This winter, many of us will be spending more time indoors than ever before. With social distancing measures and other restrictions in effect, it will be difficult to explore the outdoors, see our loved ones, and do all the things we typically do during the winter months. Much like the previous months of this pandemic, the wintertime will be a prime period for video game investment and exploration. But just because you might not feel comfortable going outdoors, going skiing, or skipping to your local coffee shop for a warm beverage doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the crisp snow and icy exploration that you may be craving. Check out our favorite winter wonderlands in games filled with exciting discoveries and diverse wildlife.
1. God of War (2018)
In 2018, Sony Santa Monica released their soft reboot of God of War, and it remains one of my favorite snowy locations to revisit. From your beginnings in a cozy cabin deep in the woods to rowing a canoe on a frosty lake and ascending a towering mountain, there’s plenty of atmosphere and rich environment for you to explore. And that’s just in Midgard; as you branch out via the Bifrost, you’ll be able to explore Alfheim, Helheim, Jotunheim, and other expansive locations. If you’re missing out on snowshoeing or ice fishing this winter, grab Kratos’ frosted Leviathan Axe and take a dive into Norse mythology with God of War.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
In the northern reaches of the Red Dead Redemption 2 map, you’ll discover a snowy mountain range that’s a lovely contrast to the sweltering desert and western towns that make up the rest of the game. When you’ve had your fill of the sun and impromptu duels in saloons, be sure to equip a warm outfit and pack plenty of food. You can spend many hours traipsing through the snow, discovering frozen lakes and ascending tall mountaintops to discover some of the most uniquely detailed places in the game.
3. Horizon: Zero Dawn
When it comes to open-world exploration and fluid combat, few do it better than Horizon: Zero Dawn. The first act of this game is spent in a snowy valley, giving you the chance to run through crisp snow and icy forests. You can take your time climbing mountains and discovering the myriad of electronic beasts that lay there, and if you happen to have the Frozen Wilds DLC, you’ll unlock a massive area that’s a snow enthusiast's delight. The art direction in this game is gorgeous to look at, especially if you’re running on a PS4 Pro, PS5, or PC capable of HDR. There’s nothing quite like stargazing under a brilliantly rendered sky in the snow, or overriding machines and battling for your life in a blizzard. Whether you want to revisit this frozen landscape or check it out for the first time before the Horizon: Forbidden West release date, I can’t recommend this title enough.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Another mountain range worth exploring this winter is the Hebra Mountains in 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This is one of the few games where, with very few limitations, you can scale vertical icy slopes and discover every inch of these snowcapped peaks. From bears to moose, there’s plenty of wildlife for you to discover, and if you explore deep enough into this winter landscape you may find yourself face to face with a powerful Lynel.
5. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Few things beat New York City during Christmas, and in a time when so few of us are able to properly experience the majestic lights and snowy skyline of America’s largest city, Spider-Man: Miles Morales gives us that opportunity. Though the story may be truncated, Miles Morales gives us a fully realized Manhattan that’s thrilling to swing through and explore, with easter eggs and secrets around every corner. Plus, recent PS5 updates have been able to merge smooth 60 FPS performance with ray-tracing capabilities, making this an excellent title for PS5 owners.
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim might be one of the most well-explored games released last decade. Released across multiple console generations, this game is available to you whether you’re running an Xbox 360, a Nintendo Switch, or a new PS5. From Whiterun, you’re able to view distant mountain ranges and snowy forests ripe for exploring. Open-world games like these put the gameplay style directly into your hands, whether you want to mainline the primary quests or get lost in the gorgeous scenery. With tall mountains to climb and plenty of snowy atmosphere to enjoy, Skyrim is the perfect game for those craving the outdoors this winter.
7. Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima beautifully recreates the Japanese island of Tsushima in stunning clarity and resolution. Each Act effectively takes you through different seasons, with Act 3 dropping you into the frosty wilds of the Kamiagata region of Tsushima. Like the previous regions, you’ll be able to ascend shrines, follow foxes, illuminate lighthouses, and take as much time as you please exploring the snowy wilderness as you face off against the Mongol invaders. Ghost of Tsushima is a beautifully directed game with incredibly fun combat and an expansive open world for you to traverse. Though frozen lakes and snowcapped trees aren’t viewable until later in the adventure, this PS4 samurai game offers a plethora of interesting locales for you to explore throughout its entire run.
8. Metroid Prime
This may be the oldest game on this list, but Tallon IV’s Phendrana Drifts in Metroid Prime is one of the most serene and aesthetically pleasing environments I’ve ever discovered. There are many secrets to uncover here as you use your charge beam to blast through ice walls and your visor to scan new creatures. Even while under attack, it’s easy to appreciate the gentle snowfall and frigid waters of this winterscape.
9. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Set during the Viking invasion of Britain, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla offers plenty for you to explore with a sprawling open world. Climb mountains, sail boats, run through snowstorms, and more while battling your way across the continent. This Assassin’s Creed game is filled with powerful weapons to discover and foreboding enemies to defeat, as well as a host of diverse wildlife for you to interact with. Whether you’ve dreamed of battling a legendary elk or polar bear or desire to climb a snowy mountain, Valhalla is the perfect game for you. Plus, If you’re playing Valhalla on a next-gen console or PC, you’re sure to enjoy every gorgeous frame this game has to offer.
10. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere (or at least have your game set to the Northern Hemisphere), you’ll be able to enjoy lots of snow in Animal Crossing: New Horizons over the next couple months. This may not be a photorealistic open world like some of the titles on this list, but Animal Crossing excels in being the ultimate chill-out game, quite literally now that the islands have a healthy coating of snow on them. If you don’t want to worry about fighting enemies or leveling up your character, you’re welcome to boot up Animal Crossing on your Switch and just say hi to some villagers, do some fishing, buy some warm clothing at the Able Sisters, and anything else you might like. Unfortunately, as of this writing, The Roost café is not available in New Horizons, so you won’t be able to stop in for a warm beverage just yet.
Players come back to games for various reasons, but memorable and stunning environments easily make the top of that list. As we settle in for a long winter with our console of choice, it can be a pleasant escape to explore some of these winter wonderlands and live vicariously through characters like Aloy, Kratos, and so many others. What are some of your favorite snowy landscapes in games? What do you plan to pick up or replay this winter?