If there’s one genre of video games that’s really exploded over the course of the eighth generation of consoles, it’s the open world. Popularised by the likes of GTA, taking your franchise out into the open isn’t as big an innovation as it used to be with big names like Metal Gear Solid, Ghost Recon, and Mafia all going down the well-trodden route but with mixed results. That said, there are plenty of the best open world games for you to dive into.
So what makes something qualify as an open world game? Well, the definition is usually played with pretty fast and loose, but an open world is typically a large expanse that you can jump into without many restrictions on where you can go and what you can do. Sometimes the open world doesn’t have to be that big to qualify, as you will see throughout this list.
With everyone and your grandparents getting in on the act, it’s time to take a look at some of the best open world games around right now, whether they belong to this generation, the last, or even further back than that. Whether it’s sailing the open seas or being a superhero, there’s no shortage of options amongst all these games, plus one or two surprises that you probably forgot all about.
A couple of qualifiers before we start: we are only including one game per franchise for the sake of variety (who wants seven different GTA games?) and we’re also excluding Early Access games because there are nine million of them that just dump you into a bland expanse with only a stick and your flapping genitalia for comfort. Also bear in mind that any games list for PS4 and Xbox One will also work on PS5 and Xbox Series X | S thanks to backwards compatibility.
Disagree with our choices for the best open world games on? Let us know down in the comments below, but it will not reach us unless you climb several radio towers first.
The Best Open World Games
Developer: Piranha Bytes Publisher: THQ Nordic Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One Players: Single-Player
Nobody’s going to try and pull the wool over your eyes and claim that ELEX is what you would call a masterpiece. More than a little rough around the edges and packed with some outright bizarre mechanics, its first ten hours seem to be a bit of a checkpoint. Can you grind through all of the early pain to find the unconventional gem at its center? Step right this way.
You play in a post-apocalyptic world where factions rule. As an ex-Alb, you must align yourself with a faction and discover why you were betrayed. It’s very much a European vision of Fallout, including the customary jank.
Fans of Gothic and Risen will adore ELEX, bizarrely segmented open world and all, and will no doubt enjoy countless hours of save scumming and jetpacking around.
Developer: BioWare Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One Players: Single-Player
Forget about it being the worst Mass Effect game. Ignore it being rife with bugs and glitches. Don’t question why its sex scenes are the most detailed parts of the game. Instead, when it comes to Andromeda, approach with moderate expectations and you will walk away from it having enjoyed your time in space more than you thought you would.
The open world nature of Andromeda is one that makes sense, allowing you to explore the surface of more planets than ever and colonise them in the process. Nobody in their right mind is going to suggest that it’s a perfect game, but in terms of allowing exploration, it’s right up there with the most expansive.
“Mass Effect: Andromeda presents a promising fresh start for the franchise that’s held back by a myriad of technical and mechanical problems. It’s a rough diamond that needs more polish, but if you can spare the time to get to its core, you might be pleasantly surprised.”
Developer: Tripwire Interactive Publisher: Tripwire Interactive Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One Players: Single-Player
We’re not going to try and tell you that Maneater is the best open world game ever made. It is somewhat repetitive after you eat your fiftieth human in a row, but for sheer novelty’s sake, Maneater is a cathartic bit of nonsense.
You play as an increasingly dangerous shark on the hunt for their mother’s killer. As time goes on, you evolve more and more until you become the apex predator, the game embracing its ridiculousness as you swim through its wide open seas.
Maneater feels like a throwback to the weird ideas we saw during the PS2 era, and it’s just some guilt-free fun that’s a nice respite.
“Maneater is a game that, for the most part, lives up to its potential, offering something a bit different than other games. While it could be regarded as something of a one-trick pony, it’s still a very good trick that you’ll enjoy while it lasts.”
Developer: DONTNOD Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch Players: Single-Player
Vampyr’s world isn’t as large as the others but it’s certainly one of the most alive. You play in a plague-riddled London as a vampire with your actions dramatically altering the fates of its residents, for better or worse.
