For a few years now, the relatively new open world genre has churned out some of the biggest and most popular games on any console. We’re talking huge worlds populated by players and AI bots, filled with a natural web of narrative options and propelled by the player’s ability to stumble on scattered events and missions. There are worlds within worlds. Some games contain entire tomes that can be plucked from bookshelves and delved into. Strangers stop you in your tracks too and whisk you off onto side quests. Really, it’s a much more chaotic and true to life style of gaming.
So, pretty much every developer out there has tried their hand at building an open world franchise. Many of the biggest releases each year are rooted firmly in this genre. While the offerings only grow increasingly more exciting as each fresh generation of consoles expands in-built mechanics and graphical capabilities. The maps our avatars stroll across have expanded and still continue to grow. While our visibility increases to greater distances and other elements, like wildlife and weather events, serve to heighten the inherent realism of our experience.
In this blog, we’ve focused on the modern era of revolutionary open worlds – the result is our definitive list of the 10 Best Open World Games:
That white-haired Witcher, Geralt, is the star of this gritty medieval fantasy. At times, it feels like a gothic story set in the bucolic countryside. Other times, you’re launched into magical swordfights that would make Peter Jackson blush. A lot of your roaming is done by horse and regularly disrupted by creatures that prey on the local villagers and invite immersive mounted hunts, or excursions by boat, under a rain of sinuous harpies that divebomb into the gunmetal sea around you. Some of those encounters are spectacular and truly surprising! There’s also plenty of time spent in candlelit keeps, with shady characters, steering dialogue. Or, you’re out getting into fistfights in thatched taverns, and then spilling onto the furrowed country roads. Witcher’s open world is usually traversed using waypoints and side quests ripped from notice boards. Aside from the main story, tasks range from helping strangers for gold and trinkets, to picking out question marks on the map, with no discernible idea what awaits you. The world itself feels a little like the northern British Isles, with rugged stacks, hilltop castles and coastal coves, where monsters lurk and rugged characters abound, styled with the kind of wild, grimy realism that made Game of Thrones so popular. (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Sometimes you just want to fire up a console and wreak havoc, right? Well, here’s one game built entirely for that purpose. Let your inner anarchist run loose as you derail trains and surf airborne cars onto ice-capped mountains. Just Cause 3 runs riot across an expansive archipelago, with variations of terrain, quickly traversed using a combo of wing suits, grappling hooks and parachutes. Also, you’ll be hurled into the driver’s seat of more vehicles than Jay Leno has stashed in his biggest garage. This gives you the plenty of opportunities to explore Medici in style as the square-jawed, gadget-toting Rico Rodrigues. Also, the arsenal of weapons at your disposal is pretty much unmatched. So, you can get creative out there, toppling oppressive local governments and tearing down statues in stunning locations. Just Cause also has some of the best sun-dappled underwater graphics out there! We will admit that the storyline is admittedly on the shallow side – it won’t win any awards for character development – but, then again, who needs a clever story arc, when you’re planting pliable explosives on the hood of a monster truck? (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Surely the most original title of 2017, Horizon: Zero Dawn is that game you can’t forget – once you’ve seen it, there’s really nothing else like it. Think Jurassic Park, if all those animatronic dinosaurs suddenly became sentient and made the whole planet their playground. Set on an overgrown dystopian world, with lush vistas and predatory robots, players traverse treacherous ground as the bow-wielding Aloy. Use a range of weapons and stealth tactics as you uncover the stories of the enigmatic Old Ones. Discover ruins concealed among tropical fauna and be sure to stop and take time to admire the innovative graphics and beautifully rendered landscapes – the photo mode should keep you busy! There are also enough side-quests to keep even the most avid gamers happy. Then there’s that great New Game+ mode, which allows you revisit your old tracks in a new light. Plenty to play around with, until we all get our mitts on the gorgeous incoming sequel – Horizon: Forbidden West. (PS4, PS5)
Another one of the more original titles in our list. This one can swing swords with the best of them, whisking players off on a stylish samurai journey, splashed with gore and viscera. Sucker Punch developed an open world so rich it even allows for mindful moments, when you happen upon shrines, springs, lakes and forests swept by trailing leaves. Of course, you can also dabble in a little carnage, cutting through villages and picking off guards with increasingly deft maneouvres. What we love most about this title is the free-flowing gameplay – the way plumes of smoke in the sky guide your movements and the minimal UI frees up your focus. In fact, waypoints are signalled by flitting clouds of birds. It’s an experience that eases your play style and make no attempt to stymie the player into narrow storylines, or patterns of button-bashing behaviour. Instead, you are allowed the freedom to play your own way and to branch at any moment in unexpected directions. (PS4, PS5)
