There is nothing better than being completely and utterly devoured by a game. The best games create worlds that keep you drawn in. Those often come in the form of open world games. The best open world games let you dive deep into the lore and story of a world through exploration, world design, and gameplay elements. They also offer some of the best escapes in gaming if you need a respite from the world around you.
Open world games come in many flavors. While most feature a fantasy setting full of mythical creatures and magic, some are grounded in reality and have you explore fictional versions of cities you might know. Most, though not all, offer some form of character customization to let you live your full-on fantasy as whoever you’d like.
No matter what, though, the best open world games allow you to move through an epic world full of things to do, people to talk to, and places to discover.
We know this list is huge and it’s aimed not just at gamers but anyone just getting into gaming, so bear with us and tell us in the comments how much you despise some of our choices.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Origins is the tenth entry in the Assassin’s Creed series. The game is primarily set in Egypt and features a world full of things to discover – from pyramids to mummies. It also helps that developers consulted with historians who specialize in Egyptian history to make the open world especially accurate and lively.
You are also able to explore underwater, a first in many years for the series. If that wasn’t enough, you can also get caught up in a sandstorm while exploring the vast world. Just don’t get turned around and lost!
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Odyssey, the eleventh entry in the series, lets players explore ancient Greece. It is also the point where the series officially transitioned from a stealth-based game to a full-on action RPG. As you venture throughout the world, the decisions you make will change the world around you.
The world around you is reactive and epic, and the map size clocks in at just over 90 square miles. It is full of breathtaking views, and if you get tired of hoofing it on foot, take to a boat and travel by water.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
If you’ve ever wanted to spend time in a fully realized world as a Viking raider, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is the game for you. The game’s world is fully realized with NPCs to stumble across who need help, hidden caves to discover, and your own settlement to grow.
Players can lead raids across the game’s world map and secure resources to further grow their settlement, which returns for the first time since Black Flag. Valhalla is often considered one of the best in the series and it is also one of the best open world games. Not to mention one of the best Viking games.
Avernum: Escape From the Pit
If you haven’t dived into an old-school, isometric RPG before, Escape From the Pit is perfect to get lost in. Its world contains eighty towns and dungeons to explore and hundreds of quests. Much of the game can be completed in any order – an addition most modern games lack.
There is a sense of freedom the game offers that can’t be matched in most games, and there is a major focus on world-building and lore. It’s not a game you’ll want to skip through the dialogue in, though, if you do that for any narrative-driven game, you might be a monster.
While this loot and shoot game has, technically, just a semi-open world, there is still a lot of ground to cover in its various regions. The game’s setting is very much inspired by Space Westerns and is designed using a combination of photorealism and comic book style imagery.
What makes Borderlands 2 especially fun is killing enemies and acquiring procedurally generated weapons and armor as loot. This ensures there are many options to outfit your character of choice as you explore and blast baddies through space.
There have not been many open world zombie games. Despite some critiques for the game’s story and characters, the setting of Days Gone lets players explore a vast and fully realized world where survival is key. It takes place in a fictionalized Pacific Northwest.
You play as former-outlaw Deacon St. John as he searches for his wife. He can explore on foot or motorcycle, and the game features a horde system where the game’s zombies, called freakers, can congregate in masses of up to 500. Only the best open world games could successfully implement something like that.
Some people dog it, but Death Stranding is a fantastic open world game if you enjoy taking in the sights. While the package delivery game isn’t for everyone, it’s hard not to at least find the beauty in its open world with rolling hills, lush green grass, and snowy mountain peaks.
If you enjoy Hideo Kojima games, there is plenty of weirdness and ‘what the hell’ moments to delight in. You also get one of the best gaming performances in recent years with Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Clifford Unger.
Divinity: Original Sin Ii
Divinity: Original Sin II is a love letter to the games that came before it. It is a game that is so aware of its freedom and open world that it’s hard not to love it. While some can be overwhelmed at all that you can do, it’s worth taking the time to explore the game fully. It’s easy to put in ten hours and still be exploring one city.
NPCs are lively and chatty and towns are full of things to do and quests to complete. There are also a variety of party members and each has different interactions with people in the world leading to different conversations, story building, and lore.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
It’s been a long while since we’ve gotten to enjoy a new Dragon Age game, but Inquisition still holds up today. While technically it isn’t “open world,” the game’s vast regions and areas to explore still offer a lot to explore, do, and see.