If you want to feast on the people of London, expect to become increasingly powerful with the caveat that districts will start to crumble. Vampyr is a game full of dilemmas and is a constant balancing act, helping it to become one of the most innovative open world games of 2018.
If you want to play god and all the baggage that comes with it, Vampyr is perfect. It also doesn’t hurt that it has some solid combat and a storyline worth diving into, either.
“Filled with moral dilemmas and an unexpected strategic depth to its city system, Vampyr is a vampire RPG that isn’t afraid to bite back. Although some characters are quite stiff in dialogue, it’s still a great game overall with intense confrontations, fast-paced combat and a thrilling story.”
Developer: Team Soho Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Platform(s): PS2 Players: Single-Player
Discarded as a weak GTA clone at the time of release by many, The Getaway’s influence is felt pretty keenly to this day when it comes to open world design and its overall mechanics.
Whether it’s the cover system, motion cpature lack of HUD, or lots and lots of swearing, The Getaway has provided inspiration for many developers throughout the years. While the overall package isn’t outright amazing, made even worse by the passage of time, The Getaway still has plenty to offer.
Plus, if you ever want to experience the horrible reality of London traffic, The Getaway is the game for you.
49. Crackdown 2
Developer: Ruffian Games Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Platform(s): Xbox 360, Xbox One Players: Single-Player & Multiplayer
Crackdown used to be one of the most promising open world franchises around before the tumultuous development of its third game left it as a bit of an afterthought.
You could make the case that Crackdown 2, despite being many years older than the third game, looks and plays significantly better. One thing’s for certain, though: it’s still an absolute tonne of fun to pick up and cause some destruction in.
Orbs are the name of the game again here, but this time out there’s more verticality than ever and a general sense of mayhem that would make even Michael Bay blush. Put your brain in the bin for a few hours and discover one of the most simple and unpretentious open world games out there.
Developer: Facepunch Studios Publisher: Facepunch Studios Platform: PC Players: Multiplayer
Unless you have skin as thick as that of a rhino wearing Captain America’s shield as a cup, you should give Rust a wide berth. It’s notoriously toxic and almost entirely built on griefing — there’s no end goal for anything in the game, which is why many players create their own enjoyment by ruining the days of others.
However, if you have a friend or two in tow, Rust can be very rewarding. You can build a base while your genitalia feels the lick of the breeze before eventually having enough resources to do some griefing of your own. Trust nobody in Rust, not even those who appear friendly. Or even yourself.
And if you do come across some well-armed players, try to make them laugh and they may spare you and take you under their wing.
47. Dead Island
Developer: Techland Publisher: Deep Silver Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 Players: Single-Player & Multiplayer
An open world game that was never going to live up to its incredible trailer, Dead Island still has plenty to offer for fans of bashing zombie heads in. You will be doing that a lot in Dead Island, but as you progress you will begin to feel like an undead killing machine; handy, as you will have a lot of opportunities to encounter them in a huge tropical playground.
Dead Island certainly isn’t pretty and packed to the undead gills with the kind of blemishes that are sadly so frequent in even the very best open world games, though it still made enough of an impact to launch a franchise with two (pretty terrible) spin-offs and a sequel that is apparently happening? Who really knows at this point.
Developer: Avalanche Studios, id Software Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One Players: Single-Player
After two almost great games, it’s fair to say that Rage may never quite reach the next level Bethesda wants it to be. While both games are plenty flawed, the brilliant gunplay in the second game makes it stand apart.
Rage 2 is not some grand revolution of the old formula, but as the guys behind DOOM have their finger on their trigger, it’s always incredibly fun to send enemies flying into the air and use them basically like clay pigeons.
A short game without an overwhelming amount of detail in its open world, Rage 2 is the perfect Blockbuster game, something you’d rent for the weekend as a bit of a palate cleanser. Sometimes that’s all you need.
