When you think about open world games, your mind tends to leap to Assassin's Creed, Grand Theft Auto, and all the other big hitters of the genre. But you might be surprised to learn that one of the best, biggest, most varied, and constantly evolving open worlds doesn't belong to a blockbuster third-person action game with a mega-budget; it's the setting for Euro Truck Simulator 2.
Longtime readers of PC Gamer will know we love SCS Software's trucking sim. It's one of the best driving games on PC, with weighty, nuanced handling and fun RPG elements. And since its release way back in 2012, the game's map has been steadily growing. It now includes a huge chunk of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Italy, France, and soon, Spain and Portugal. It's even possible to drive as far as Turkey and parts of western Russia. And you can do it seamlessly, without any intrusive loading breaks.
It's a colossal map, and even though it's not exactly to scale, getting from one end to the other can take a while. I recently drove from London to Turkey, retracing the route of the Orient Express, and it took almost five hours. And I was amazed by how varied the scenery was as I crossed each border. You really do feel like you've gone on a long, albeit massively condensed, road trip across a continent.
In a single journey you can take in the lush farmland of southern France, the dramatic mountain passes of Norway, Italian coastal roads and, less excitingly, the rain-soaked motorways of the UK. The beauty of ETS2 is that it's realistic, and for every beauty spot there are miles of uneventful roads to navigate. But these long stretches of concrete only make the moments when you do see something eye-catching even sweeter.
Keep on truckin'
And there's something compelling about those long stretches of road, which means even the ‘boring' bits of the journey are worthwhile. ETS2 is a game a lot of people play to relax, and listening to the radio as the road unfurls before you is strangely calming. Especially when it rains and you watch your wipers swishing back and forth. This open world is unique in that a lot of it is observed passively as your mind drifts to other places, hypnotised by road.
SCS is a small team, but its dedication to getting the details right is impressive. A good example of this is how police car markings and road sign typography are accurate to whichever country you happen to be in. And it's doubly impressive that the artists mainly use Google Maps as reference. Alas, not everything is accurate. Drive to Glasgow and you'll see sunflowers by the motorway, which is wishful thinking.
What makes Euro Truck Simulator 2 special is how travelling across its world actually feels like a significant, lengthy journey. In GTA V you can drive from Los Santos to the desert in five minutes—enough to create a sense of scale, but still a reminder that it's a condensed space. But when you haul cargo from one capital city to another in ETS2, there's a real sense of covering ground, of moving across a vast landmass. And as it gets bigger with each expansion, this sensation only grows stronger.