fantasy RPG sported one of the most intuitive crafting systems in gaming. What made it so grand was the fact that nearly everything found within the world could be implemented through crafting. This offered an immediate reward from exploring the unique locations presented, introducing a spice of variety from many other open-world games. The player takes on the role of a customized hero who is taken prisoner along with his sister due to the new Emperor of Antaloor. A prophet sends a group of orcs to free him and tell of his fate with Gandohar, the new Emperor of Antaloor. This old 2010 game is still receiving support as one of two new DLCs for the game have, at the time of this writing, yet to be released. Combining a detailed crafting system with that of an amazing overworld to explore, is a fantastical mix and makes this game worth trying.

#8 Far Cry 4

Pagan Min sits idly on a rock surrounded by multiple armaments with the Himalayas in the distance.

Next on our list is one title from the long running franchise produced by Ubisoft, Far Cry 4. This series is known for its engaging story, and even more for the world that encompasses it. Taking place in the fictional Himalayan country of Kyrat, its open-world is filled with wildlife and many activities to pursue. Beautiful is a word that comes to mind when trekking across the grandiose landscapes and pristine wildlife. Following the Journey of Ajay Ghale as he is caught in the middle of a civil war between the tyrannical King Pagan Min and a rebel movement known as the Golden Path. A large task is set forth that must be prepared for by scouring nature and outposts for the right supplies. A breathtaking mountainous landscape to explore combines with a more modern viewpoint on the RPG genre to create a realistic exploration experience.

#7 Starbound

Starbound cover title floating above the Earth all while surrounded in space.

Sandbox games are the very essence of exploration titles; stories are made by your own personal experiences. This spacefaring 2D adventure game is much akin to the styles of Terraria or Minecraft, but opens up a much wider scope in the form of space travel. Developed by Chucklefish, Starbound begins with the player inside a spaceship drifting through space, with the wreckage of Earth in its wake. This astronaut has no choice but to explore the inhabitable planets he ventures to and start a new life beyond the stars. The elements of story and exploration are woven together, as quests and missions are hidden within this open world. With the abilities of terraforming and building, the player can always be sure to leave their mark on the worlds they visit. Starbound is bound by nothing, with the player truly being able to take the adventure they want through the stars.

#6 Super Metroid

Samus Aran is firing a blast at Pirate Captain Ridley while making an evasive maneuver.

The side-scrolling action adventure that puts the player in the suit of the bounty hunter Samus Aran to recover Metroid Larvae and conquer Space Pirates is one of the legendary games for the SNES. It is a critically acclaimed game loved by speedrunners and gaming fans alike, also holding the title for one of the greatest games ever made. This 2D action game has the player traversing through planet Zebes, traveling to different sections by using doors and elevators. Exploring this distant alien planet is essential to the plot as a whole, as well as the survival of Samus. It is essential to discover power-ups within the many corridors and fully equip yourself to face the trials ahead. This exploration progression, however, is co-aligned with the time factor of the endings. Representing the metroidvania genre and sci-fi exploration, this is truly a classic.

#5  Xenoblade Chronicles

Shulk and Fiora gaze upon a new destination while standing on a beach.

Developed by Monolith Soft, Xenoblade Chronicles is an expansive jrpg, in which the size of its main plot-line is only rivaled by the game’s world. The story follows the long journey of Shulk, who is obsessed with the ancient detailing of the Monado—an artifact of the dreaded Mechonis threat. Upon obtaining the very thing he studied, he ventures out upon the world to eradicate the Mechonis from his home. The world he explores is in fact upon a giant robot titan laid dormant from years past. Starting at the foot, you work your way up to the head and farther around the entire body. With a design philosophy of: if you can see it, it can become a destination, this game offers a plethora of different environments to explore. Xenoblade Chronicles is a truly captivating, unique fantasy world, a time-consuming JRPG worth checking out.

#4 Knytt Underground

Knytt is walking in a forest town at night.

The developers of Green Hill Games have created a true 2D adventure-exploration game. Knytt Underground is an indie title that presents itself as a player-driven journey with much of the story and endings dependent upon the explorative path taken. Players take control of the small sprite, Mi Sprocket, who simply wants to make a wish at the Fairy Springs. However, being mute, she is misunderstood and unwillingly recruited in a mission to save the world. Two fairies serve as her translators, with each having a different manner of speaking, so much to the extent that quests are altered. The world itself is separated by over 1,800 rooms to explore, with many not being marked on any map. Exploration itself is the essence of this indie title and brings many interesting concepts together that make it truly worth checking out.

#3 Dark Souls

The cursed undead soldier is seen kneeling on his sword with a burning landscape behind him.

The spiritual successor of Demon Souls, FromSoftware and Namco Bandai Games bring us the grim world of Dark Souls. An infamous start of the series known for its difficult yet very rewarding gameplay. Taking the role of a cursed, undead soldier, you begin a pilgrimage through the kingdom of Lordran to uncover the fate of your kind. Considered one of the best games ever made, this critically acclaimed title brought depth into that of its combat, world design and lore. Though containing a minimalistic plot, it is ever-expanded through exploring the ruined landscapes of this kingdom. Traversing this land brings together the world and mythos surrounding it, truly making the entirety of the lands lived in. A deep lore unsurfaced by exploring through the treacherous landscape, fulfilling a true sense of accomplishment with each challenge overcomed makes Dark Souls feel engaging and hard to stray away from.

#2 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Link is overlooking all of Hyrule and taking in the Breath of the Wild

Winner of Game of the Year of 2017 and shown as a crowning jewel of gaming comes this well-acclaimed title from the Legend of Zelda. A perfect game that puts the player in control, a new landmark for open-world games. Following the reawakening of Link, who must traverse this ruined world and defeat Ganon, who is trapped inside Hyrule Castle, before he inevitably escapes. The plot-line is completely up to the player; Link can storm Hyrule Castle upon leaving the prologue area. The true sense of the game comes from exploring the vast and wild world of Hyrule and preparing yourself for the demanding trial ahead. Every challenge you face while trekking through the wilderness has an inherent boost to your overall power. Another title holding one of the best games ever made and boasting a player driven experience alone urge any to try this game.

#1 Sid Meier’s Pirates!

A privateer captain is fending off intruders on his ship in the middle of the ocean.

An influential title to this small genre as a whole and truly groundbreaking in its year of release is the first of games to use his name in the titles, Sid Meier’s Pirates! A true spiritual successor of many titles to date, inspiring open-world as a whole. Set in the Caribbean, you play the role of a privateer that may work for many different countries in the old colonial world. Exploration is the essence of this game for the only plot-line is the adventures you discover in this large sandbox. Every new game puts the player in a world randomly generating, locations, diplomatic standings economy and much more. All testing the adaptability and strategic planning of your voyages. An old classic that is truly one of the best exploration games made and deserving of the number one spot is indeed Sid Meier’s Pirates!