There’s no killing in Abzu, the magical tour of the deep sea that’s not unlike a playable episode of Blue Planet. Playing a deep sea diver, you get to swim endlessly through breathtaking underwater scenery.
From the seaweed-coated shallows to the ancient ruins of the deep, every oceanic area you explore is a soothing and almost meditative exercise, especially accompanied by the orchestral soundtrack.
Forget about fishing –hitching a ride on the back of a great white shark is all the excitement you need in Abzu. The game’s collectibles and environmental puzzles give you enough objectives to keep you going but the real point of the game is simply the stunning ocean world.
The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable takes the walking simulator genre to a whole different level of meta. The game explores the idea of objectives in games, placing you as the titular Stanley, an office drone whose actions are guided by a narrator.
There’s not much to do besides walking and pushing a few buttons, but that’s the genius of it –it’s where you walk and whether or not you push those buttons that decide the events of the game.
The fact that the narrator tells you to take the door on the left and you take the one on the right gives you a bizarre sense of renegade power, and you can spend ages finding all the hidden endings and Easter eggs.
The eponymous protagonist must undertake a journey through the depths of her own subconscious, using her physics-defying dress to platform across the sprawling and deeply symbolic levels. As you continue to play you slowly learn more of GRIS’ story and the loss she suffers.
While you may not feel that rewarding dopamine hit from beating a tough enemy or boss, getting a new color to wash across the screen is beyond rewarding, while the dress upgrades and increasingly tricky puzzles compel you to keep pushing through.
Return of the Obra Dinn
There’s a lot of murder in Return of the Obra Dinn, but you’re not responsible this time, and only discover the deaths after they happen. The Obra Dinn itself is a merchant ship that mysteriously disappeared on its voyage in 1802, only to drift ashore five years later with no crew.
You play as an insurance investigator for the East India Trading Company brought aboard to assess the damage. The game’s action revolves around exploring and using deductive reasoning to figure out what exactly happened to the crew.
Return of the Obra Dinn is a gripping mystery adventure that doesn’t require killing things to make it an absolutely chilling story.
Journey is one of the most beautiful games ever made. As the silent, cloaked protagonist, you explore a vast desert with the sole goal of reaching the mountain on the horizon.
While you can meet other players on the same journey and travel together for the length of the whole game, Journey still makes you feel tiny and alone in an ancient world on a scale that seems almost incomprehensible.
You glide serenely across the sand, interacting with the world through a chime that unlocks puzzles and allows you to fly temporarily. Although the game is only a few hours long, the urge to uncover more gorgeous scenery makes it difficult to put down.
Throughout the decades Tetris still somehow manages to be exciting while eschewing a lot of traditional features of games like combat, plot, or dialogue.
When Tetris 99 came out on the Switch in February it reinvigorated the way the game’s multiplayer worked, making the gameplay suddenly a lot more combative. In what’s basically a battle royale version of Tetris, 99 players fight it out on one screen to be the last one standing.
You still couldn’t call it close to killing, but now you can deliberately add lines of tetriminos to an opponent’s screen. You can direct this at certain players or at random, pushing them further towards the ceiling.
Tetris has never been more competitive and it‘s no surprise so many have been drawn to this high-stakes makeover.
VVVVVV is an indie platformer that proves all you need to make a great game is an awesome soundtrack and some fun, challenging gameplay. The game makes a unique platformer thanks to one simple mechanic –you can’t jump, but you can reverse gravity.
You play as the heroic Captain Viridian, whose crew has suddenly been teleported away to a strange and dangerous place. It’s up to you to find them and bring them back.
There are no enemies in the game but each level is rife with environmental dangers. With the triumphant music to egg you on, the speed and difficulty of these levels ramp up to almost fiendish levels.
The gravity reversing is difficult to get used to at first, but forces you to change the way you think about vertical travel.
Flower is a wonderful playing experience that harnesses the uplifting effect of the great outdoors. The gameplay is slightly abstract as you control the wind flying through fields and bringing life back into a decaying world.
