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The 16 best open world games of all time

Open world games have always fascinated gamers for how they facilitate various approaches and playstyles. Here are the 16 best open world games ever released.

An open world refers to a game or level that is designed to be nonlinear. The player is able to interact with an area that can be explored in order to accomplish tasks in whatever way they see fit. The best open world games use the world itself as the main mechanic guiding the player’s experience, often alongside other defining game design elements.

The games listed here all feature an open world for the player to use, but each game uses their open world differently, with unique mechanics attached to some of them. So without further ado, here are our 16 best open world games of all time.

Elden Ring

Elden Ring is the perfect combination of open world freedom and the rewarding combat on which FromSoftware built their reputation. There is wonderful environmental storytelling that means you’ll rarely feel directionless, as well as fascinating lore and characters to keep you hooked.

You take on the role of a Tarnished, a group of people shrouded in mystery that for some reason were exiled from their homelands (The Lands Between). After a ‘shattering’ event you, and your fellow Tarnished, are for some reason welcomed back into the fold.

The game features expertly crafted gameplay, art direction that is both awe-inspiring and disturbing, and a world that was crafted by Hidetaka Miyazaki (Dark Souls, Bloodborne) and George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones). Elden Ring is, quite simply, the best open world game in years.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Ever since the first Assassin’s Creed game came out all the way back in 2007, with Valhalla releasing late last year, the Ubisoft series has been a staple for its brand of engaging exploration and strong combat.

While the past few entries are firmly RPGs with stats, Black Flag is perhaps the last game cut from the old cloth without those elements that can needlessly complicate the overall experience. Expanding upon the fun but under-utilised naval combat from Assassin’s Creed IIIBlack Flag constructs a whole slice of 18th century Caribbean for the player to make their pirate playground.

Playing as pirate Edward Kenway, the player can upgrade their ship and sail around to their heart’s content. Black Flag also distinguished itself from the rest of the series with a strong story; while the modern-day narrative was as bog-standard as it usually gets, Kenway proved a generally more engaging protagonist than III’s Connor and a return to someone like Ezio, but still distinct.

Pirates in general are underrepresented in gaming and despite Black Flag being seven years old, it remains the premier swashbuckling gaming experience, complete with a wide open sea to sail around.

Grab Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is available on most platforms via the Ubisoft Store.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

While Skyrim is indeed the more accessible game with streamlined systems and modern conveniences, Oblivion is arguably the more rewarding adventure with stronger quest design and a more engaging world.

Even though the 2006 title doesn’t graphically hold up at all compared to the 2011 sequel, there’s something about the various side quests of Cyrodiil properly facilitating different styles of play – from the stealth of the Dark Brotherhood or the Thieves Guild to gladiator battles in the Arena.

Besides, whatever issues you have with the base game can always be improved through the wide and diverse modding scene. But at the end of the day, the memorable characters and quests of both the main story and side stuff belongs to the base game.

Since Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda, you can get Oblivion for Xbox or PC via Game Pass.

Fallout: New Vegas

Though Bethesda maintains its ownership on the historical Fallout franchise, this spin-off handled by an Obsidian Entertainment crew made up of several members of the original Black Isles Studio team remains the best 3D Fallout experience.

While Bethesda were able to build interesting worlds in both 3 and 4, they weren’t able to fill it with interesting gameplay that could utilise the space quite as well. From Obsidian, its post-apocalyptic Mojave Wasteland offers an incredible amount of player freedom to decide the future of Las/New Vegas in a brilliantly written main quest and even better side quests.

Want to be a hyper-intelligent doctor/scientist that can’t talk to save their life? Or perhaps a shoot first, ask questions later brute? Or even a smooth-talking kleptomaniac? It’s all possible. Just be sure to pick this game up on PC to patch and mod it to technical stability because the base technical experience isn’t flawless.

Since Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda, you can get Fallout: New Vegas for Xbox or PC via Game Pass.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It’s telling that there is now an influx of games inspired by Breath of the Wild that all bring something of their own to the table. From Genshin Impact mixing it with gacha mechanics to Immortals Fenix Rising using the Greek mythology aesthetic, these newer games ultimately do not stack up to the original.

While all the games on this list are most definitely open world, there are certain restrictions that each impose on the player for their exploration in the world; most commonly herding them across the map through story progression and mission placement.

