There’s something special and truly remarkable about video games that manage to grab you from minute one and never let go. The feeling of being completely open and available to do whatever you want at any time is something that very few games achieve. And when they do, it puts the games in a pedigree of their own. Here are our top 10 picks for the BEST open world games, of all time.
Minor Spoilers Ahead
10 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
When Breath of the Wild launched in 2017 to universal acclaim, one of the biggest selling points was that of the massive open world at your fingertips. Almost immediately after beginning the game, the entire map was opened up for players to explore at their leisure.
Massive towers dotted the landscape for you to climb. Imposing mountains bordered ominous valleys. Massive sky dragons could be found roaming the clouds. Vast seas of desert sand and rolling grassy plateaus stretched off into the distance.
Walking out of the starting area in Breath of the Wild is one of 2017’s best moments in gaming. Nintendo does one thing better than any other developer out there; a sense of pure childlike wonder. Staring up at things that dwarf you in size, and wondering how you can climb it.
9 – Horizon: Zero Dawn
Guerilla Games is best known nowadays for the fantastic game Horizon: Zero Dawn. And for very good reason, as it is one of 2017’s best games, period. With a great story and wonderful character writing, but more importantly; a spectacular open ended map to explore.
Where Zero Dawn distanced itself from other games was the sheer verticality and intensity of the open world design. The roaming robot animals that could sometimes stretch higher than a building, gave it a very Jurassic Park like feeling. Constantly feeling like a tiny ant, but an ant with a nasty bite.
Exploring the world as Alloy felt intuitive, sharp and methodical. Rewarding players for thinking outside the box and for taking risks. Equal parts SciFi terror, open world beauty and an astonishing sense of scale.
8 – Ghost of Tsushima
One of 2020’s best games so far is also one of the downright prettiest and best open worlds to ever grace gaming in all of history. Feudal Japan sets up a gorgeous and meticulously detailed world that is only rivaled by a very select few games.
Pink cherry blossom trees, white flowers, tall swaying grass, distant clouds, imposing hills and valleys, gorgeous sunsets, massive rainstorms etc. Tsushima found a line between photorealistic and pure art and molded the two together to create something that is visual emotion at it’s finest.
Nothing in Tsushima is ugly, everything drips style and creativity like it’s life depends on it. From the very beginning to the very end, Tsushima constantly blew my mind with it’s open world design and graphics.
7 – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Did you really think that Skyrim wasn’t going to find its way onto this list at some point? While I’m not the biggest fan of Skyrim’s abundance of bugs and glitches (including one that deleted my save files yippee) it’s sheer freedom is incredible. Literally from the minute you start the game, you are free to do whatever your heart desires.
Want to go find the university and learn the ins and outs of magic? No problem at all. What about exploring that distant mountain range to battle epic monsters? Sure, go right ahead. How about exploring those forests and maybe discovering the Dark Brotherhood? Yup, you absolutely can.
Everything in Skyrim is accessible one way or another. Nearly every crevice and location has something of value, a clever easter egg or just something cool to see. And when that same world is also dominated by flying dragons, trolls, massive spiders etc. You really do feel like you’ve been transported into a fantasy world.
Until one of a billion glitches kills the moment for you.
6 – The Outer Worlds
Obsidian Entertainment gave gamers one of the most underappreciated and underplayed RPGs in gaming history in 2019. Hilarious, jaw dropping and tons of fun, The Outer Worlds gave gamers several different planets to go get themselves lost in.
Packed to the gills with personality, varying color and a terrific art style that Obsidian does all too well. We really mean it when we say that Outer Worlds manages to wow you with it’s open worlds and art style design.
Looking up and seeing massive planets circling each other, vast galaxies spanning the night sky or even a bubbling metropolis. It feels like a true SciFi world where anything can happen, and as you explore more places, anything just might,
5 – Batman: Arkham Knight
While it may not have as much immediately endless content as games like Breath of the Wild or Skyrim, it succeeds in many other places. Two of those places that we’ll use for example are: Emotional theme and graphics.
When it comes to the theme/style/emotion of open worlds, no one really quite nails the tone like Rocksteady did. Maybe the closest competitor would be From Software with the Dark Souls games. Arkham Knight’s open ended Gotham City feels oppressive, dark and brooding to the fullest. With sharp Gothic architecture and bright neon lights, betraying the violence under the surface.
