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 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.
Disagree with our choices for the best open world games? 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
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.
“Bizarre and brazen but totally sincere, ELEX is a rough diamond that offers everything a hardcore RPG fan could want in a very rough and ready package.”
49. Mass Effect: Andromeda
Developer: BioWare Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
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, PS4, Xbox One
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
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.”
46. The Getaway
Developer: Team Soho Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Platform(s): PS2
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.
45. Crackdown 2
Developer: Ruffian Games Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Platform(s): Xbox 360, Xbox One
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
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.
43. Dead Island
Developer: Techland Publisher: Deep Silver Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
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.
42. Rage 2
Developer: Avalanche Studios, id Software Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
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.”
41. The Division
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
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.
40. The Long Dark
Developer: Hinterland Studio Inc. Publisher: Hinterland Studio Inc. Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
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.”
39. The Forest
Developer: Endnight Games Publisher: Endnight Games Platform(s): PC, PS4
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
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.
37. Death Stranding
Developer: Kojima Productions Publisher: SIE/505 Games Platform(s): PC, PS4
Probably the most polarising game on this list, no two of us in the office can agree on Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding. While some of us love the game’s slow pace and patient storytelling, others are put off by it and the fact it takes hours upon hours to really get going.
You play as Sam Porter Bridges, a man tasked with reconnecting America following an apocalyptic fallout. You do this one delivery at a time with many an obstacle in your path, whether that’s the BTs or something as simple as a steep hill.
If you’re yet to play Death Stranding, it really is one of those games you have to experience for yourself. Give it time and allow its world to feel less disconnected and it may drag you under its depths.
36. Mad Max
Developer: Avalanche Studios Publisher: WB Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
A tie-in for Fury Road but not really, Mad Max is a Frankenstein’s Monster of game design with many ideas leeched from other open world games. Though it may not surpass any of its inspirations and won’t endear itself to anyone who hates relatively empty playgrounds, it’s still a total blast.
Taking parts of the Batman: Arkham series and a lashing of Assassin’s Creed, Mad Max comes into its own with its approach to Max’s vehicle of choice, the Magnum Opus. Over time, you turn the car from a bucket on wheels into the scourge of the wasteland, meaning there’s more of an attachment to the game than punching dudes and drinking water.
Worth checking out for fans of the movies and open world lovers in general.
35. No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games Publisher: Hello Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
If this piece had been written in 2016, No Man’s Sky would find itself on the opposite list for open world games. After launching in a laughably threadbare state with the game clearly not what its marketing had suggested, it would have been easy for Hello Games to go underground and give up on the game entirely.
Luckily for spacefarers (and people who paid full AAA price), they persevered and although it may never fully recover from the backlash, No Man’s Sky is worth checking out on the cheap.
With new modes and a huge content update on the way, the initial appeal from visiting planets and seeing sights will wear off quickly in No Man’s Sky, but if you want a low-key game to zone out with flying around star systems, it’s a more than competent distraction.
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
More of an excuse to use the name of a dormant franchise than an out-and-out Ghost Recon installment, Wildlands drops the “hardcore” elements of the franchise and takes it into an open world. While it may alienate some long-time fans, Wildlands still maintains a semblance of strategy and teamwork that usually goes down the drain the second your friends start messing around.
Belonging in the massive-but-empty camp of open world games, Wildlands asks you to embrace your daredevil side with a ridiculous spectacle and a surprising difficulty. There’s plenty to do, though the missions and side distractions do tend to follow an eventually very familiar formula.
If you just want to mess around with some friends, party up and drop in to a game that’s still receiving updates, including the re-introduction of Sam Fisher. Maybe swerve Breakpoint, though.
33. Don’t Starve
Developer: Klei Entertainment Publisher: Klei Entertainment Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox One, Switch, Wii U
A survival game released before survival games were cool, Don’t Starve’s developers, Klei Entertainment, may have watched a lot of Tim Burton movies before they made this genre-definer.