Several years on, it still holds up well and looks gorgeous. If you need a game that fully embraces all things fantasy, Inquisition will let you explore an epic world full of dragons, magic, and people to meet.
Dragon’s Dogma fully embraces all things fantasy in this open-world action RPG. You get to explore the world as one of the Arisen – a character you get to customize. There is an entire world to explore full of, you guessed it, Dragons, other mystical beasts, and magic.
It features varied gameplay and some really epic boss battles where you’re able to climb onto the backs of the enemies you’re fighting. It’s also one of just a few open world games available on the Nintendo Switch.
Not very many games employ a parkour system, but Dying Light does so with finesse. The game is set in the city of Harran in the Middle East. Players explore a sprawling city full of zombies. In the daytime, they are clumsy and slow but at night aggressive and quick.
You’re able to fully traverse the city by running, climbing, and jumping on almost anything. You can jump from roof to roof to avoid zombies. Like the best open world games, Dying Light blends exploration with combat and encounters with NPCs to make for a memorable experience.
Before Oblivion and Skyrim, there was Morrowind. A sprawling epic fantasy open world game that took inspiration from Middle Eastern and East Asian art. Oh, and with a little steampunk flavor thrown in the mix too.
Morrowind is a huge game. It’s made to feel even larger thanks to its unconventional system to get around the world. While there isn’t the traditional fast travel there are other methods like magic, boats, and silt striders, giant bug-like creatures. Because these aren’t all interconnected it makes everything feel more tangible since you must keep track of where you are and where you’re going since you can’t fast travel like in, say, Skyrim.
Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
Deciding which Elder Scrolls is best depends on what you’re looking for in an open world, fantasy RPG. If you’re in it for the story and quest variety, Oblivion is unmatched. Its open world is full of things to do, people to meet, and quests that have a lot of depth to them no matter how small or insignificant it seems.
While it had a slight bump with its Horse Armor DLC, its DLC for The Shivering Isles transports players to a new world full of whacky and weirdness that can be hard to find today.
Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
It’s everywhere. It’s been meme’d a million memes. That doesn’t make it less fun. While the story and characters aren’t quite as memorable as Oblivion’s, the gameplay is a bit more refined.
Skyrim’s leveling system where your skills grow the more you use them is a fun and interesting take. It meshes well with how customizable this lets you be in your playstyle. There is an entire, giant world to get lost in with things to discover, weapons to find, and magic to use. And thanks to the wide variety of Skyrim mods available out there, the game offers near endless replayability.
Even though it’s the third entry in the series, it was Fallout’s first foray into the open world RPG genre, and it helped cement itself as a frontrunner in the genre. Fallout 3 brings players out of The Vault into a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by nuclear war. Many of the game’s quests offer decisions that matter.
It also helps that Fallout 3 is surprisingly funny with some of the dialogue and options you can choose as the player. The game features a robust amount of gameplay features that range from a sophisticated targeting system called V.A.T.S. to companions who can come with you across the Capital Wasteland.
Fallout New Vegas
Taking place four years after the story of Fallout 3, New Vegas takes players into the wide-open world of what used to be Las Vegas. New Vegas’s gameplay is a bit more refined than Fallout 3’s.
There are more ways to play, things to do and explore, and a lot more quests. RPG elements are also a bit more heavy-handed in New Vegas with a focus on more crafting and survival mechanics. Many rank it as one of the best open world games of all time.
Fallout 4 shows that there was still more for Bethesda to learn even after releasing Fallout 3 and New Vegas. While many would argue it doesn’t live up to the highs of its predecessors. That didn’t stop it from winning numerous Game of the Year awards for its excellent story, settlement building, and refined Perk system.
The wasteland also has never looked or played better thanks to a fully supported mod system that will let you do almost anything you want in the game.
Far Cry 3
While there have been many entries since Far Cry 3, it’s still the Far Cry game that put it on the map with its lush open world set on an island. The game begins as a group of friends mistakingly skydive onto an island with some very bad people.
The island itself takes center stage with its unpredictable wildlife and varied locales to explore. Players can approach quest objectives in a number of ways and stealth is particularly rewarding. Like many open world games, it includes some role-playing elements that help keep things interesting.