Secondly, the graphics in this game, especially from something that’s pushing 6 years old, are simply next level. Character animations are out of this world, map textures are detailed and sharp, the rain physics are next gen level etc. Seeing individual raindrops slide down building walls, even tiny little lights casting long shadows and dank alleyways never fails to impress us. At every turn, there is some tiny detail that you don’t always appreciate, but Rocksteady puts it in there regardless.
While some people love to hate on Arkham Knight, we think that it’s both the best open world, and the best in the series. So far anyway.
4 – Grand Theft Auto V
While we love to give credit to developers like Nintendo for childlike wonder and Guerilla Games for their sense of scale, Rockstar is on another level. No one, and we mean no one, quite manages the insane levels of detail and physicality that go into Rockstar’s open worlds.
Grand Theft Auto has long been considered one of the best open world series ever made, and V carries that torch brilliantly. You can basically live out an entire life inside of GTA V. Go to the barber, purchase a car, rent out apartments, fill your car with gas, walk to the beach, go hunting for wild animals etc. If there were ever a poster child for a game world that feels alive and evolving, it would be GTA V.
Mix in the insane physicality of the world, and you have a recipe for perfection. Tiny little imperfections in the street paint only visible on zooming in. Your character’s clothes only get wet by direct contact or only up the level of water you walk into. Individual grains of sand getting stuck to your character on the beach… The list is far, far too long to go into every little detail.
3 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt Red is one of those developers that clearly have two goals in mind when they create a games open world: One, a sense of art and emotion that conveys a clear line of inspired fantasy and heavy use of color. Two, that every nook and cranny carries a story and something for players to find.
Witcher 3’s huge open world is something that cannot be properly summed up into words. Red’s excessive usage of deep orange sunsets, spectacular ambient lighting, huge sprawling vistas and deep saturation. Everything coalesces into something beautiful and otherworldly to look at.
And the stories that can be found within are just as meticulously created. There’s a history to Witcher’s world, and that history is poured into all of the detail and personality within the world itself. You can learn so much in an hour of exploring and yet in one hundred hours, know nothing at all. They single handedly created a fantasy world that is so awe inspiring, it has never been rivaled since.
2 – Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Remember how we said that very few games manage to nail the sense of scale when it comes to open world design? Well, while that list is short, there is one clear master at pulling it off; Ubisoft.
Every Assassin’s Creed game has managed to up the ante in open world design by leaps and bounds each and every time. From the canals of Venice to the streets of Rome to the open world sea of the Atlantic ocean. Then in Origins Ubisoft stepped it up again with massive pyramids and deserts of Egypt. Now, they somehow managed to set the new bar for massive scale in Odyssey.
Exploring ancient Greece from the vast sea to the insanely large individual islands. All dotted with spectacular detail, hundreds of characters, hundreds of hours of quests and secrets in every cave. Climbing, leaping and staring at the vast playground that Ubisoft created is like nothing you’ve ever seen in gaming.
1 – Red Dead Redemption II
Despite everything that we praised Odyssey for, there can be only one winner of the best open world game ever designed. That honor, probably to not many people’s surprise, is that of Red Dead Redemption II. Rockstar’s magnum opus and love letter to the Old West genre, RDRII is a masterpiece. Full stop.
The tiniest of details in RDRII is where this open world truly shines. Different NPC’s from town to town, growing facial hair, realistic animal genitalia, realistic weather patterns, individual hoofprints in the mud… Just… It’s mind blowing stuff to witness in game.
Detail is nice and all, but it can get boring if it’s present in a world that looks the same from one end to the other. Luckily, RDRII is as varied as it is technically impressive.
Deserts, canyons, snowy tall mountains, claustrophobic swamplands, marshes, grassy plains, seaside and everything in between. If you could ever look at a game world and marvel at how close it is to reality, it would be RDRII. There is nothing else quite like it, and that’s why it is our number one selection for the best open world of all time.
So hope you guys enjoyed that list! We have plenty more just like it all over our gaming categories. Normally we don’t number them, but we thought we’d do something a little different this time around with these selections.
What do you think is the best open world in gaming? Do you have a favorite or do you not really care for open worlds in games? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to check back here for more lists like this!
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