If there’s one genre of video games that’s really exploded in this generation, for better or worse, it’s open world games. 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.
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.
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.
40. Mass Effect: Andromeda
Developer: BioWare Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
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. Thanks to it completely underwhelming in sales figures, you can pick it up for a pittance, too.
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. 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.
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.
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.
36. The Long Dark
Developer: Hinterland Studio Inc. Publisher: Hinterland Studio Inc. Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
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. If you can master The Long Dark and its oppressive difficulty, you can master any game. Without a doubt one of the best survival games.
35. 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.
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.
33. Mad Max
Developer: Avalanche Studios Publisher: WB Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
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.
32. No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games Publisher: Hello Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
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. Still can’t forgive it for that “ending”, though.
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 updates, including the re-introduction of Sam Fisher.
30. Don’t Starve
Developer: Klei Entertainment Publisher: Klei Entertainment Platform(s): almost everything
A survival game before survival games were cool, Don’t Starve’s developers, Klei Entertainment, may have watched a lot of Tim Burton movies before they made the game. 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.
29. State of Decay 2
Developer: Undead Labs Publisher: Microsoft Studios Platform(s): XB1, PC
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 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. Included with Game Pass, so you should at least try it if you have an Xbox One.
Developer: Rare Publisher: Microsoft Studios Platform(s): XB1, PC
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.
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.
26. Sleeping Dogs
Developer: United Front Games Publisher: Square Enix Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, XB1, 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 anm absolute steal these days, making it the perfect weekend game if you’re yet to play it.
Developer: DONTNOD Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
The newest game on this list, Vampyr’s world isn’t as large as the others but it’s certainly 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 has some solid combat and a storyline worth diving into, either.