There’s an emphasis on exploration and the game has six levels with different types of nature, plus a credits level. You start off blowing a lone petal through air but soon amass a vibrant train made of the cast-offs of different kinds of flowers.
Its aesthetics are gorgeous and, though gameplay and story is about as stripped back as you can get, that doesn’t stop it delivering a poignant message about humanity’s impact on the environment.
Set in the mid-90s, Gone Home puts you in the role of a woman returning home to rural Oregon after a long period abroad. When she gets there she finds the house dark and empty, leaving her to investigate and piece together what exactly happened while she was away.
Gone Home is an immersive exploration simulator. You explore the entirely of the house and can pick up and examine virtually every object in the building in search of clues.
The realism of the unraveling plotline is part of what’s made this game so well received. A deeply personal story is told through your exploration, as you uncover the real reason for your family’s disappearance.
Firewatch is yet another game on the list that takes the time to make you appreciate nature, only this time with a mystery to unravel.
You play as a fire lookout for Shoshone National Forest a year after the events of the 1988 Yellowstone fires. You’ve not been on the job long before unusual things start happening to you and your supervisor, your only outside communication who you talk to over walkie-talkie.
The wilderness is packed with secrets and there are unusual and potentially sinister discoveries to be made on every hill. Firewatch gives you the power to make choices, from how you talk to your supervisor to how you choose to investigate the strange occurrences in the forest.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles
Yonder is a relaxing mash-up of exploring and crafting. You are shipwrecked and find yourself on the island paradise of Genmea. There, you set about building a life, exploring the lands and befriending the locals.
There’s only one downside to this seemingly blissful fate – the Murk, a dark fog that pollutes the environment and upsets its inhabitants. You travel across the island’s eight different environments in search of the Sprites, creatures that can help you restore balance to the land.
Genmea offers a paradise you can completely lose yourself in. You can customize your character, master skills like carpentry and tailoring, and most importantly: do everything in your own time.
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
Just because a game has no killing that doesn’t mean it has to be relaxing, and Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is a prime example of this.
An extremely punishing climbing game, Getting Over It has prompted a great deal of rage quits from players. Its ability to annoy is listed in the game’s official Steam description, so you know it’s on purpose.
You play as a man with his lower half stuck in a cauldron, wielding a Yosemite hammer. Using only the mouse to control your hammer, you have to scale the ridiculous heights of the mountain. You should check this out if you’re looking for a combat-free game but found the other entries on the list too calming.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Atmospheric survival horror Amnesia: The Dark Descent is made all the more terrifying by the fact that you can’t kill any of the monsters that come into your path. They can definitely kill you though, leaving you with the unenviable choice of running or hiding.
You play as a young man with amnesia struggling to regain his memories, trapped in a barren castle. You must navigate your way out by solving puzzles and collecting your own diary entries to recover your memory.
If being mauled by a hideous apparition wasn’t enough to kill you, you also have the rather Lovecraftian sanity meter to keep tabs on. Even seeing a monster will make your sanity plummet, causing you to eventually die from madness.
From the wide open world to the cell-shaded visuals, Rime bears a lot of similarity to Breath of the Wild, only without the combat.
You awake in the bright, airy world of Rime after a storm and set about exploring the rugged wilderness and white ruins. All you have to guide you in your adventures is an unusually helpful fox, and as you press further you find out more about your own backstory.
Rime is a puzzle game to the core, so the world has a ton of secrets guarded by puzzles waiting to be discovered. The puzzles of the ruins will require you to manipulate light, shadow, perspective, and even time itself to unlock.
The ultra-wholesome detective puzzle game series can barely muster a violent bone in its body. Even a murder case falls back to the whimsy of working out how many candies are in a jar at the store or giving a rabbit acting classes.
Since 2007 Layton and his apprentices Luke and Emmy have traveled from puzzle-entangled case to case, becoming popular enough to spawn spinoffs and even a crossover with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
The visual style has changed over the years and the most recent game passes the torch to Layton’s daughter Katrielle, but the series’ sheer amount of brain-teasing riddles are a constant that keeps puzzle-lovers coming back.