Digital Escapes: Outta This World

Kaer Morhen
The Witcher 3's main fortress: Kaer Morhen.

I mentioned in the introduction to the Digital Escapes series that a little game called Baldur’s Gate was one of the first games that made me realize just how much I love video games. Since then, I’ve talked about some of my favorite games that retain some relevance to our world either in setting or actions. However, sometimes you just want to get away – to experience something so terrifically different or new that games that feel too real won’t really help you feel like you’ve made your escape from the hum-drum of the day-to-day. Sometimes, you just need to play something that is pure fantasy and adventure.

Good news! Many games fit into this category, but as usual – some are better at providing a believable world for you to spend your precious free-time in. Only the best-of-the-best of these games can truly provide you someplace befitting a digital “vacation.”

A few weeks ago, I finished a game called The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The timing couldn’t have been better because I’ve been planning this article since I first started dreaming up the Digital Escapes series six months ago. Granted, I started playing The Witcher 3 the day it came out back in mid-May, so I planned on at least touching on it in this article because the game grabbed me instantly, but after more than 100 hours of escaping into the game’s world, it was clear to me that this game deserved to be the focus of this article.

The Witcher 3 is a massive role-playing game (RPG) based heavily on the works of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. It’s world is dark and it’s characters are dealing with several issues similar to those in our world: war, poverty, racism and general discrimination run rampant in the game’s beautifully realized world. This may not sound like a fun place to escape to, but the politics of the place merely form a backdrop. Much of the game’s huge open world feels as if it is on the frontier and it’s large forests, swamps, mountains and ruins leave tons of space to be explored. Also, the game is frequently darkly humorous as you quickly discover that few things are ever what they seem.

For example, trolls are big, dumb monsters sure – but they are rarely immediately violent. Speaking to them can be entertaining as you try to work out what they mean by their… interesting grammatical choices. They rarely mean harm outside of their basic survival and encounters with them can usually be solved with words before swords. Like many of the best games I’ve talked about in this series of articles, The Witcher 3 is often best and worthy of your in-between real travelling time when it’s at its quietest. Frequently, the game slides into longer periods of dialog and story or just opens up for you to explore – allowing you to both figuratively and literally read its environment and interpret what is going on.

Don’t get me wrong, combat is quite common, but the developers of The Witcher 3, CD Project Red, fully understand the benefits of show, don’t tell. The wonders of modern technology have allowed them to create a beautifully realized world that is enormous and easy to get lost in, which has in turn opened them up to more subtle story-telling methods. Naturally, it also opens up the game for the player to spend much of their time just exploring this richly detailed world.

In fact, that’s where several of the best science-fiction and fantasy games do things best. Great digital escapes are those that feel like places that I can visit and get lost in. Games like The Witcher 3 and Bioware’s Mass Effect give me environments and characters that I actually want to spend time getting lost in. I have to know what’s in that cave or on top of that mountain – if I can see it, I should be able to get there and when I do, there better be something of interest for me to see. Open world or semi-open world games do this best and I’ve been known to get lost exploring their landscapes, both alien and familiar for hours. On that note, let’s close this up with a quick look at some of my favorite non-realistic digital escapes. Keep in mind that these are digital vacations set in the distant future or on fantastical worlds with magic and monsters.

Guild Wars 2

The Guild Wars series has been around for a while, but Guild Wars 2 is by far my favorite MMORPG – play this game if you don’t want your fantasy escape to feel entirely devoid of other heroes. The whole point of GW2 is to play with friends. They have a new expansion releasing soon, so the game’s world is about to get just a bit bigger.

The Fallout series

It’s pretty difficult to actually classify what Fallout is – picture if the 1950s vision of the future actually existed and then nuclear Armageddon happened. The Fallout series is set in a world a few hundred years after that apocalyptic event and is known for its dark humor and bizarre characters. Since Bethesda became the stewards of the series and brought it into the world of 3D, this series has gone from cult-classic to mainstay series. Check out the trailer for the upcoming Fallout 4.

The Elder Scrolls series

This is a series that has been around for a long time, but each entry gets better and better. I wasn’t particularly happy with The Elder Scrolls: Online, but the last main entry into the series, Skyrim was fantastic. Another Bethesda developed series, these games are well-known for their enormous worlds that are filled with plenty to do. I’ve never actually beaten one of these games because I spend too much time getting side-tracked by all of their worlds’ little nooks and crannies.

The Mass Effect series

Created by Bioware, the Mass Effect series was a set of games that started off well and only got better as they went on. While many complain about the end of the original trilogy, quite frankly, I thought it was really well done. These games are a bit more linear in nature than the other games I’m recommending, but their open hub-areas and characters are top-notch. If you want to enjoy a richly detailed science fiction story, check these games out.

Mass Effect 3

Screenshot courtesy of Bioware.

What to know if you go

As a quick note, keep in mind that some of the games I wrote about in the title above are rated mature. Games are an awesome way to unwind and even have fun as a family, but parents those ratings labels on video games are there for a reason.

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