There are few things as marvelous as a robust open-world game. We often remember those wondrous moments of a game world opening up to us for the first time -- when you first emerged from Vault 101 in Fallout 3, or the day Link finally left his home of Kokiri Forest to see the vastness of Hyrule Field. These seminal experiences stand as testaments to the endless iconic imagination and infinite possibilities of video games.
And what better way of exploring these worlds is there than atop a glorious mount? Traversing worlds on horseback has been a staple of open-world games for nearly two decades, and has inarguably become the most epic way to travel.
But which of these noble steeds stand out the most? After becoming accustomed to hopping on a trusty trotter and riding onwards to the next quest, it’s important to look back on those who started, and those who perfected, the art of kicking simulated animals in the ribs and yelling “Hyah!” Here are the top five mightiest steeds of video games.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time brought one of the first fully realized, three-dimensional worlds to the video game industry. To freely explore this vast, lively land, Link is given his trusty companion, Epona. This magnificent steed allowed Link free rein throughout the Kingdom of Hyrule, as well as a tactical advantage when shooting arrows from horseback.
However, Epona's empowering companionship is not given to the player freely, but must be earned. Seven years after first meeting the young filly, Link returns to Lon Lon Ranch in order to win Epona's freedom in an epic and wonderfully cliche race of justice. Similarly, in Majora's Mask, Epona is kidnapped by Skull Kid, and can only be retrieved after completing half of the game. This element of investment in your companion makes exploring these beautiful worlds with her all the more rewarding.
Few game designers could claim to have mastered 3D horseback gameplay before Rockstar had their go in Red Dead Redemption. With full range of motion and smooth, intuitive controls, playing as John Marston was best experienced on the back of a wild mare. There are few things in this medium as satisfying as lassoing bounty targets, dead-eyeing villains, or just traveling cross country, all on your trusty steed.
The problem is keeping your horse around. Like any other living thing in a Rockstar open-world game, horses are susceptible to fall damage, wolf attacks, and the occasional double-barrel shotgun shell to the head. Luckily, there are plenty of nags to be lassoed and broken. The coolest of all, however, can only be obtained by achieving the lowest level of honor: Desperado. The Dark Horse may not be the fastest in the game, but she's fast - and she's bad. Just one look at this mare's deathly pattern reminds you of all the heartless, inhumane, dastardly deeds you committed to earn you this mount.
Nintendo may have brought horseback riding to 3D games, but Team Ico brought life to the horse. Instead of acting as an extension of the players character upon mounting, Wander's companion seemed to behave as an independent entity. He obeyed your commands, but it was Wander you were controlling - not Agro.
Epona introduced horseback combat - but Agro perfected the art. Agro's implementation in some of the colossi battles stand as some of the best boss battle experiences to date. The world in Shadow of the Colossus may have seemed bare and empty to some, but Agro's presence and companionship made this game a masterpiece for the ages.
Named for the first initial of your military group, The Diamond Dogs, Snake's first buddy takes the best from all the trotters before him. D-Horse handles the arduous terrain of Afghanistan with ease and obeys every detailed nudge of the joystick even at full gallop. Summoning your steed is easy too; with just a whistle, D-Horse will appear by your side as if by magic. Take that, Epona's Song!
Like the horses of Rockstar's wild west, D-Horse is not invincible: steep falls and gunfire will render him incapacitated. His tactical abilities, however, set him apart from his predecessors. From simple abilities like hanging on D-Horse's side to avoid enemies' line of sight, to more complex, and slightly odd, strategies like using fresh horse manure to send jeeps slipping and sliding, Metal Gear Solid V's mighty steed is a perfect fit for Snake's masterful tactics.
Yes, yes, I know: not an open world game, not a horse. But before you made D-Horse defecate - before you rode across the realms of Hyrule - you met Yoshi.
Making his debut in Super Mario World for the SNES, this delightful dinosaur brought some of the best platforming experiences to the franchise. After three games of stomping on our enemies like uncivilized apes, Yoshi enabled us to quite literally spit our enemies' attacks right back at them. As the ultimate power-up of the 2D Mario platformers, and our first companion in the perpetual battle against the Koopas, Yoshi stands as the mightiest of steeds in video game history.
It is so unfortunate, then, when considering how often Mario abuses his mount. Many have noticed that in the original Super Mario World animations, Mario seems to compel Yoshi to do his bidding by striking him on the head! Disturbed by this cruel behavior, some video game analysts have come to believe this to be evidence of Mario having anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). Poor Yoshi.