One of the most powerful things a video game can do is make you feel like you’ve been completely transported to another world. That’s what makes this medium the most effective form of escapism, particularly in the following PC games.
Following part 1 of this series, we will introduce 10 more top video games that you can explore, from the desolation of Mad Max to the sweeping grandeur of The Witcher 3—and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your chair to visit them.
While Rockstar seems mainly interested in bringing American cities to life, Sleeping Dogs is a strong attempt at replicating another part of the world. United Front’s vision of contemporary Hong Kong is a beautifully constructed thing, with neon advertising signs reflecting in puddles, crowded markets, traffic-clogged streets, and food stalls you can almost smell.
Dark Souls 3
From the faded grandeur of the colossal Lothric Castle to the haunting, wintry Irithyll of the Boreal Valley, this is one of FromSoftware’s greatest artistic achievements. And as well as looking pretty, the locations fill in the blanks left by the sparse, enigmatic story, with places such as the Cemetery of Ash providing subtle clues about the series’ rich mythology.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
You get a sense that Skyrim is a vast country, rather than a small section of a larger world. Each area has its own distinctive history, culture, and climate, from the bubbling, sulphuric hot springs of Eastmarch to the icy, snow-battered coastline of Winterhold. Skyrim is still one of the most enjoyable virtual worlds to just exist in for a while.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Rocksteady went from creating a convincing but isolated setting in Arkham Asylum to a wonderfully grim and complex urban sprawl in Arkham Knight. Decorated with a Blade Runner-ish mix of neon lights and endless rainfall, it’s one of the best open world settings around, even if the game’s tiring use of the Batmobile muddies your perception of it a little bit.
The Yakuza series has finally come to PC, and this prequel features two beautiful, atmospheric chunks of Japanese cities to explore: Kamurocho in Tokyo and Sotenbori in Osaka. Both perfectly capture the feeling of being in a bustling, vibrant Japanese city, and the 1980s setting is brilliantly fleshed out with era-appropriate technology and fashion.
From the muted streets of City 17 to the zombie-infested Ravenholm (we don’t go there), Valve’s visual storytelling is still unparalleled. Half-Life 2 has dated, inevitably, but its environments still have the power to dazzle. Over the course of the game a detailed picture of this bleak, hopeless world is subtly pieced together, and all through details in the environment.
Metro: Last Light
The Metro series offers the most beguiling and tonally bleak post-apocalypse around, whether you’re in the irradiated overworld or one of those detailed underground settlements filled with NPCs. From a wrecked passenger plane, skeletons still buckled into their seats, to an abandoned, rain-soaked tenement block, misery has never looked quite so attractive.
Alan Wake’s misty forests, empty cabins and eerily unpopulated towns are the perfect setting for this mostly nighttime horror shooter. A clever recurring technique used by Remedy is the teasing of enemies and new locations in the far distance, something made possible by game engine tech originally put in place when Alan Wake was going to be open-world.
Campo Santo’s stylised Shoshone National Forest feels sun-parched, wild, and rambling, which combined with some remarkable ambient sound design makes for an incredibly convincing natural setting. The game is linear, but there are plenty of opportunities to ramble, finding clues about the other lonely people who have escaped there over the decades.
Rapture is so bloody strange in its mix of sci-fi otherworldliness and art deco. It’s perhaps the strongest instance of fiction and setting working together on this list. An unforgettable journey under the sea, to a setting soaked with history and purpose. You feel like people actually lived and worked here before everything went to shit, with echoes of life all around you.