Though Breath of the Wild does have this sort of progression present, the design of Hyrule is instead founded upon the idea of players being naturally interested in various in-game landmarks. Real interest fuels its flow, rather than a series of developer-placed checkpoints.

Combined with its deceptively simple mechanics, the game proves intoxicating in crafting unique stories and experiences that each player can claim as their own, from fighting a Lynel without any armour to expanding your cookbook. A Nintendo Switch exclusive, Breath of the Wild matches its system with its spirit, being exceedingly modern and innovative through a certain sense of simplicity and quaintness.

Grand Theft Auto V

It would be absolutely sacrilegious to talk about open world games and not include a Grand Theft Auto game. While Rockstar may not have invented the genre, its formula proves a hit with whatever direction they take the long-running crime franchise in.

With GTA V, its world of Los Santos is truly a playground for the player to run around in, either in single-player as one of the three protagonists or in Online with all of its wacky additions. It almost feels unnecessary to discuss what the game offers considering how ubiquitous the series’ influence can be found throughout the genre.

But there’s still something about causing incredible amounts of chaos and explosions over land, sea, and air versus all the cops and criminals the game world can throw at you and still coming out on top. GTA V is about to enter its third generation of consoles late this year and it’s clear why it continues to defy Father Time.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

It’s a damn shame that Konami and series creator Hideo Kojima split on such acrimonious terms and that MGSV is ultimately unfinished as a result, but what we were able to get with Kojima’s last Metal Gear title was perhaps the best gameplay in the entire series.

It turns out that the series formula fits the open world format like a bespoke suit; silently crawling through the mountains of Afghanistan is just as exhilarating as using a cardboard box as a sled to bowl enemy soldiers over.

Built on the Fox Engine, the game looks absolutely fantastic as Venom Snake builds up an army to help him in his quest for vengeance. While the story ultimately has more value as a meta commentary on the player’s relationship with the long-running series than as an addition into the extremely complicated Metal Gear lore, don’t let that detract from it being one of the best open world games you can experience.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

When Shadow of Mordor was first announced, many rolled their eyes at it supposedly being a Lord of the Rings-branded Assassin’s Creed. What came instead was one of the best open world games ever made, built around one of the most innovative systems ever seen in gaming.

One of the main selling points of open world games is that they allow for experiences that are truly the player’s own, which is why the Nemesis system changed everything (even if it hasn’t been replicated in other games since). By procedurally generating various unique Uruks, the player can encounter them and form their own narratives. Defeating them will empower the player with various buffs, but it’s what happens if the player doesn’t kill them that creates a whole new game.

Those Uruks that survive or kill the player become more and more powerful, getting promoted in the ranks for their efforts, and the player will keep encountering them until they are dead. Every player will have their own unique Nemesis and as you compare your experience to others, you see stories and narratives that are truly your own special Lord of the Rings tales.

Minecraft

It almost feels like that no matter what happens in the gaming world, Minecraft will remain an absolute constant. Even though the base of punching trees, mining for diamonds, and running away from Creepers remains the same no matter how your world generates, it remains just as engrossing after all these years.

With the constant amount of content being added to the game through updates, the experience continues to remain fresh. And of course, the game’s blocky aesthetic has become iconic in so many ways. But this simplicity adds to the main experience of constructing creations that are truly your own, such as building the dream house that you’ll never be able to afford thanks to the housing market.

Or maybe you want to make some sort of redstone contraption where only you know how it works. That’s the beauty behind Minecraft – its open world is yours for the taking and truly allows you to impart your mark upon it.

Red Dead Redemption II

While Rockstar are known for having an incredible eye for detail in ways previously not thought possible, Red Dead Redemption II took that up to 11. From the various ways the environment can affect your play to the various details animal carcasses have and are subject to, the 2018 title demonstrates how cutting-edge hardware further enabled Rockstar’s constant ambitions to make one of the greatest open world games of all time.

The vision of a changing Wild West is absolutely stunning, bolstered by an incredible story and an amazing performance from Roger Clark as Arthur Morgan, a veteran member of the Van der Linde gang who sets to make the best of what he can with his rough-and-tumble lifestyle.

Of course, you can definitely come and stay for the serious Wild West. Or you can relish in a Wild West world Rockstar have crafted with exotic animals, big characters, and just generally strange stuff all around. No spoilers here, try to see what random, surreal encounters you can find in Red Dead Redemption 2.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

With all the controversy surrounding Cyberpunk 2077, its best to come and look at CD Projekt Red’s previous game to show what the Polish studio is truly capable of. While there is a bit of rose-tinted glasses in that statement, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt truly came into its own following the post-launch support with two free expansions and plenty of patches.

