Open world games are defined as those that allow players to explore virtual worlds freely, tackling or even defining their own objectives. These often-vast game worlds absorb players in immersive environments, offering a level of escapism harder to achieve with more linear structures. Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for BA (Hons) Game ArtJacqui Edwards, invited members of the University of Worcester gaming community to join her in revealing the virtual game world destinations they have visited in lockdown.

Forza Horizon 4, Playground Games.
Selected by Graeme Gordon, Final Year Game Art Student

A still from Forza Horizon 4, Playground Games and Graeme Gordon

Perhaps the gaming equivalent of a ‘staycation’, Forza Horizon 4’s British locations will be familiar to many from UK holidays and even some Worcestershire locations closer to home. 

Forza Horizon 4 is set in a beautiful idealized version of Britain, replete with our wonderful changing seasons, players speed through villages, coast roads, mountains and rolling hills; going for a drive from the comfort of our lockdown-sofas certainly has its appeal. 

Graeme said: “I think what appeals to me the most about all good driving games is the immediacy of the gratification and the fact that you need only commit to a single race if need be and still feel as though you have achieved a small goal. To me it is the most intuitive form of gameplay there is, where success is almost solely reliant on skill and muscle memory alone and requires little in terms of brain power. This is particularly useful, if like me, most of your gaming activity occurs at the end of a full working day.

World of Warcraft Shadowlands, Blizzard Entertainment.
Selected by Andrew Manton-Maund, Library Services

a still from World of Warcraft Shadowlands and Andrew Manton-Maund

A long running MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) World of Warcraft has been around since 2004, with expansion packs over the years rejuvenating the franchise.

The latest of these expansion packs is Shadowlands, which includes the enchanted, mystical forest realm selected by Andrew Manton-Maund of Library Services. 

Andy said: “I spent most of my Christmas holidays in the land of Ardenweald (World of Warcraft), an afterlife realm for souls attuned to the wilds. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in games. Full of lush blue/purple forests, serene music, beautiful runestags, faeries, spriggins and with a hint of Irish folklore mythology. It all comes together to create the perfect place to relax and chill!"

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo.
Selected by Jacqui Edwards, Course Leader Game Art

A  still from Animals crossing and Jacqui Edwards

The joyful, life-sim game was released in March 2020 just as lockdown hit and it seems that serendipity has made it one of the biggest selling games of the last twelve months.

Who wouldn't love relaxing on our virtual island getaway, collecting seashells, making home, adopting a pet seabass…and hanging out with real friends as well as the inhabitants (we have a soft spot for Antonio)? The game has offered much needed escapism. 

“Being a parent of a primary aged child during the last twelve months has been extremely challenging. One of the hardest things has been worrying about their lack of social interaction and coming up with ways of allowing them to play together safely online. Animal Crossing New Horizons has offered one such opportunity, with its gentle pastel-hued world of creativity, exploration and community. Watching my son’s face light up, seeing his real-world friend ‘arriving’ on a plane for his island play date was a happy moment, among some tough days of juggling homeschooling, working at home and isolation for us both.”  


Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt
Selected by Heather Savage, Environment Artist and Associate Lecturer


A still from Cyber punk and Heather Savage

Even if you are not a gamer, this much anticipated title could barely have escaped your attention as it hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2020. With a multitude of issues running on the PS4 and woeful tales of staff ‘crunch’ to meet deadlines and expectations, as well as lawsuits in the offing, it seems sad to game artists that a game so ambitious in scale has had such a reception.

For those lucky enough to have appreciated the full experience, Night City is a world of dystopian and grimly atmospheric riches. 

Heather said: “Cyberpunk 2077 was a highlight of my 2020 despite its controversial reception. The world and story that the team at CD PROJEKT were able to capture and flesh out was incredibly immersive and I did everything I could (side content, mini missions) to avoid the final mission - I didn't want it to end!

Night City captures the grungy, dirty aesthetic of the Cyberpunk genre and style with such detail that you want to get lost and explore, and that is the point; there is no need to just follow the story. The openness of the game wants you to find the slightly weirder missions, level your gear and just have fun, and have fun I did!”

Game Industry Growth

In a difficult year for many industries, 2020 saw growth in the games sector with revenues exceeding £4bn, an increase of 14.5% from 2019 and a healthy regional contribution from developers in the Midlands such as Forza’s Playground based in Leamington Spa, along with investment from new studios and startups. As we look to the future coming out of the pandemic, we hope there is much to be positive about in both the real and virtual worlds.  

Jacqui Edwards, is Course Leader for BA (Hons) Game Art, and teaches several modules including Game Art: Design, Theory and Concepts, in which students this semester have been looking at world-building and producing concept art for their own game worlds. 



 All views expressed in this blog are the Academic’s own and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of the University of Worcester or any of its partners.