The Most Gorgeous Open-World Exploration Game is Coming to PlayStation Plus
The journey is the destination.
With open-world exploration so prevalent in games, it’s odd that so few are actually about the world or the exploration. When you embark on a journey in most games, you’re usually in it for the ending. You need to defeat the Great Evil or exact vengeance on those who wronged you, and it just so happens that you need to travel halfway across the world to do it. Sable is about its world, and about what happens to you when you explore it.
At the start of Sable, its titular main character sets off on a rite of passage called the Gliding. By journeying across a vast desert — which she’s lived in one tiny corner of her whole life — Sable is meant to meet the many tribes that make their home there and choose one to join along the way.
Like any open-world game, there are plenty of quests to complete, but in Sable, they’re more about experiencing different ways of life than solving all of the world’s problems. Climbing towers, collecting beetles and machine parts, and helping the city guard are all options on your journey. Do enough of one activity and Sable will collect a badge marking her as an apprentice of the scrappers, the cartographers, or another of the game’s factions, meaning she’s welcome to make her home with one of them. Even choosing not to continue down one of these paths feels like progress. It means Sable has learned that’s not the life for her.
Sable is a remarkably self-directed game. There’s no correct order to explore its villages, no optimal checklist to make progress. You just get on your Glider — a sort of hovering motorcycle — and ride. A fellow traveler might mention an interesting landmark in passing, but there’s nothing pushing players toward one outcome or another. Whenever you’re ready for the game to end, you’re free to bring Sable home and tell her tribe what she’s decided to become.
The feeling of discovery gets a lot more exciting when there’s as much beauty to discover as there is in Sable. The sandy expanse of its desert is full of settlements, stunning natural landscapes, and crashed spaceships left as relics from another age. All rendered in a distinct toon-shaded style, the sights of Sable make even riding your Glider around aimlessly a rewarding way to spend your time.
Graphical glitches and slowdown were some of the most common critiques of Sable at launch, but even with those caveats, it’s a stunning game to look at. Watching your Glider kick up dust in its wake as the whole world changes color at dawn and dusk is gorgeous enough to make any bugs seem insignificant.
On top of that, a soundtrack by Japanese Breakfast sells Sable’s spirit of discovery, from the early needle-drop moment when the track “Glider” plays as you leave your village for the first time to the soundscapes tied to each of the desert’s distinct regions.
“It was really important to me that every biome have its individual theme,” Michelle Zauner, lead singer and guitarist for Japanese Breakfast, told Inverse’s Shannon Liao in late 2021. “And then because there's so much time that you spend in different areas, we really wanted to have day and nighttime variations.”
Zauner credits Secret of Mana’s soundtrack, which features tracks with multiple variations to represent different worlds, for inspiring Sable’s varying day and night themes.
With Sable launching in 2021, it was in development during the lockdowns of 2020, which also gave Zauner a chance to experiment and focus on its soundtrack.
“I kind of fell back in love with the piano and wrote ‘Better the Mask’ during lockdown and worked on a string arrangement on my own for the first time,” she said.
A mix of woodwind, guitar, piano, and synths make up most of the soundtrack, with vocals underpinning a few important moments. Like Sable’s otherworldly appearance, its soundtrack lends a sense of lonely vastness to the desert and mystery to moments when Sable encounters a new village or landmark.
Now two years after its release, Sable is coming to PlayStation Plus on December 5. Even with all the great games that have come along in the meantime, nothing has captured the joy of exploration quite as well as Sable. Its blend of gorgeous art and music with an unparalleled sense of freedom make it a journey worth taking, whether you’re revisiting Sable or checking it out for the first time.