Image: Nintendo

Escaping into video game worlds

During these uncertain times, one of the best ways to help keep you busy is undoubtedly to play video games. Similar to watching movies and TV shows, gaming allows us to lose ourselves in sprawling worlds filled with unmatched creativity.

Gaming can give us anything from huge, 100 hour stories, to smaller, tightly packed experiences that can be completed in a couple of hours. It is this sense of fantasy and escapism that allows us to become so invested in games, through a combination of exploring gorgeous worlds with many secrets to find, and engaging stories with fully realised characters. There are some games that use real-world locations for inspiration, such as The Last of Us or Spider-Man on PS4, and L.A. Noire, and it’s fun to explore and see how faithfully these locations have been recreated while telling unique stories.

Persona 5 Royal

I’ve been playing lots of Persona 5 Royal lately, which offers a huge story that takes roughly 70 hours to finish. The game has two different types of worlds for the player to get lost in, the first being recreations of famous Japanese locations, such as Shibuya, Akihabara and Kichijoji. The second revolves around the abstract Palaces- dungeons made to resemble environments like castles, museums and pyramids. If you want a flavour of Japan, Persona 5 Royal offers you the chance to explore some of Tokyo on quite a small scale, while providing you with a hugely engaging story that will keep you busy for a long time. Persona may be one of the more large scale and time-consuming ways to keep me busy, but here are some other examples that I’ve played that can make for other great ways to beat the lockdown.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The latest entry in the beloved Legend of Zelda series gives players the chance to explore the world of Hyrule on a much bigger scale than has ever been seen in the franchise. There are secrets around every corner, and the player can experience as much of the world in whatever order they choose. Indeed, a player can skip the main story quests and focus on exploration, or vice versa, or even head straight for the final boss if they so choose. The freedom presented to you means that no two players’ journeys through Hyrule will be the same, and can be a gargantuan time-sink if you want it to be. To date, I’ve spent roughly 300 hours exploring what Breath of the Wild has to offer, and after that, I would happily get lost in its world all over again.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Everyone is still playing and talking about Animal Crossing: New Horizons—and for good reason! Rather than getting lost in a predetermined world, the emphasis is placed on you creating your own island paradise. There is no story to follow, and the game does not ask much of you, with there being no definitive goals or objectives in sight. Animal Crossing is a game you can pour dozens of hours into, but the game does not demand that you do so. Indeed, its laid-back nature is one of the game’s selling points, allowing you to spend as long or as little time as you want in making your own island. The social aspect of the game also increases its playability, as you are able to meet up with friends online to exchange items and admire each other’s creativity. Animal Crossing is the perfect game for if you want something to keep you busy, but at your own pace.

Firewatch

I recently played Firewatch for the first time, and if you’re looking for something that requires less time and dedication than something like Persona 5 Royal or Breath of the Wild, Firewatch is a wonderful alternative. Taking only 3-4 hours to finish, Firewatch tells the story of Henry, a man working as a fire watcher for the summer in a Wyoming National Park. Frequently described as a walking simulator, the gameplay of Firewatch is not at all complicated or demanding, as you spend the entire game walking around the park and fulfilling simple objectives whilst the story plays out. However, the story is what kept me engaged, as the game sets up genuine mystery and even unease about what will happen next. This is not to say that Firewatch is a horror game, but the story will absolutely keep you invested, thanks to the great characterisation of Henry and Delilah, his supervisor.

Abzû

Like Firewatch, Abzû is a short experience: one that focuses on atmosphere and telling its simple story through exploration. You play as a diver, exploring the vast ocean and gradually restoring sea life by finding magical wells. The story is not much more complicated than that, but the game excels in delivering an amazing atmosphere that is simultaneously wondrous and relaxing. The environments and soundtrack are gorgeous, and it is hard not to get invested despite the simple premise.

These are just a few suggestions but there are so many other games that are a splendid way to escape from the current lockdown. Stay safe and happy gaming!

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