In the latest instalment of our Armchair Adventures series, we’ve put together a list of the best video games for those of us missing the outdoors. These include blockbusting releases and quirkier independent games. All of them are available on direct download, so you can grab them right away.
Whether you’re home alone or locked-down with the family, this list should keep the spirits up and give you a whole world to explore together.
Firewatch (PS4, XBOX, Windows, Nintendo Switch)
Few games convey the true beauty of meandering through the wilderness like Firewatch. In this slow-burning but gripping mystery you control Henry, a fire lookout in the forests of Wyoming. The game luxuriously details the slow, steady ebb of life in the backcountry, where your only contact is via radio with your supervisor. Suddenly, however, you spot something amiss in the forest and you’re plunged into a race against time, the elements and your own senses.
Firewatch is a unique game. There is almost no combat and no real sense of adversary. It’s referred to often as a “walking simulator” but that makes it sound boring, whereas in reality it’s an odyssey through a gorgeous setting. Probably the best hike of your life that didn’t involve putting your boots on.
The Long Dark (PS4, XBOX, Windows)
Like Firewatch, The Long Dark takes a realistic look at the human struggle to survive the wild. The difference is that this is a wholly more frightening experience.
You play as the survivor of a plane crash deep in the Canadian backcountry. With minimal resources and an ever-changing priority list of requirements to stay alive, The Long Dark soon becomes a tense, brutal battle against a hostile environment. You are preyed upon by wolves and bears, and continually weakened by cold and starvation. The game is a mix of exploration and resource-gathering, with wolves, bears, cold and starvation being just some of the threats you face.
Being close to freezing to death has never been so much fun, but The Long Dark is not for someone who isn’t committed to the time and planning required to survive the night. Thankfully we’ve got nothing but time on our hands for the next few weeks.
Ori and the Blind Forest (XBOX)
For something entirely lighter, explore the stunning world of Ori. This is old-school platforming given a next-generation visual boost, and it’s about as pretty as a game can get. It also has a lovely environmental message in which you play as a pair of ‘guardian spirits’ set on a mission to restore their forest home.
The game offers a mix of puzzling and fiendish platforming. It’s ideal for playing alone or with family – as you take in in turns to get past that next level. This is the kind of gentle antidote to the ultra-violence of modern gaming that we could all do with right now. And if you love this (you will) then the sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, is available now.
Skyrim (PS4, XBOX, Windows)
If you’ve got a few hundred hours to spare I can’t think of many more exhilarating, immersive ways to spend them than in the forests, mountains, rivers and caves of Skyrim. This, the latest in the long-running Elder Scrolls series, is epic fantasy-gaming at its best. The world is awe-inspiring, both in beauty and the depth of its lore. The beasts that prowl its wild places are works of nightmarish splendour. If you’re an arachnophobe then be warned!
Stepping into Skyrim is an almost limitless experience. You can go anywhere, fight anything and pretty much spend your entire life in the game just wandering around. Find resources to make better equipment, build a house in the outback, or track down those damn dragons that have been causing so much fuss. It’s the explorer’s life you daydream about, but better.
Steep (PS4, XBOX, Windows)
If you’ve had a skiing trip cancelled by the current situation, then no look further than Steep for your virtual high-altitude thrills. Steep is an extreme snowsport simulator that’s been well-received, both for its high-octane gameplay and its astonishing recreations of mountain locations. An entire sub-competition has arisen on social media, in which players vie to upload the most incredible screenshots
Steep is played online, against other real-world players, in a huge open-world environment. You compete in your journey to become and X-sport legend. It’s not all about skis and snowboards, however, as Steep also includes paragliding and wingsuit flying as core components.
Amongst all the speed and chaos, I recommend you stop and take in the view.
Time for a change of pace. Over the last decade Minecraft has become a phenomenon, allowing players the chance to build anything that their imagination can conjure. Now ECO brings an environmental aspect to that key premise and cute brick world-building.
In ECO you are responsible for the building and maintenance of your own civilisation. But remember that everything you do has an impact on the environment and ecosystem of your world. Use too much of any single resource and the effects will soon be clear.
ECO is best enjoyed played with others, meaning if you are stuck at home with the family, why not build a whole new world, and treat it kindly.
If you are looking for more ways to stay motivated in these quiet days, check out our guides to the best outdoor adventure movies to watch, the best outdoor-inspired books to read, the ultimate outdoors-inspired playlist and our list of best outdoors podcasts
Enjoy your pixelated exploring, stay inside for now and look forward to doing some real adventuring when all this is over.
And as ever, remember, it'll all be ok.