Video games are a great way to escape reality and immerse yourself in a new environment, characters, abilities, and world. With the Nintendo Switch being a portable console, there's an extra element to a video game's ability to transport you to a new place — with the Switch, you can literally play from anywhere. If you're looking for something to take you away to a distant world for a bit, these are the very best exploration games on the Switch.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I personally have always enjoyed the beautiful surroundings of Hyrule — even though the setting is in a state of devastation and monster overrule, there's something special about how the land is depicted in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There are aspects of the land that are still trying to function as a thriving society like the outlying villages, while the castle has been taken over by the darkness of Calamity.
The environments in this game manage to maintain the image of a consistent land while also having enough variety to show the different changes in surroundings. Players will explore volcanic lands, beaches, forests, and mountains as well as a vast valley between all these areas. The aesthetically pleasing lands combined with the numerous shrines and side quests will help you get lost in this world in all the best ways for hours upon hours.
The land of Hyrule has met a not-so-pleasant fate. Calamity has taken over the kingdom and monsters run about the valleys. 100 years after the failed battle, you return as Link to end this once and for all.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Explore lands among the skies upon the backs of Titans in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. There's nothing quite as unique as this universe concept that has you literally moving lands that exist on beasts and the views here are just as incredible as the story. As you move through the game you'll move from Titan to Titan, each with a new world all their own. Battle all the creatures and explore to your heart's content while looking for treasures and more on these beasts.
Take to the lands in the skies in search of living weapon Pyra's home. There are more Blades to get to know along the way as you explore the Titans.
Night in the Woods
While there is plenty to love about realism in a video game world, I think there's just as much to respect about a cartoon-y game too. Night in the Woods uses brilliant contrasts in bright and dark areas to create a very visually appealing backdrop. Throughout this game you'll experience a cottage core-type of vibe that also manages to be creepy-cute. While you won't see a super expansive world in this title, you'll surely still appreciate the impressive artwork and details that went into creating the surroundings. The whole point of this game is to explore as you discover the story for yourself.
Mae has left college behind and returned home, where it seems everything has changed while she was away. But it's more than just your friends and relationships, there's something strange in the air.
A Short Hike
This game is built around the idea of exploring your own path and taking your time enjoying your surroundings. As the title implies, in A Short Hike you simply take a hike in the forest as you interact with your surroundings however you please. There are a certain amount of tasks to complete here and hikers you can aid to advance in the game, but overall there is no timeline and no rush to do so. The area has a mountain, lakes and rivers to swim or fish in, and a lush forest that houses it all.
Enjoy a casual game in a gorgeous setting, leaving lots to be discovered. A Short Hike is casual and can be as short or as long as you'd like. Don't be afraid to make the most of it.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus
One of the most fascinating games in the franchise, Pokémon Legends: Arceus gives players a somewhat open world to explore where they can watch, catch, and battle Pokémon in their natural environment. Through the ability to connect with certain Pokémon, you can even see the vast lands from the air and sea thanks to the ridable creatures. Each Pokémon's diversity is matched by their equally diverse environment, making it very fun to advance in this title as you further research each Pokémon on your trek.
Take your Pokémon adventure back to the very start of these creatures. People and Pokémon are just learning how to live together and it's your job to help build the very first Pokédex. Catch them, fight them, and figure out what is causing some of them to become angry.
Monster Hunter Rise
Inspired by ninjas, Monster Hunter Rise places players in the middle of a charming village named Kamura Village. Surrounding this village is a ton of nature filled with amazing creatures. This is a perfect title to experience a place you'll really never see anything like in real life. You even get to interact with this wild world by walking across large tree branches, climbing vines, going inside hollowed logs, and more. Have fun conquering the jungles but keep track of your time limits, as some missions only give you a certain amount of time to complete the tasks at hand.
Take in some stunning sights as you keep your eyes peeled for monsters. Hunt on your own or with friends online.
