One of the things I get the most enjoyment from in a game is exploration. It doesn’t matter what the genre is, though RPGs seem to lend themselves most readily to exploring a game world.
Here are a few examples of exploration in games I’ve played and what I liked about each.
Conquest of the New World This 4X strategy game started you out with a few units, one being the Explorer. This little guy set off into the inky darkness of the new world to uncover its terrain. The graphics of the title were excellent for the time (1996), making the exploring even more satisfying. Better yet, the game let you name significant geographical features like mountains and rivers, lending an extra level of customization to the exploration.
Betrayal at Krondor My favorite RPGs usually reward exploring off the beaten trail and in BaK you could find moredhel chests filled with goodies, caves filled with baddies and of course the occasional side quest. I also appreciated that while each chapter of the story had an ultimate goal, the game left you free to pursue it however you saw fit, letting you cover large swaths of land if you so chose simply for the sake of exploration.
Midwinter was an RPG/adventure hybrid in which you had to stop a despot from taking over the titular chain of islands. A eurogamer retrospective on the game sums up the exploration nicely:
Climbing to the top of a mountain and taking off in a glider and praying you didn’t break both your legs coming down (which could literally happen in the game) was a great experience. Having a persistent 3D landscape really made it feel like you were moving around in an actual place.
And speaking of 3D environments…
Minecraft This one is pretty obvious (and it’s not as prehistoric as the other games on my list!) The 3D worlds the game generates are vast, varied and built for exploration. Whether it’s coming across a deserted village, an abandoned mine, a ravine that seems to go down forever or just endless forested hills, the worlds of Minecraft scratch that itch to ‘just have a quick look over there’ that plunges you deep into the unknown and maybe I should have made a compass or brought some torches and it seems to be getting dark and okay I’ll just dig a little hole in the ground to hide in and oh crap here comes a creeper…
There’s a number of MMOs I’ve played that have lent themselves well to exploration. In their first few years World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 both offered lots of interesting sights in areas tucked away from the main quest lines. Both games have gone more toward an ‘on the rails’ quest experience but you can still find out of the way places. Unlike BaK there’s usually no material reward for doing so, just the simple pleasure of finding an area few others will likely traverse, sometimes with an Easter egg or two.
What are some of your favorite games for exploration? And what about them makes the exploration worthwhile? Do tell!