Whether you're traversing an expansive open world, climbing crumbling ruins or sneaking between shadowy city corners, the landscapes and environments we see in games have never been better. Gone are the days of miracle-growing trees popping up at certain draw distances. Instead, we have places and environments deliberately and carefully designed, and landscapes so realistic we can relate to them, be astonished by them, even yearn for them. Naturally, ever-improving graphical capabilities have a lot to do with this, because as environments get more realistic, we increasingly experience them as 'real', but there can be, and often is, so much more to it than just the technical ability to crank up the aesthetics.
As a landscape designer, I find myself, particularly in recent years, both impressed and intrigued at how the virtual landscapes of games include practices and elements of real world landscape design, sometimes even down to the actual design of gardens and the selection of plants. It gives the environments much more depth intrinsically linked to games' narratives, themes, stories and settings, ultimately making for better, more accurate and game-complementing virtual spaces for us to explore, experience and gallivant around in.
Landscapes are no longer just outdoor spaces where stuff happens, but instead cool places that offer different atmospheres and interesting characteristics - places, in fact, that are intentionally designed for a purpose. Place making like this is difficult enough to master in real life locations, let alone virtual places you can't physically visit, but there are some games that manage it very well.