A mischievously dark game, Don’t Starve tasks you with staying alive after you are shipwrecked by exploring your increasingly dangerous surroundings as a pretty feeble gentleman who must use his scientist background to stand a chance.
Thanks to the randomly generated levels, your chances of success can be a little like a roll of the dice. Some are fairer than others, giving you ample opportunity to stock up on resources, while others can throw all manner of creepy crawlies at you almost immediately.
In terms of scale, Don’t Starve is likely the smallest game on this list of the best open world games, but you would be dumb to overlook it just for that.
32. State of Decay 2
Developer: Undead Labs Publisher: Microsoft Studios Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Perhaps we’re missing something, but State of Decay 2 really didn’t deserve all of the scorn it received at launch. Sure, the amount of bugs were laughable and its performance certainly lacking, but overall it’s just the natural evolution of the first game, itself one of the best open world games around.
If you’ve ever wanted to micro-manage in the post-apocalypse, State of Decay 2 has you covered. Featuring major refinements and improvements over the first game, it’s your job to establish a community and help it to thrive.
It’s tough going, especially when some of your peers become demanding, but nobody said surviving after the end of civilisation was going to be easy. It’s included with Game Pass, so you should at least try it if you have an Xbox One.
31. Sea of Thieves
Developer: Rare Publisher: Microsoft Studios Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
After arriving on a wave of hype (heh) as Rare’s most exciting new venture in years, Sea of Thieves found itself all out at sea just a few days after setting sail. A lack of content, no meaningful progression, and an entire system built around needing friends to get anything out of it meant that most abandoned ship as quickly as they jumped aboard.
However, much like the aforementioned No Man’s Sky, Sea of Thieves is an open world game that continues to grow with updates already flowing in. Adding to that, there is something to be said for simply taking to the seas with your friends and griefing each other until Christmas is cancelled.
Don’t go into Sea of Thieves expecting the world and you will be enjoying eating bananas before you know what’s happening.
30. Days Gone
Developer: SIE Bend Publisher: SIE Platform(s): PS4
Days Gone is a bit of a rough diamond that rewards you for sticking through its sticky first ten hours, and even then it’s not a flawless experience — even with optimisation, it’s on the buggy side.
Despite its issues, Days Gone really is a superb slow grower. You may not like its protagonist Deacon St. John at all to begin with, but he, and everything else Days Gone has to offer, will likely win you over the more time you invest in the game.
Whether you’re cruising around on a motorcycle or taking down increasingly large hordes with whatever is at your disposal, Days Gone is a surprisingly great open world game that continues to cultivate a dedicated following.
“Sure, it’s clunky at points, has enough rough edges to cut someone, and is perhaps too slow in getting to the good stuff, but give Days Gone and Deacon a chance and they will win you over.”
29. Dead Rising 2: Off The Record
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
The Dead Rising series is one of the most fluctuating you’ll find in terms of quality with the consensus being that it’s majorly lost its way. If you found Dead Rising 4 too “casual”, approach Dead Rising 2: Off the Record as the perfect halfway point.
More forgiving than the first game with welcomed refinements to boot, Off the Record plays much in the same way as Dead Rising 2 itself, except that bland boy Chuck Greene has been swapped out with series mascot Frank West. Dicing zombies up with increasingly dumb weaponry is the biggest selling point of the franchise, and Off the Record is arguably that ethos at its purest.
28. Sleeping Dogs
Developer: United Front Games Publisher: Square Enix Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
A cult favourite, Sleeping Dogs came along at a time when everyone wanted a piece of the GTA pie. While it may not be quite as expansive as Rockstar’s monolith, Sleeping Dogs still has plenty of charm and things to sink your teeth into for dozens of hours. Also, kicking people in the face.
You play as an undercover cop in Hong Kong as you infiltrate a notorious gang, but good luck doing just that. You can expect to venture around the bright lights of Hong Kong for hours at a time, levelling up as you kick your way through the glitz and grime. It’s available for an absolute steal these days, making it the perfect weekend game if you’re yet to play it.
