In the open world genre, mainstream blockbusters like Assassin's Creed, The Elder Scrolls, and Grand Theft Auto rule supreme. These increasingly large games cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to build, so it figures that this space is dominated by triple-A games with inflated budgets. But you might be surprised to learn that one of the best and biggest open world games ever made wasn't developed by a multinational studio with thousands of employees. Not a giant like Ubisoft or Rockstar, but a small, self-publishing indie studio of around 150 people based in Prague.
In 2012, SCS Software launched Euro Truck Simulator 2 for the PC. Despite the ultra-specific subject matter, it's an incredible game that everyone should play—whether they care about driving trucks or not. I recently wrote about how relaxing it is, especially in these troubled times. The driving model is nuanced and realistic, the UI is polished to a sparkling sheen, and it's beautiful too, in a modest sort of way. ETS2 has gained a large following over the years, helped greatly by the fact that SCS is, to this day, constantly releasing expansions that have expanded its huge, seamless map of Europe.
Since 2012, the map has been gradually expanded to include Scandinavia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, a big chunk of Eastern Europe, and even parts of Turkey and Western Russia. It's an impressively vast, detailed virtual landmass, and you can drive across the entirety of it—through multiple varied, atmospheric, and visually interesting countries—without any loading breaks whatsoever. A single drive can take you along scenic Italian coastal roads, through tunnels carved into Norwegian mountains, and past the lush, sun-drenched vineyards of Southern France. It's gaming's greatest road trip.
It's not all pretty. This is a simulator after all. For every moment of natural beauty there are miles of grey highways. But this is how it should be, because it makes it feel real. If you've been on a road trip in real life, you'll know that there are extended periods where the scenery is uneventful. However, it's on these long asphalt stretches where the hypnotic, relaxing qualities of the game I mentioned earlier come into play. It also means that when you do finally see something visually exciting it's more impactful. If it was stunningly beautiful all the time you'd just become numb to it.
This is a very different kind of open world compared to the likes of GTA and Assassin's Creed. It's one enjoyed mostly passively, streaking past your window in a blur. It's the scale, and its continuous nature, that makes it special. It feels truly massive, giving you a palpable sense of travelling a long distance and crossing a continent. My longest drive, non-stop from London to Turkey, took just under five hours—and that's real hours, not sped-up video game hours. Yes, I really sat for five hours pretending to drive a truck. I'm not even into trucks. That's the terrifying power of ETS2.
What's even more impressive is how a team as small as SCS Software—at least compared to a many-headed international behemoth like Ubisoft—is how packed with detail the world is. Each country has the appropriate road signs, road markings, and police vehicle liveries, as well as language-specific shopfronts and advertising billboards. This adds to the feeling of being on a journey, watching the roadside ephemera change around you. The game even lets you stream local radio stations, from the country you're driving through, into your truck's cabin for an extra layer of immersion.
There are better open worlds out there, but none of them can match ETS2 when it comes to the feeling of covering ground and moving across a mammoth expanse of land. It just keeps growing too, with more expansions planned in the future. SCS is also simultaneously working on American Truck Simulator, which is also expanding its horizons and currently sits at 10 finished states. In time, this will be one of the greatest open world games ever made too. I love that these colossal worlds were created by a passionate, mid-sized indie studio, and long may it continue.
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