Open-world games can be exhausting. Maybe it’s the effort of retracing your steps so many times to find collectibles or finding a workable route around a badly placed mountain. Maybe it’s the sheer number of choices available to you or the enemies that you keep running into while you’re just trying to explore. Or maybe there’s just too much, and the game has lost its novelty.
Whatever the case, open-world games can be draining. This is problematic, as many major titles available these days are open world. How are you supposed to find something to take the edge off the genre—or just to give you a breath of fresh air—if you’re surrounded by them?
Well, that’s why we’re here. We’ve compiled a list of games that should help relieve open-world exhaustion. By and large, these games are either bite-sized, limited or linear. Some of them put you on comfortable rails, so you can focus on doing the tasks before you, while others ask for nothing more than a half hour of your time.
Take a look. You might find exactly what you need.
Sometimes a palette cleanser needs to be neutral and calm, so it can bring you back to equilibrium.
Other times you want to shoot to the opposite end of the spectrum, dive into a high-octane rush and burn away any of the stress and exhaustion present in your mind.
Doom: Eternal is the second option. This game is delightfully energetic and could not be more different from a travel-heavy open-world experience. Each encounter is exhilarating, and while there are collectibles, they’re barely off the beaten path of what is a mostly linear experience. This is a game you win by being good at shooting things. For those who are tired of choice exhaustion from open worlds but want something exciting, this is your best bet.
A beautiful, bite-sized artistic masterpiece of a game, GRIS is a simple platformer that throws you into a gorgeously rendered interpretation of depression. While that may not sound like fun, it is. There’s not a whole lot of exploring to do here. It’s a mostly linear experience, but you can knock it out in an evening, and it will leave a lasting impression on you. Plus, the simple color palette might help your mind refresh from the sensory overload of open-world games.
It might even make you cry.
Another bite-sized masterpiece, Abzu can give you the joy of exploration with none of the exhaustion, especially if you love ocean aesthetics. The game’s levels are restrained but pretty, and you can clear the whole thing in under five hours. Despite this, the game feels like an escape into nature. It’s refreshing while still being engaging and fun, and the climax will leave you with a big grin on your face.
For those who want something more long term while avoiding the choice overload of open-world games, Dead Cells is a good bet. It’s an action-heavy roguelike metroidvania (that was a lot of genres thrown at you, I know). Basically, your goal is to get as far as possible through this island without dying. On the way you’re going to find cool items, beat the hell out of wild enemies and maybe find some new pathways and hidden areas. You need to be sharp and quick-witted if you want to make it through.
Each playthrough will give you a different experience, but the fact is that you’re never going to be stuck wandering around. The core gameplay is refreshingly direct, and it makes for a great way to relieve stress at the end of the day.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD
As strange as it is to put a Zelda game on a list of titles that don’t flood you with options, this is one of the few times that I can count Skyward Sword as better than its siblings. One of the major criticisms of Skyward Sword is its lack of content compared to other entries in the franchise. It certainly doesn’t have the expansive ocean of Wind Waker or the big world of Twilight Princess, but, if you’re looking for a game that’s simple and straightforward, Skyward Sword shines. The puzzles are simpler than many Zelda games, as are the paths you tread. Overall, its world feels much smaller but also more streamlined than other Zelda titles. As a result, you can focus on moving forward and enjoying the game’s combat system.
A puzzle-platformer from 2016, Inside is an extremely direct game in which you play as a young boy in a dystopian world. It’s a 2D title that’s easy to complete within 5 hours. It’s also considered one of the greatest games of all time, and its creepy atmosphere and simple but impactful story will leave an impression on you that belies its short length. There’s even an alternate ending, if you have it in you to find it.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
If you’re feeling something silly and multiplayer, Fall Guys is a good bet. The game has you play as something like a bean with arms and legs. You’re then thrown into a series of obstacle courses reminiscent of the TV shows Wipeout or Ninja Warrior as you try to outlast all the other players.
The gameplay is incredibly simple, but the natural replay ability of multiplayer melds with the variety of courses and the good game design to create a title that’s perfect for shutting off your brain and enjoying a laugh at the end of the day.
Before You Go: Go Indie!
If you’re looking for games that avoid the bloat and scale that can make major titles intimidating, spend some time looking into indie games. Lacking the resources (and pressure from stockholders) of AAA developers, the games crafted by indie studios are often more restrained and limited. If your time is limited, or you appreciate a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome, they should be your first stop!