27. Infamous 2
Developer: Sucker Punch Publisher: SIE Platform(s): PS3
It’s a puzzle to us why so many developers dropped karma systems. Sure, there were far too many of them in games at one point, but they helped to create two drastically different playstyles with your actions having far-flung consequences for your world and also your fate. Infamous 2 is a perfect example of how to use karma with it allowing you to become a superhero or supervillain.
The Infamous franchise has been somewhat forgotten about after the so-so Second Son on PS4 with Sucker Punch now working on Ghost of Tsushima, but that doesn’t take away from just how great this superpowered sequel is.
Often compared and contrasted with the aforementioned Prototype, it’s Infamous that comes out on top with its better storyline and smoother mechanics with Infamous 2 being the series at its zenith.
26. Elite: Dangerous
Developer: Frontier Developments Publisher: Frontier Developments Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
This doesn’t really belong on this list of the best open world games because Elite is more than just one world: it’s galaxy after galaxy of spacefaring that will consume you if you can overcome its absurd learning curve. Those who dissect the details will be in their element here.
Elite isn’t a mile a minute game with its “moments” being few and far between. Instead, it’s more about the tranquillity of exploring space alongside friends and building your reputation up as a trader, bounty hunter, pirate, or just an idiot who can’t figure out how to land your ship.
25. Forza Horizon 4
Developer: Playground Games Publisher: Microsoft Studios Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
It’s fair to say that Forza has left the Gran Turismo series in its dust. While Polyphony like to take their sweet, sweet time to release a new GT game, Playground are cranking out quality racing like nobody’s business.
Forza Horizon 4 may be the best open world racing game on the market, even if it takes you around the usually dreary United Kingdom. Despite the country being in constant grey tones, Playground really knew how to bring its gorgeous countryside into vivid life.
Featuring over 670 licensed cars, forever changing seasons that change the game and a world alive with other players to compete against, Forza Horizon 4 is the petrolhead’s dream.
“When the gameplay is this good, it’s hard to complain. Forza Horizon is still taking pole position, regardless of the slight hiccup.”
24. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Developer: Warhorse Studios Publisher: Deep Silver Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
One of the most unrefined and almost laughable games of 2018 in terms of performance, Kingdom Come is lucky that the meat of it is so irresistible. Featuring old-school RPG mechanics and a sense of realism that strikes a balance between being fun and challenging, Kingdom Come is going to appeal to anyone who grew up on a diet of 90s RPGs.
You never feel like a sword-swinging badass in Kingdom Come, but that’s part of its appeal. You’re just a guy called Henry looking for glory and stumbling many times along the way. Its combat requires strategy and patience, so don’t go into it expecting Skyrim levels of empowerment and you will likely fall in love.
23. Burnout Paradise
Developer: Criterion Games Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Switch
Symptomatic of publishers and developers going with current trends, Paradise arguably didn’t even need to go open world. A franchise built on simple principles, Burnout was (notice the past tense) always about smashing other cars in style without any frills. It was a somewhat brainless joy in the best ways.
However, once you loaded up Paradise and heard the opening strings to Guns N’ Roses rock classic, taking the series into the open world made total sense. A playground of destruction is at your disposal in Paradise, whether it’s the original or remastered version for modern consoles. Everyone may harp on about Skate being revived, but there’s only one EA property we have our eyes on.
22. Just Cause 3
Developer: Avalanche Studios Publisher: Square Enix Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
GTA too serious for you? Not enough cows with your mass murder? Enter Just Cause 3: the open world game that invites you to attach bombs to bovine and laugh about it, even after the hundredth time. Or thousandth.
The changes from the second game in the series aren’t huge; it’s just more of the same but on a slightly larger and more destructive scale. Just Cause 3 celebrates experimentation, so whether you want to dive out of a plane before lassoing yourself into the face of your enemies or just want to fart around with cows, you’ll in be for a silly ride.
21. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Developer: Monolith Publisher: WB Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Shadow of Mordor has no right to be as good as it was when it released in the midst of a transitional period between console generations. Surprising many with its slick combat and unique spin on Tolkien lore, it proved to be one of the smash hits of 2014 in a year which underwhelmed for so many.
The Nemesis system is part of the reason why it worked so well. Over time, Talion develops rivalries with orcs he’s already faced in battle, which creates adaptive and unique scenarios between them. It’s a marvel of design that somehow hasn’t been aped elsewhere.
Developer: Mojang Publisher: Microsoft Studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Vita, Wii U
What’s left to say about Minecraft that hasn’t already been said? The game so popular that it has more imitators than David Beckham, Minecraft’s as open as they come, allowing you to build your own worlds and giant penises in equal measure. Okay, mostly the penises.
As with most games on this list, Minecraft is better with friends and, when you boil it down to its basics, is a survival game with the prerequisite resources grind. Once you have farmed until your fingers bleed, Minecraft becomes a game where the only limitation is your imagination.
19. Saints Row: The Third
Developer: Volition Publisher: THQ/Deep Silver Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Switch
Two words that sum up the game and the franchise as a whole: purple dildo. Saints Row: The Third is not a game to be taken seriously with the aforementioned sex toy being used as a deadly katana the perfect example of that. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
The third game in the series is arguably the best, the perfect blend of absurdity and freedom without appearing as if it’s trying too hard to be edgy. There’s a lot of joy to be had in its ludicrous combat and among interactions with the people of Steelport.
If you want to zone out for a few hours and abandon almost all of your brain cells, Saints Row: The Third will set you straight — it’s available for cheap on a lot of platforms, too.
18. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Developer: BioWare Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
A polarising entry into BioWare’s series, Dragon Age: Inquisition came around during the strange between this generation and the last but it was packed with enough new ideas to make it a sign of things to come for open world exploration, even if it is somewhat more restrictive than other entries on this list.
Boasting all the hallmarks of a BioWare classic (including some very awkward sex), Inquisition casts you as the Inquisitor on a quest to stop the nefarious Corypheus after the “Breach” causes a rift and brings forward all manner of badness.
Inquisition is a deep RPG with tonnes to sink your teeth into across Thedas, though a large part of your time will probably be spent trying to seduce Iron Bull, the big meat mountain.
17. EVE Online
Developer: CCP Games Publisher: Simon & Schuster Platform: PC
Where do you even begin with EVE Online? The simple elevator pitch is that it’s Elite Dangerous but somehow even more expansive and complex, so much so that there is a god called Bob that its players revere. After over a decade of mining and piracy, the regular gameplay loop loses much of its appeal, we guess.
A massively multiplayer game with equally massive scale, EVE Online allows you to explore thousands of different places and be totally bewildered by all of them. There’s lot to see and do in EVE, but the main focus of the game is role-playing; creating your own stories is the main allure here.
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Another survival game enters the list, but this one’s open world may be just about the most inviting — and unnerving.
When you crash land on an alien planet almost entirely consisting of water, you must do everything you can to escape, but even just survive. Subnautica’s depths are consistently terrifying with the darkness offering more and more twisted beasts the deeper you dive.
Whether you’re discovering the story behind an ancient civilization or trying to carve out your own little corner of the game’s gigantic ocean, Subnautica is a survival game that will completely enrapture you.
“Despite some quibbles, Subnautica was one survival game that I didn’t just want to survive in — I flourished and revelled in creating my own life under the sea. It feels unlike anything else in its (rather crowded) genre with its own identity shining through.”
16. Outer Wilds
Developer: Mobius Digital Publisher: Annapurna Interactive Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Outer Wilds is exactly the kind of “out-of-the-box” game design that Annapurna Interactive have become beloved for publishing over the last few years.
Entirely unlike anything else on this list, Outer Wilds asks you to discover more about yourself and the world you find yourself on in 22-minute long cycles before a supernova resets everything. It’s gorgeous, lo-fi spacefaring with sparse storytelling that will really get its hook into you.