Though The Witcher 3 forms part of a game trilogy based off the series of fantasy novels of the same name, the game does an excellent job in ensuring that newcomers to the world aren’t overwhelmed by crazy amounts of lore. Of course, if you’ve somehow played the previous two games and/or read the novels, your studies are well rewarded with plenty of references.

But it’s the open world that really sells The Witcher 3. With so much detail packed into every facet of the playable area, its a testament to how CD Projekt Red is able to maintain this effort in such a large world with so many different looks, interesting characters, and magnificent beasts.

Ghost of Tsushima

Open world games are often judged in a similar way to dreams, meaning there is a certain amount of wish fulfilment that goes into the equation. Ghost of Tsushima leans hard into Japanese history and mythology, making it the perfect escape for anyone who has ever fantasised about life as a samurai warrior.

Set in 1274, you take on the role of Jin Sakai as he struggles for revenge against a powerful invading Mongol army. However, the island of Tsushima has more than just wargames available and so, like in any good open world game, you will find yourself exploring, collecting items, befriending animals and… well, a whole lot of fighting with swords.

The world of Ghost of Tsushima is a true revelation too, its stunning vistas and beautifully rendered wildlife providing all the motivation you need to branch out and experience whatever you want. And the gorgeous fields of flowers; befitting only of a game as good as this one.

Death Stranding

Death Stranding, much like Hideo Kojima’s last game (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), was criticised in some circles for how seriously it took being an open world game. And to be honest, it isn’t hard to see why; gamers looking for the adrenaline-fuelled stealth action he built his reputation upon would be bitterly disappointed.

For those, however, with a more open mind, Death Stranding proved a uniquely beautiful and weird experience that broke new ground for the video game industry.

Sporting an inspired soundtrack, a cast full of A-list talent and enough trippy imagery to earn the moniker Lynchian, this is a game for those that like exploring worlds both physical and metaphysical. It also probably wouldn’t hurt if you have a soft spot for delivery drivers going in, as you will be taking on the role of the postman of the post-apocalypse.

Skyrim

Skyrim is a landmark title in the open world genre and, despite developer Bethesda’s design principles being somewhat divisive, it truly is a remarkable achievement. Hell, if it wasn’t do you really think it would have been rereleased/remastered/remixed half a million times since its release in 2011?

Didn’t think so; the people want Skyrim and they want it because it is arguably the pinnacle of open world games.

The game world is huge and densely packed with top-notch environmental storytelling, which is necessary because the rest of the game’s storytelling is about as gripping as televised lawn bawls. You are the chosen one and you must bring order to the land by yelling like a dragon, or some other random shit.

The real story of Skyrim is whatever you want it to be, a collection of moments and events that you experience in an order and way that no other player likely has before. And when you realise that, the game is undeniable.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Setting an open world game in a post-apocalyptic world is a risky proposition. Open world games succeed when players want to spend as much time as possible within that world, and when your world is a dark and constant reminder of how horrible and depraved humanity is that can be tricky to pull off.

Horizon Zero Dawn is its own beast though, with Guerrilla Games crafting a world so vibrant and full of life that you will probably forget it even is post-apocalyptic.

Combining a likable cast of characters, astonishing artistic direction (whoever designed the giant giraffe robots needs more recognition) and a story that is surprisingly touching, Horizon Zero Dawn is easy to recommend.

Far Cry 3

With Far Cry 3 Ubisoft stumbled on a recipe that proved so delicious, so enthralling and addictive, that they’ve stopped searching for anything else. An isolated island that is beautiful but deadly. A villain that is larger than life and impossible to look away from. And enough guns, vehicles and freedom to satisfy the entire state of Texas.

While Far Cry 3 has less scope than some of the other open world games on this list, it succeeds on its own terms. It is a sandbox game that offers you a few tools, shows you a sandcastle (full of maniacs) and then prods you to get creative – and by creative we really mean destructive.

The story of Far Cry 3, while simple, offers a decent amount of motivation for your quests; meaning that while you will be wandering you will be doing so with serious intent. Think of it as an open world game with a tighter than average focus, which in my opinion is by no means a bad thing.