“id Software’s magic touch with the old ultra-violence isn’t quite enough to completely save Rage 2 from the rest of its sloppy and seemingly rushed trimmings, but if you want to play as a superhero who isn’t fussy about killing, you’re well set here.”
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One Players: Multiplayer
It’s safe to say that The Division was an open world game that burned brightly on release before quickly fizzling out. A more “grounded” approach to Destiny, The Division sees you playing as part of a crisis squad that’s activated when a virus sweeps through New York City.
This means killing waves of guys with baseball hats and looting their bodies, because of course. It’s a game built entirely around the grind, which can be tiresome on your own but good fun with friends. You may grow bored of The Division relatively soon, but its depiction of the Big Apple is at least worth wandering around in and marvelling at.
The Division 2, meanwhile, is more of the same goodness if you enjoyed what the first game had to offer.
GhostWire: Tokyo may not have been the The Evil Within 3 that many of us wanted, but that doesn’t take away from what a unique experience it is. While it has lots of hallmarks of open world design, its mood and general gameplay feels unlike anything else out there.
When Tokyo is overtaken by evil spirits with the entire population semi-raptured, it’s your job to release everyone and save the day with the help of a benevolent spirit of your own. It’s a kooky premise, and that’s without considering the fact that your shop vendors are floating cats.
GhostWire: Tokyo brings it own unique flavour to the genre, and while it could be argued that its combat is somewhat repetitive and not massively engaging, it does feature perhaps the most vivid and arresting interpretation of Tokyo in a video game to date.
Developer: Hinterland Studio Inc. Publisher: Hinterland Studio Inc. Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One Players: Single-Player
This isn’t an open world game for everyone. On the face of it, The Long Dark may seem low-key; boring, even. However, once you’re embroiled in your quest to just survive and scrape by every day with what little scraps you have, it becomes more engrossing than many of its peers while also being far simpler.
Featuring a gorgeous, minimalist style, The Long Dark isn’t full of action, and neither is the Canadian wilderness packed with ghoulies to avoid. It’s just you, the creeping cold, and the occasional wolf. It’s a wonder how Hinterland made such a straightforward, single-player experience so captivating, but they did.
“Beautiful, stressful, and utterly life-consuming, The Long Dark is a triumphant survival game that will make you hate wolves very much.”
42. The Forest
Developer: Endnight Games Publisher: Endnight Games Platform(s): PC, PS4 Players: Single-Player & Multiplayer
The Forest isn’t a million miles away from The Long Dark in terms of style; a downbeat game with some glimmers of action but one that’s largely about the simple things. Most of your time in The Forest will be spent foraging for materials, whether alone or with a friend, to carve out a living in the wilderness after your plane crashes and your child disappears.
In contrast to The Long Dark, however, The Forest does embrace its supernatural side by introducing some seriously freakish enemies that make the creatures from The Descent look like pussycats.
The scary thing about them is how little you see them, but they’re almost always there, watching and waiting. You can build the perfect fort, but one misjudgement can be the end of you in this Early Access success story.
“If you’re yet to try the game on PC, its PS4 version is a surprisingly sleek and arguably just as rewarding time-sinker that won’t even make you feel bad for being a terrible parent.”
Developer: Radical Entertainment Publisher: Activision Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 Players: Single-Player
Released when the open world buzz was only really just taking off, Prototype was too inseparable from inFamous (more on that one later) for its own good. Despite its “edgier” take, Prototype couldn’t quite match Sucker Punch’s effort in terms of polish and an interesting world to explore. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t still worth exploring, however.
You play as Alex Mercer, a superpowered anti-hero who must use his abilities to stop an outbreak in Manhattan. Players can shapeshift and run up with walls, as well as being able to sprint at super speed, so there’s definitely room for different playstyles.
The only things really going against Prototype are its uninspired storyline and hero, but if you just want to feel like a Todd McFarlane creation for a bit, you can’t go wrong.
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