It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, it featuring a learning curve that may make even landing your ship a nuisance, but Outer Wilds’ slowly unravelling tapestry is worth any of the game’s initial frustrations to discover.
15. Yakuza 0
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio Publisher: Sega Platform: PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One
Probably one of the most underrated open world franchises in history, Yakuza is absolutely beloved by those in the know on its wacky offerings and almost endless content.
A prequel to the main storyline that’s been going since the PlayStation 2 days, Yakuza 0 puts you in the shoes of a young Kazuma Kiryu as he tries to climb up the crime ladder in the vibrant Japanese district of Kamurocho, which masquerades as the red light district of Tokyo.
Featuring bone-breaking (and utterly ridiculous) combat and so many side distractions that you may totally lose track of what your objective is, Yakuza 0 is the perfect jumping off point for a series that deserves all the adoration it gets.
14. Watch Dogs 2
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
It was always going to be a tall order for Ubisoft to earn goodwill from fans after the, erm, “misdirection” of the original Watch Dogs. Luckily, its sequel — called Watch Dogs 2, funnily enough — takes the best aspects of the original game, smooths them out, and adds a host of interesting new ideas to boot.
The main hook of the first game, hacking, is still present, allowing you to spy into the lives of others, but gunplay and general movement is also given some much needed polish. There are also plenty of interior locations to explore, which is sadly not as common as you may think.
Most refreshingly, however, Watch Dogs 2 actually brings some personality to the franchise after the dreary original, even if it does also dial up in the cringe factor with its “fellow kids” spiel.
13. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U
Argued by many to be the best game in the franchise, there were slim margins in picking the one Assassin’s Creed game to make the cut for the list of the best open world games. Assassin’s Creed II was a close second just for its impact for the genre as a whole, but in terms of sheer exploration and the all important fun factor, Black Flag had to come out on top.
The core gameplay of the AC franchise remains unchanged, but its biggest gameplay introduction is one that brought many people back aboard HMS AC: naval warfare. By taking the action to the high seas, Black Flag brought pirates to digital life better than any game since the Monkey Island series.
Developer: Techland Publisher: WB Games/Techland Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
The most underrated game of its generation, Dying Light refreshes the tired formula of zombies and open worlds by buffing out some of the blemishes on the rough gem of Dead Island and building upon it. Techland clearly learned a lot from their first foray with Dying Light being far and away the superior game. How can it not be when it lets you parkour into a zombie beheading?
You start off pretty feebly as you make your way around the desolate city of Harran before levelling and gearing up to the point where you’re swatting away hordes of the undead. In the day, that is — nighttime always poses a threat thanks to the terrifying Virals, who almost single-handedly make zombies scary again.
Its controls are a little on the cumbersome side, so here’s hoping its sequel polishes that up.
11. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Developer: Kojima Productions Publisher: Konami Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Some may dislike Kojima and co. jumping aboard the bandwagon of open world games and it may be true that it’s sparse in certain areas, but any game in which you can slide down a hill and bowl over enemies in a cardboard box is a winner in our book.
With the best gameplay in the series also comes the worst story, sadly, though once you accept that and also that it’s not quite the game it could have been thanks to Konami and Kojima’s fractious relationship, The Phantom Pain is a fun ride where very silly things happen around a very serious narrative.
There’s some weird stuff about breathing through skin, but just ignore that.
“The Phantom Pain is a game that will be talked about years from now as the centerpiece for one of the greatest series across any media and as a Hideo Kojima game through and through.”
10. Far Cry 3
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
A case of making gameplay more casual for the better, Far Cry 3 is everything you could want from an open world FPS, even if it didn’t help to popularise the dreaded radio towers. What made Far Cry 3 so different from its peers, however, was that the Rook Islands were ones you wanted to explore every inch of and kill everything in.
Crafting a memorable world with tight gunplay is one thing, but it’s another thing to make the story worth caring about. The affable villainy of Vaas picks up the slack left by the serviceable Jason as the protagonist to spin an exotic yarn that’s hypnotic.
