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The best video game worlds are those you can't explore

Should we gather for whisky and cigars tonight?

Every now and again, I think about Dishonored 2 and how good it is. I don't play it, I just observe it in my head like a photo album. I flick through my memories and shake my head in disbelief at how ingenious its levels are. I also take a moment to remember Karnaca, this beautiful port city nestled in the mountains and surrounded by forest.

I just wish I could explore more of Karnaca. I want to break free of the game's constraints and just wander into the hills, or potter around the mountains. This isn't a criticism, it's more of a compliment I think. That Arkane crafted a world I hunger for, but I probably won't ever get to explore fully. All I can do is bash my character against invisible walls and wail in agony.

If you're wondering why I've had this sudden Dishonored 2 outpouring, it's because I watched Noclip's "The Making of Dishonored" documentary. Even if you're not a Dishonored fan, I implore you to watch the "The Clockwork Mansion" and "A Crack in the Slab" sections. They provide insights into Arkane's genuinely staggering commitment to quality level design, and my god these devs are so immensely talented and I'd like to award them with multiple medals and breathe.

Sorry, got carried away. So yes, Karnaca. It's got this southern Europe vibe, where you could imagine yourself having a nice brew on your balcony, with the sun on your face, and the sea breeze whistling in your ears. Yes, there are devastating windstorms caused by dangerous mining practices and a society ravaged by blood-sucking flies. But I'd still go on holiday here - it just looks so warm.

And while I adored each and every level in Dishonored 2, which takes you on a tour across Karnaca's many districts, I still felt this overwhelming feeling of wanting to free myself from their shackles and wander off in a random direction. Rainy Season's quaint Japanese home with its locked gate gave me the same feeling, actually. No matter how hard I rattled the gate, I knew I could never walk down the nice street and into the city that I imagined lay beyond.

Clearly I yearn for every game to be open world, which isn't fair at all. I also want them to have an infinite budget, which isn't realistic. None of what I'm asking for here is doable. I do think, though, that some of my favourite game worlds happen to be those I can't explore fully. Do I think there should be an open world Dishonored 3 which lets me wander about Karnaca? No.

An image of Dishonored 2, which shows a view of Karnaca at sunset. A rail car is parked to the left and out in the distance the city rests below forests and cliffs.
So very, very nice.

Imagine if Arkane dropped Dishonored 3: Karnac-Attack right this second, though. No doubt they'd do an immensely good job, but vast open worlds aren't their forté. And could anything ever live up to the pictures I've printed in my head? Posters filled with temples in those woods, or hidden bunkers in the mountains, or just very lovely villages with cobbled paths and little old ladies watering flowers.

Given the strength of Dishonored 2's levels, I can't stop imagining what the rest of Karnaca would look like if they made a far-flung follow-up. I can't move on from the idea, or the possibility, I suppose. Now that I've finished Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or, I don't know, Grand Theft Auto V, I've seen everything and I'm finished with them. With Karnaca I have this deep longing that probably won't ever be fulfilled, but I'll constantly look back at how nice it was to explore. Occasionally I'll even dip back in and bash into more invisible walls and sigh with longing. Oh well - Deathloop surely won't do this to me, right?

About the Author

Ed Thorn avatar

Ed Thorn

Senior Staff Writer

When Ed's not cracking thugs with bicycles in Yakuza, he's likely swinging a badminton racket in real life. Any genre goes, but he's very into shooters and likes a weighty gun, particularly if they have a chainsaw attached to them. Adores orange and mango squash, unsure about olives.

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