Final Fantasy 15
After critiques of linearity in Final Fantasy 13, the fifteenth iteration in the Final Fantasy series embraces the opposite and crafts a completely open world. Combat also moves to real-time which seamlessly blends exploration and battles.
To get around the game’s map, players can move on foot, by Chocobo, or by car. There are a number of different region types to explore, dungeons to raid, and characters to meet. Like all role-playing games, side quests help fill out the world and give you reasons to explore it further.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to survive a plane crash into a forest full of cannibalistic creatures, The Forest will answer so many questions you didn’t know you had. It is a non-linear open world survival horror game.
There aren’t any objectives besides doing what you can to survive and finding your son after the crash. You’ll need to keep your wits about you in this open world game while managing things like your hunger and thirst.
Forza Horizon 5
Who knew a car game could be open world? It’s a fictionalized version of Mexico complete with active volcanos, Mayan temples, and jungles. Like many open world games, Forza Horizon 5 lets you customize your player avatar alongside your car.
As you explore the world in your dream car, you’ll be able to see the weather playing out from one side of the map from a distance and see thunderstorms and other phenomena. There are a number of game modes with an Eliminator battle royale and a game called Piñata pop.
While the worlds in the Gothic games aren’t as vast as other fantasy epics, they are a lot more detailed. Games don’t do it quite like this anymore, and it allows for a lot of interactiveness in its world. There is environmental storytelling, like coming upon a half-looted wagon with corpses strewn about, that helps you draw your own conclusions.
Quests are multi-layered and NPCs are connected throughout the game. While some open world games have you meet an NPC once, Gothic has you creating bonds with characters. You’re also able to complete some quests in multiple ways. Need to enter a place you’re not allowed? You could sneak in, dress in disguise, or pose as an alchemist merchant.
Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima plays like you’re in a Kurosawa film. While a lot of the game is frantic with its battles, there are also quieter moments scattered throughout its inspiring world. You’re able to sit and reflect in a hot spring or compose a haiku under a tree. It’s these quieter moments spread across the game’s vast land and offer a relaxing reprise from some of the game’s violence.
The environments in the game, all inspired by 13th century Japan, let you explore in a variety of ways. You can go on foot, ride your horse, or sneak through enemy encampments and take them down slowly one by one.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Grand Theft Auto 5 is one of those games that just won’t go away. And why should it? It’s critically acclaimed, makes a ton of money, and has a lively open world to explore. It’s another one of those games that creates an open world based on the real world.
It is lively and dynamic with non-playable characters who aren’t on set paths. They can be interacted with and there’s always a quest to do or something new to discover. Add in the ability to explore by foot, vehicle, or in the air, and the way you can play feels unlimited.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Some of the best open world games are memorable because they take risks with their story and world design. Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best-selling PlayStation 4 games and part of the reason for that is its imaginative world set in a far-off future.
The game blends future technology with the primitive and the result is a world full of robotic dinosaurs, and it’s up to Aloy to find out what happened and how she is connected. The vast world will take you from settlement to settlement, dungeon to dungeon, and to the tops of mountains and robotic dinosaurs
Just Cause 3
Despite not getting glowing reviews, the world of Just Cause 3 is still a sprawling wonderland to explore. It contains around 400 square miles to explore, and there are a number of ways to get around thanks to the game’s exaggerated physics system.
You can fly with a wingsuit, use a grappling hook, and a parachute. The game, like other entries in the series, embraces causing havoc and destruction through the game’s open world.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
While it might look like a game full of magical quests and dragon slaying, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is anything but. While it does take you through a large open world with knights and swords, the game stays grounded in realism.
Its open world takes place in the early 15th century in the Kingdom of Bohemia. There are a number of branching quests, clothing, weapons, and characters true to the time period, and a whole lot of history.
There aren’t a lot of games where you’re able to play as a detective. L.A. Noire, however, lets you move through different bureaus as you solve cases and explore Los Angeles in this open world action-adventure game. As you explore L.A. you’ll encounter chase sequences, gun battles, and get to stop various street crimes.
What makes it especially worthwhile are the game’s characters and the development they have in the narrative. An open world game relies just as much on the story the game is telling as it does its various biomes.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild turned the Legend of Zelda series on its head with its open world. While it made sense, many were stunned at just how fully realized the world was. With a number of different biomes to explore, there was a little something for everyone.
Not only that but all the expected players and areas were there. From swimming with the Zoras to bouldering with the Gorons, all the expected players were there to interact with in their fully realized worlds.
Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain
It is rare when a game gets near-universally perfect reviews, but Phantom Pain is one game that manages to achieve just that. While reviews aren’t the end all be all in deciding which games are good, they help.
The open world of Phantom Pain encourages you to play how you want, but there is a large focus on non-lethal, stealth gameplay to traversing the world. You’re also able to choose what order to play the story missions which allows you to play how you want to.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Over the years there have been a number of “Simulator” games. Some have been great and others have been less than good. Looking at you, Bee Simulator! Microsoft Flight Simulator, however, is one of, if not the best.
It’s a gorgeous game, and its release was surprisingly timely as it came out during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers a great way to see the world without having to leave your house and looks great while doing it.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
The best open world games often introduce a number of gameplay elements to make the world feel more lived in. Shadow of War’s weather system, day and night cycles, and Nemesis System all strengthen a world that already feels very much alive.
The Nemesis System allows enemies who have killed the player or achieved other objectives to move up the ranks. It also gives them certain traits and fears and lets them remember things that have happened to them at the hands of players. You may come across an enemy you maimed with fire later on in the game, and guess what, they’ll react when you use fire-based attacks!
Minecraft is a giant game, and its world is even bigger. Its fan base has a vast range – from kids to adults. While the game lacks objectives and a story, its sandbox gameplay allows players to build their own worlds and stories which can be perfect for creative gamers.
You’re truly unlimited in where you can go and almost in what you can do. There is a reason it’s one of the best games that isn’t a sequel. It doesn’t need one when it can continue to evolve on its own.
No Man’s Sky
Despite a rocky launch, No Man’s Sky has evolved into one of the most impressive open world games in recent years. It also features the biggest open world on record. With most of the game’s world being procedurally generated, the map could contain as many as eighteen quintillion planets.
If you’re wanting a truly open-world game with a massive map, No Man’s Sky offers up the largest in gaming history. Each planet is populated with creatures, fauna, and different resources to collect.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 is often regarded as one of the best open world games of all time. It has landed at number one on many lists and won tons of Game of the Year awards. It is one o those rare open world games that don’t rely on powers, magic, or sci-fi to fully immerse a player. Instead, it is grounded in reality.
You explore several fictitious states in the US. Much of the game is inspired by America in the late 1800s. You move through the wilderness and explore settlements, meet NPCs and bandits, and see a variety of wildlife.
Risen is an open world action RPG with lots to discover. Most of the game’s world is available from the beginning, but to explore it, you’ll have to put on your adventuring boots and brace yourself for some tough battles. Many areas are guarded or have higher level monsters around them. You could fight them and dive further but that could be a bloody task.
It’s also pleasantly smart when it comes to its quests. If you’re out in the world and kill something or collect something for a quest down the road, you very well may receive a quest complete screen and get credit despite not having collected the quest yet. It’s a fun take that rewards exploring the world.
Many open world survival games pit you solely against AI-controlled enemies, but Rust turns that on its head. On this randomly generated map, you must survive in a world where everything and everyone wants to kill you.
Your goal is to survive against other players while also managing your hunger and thirst. You start out with just a rock and a torch, but you’re able to gather resources to craft more materials. There’s also an emphasis on PVP combat with weapons like bows and guns.
Saints Row 4
The Saints Row series has always had a laser focus on parody in its games, and the fourth outing is no different. In the game, you’re an agent of mayhem. You’ll play as the President of the United States who must save the world from an alien invasion.
The title also includes powers that let you take on enemies in the game’s open world. From super jumps to mind-killing powers, the world is yours to explore.
Sea of Thieves
Most open world games have the option for a player to explore the world in a vehicle of some sort, but few rely on it. In Sea of Thieves, you’re a pirate who controls their own ship across the vast oceans on the game.
Since the game is not only open world but a shared world, you’ll encounter other players and their ships. You’ll be able to choose to fight them or form alliances. Allianced groups receive various bonuses, so it’s often best if played with friends.
It’s been over twenty years since its release, but Shenmue still has a cult following. It’s often credited with being one of the pioneers of open world games. In it, you play as Ryo Hazuki who is searching for his father’s murderer.
As you explore open world areas like Yokosuka and Hong Kong, you’ll engage in martial art battles against enemies and meet people who run on schedules. The game’s open worldness was unprecedented for its time, with shops opening and closing at certain times, a day and night cycle, and a number of mini-games to play.