It’s a crying shame that its final third sags so heavily, but it’s still better than almost all of its imitators.
9. Canis Canem Edit/Bully
Developer: Rockstar Games Publisher: Take-Two Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, PS2, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii
A sequel has been long in the offing for this Rockstar classic, but the original Bully actually holds up really damn well still, rough edges and all. An open world game that’s small but packed with things to do, playing Bully compared to many of its modern peers is pretty damning for the contemporary fare, which tends to favour scale over substance.
That’s not the case with Bully. Bullworth Academy and its surrounding areas are teeming with things to see and do, including mini-games and causing general anarchy. While playing as Jimmy Hopkins, the pug-faced protagonist, you can swerve school altogether and do odd jobs and missions or go to classes and become a teacher’s pet.
There’s a lot of freedom in Bully; ironic considering how often education is likened to imprisonment.
8. Grand Theft Auto V
Developer: Rockstar Games Publisher: Take-Two Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Here’s where we enter the crunch time for our list of the best open world games. Some may baulk at GTA V finding itself so relatively low, but there really isn’t a lot in it. Everything beyond this point is as close to perfect as a game can get, but if there’s anything to knock GTA V down on, it’s that it’s been so successful with its questionable Shark Cards that it made Rockstar complacent.
If we’re talking just single-player, however, GTA V offers one of the best playgrounds around and three brilliant protagonists to boot. Trevor, Michael, and Franklin are some of the most likeable assholes in all of gaming, particularly Trevor. GTA V didn’t massively reinvent the wheel for the franchise, but it brought many people back aboard after the macabre GTA IV.
Don’t expect to see GTA VI for a long time, though: they’re going to ride the microtransactions train as far as they can.
7. Horizon Zero Dawn
Developer: Guerrilla Games Publisher: SIE Platform(s): PC, PS4
When Horizon Zero Dawn was first announced, it was something of a curiosity that nobody was sure of and how it would work. Robot animals? Tribes? A post-apocalypse? When it launched in 2017, nobody was expecting it to be as great as it was, adding another string to Sony’s impressive PS4 exclusive bow before many years later being revealed to also be coming to PC.
Featuring some of the best visuals of this generation and a gigantic world that’s stacked with weird and wonderful creations to hunt, Horizon is an unusual blend of different ideas and themes that could have gone so wrong, but the guys at Guerrilla delivered in spades.
There’s something so peaceful and jaw-dropping about climbing your first Tallneck and gazing at the land before you; it’s one of those experiences you wish you could bottle and keep forever. If you want something a little bit chillier, its Frozen Wilds DLC is also worth checking out.
“Horizon Zero Dawn boasts a stunningly realized vision of the post-post-apocalypse, accompanied by a fascinating and chilling mystery surrounding the fall of civilization and surprisingly deep and strategic combat which combine to create one of the best new IPs in years.”
6. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Developer: Insomniac Games Publisher: SIE Platform(s): PS4
While it’s true that Marvel’s Spider-Man may not boast the biggest playground of all of the best open world games listed here, it certainly comes up trumps for the way that you traverse. Swinging around Manhattan as Spider-Man is so smooth and simple that you could probably do it for hours as a form of meditation.
As one of the best superhero games around, its world is also stacked with things to see and do. Sure, it’s littered with checklists of collectibles, but the way in which they are presented mean that they are nowhere near as mundane as found in other open world games. With 40+ hours of gameplay all yours to enjoy, it’s time to become a swinger. Wait, not like that.
“With all the freedom it gives you to web-sling through New York City and stick goons to walls, Spider-Man for PS4 is the best Spider-Story I’ve had the pleasure to experience, and even on its own is a brilliant game.”
5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios Publisher: Bethesda Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Switch
Jokes about it being ported to the Gizmodo aside, Skyrim has found a home on so many platforms for one simple reason: it’s brilliant. Also, Bethesda like money, but if you have a golden goose as shiny as Skyrim, why not make the most of it? It may be turning ten years old fairly soon, but that doesn’t stop it from being just as fun and immersive as when it first launched.