Ring Fit Adventure
There's plenty going on in Ring Fit Adventure to distract you from the fact that this is a workout game. While (literally) running through this world in the story mode, there are maps to choose from to help you switch it up and complete tasks. There are plenty of worlds to discover with more than 20 in total, with each having its own feel and unique features. This game is a stand-out pick because it has the added bonus of getting you some actual exercise while wandering a virtual world.
Use your body to play like never before! You can actually take a jog through this virtual world and use your physical motions to defeat monsters and win mini games.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land
In this new style of Kirby game, Kirby and the Forgotten Land allows you to explore in a more open world way for the first time. The game takes place at a time where nature has taken over civilization. Buildings, cars, roads, and more are overgrown as Earth takes back over the space. Players will enjoy their journey through different Kirby environments like a winter wonderland and desert oasis, all while using their pink puffball's Copy Abilities to advance through the levels.
Kirby is back and stronger than ever! Now you can "copy" large objects and use them as you explore what happened to this abandoned civilization.
A relaxed base-builder set on a boat with amazing hand-drawn style artwork, Spiritfarer is what you should play if you're really in the mood to simply journey through a virtual world. In this title, the main purpose of the game is to help Spirits prepare for their passing to the afterlife. The sharp details and soft blended colors make this not only a touching story but a wonderful visual experience.
Relax as you journey around the world helping spirits everywhere. Build up your boat as you prepare spirits for their journey into the afterlife.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an entire open-world where you can go to any part of the map at any time. While this is a popular title on many consoles, some special features you get with the Switch version is the ability to use motion controls and wear beautifully integrated Legend of Zelda outfits with amiibo compatibility. But the thing that doesn't change is how well put together and realistic the details of this world are from console to console. From splendid water features tp detailed tree lines and awe-inspiring sky views, you may forget for a moment that you're actually not out and about exploring IRL — at least until you're attacked by giant spiders or a dragon falls from the sky.
Create a character all your own in this outstanding world of fantasy. There are many quests and adventures, what you do with them is entirely up to you.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Magic and monsters run wild in this open world fantasy, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. As Geralt, a monster slayer, you see islands, frigid lands, tall cities, calming waters, and more as you decide how to interact with this world and shape your own story. We love the diversity available in the settings of The Witcher and could spend hours enjoying the detailed lands.
With a plethora of weapons and abilities at your disposal, you choose how to take on the monster hunt — and the ending will change as you decide. Every bit of exploration and combat can make a difference.
Immortals Fenyx Rising
A game with creatures as alluring as the land, Immortals Fenyx Rising is a Greek-inspired tale that takes this inspiration to every corner of the game. Each region is themed based on Greek gods, and the details that go into expressing these themes make for satisfying areas to just roam around and take in the bright colors — all while on a simple mission to rescue the gods themselves.
The gods need you. As Fenyx, you have the unique ability to fight these mythological creatures not only on the ground, but also in the air. Can you take down your enemies and save the gods?
Open for exploration
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We love a good video game that really helps us escape from our own world. Games that allow you to satisfy a need for travel virtually are some of the most entertaining out there. There are countless options on the Nintendo Switch that allow you to explore some detailed lands and worlds, even if they're not open world in the traditional sense.
For a very realistic setting with lots to discover, we recommend Skyrim and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. For an amazing world that is unlike anything you would see outside of a video game, look to Spiritfarer, which also features a touching story that will melt your heart. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is our first pick and a stand-out title, giving fans a world they've always desired to see in an open world manner.
If there are any Nintendo Switch games on this list you have yet to play, we recommend picking them up, grabbing your favorite Switch controller, and finding a comfy spot to get lost in them for awhile.
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Alex has been working with iMore as a Freelance Gaming Writer for three years. You can also find a few articles of hers on Android Central and Windows Central. She regularly covers Nintendo Switch games and accessories as well as iOS game apps. In addition to the Nintendo Switch, you may also find her playing on the PlayStation and PC. When she doesn’t have a controller in hand she likes to spend her time with her husband, son, and dogs, exploring new places, or hiding away with a book (or comic book). A few of her favorite games include the Zelda franchise, Little Nightmares, and Animal Crossing.