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Immersive, 'Open-World' Video Games To Get Lost In At Home


A lot of us are spending way more time indoors than we're used to - maybe finishing off that novel, FaceTiming with our family, binge-watching TV. Well, if you have done all that and you still have an urge to wander, why not head to a fictional world where you can roam wherever you wish for hours on end? Glen Weldon of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour joins me now to suggest some classic video games that you can completely lose yourself in.

Hey there, Glen.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So I gather, this list of video games you have brought us, they are known as open world games. Explain what that is.

WELDON: OK, right. It's right there in the name, really. You are dropped in the middle of this vast world, and when you check your map, only the really tiny area that you're in is revealed. So the point of these games is to explore and fill up the map as you go. Now, you are free to follow the story of the game if you want and tick off every little objective, like a good little grade-grubbing grind, if that's who you are.

KELLY: (Laughter).

WELDON: Now, that will open up the map, but you don't have to do that. That's the thing. You can just roam. That's the appeal here.

KELLY: We can just wander around. OK, so let's get to your list. First up, you have picked one - "Breath Of The Wild." This is for Nintendo Switch.

WELDON: Yeah, it's the latest in the Legend of Zelda series, so it's the same shtick. You're an elf. You've got to level up so you can rescue the princess from the evil blah, blah, blah - doesn't matter because for me, this game is all about hopping on your little horsey and just riding and riding and riding through the game's gorgeous landscapes, hills, valleys, streams, mountains, forests. Maybe you find yourself a sun-dappled meadow that maybe overlooks a river, and you can just stop and watch the clouds roll by.

KELLY: (Laughter) That sounds lovely. Please take me with you. Next for us you've got a game called "Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim," and we can play this on various platforms. What's this one?

WELDON: Yeah. This is a role-playing game that's been out for years now. You choose your character, and then the story takes you across this huge land called Skyrim. Now, if you follow the story, you learn how to talk to dragons. And I'm not saying that's not cool, but you have to fight a lot of dragons to do that. So why not do what I do and just wander around collecting herbs, maybe learn how to forge armor or how to make potions - you know, continuing education. You treat it like it's The Learning Annex if The Learning Annex had dragons.

KELLY: I love that you're wandering around collecting herbs through the sun-dappled meadows. This does not sound like - when I think of video games, I'm thinking of shooting people and asteroids hitting me. But I do know one on your list may be closer to that. This is "Red Dead Redemption 2," which I guess we can find on various platforms. What's going on in this one?

WELDON: Well, yeah, you remember "Breath Of The Wild" with the horsey? It's the same thing, only here instead of a fairy-tale kingdom, it's the Old West, and instead of an elf, you're a cowboy. And there is plenty of shooting to do in this game, but my first time through, I was saddled with this group of settlers I was supposed to look after, and they were just so whiny, Mary Louise. They were so needy and helpless they were just sucking all the fun out of the game for me.

KELLY: (Laughter).

WELDON: So - but that's when I remembered, oh, yeah, open world. So I just took off, again, riding my horse through the game's virtual landscape.

KELLY: You abandoned the settlers, is what you're telling me.

WELDON: I abandoned the settlers.

KELLY: Yeah. Yeah. OK.

WELDON: And, you know, going back to it today, it felt so familiar and soothing, and those two things are in short supply right now.

KELLY: Oh, man, are they ever. Speaking of familiar, a lot of these games - I mentioned that these are classics. These are not new. They've been out for a while. Is that a deliberate choice, to steer us in this direction?

WELDON: It very much is. I mean, more power to the people out there who are going to be using this time to try something new. I mean, there's a game - "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" just came out today for the Switch. But that's not where my head's at. Over the past few days, I keep returning to these games with these maps that I've already opened up, with the vast worlds that I can go anywhere in. When the game is over, the world is still there, and it's just tremendously comforting to go back to that little village or try to find that scenic vista because you know exactly what to expect, and that's a good feeling nowadays.

KELLY: Well, you can find all of Glen's game recommendations in that piece he wrote for the NPR website. Go look it up. That's Glen Weldon of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast.

Glen, thanks.

WELDON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANAKA KATAOKA'S "CREDITS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
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