You play as the Dragonborn, a person fated with the future of the lands in his hands, but don’t worry about that. Once you have taken a wife and transformed into a werewolf, all of that kind of fades into the background.
Some of its naysayers think that it is on the casual side, though that’s exactly why it’s so easy to pick up and play and why so many still do — there are 18,000 people playing it on Steam as we write this.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Platform(s): Switch, Wii U
Breath of the Wild isn’t an open world game that will hold your hand — its “tutorial” area is one of the toughest introductions you’re ever likely to receive. This lack of guidance also plays into its theme of exploration, which actually works in the game’s favour. You’re never sure what strange gameplay nuance you’re going to find next or what lies at the top of the game’s many mountainous ranges.
You can scale almost any height you find in Breath of the Wild and then glide down again, eager to explore the next nook and investigate the nearest cranny. It’s the franchise’s most expansive and experimental game to date, though its weapon degradation and weak story knock it down a peg.
Aside from those quibbles, if you want almost complete freedom from your open world games and a title that just keeps evolving the more you play, Breath of the Wild is a must.
“While you may find yourself intimidated by the scope and size of Breath of the Wild, persevere and you will find yourself playing perhaps one of the finest games you’ve ever laid your hands on. This game is truly something special and will be long remembered as the classic game it is destined to become.”
3. Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian Publisher: Bethesda Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
It seems to be that the older New Vegas becomes, the more fans it makes, especially after Fallout 4 seemed to too liberally take the “RP” out of RPG.
Seen by many as the best of the new bunch of Fallout games, New Vegas promotes freedom of choice, which includes the choice to totally neglect the storyline and venture off into the many side distractions, which includes picking up a gambling problem.
If you’ve somehow never played New Vegas, you’re missing out on some of the best writing and quest design in RPG history with one quest featuring a presidential assassination almost impossible to shake for many over the years.
Just like Skyrim, the community for New Vegas remains strong and even though it comes with patented Bethesda glitches out of the wazoo, there’s a mod to tidy that up and so much more.
2. Red Dead Redemption
Developer: Rockstar Games Publisher: Take-Two Platform(s): PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
The follow-up to a game that wasn’t anyone’s favourite, Red Dead Redemption’s one of the most revered games of all-time, arguably even more beloved than any entry in the GTA series. It’s easy to see why once you climb atop your mount and start exploring the crumbling era of the Wild West as a more civilised society starts to form in the US.
You play as John Marston: an outlaw looking for redemption from his past life by turning on those who made him notorious. It’s Rockstar’s most effective and heartfelt narrative to date; you shouldn’t like Marston, but his simplicity and understated guilt makes him one of gaming’s most affable protagonists.
A lot of players probably don’t realise that, however, as they were probably too busy trying to make all of the bears in America extinct or playing poker on the Mexican border.
We can totally live with it if you want to swap this for the second game. They’re both masterpieces.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD Projekt Red Publisher: CD Projekt Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
A game so incredible that even Jack Thompson probably has several copies, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a massive gamble from CD Projekt Red. Earlier games in the series were restrictive in scale, so with them letting loose with Wild Hunt and embracing the open world, there were no guarantees that they could deliver. Luckily for almost anyone who’s played The Witcher 3, they knocked it out of the park.
Even those who had never played the previous games were jumping on Wild Hunt and struggling to jump off. Geralt’s last ride features tight and rewarding combat and some gorgeous surroundings, but the main attraction is the questing, which is some of the best and most fleshed out you will find in any game, let alone one on such a grand scale.
The success of The Witcher 3 has resulted in CD Projekt Red being hailed as the saviours of the industry — a tad hyperbolic, but the goodwill they’ve amassed speaks volumes for what a special game The Witcher 3 is. If you haven’t played it yet, stock up on grilled chicken sandwiches and dive right in.