Elden Ring was released to widespread critical acclaim and adoration over a month ago. It proved how open worlds that emphasize discovery and exploration engage and immerse players more than a world that just feels like a hub for a checklist of missions and collectibles. Unfortunately, Elden Ring isn't a game for everyone, myself included, due to its crushing difficulty and some other questionable design choices.
Thankfully, Elden Ring isn't the only game to contain an open world that enables that much player freedom. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the easiest comparison to make, but an underrated indie game from 2021 also gives Elden Ring's open world a run for its money. The best part: It's more relaxing than Elden Ring because it doesn't contain an ounce of combat.
That game in question is Sable from Shedworks and Raw Fury. Released for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S in September 2021, Sable uses an open world with immense freedom to tell a coming-of-age story that's as long or short as the player wants it to be. Whether you're a fan of Elden Ring looking for a similar game to sink your teeth into or someone who likes the freedom of Elden Ring's open world but can't get past its eccentricities, Sable should be the next game you play.
Sable - Launch Trailer - Available Now (4k)
Beneath the mask
In Sable, you play as the titular character, a young girl from the Ibex tribe on the giant desert planet of Midden who must go on a journey across the planet to collect masks. When Sable is ready, she can return to the village and choose a mask to determine what she'll do for the rest of her life. After a somewhat confined beginning where the player learns to float in the air and also creates a hoverbike called a Glider, they then set off into Midden's vast deserts, free to meet people, complete tasks for them, and solve puzzles while collecting masks and learning about the history of the world.
The moment when players are driving away from the Ibex tribe into the desert and Japanese Breakfast's original song Glider kicks in trumps the opening of both Breath of the Wild and Elden Ring in getting the players excited to explore a large world. Couple that with distinct visuals and excellent sound design, and you have a game that's a treat to look at and play.
Although the player is directed toward a specific village after leaving Sable's tribe, they can choose to go anywhere from the start. The player's floating ability and stamina allow them to climb anything they come across. Players will slowly uncover the history of Sable's world while learning more about the cultures and kinds of people that populate it, which fans of Elden Ring's hands-off storytelling will appreciate. No matter where players go, they can meet another wandering traveler or complete a puzzle platforming challenge to get a mask. Sable is an experience that purely cares about that feeling of adventure, so there's no combat or overreliance on adjusting and leveling up Sable's stats. While this minimalist approach might seem too simple, it actually makes it a fantastic companion piece to Elden Ring.
Relaxing, not taxing
Sable does many of the same things correctly as FromSoftware's latest, but without any of the overwhelming -- and sometimes poorly explained -- fluff. Players don't have to worry about difficult roadblocks that force them to explore and get good. Sable enables players to go anywhere they want and do anything they want until at least three masks are collected. Players can beat Sable in just a few hours, but the game has enough depth to support players for much longer than that with the number of quests to complete and masks to collect. The game features a quest log too, so even with its minimalist aesthetic and UI, you'll never feel truly lost.
Sable demonstrates that the difficulty isn't what makes Elden Ring so great; world design that encourages and rewards players for exploring does. Games like Breath of the Wild, Sable, and Elden Ring understand it and are three of the best open-world games in recent years for that reason. But out of this triple threat of standard-setting open-world games, Sable has garnered the least attention and acclaim for its efforts, making it a hidden gem. Now that Elden Ring has indoctrinated over 12 million players into this modern version of the open world, Sable is worth revisiting.
Sable is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. It's even on Xbox Game Pass.