Looking for a game that gives you unlimited freedom? No Man’s Sky could be the closest thing out there. There aren’t many games that allow you to blast up through the ether and perform a seamless transition into space, without any technical hiccups, glitches or cumbersome cutscenes. This is a totally revolutionary game in that regard. The recent updates have allowed this title to evolve as well (there’s now 30 hours of story content and easier ways to jump between planets), notwithstanding the early negative responses from critics. Now, you can plant your feet in the moonboots of an interstellar wayfarer and voyage across star systems, picking out procedurally-generated planets at random, released into a real sense of unfettered exploration that many games lack. There are waves of new features with the updates too. Ridable monsters have sauntered into the game and No Man’s Sky has fast become the ride everyone prayed it would be, when they first caught wind of it. This isn’t just an open world – it’s an entire galaxy, populated with an every-changing array of exotic flora and fauna. (Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, PC)
Ubisoft brought us something totally different with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – a game that expanded beyond the already massive evolution of the previous Origins game. Gone are the days of running rooftops in cities and the surrounding rural areas. Odyssey allows players to range across sun-baked landscapes and oceans, above and below the surface. You can show up on the battlefield for either Athens or Sparta, sail ships through far-out storms and delve into the mythology of Ancient Greece. All while you get to know your chosen mercenary, either Kassandra, or Alexios – sellswords confronted with an endless variety of questlines, twists and surprises. The character design is stunning and the selection of outfits and weapons far surpasses any previous title in this franchise. You can also bulk up your attributes to develop the unique brand of parkour combat that initially made these games so unstoppable. (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The cogwheel door has rolled back on another game in the Fallout franchise. Step out with bleary eyes into the sunlit aftermath of a nuclear winter. You’ll soon discover that all your favourite gameplay elements and quirks have survived from Fallout 3 and New Vegas – what’s more, you have in front of you endless hours of gameplay and discovery. All of this runs along the strong narrative arc of your customised lead seeking their baby, wandering the mangled husk of Boston and following freedom trails through a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Build rust-stained settlements, liberate synths, loot frustrating characters, or hoard your caps to improve your mutant-fighting abilities. See if you don’t fall in love with the cinematic combat mechanics, realistic design elements and astounding world size. (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Everyone talked about this title soon after it came out. It was one of those games that rewarded a total neglect of sunlight and hours spent hunched in dimly lit rooms, staring deep into digital light. How could anyone resist being able to roam freely in a fantasy world, where the lowlands are roamed by herds of shaggy mammoths and dragons swim in the dreary mountain skies. The world of Skyrim sucked us all in with enchanting graphics and myriad wild vistas and detailed locations, from stream-filled hillside villages, to ethereal Dwemer ruins. The lore within this game defies belief and players are endlessly rewarded for their willingness to browse the local castle library. The characters are incredible too! Meet necromancers who animate skeletons, giants who scrap with marauding bandits, and, of course, fend off the occasional dragon as it swoops on strafing runs and spits fireballs from its gaping jaws. You can play 100 hours and still be faced with a long list of untried quests, secret bosses and different ways to customise each of the playable races, from Altmer High Elves to swamp-dwelling Argonians. (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch)
Really, it’s the ultimate open world game when it comes to narrative options and unexpected variations of entertainment. All players are catered for here, in this modern day hive of scum and villainy. Even the naysayers will find themselves tantalised after a mere few minutes of gameplay. Whether you race dirt bikes down winding mountain roads, or head out into the ocean in a submarine – you can even swim to the map edge and tousle with a circling shark! What makes this game so special, though, is the film-worthy array of intelligently realised characters (that dishevelled Wildman, Trevor Philips, is an obvious highlight). It’s not just the lead characters either! You can pull off the freeway, roll into a nondescript truck stop and suddenly be confronted by a rich tapestry of human activity. And you’re always rewarded for straying off the travelled path in search of a good ol’ criminal adventure. (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
The closest thing we’ve found to a cinematic gameplay experience – second, maybe, to The Last of Us series. Follow the epic tale of Dutch and his nomadic gang – watch the fall of this iconic character, as he wrestles with his own destructive ego, from the perspective of a loyal stalwart, called Arthur Morgan. The attention to detail in Rockstar’s spur-jangling baby was staggering. You really will feel like you’ve just kicked the saloon doors open and swaggered into the Wild West. You can do pretty much anything. Break wild horses. Engrave guns. Collect pelts to customise your outfits. Hop onto and take control of steam trains. Hunt dinosaur bones. Settle down into frontier ranch life. Get a fresh haircut before causing a ruckus at the local grocery store. Seriously, you can pour hours into this game and still only scratch a fingernail width of grime off the surface. In terms of side-quests and stranger encounters, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice. At one point, we were lost in the woods and stumbled on a naked, feral man, who then ran off and led us into a cave filled with wolves. We dispatched of the wolves and this man proceeded to turn in a bawling fit and attack us with a knife. It turns out he is ‘The Wolf Man’ – just one of a few events that show how packed with wonderful absurdity this game is. (PS4, Xbox One).