Developer: BioWare Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 Players: Single-Player
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.
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One Players: Single-Player
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. Its sequel (of sorts) is also worth checking out.
“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.”
Developer: Mobius Digital Publisher: Annapurna Interactive Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One Players: Single-Player
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.
17. Watch Dogs 2
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One Players: Single-Player & Multiplayer
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.
Developer: Game Freak Publisher: Nintendo Platform(s): Switch Players: Single-Player
How did it take nearly a quarter of a century for Pokémon to finally adopt an open world? Your guess is as good as ours, but while Arceus isn’t quite a perfect vision brought to life, it was certainly worth the wait and hints at a bright future for a series that had begun to feel safe.
Taking place in the early days of Pokémon canon, Arceus is set in the wide world of Hisui and sees you being sent back in time to complete an early version of the Pokédex. Capturing Pokémon requires less monotony than before, as you don’t need to battle them, though the battles themselves feel far more varied and less restrictive. It’s not a grand reinvention, but it does feel like a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, while the story in Pokémon games is always arguably the weakest aspect, it’s especially poor in Arceus, with reams and reams of bland exposition being doled out to the player. Still, if it’s gameplay you want, Arceus refreshes the franchise incredibly well.
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio Publisher: Sega Platform: PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One Players: Single-Player
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.
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U Players: Single-Player
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 Players: Single-Player & Multiplayer
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.
Dying Light 2 is also worthy of a spot here, but it does just as much right as it does wrong, meaning that it’s hard to justify its spot over the original.
12. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Developer: Kojima Productions Publisher: Konami Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 Players: Single-Player & Multiplayer
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.
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 Players: Single-Player
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.
10. Bully (Canis Canem Edit)
Developer: Rockstar Games Publisher: Take-Two Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, PS2, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii Players: Single-Player
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 the small but packed open world of Bully; ironic considering how often education is likened to imprisonment.
Developer: Rockstar Games Publisher: Take-Two Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, PS3, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, Xbox 360 Players: Single-Player
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. Need proof? There wasn’t a new entry on the PlayStation 4, making it the first PlayStation console in history to have no new GTA game.
Developer: Guerrilla Games Publisher: SIE Platform(s): PC, PS4 Players: Single-Player
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, while its sequel, Forbidden West, ups the visuals but does lose some of the novelty in its world.
“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.”
Developer: Insomniac Games Publisher: SIE Platform(s): PS5, PS4 Players: Single-Player
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.”
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios Publisher: Bethesda Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Switch Players: Single-Player
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.
Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Platform(s): Switch, Wii U Players: Single-Player
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.”
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.
3. Red Dead Redemption
Developer: Rockstar Games Publisher: Take-Two Platform(s): PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 Players: Single-Player
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.
2. Elden Ring
Developer: FromSoftware Publisher: Bandai Namco Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X & S, Xbox One Players: Single-Player & Multiplayer
As much as Elden Ring isn’t for everyone (and it really doesn’t need to be), FromSoftware’s first major foray into the open world space converted more cynics than ever for one simple reason: it’s dang good.
Whereas many open world games at the time of its release felt like checklists to tick off, Elden Ring only very briefly holds the player’s hand before throwing them off a cliff. Elden Ring took the freedom that made Breath of the Wild such a revelation and did it even better.
The Lands Between offers quite possibly the most fascinating open world to explore since open worlds started becoming the done thing, as it really captures the essence of exploration. One minute, you’re hitting a bush and helping some monkey man to become a tailor, the next you’re in the reddest, angriest place in video game history and desperately trying to survive.
Elden Ring holds no punches and constantly makes you put your foolish ambitions to rest, though it does give players more tools than ever to overcome its significant challenge. One of the only major criticisms of Elden Ring is that it’s perhaps too vague with its systems sometimes, especially its secondary quests. It’s far too easy sometimes to completely lose track of who you need to talk to and where. Sure, it adds to the joy of discovery, but even a small log of some kind that the player themselves can write in would help them to keep things far straighter.
That’s really all that Elden Ring can be dinged on, though. It is pretty much the perfect open world game, and maybe FromSoftware’s best game to date.
Developer: CD Projekt Red Publisher: CD Projekt Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch Players: Single-Player & Multiplayer
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.
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