12 games that deliver the feeling of hiking through a world

As I said earlier this week, I’ve been slightly obsessed with this notion of hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s always been one of those secret, quiet goals that I know I can’t do — at least not at this point in my life — but I love the idea of it. I like the thought of setting out to simply walk the land for a long way, seeing nature as it is, and achieving a very long-term goal.

So while books and YouTube videos on the subject help to sate this inner desire, I’ve also considered what games might fill that void. Most RPGs operate on hub-and-spoke questing systems where you’re never really that far away from “civilization,” nor do you go on massively long treks from point A to B through the wild. But are there games like this?

The very first that comes to mind is The Trail, a title that came out several years back that is simply a walking simulator that throws in some collection, questing, and crafting along the way. It’s got great music and a serene pace, although I’ve never been that much in love with how the fussy inventory works here.

Survival games are a good field from which to explore, although they don’t tend to emphasize a journey so much as just “roaming around until you get enough stuff not to die so you can go roam around in the next zone.” The Long Dark is probably the closest to an A to B journey through the wild that I’ve encountered. I did like it and would want to go back to it at some point for another shot.

Firewatch definitely gets a lot of the feel of being out in nature and being alone as you scuttle over and around the environment, although its journeys are almost always loops that lead right back to a starting place. But I loved the beginning when you hike into this remote outpost and then explore around it.

There’s a web-based Appalachian Trail game called Thru-Hiker’s Journey, but it’s more Oregon Trail than visuals and personal exploration and experience.

I posed this question to friends on Twitter and got a few additional responses, including Lord of the Rings Online, Valheim, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Oregon Trail, Eidolon, Outward, Eastshade, and A Short Hike. What would you say?

5 thoughts on “12 games that deliver the feeling of hiking through a world

  1. Pierre B. April 16, 2021 / 10:25 am

    One game that came to my mind easily when reading your article is Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy does meet people in this game, she’s not alone with the fauna in the wilds, but there’s a feeling of exploring natural environments freely and discovering artefacts from the past that resonates for me in this game.

  2. DDOCentral April 16, 2021 / 6:02 pm

    The King’s Forest in Dungeons and Dragons Online. It is HUGE!

  3. Yeebo April 17, 2021 / 5:13 pm

    Among MMOs, probably LoTRO is the best fit among those I’ve played. SWG also had really huge worlds. What was really neat there as that you could fly over the landscape in a ship, then point your nose at the sky and eventually enter space. However the worlds were a bit bland considered as a potential hiking simulator.

  4. Jeromai April 17, 2021 / 8:25 pm

    Whyever is theHunter: Call of the Wild not in this list of games?

    You can choose multiple A to B points, walking takes a long time, the ambient sounds are fantastic, nature is definitely there in the animals you’ll glimpse and hear (you can even turn off trail indicators if the UI is too immersion breaking) and the scenery… the scenery is breathtaking.

    Hide/holster your gun if you’re not into that, just bring binoculars and use the camera/screenshot taking feature.

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