Despite its troubling development, Sleeping Dogs’s final product resulted in an exciting open world game based in Hong Kong. It features martial arts-based combat where you’re able to fight enemies from any direction similar to the Batman Arkham games.
Creating an open world game that is super distinct can be hard, but Sleeping Dog’s version of Hong Kong with its various districts feels lively and authentic. It embraces the culture of the city and also its mundanity.
Over the years, there have been a number of less than satisfactory superhero games. Spider-Man on the PS4, however, was more than satisfactory. Featuring a sprawling open world version of New York City, you can web swing from building to building all while saving people and stopping bad guys.
There are a number of landmarks to see, from the Statue of Liberty to Central Park. In true Spidey fashion, you can of course climb up buildings. This allows for some truly spectacular views perched on top of buildings like the Empire State Building.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Despite taking place in the same location as the first Spider-Man game, things still feel somewhat new thanks to dynamic weather and some holiday spirit. It’s Christmastime in Spider-Man: Miles Morales and that means the city is covered in Christmas decorations and light, glittery snow.
This romp through New York City also takes you to new locales within the city. With how large the game’s world is, it’s easy to find new things to do and places to explore when compared to its previous iteration.
Not many open world games send players underwater, but Subnautica is all about thalassophobia and players trying to survive beneath an alien ocean. Players are tasked with surviving by diving and collecting resources, facing creatures, and crafting.
There are also survival mechanics that make exploring even more perilous since you’ll need to keep an eye on their health, hunger, thirst, and oxygen. Just don’t forget you can’t drink the ocean water!
The Witcher 3
When people think of open world RPGs, The Witcher 3 is likely one of the first that comes to mind. It’s often regarded as not only one of the best open world games of all time but also one of the best games ever made in general, and with good reason.
While the world is full of familiar fantasy fare, there is a grittiness to everything that helps elevate it. The game’s expansive quests encourage exploration so players see as much of the world’s varied landscape as possible.
From marshes with undead and crashed wagons to towns full of people fearful of The Witcher, there’s no shortage of things to do or see. Especially if you download a few Witcher 3 mods to help complement the vanilla experience.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a massive JRPG. While the world can sometimes feel too big, the scale makes sense since the game’s world is literally built on top of giant creatures called Titans. Like a lot of open world games, it implements a day and night system.
Because of how the Titans work, there are multiple open world areas on the tops of various creatures that you can move between using fast travel. Each is distinct in design and the game isn’t afraid to embrace its weirdness when it comes to its characters and embracing anime tropes.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Like A Dragon takes the Yakuza series and adds a nice little twist with the addition of turn-based combat. It’s true that the title isn’t as vast as open world games like Skyrim or Fallout 4, but it makes great use of the space that’s there.
The lack of wide-open spaces is made up of things to do. There are mini-games, people to talk to, side activities and quests, and buildings and dungeons to enter and loot. With the announcement that future Yakuza games will stay turn-based, I for one am excited to continue to dive into the series which is already one of the best open world games.
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I am extremely pleased to see Days Gone (it remains my current reigning MVP, finally dethroning Dead Space 2 as my all-time fav), but *YEETS Far Cry 3 and puts in Far Cry 4* there we go. That’s better. 😛
Also, I know it’s a bit old fashioned, but The Saboteur was a darn great time. Truly one of the only games besides Just Cause to let you handle things basically any way you desired.
I actually didn’t love Days Gone, but a lot of people do, so it made its way on. I’ve not heard of The Saboteur before! I do love a game, though, that lets you do whatever you want.
FWIW, if you do wanna give Saboteur a whirl, it’s finally on GOG. It was Pandemic’s last game due to their The Dark Knight game falling through, but it’s a fascinating pulp fiction WW2 jaunt.
None of the Gothic games are on this list. My disappointment is immeasurable and my day is ruined.
I’ve somehow never heard of them and they didn’t come up in my research when I was looking at what to add. I am revising and adding Gothic now along with a couple of other things I missed I have heard of and played and love.
The first two Gothic games were way ahead of their time. They featured completely open worlds with 0 loading screens that you could explore as you saw fit from the first minute you stepped foot in the game. They also have day and night cycles, NPCs with work schedules, branching quests, an awesome faction system, and a whole lot more. And this was back in 2001-2002. The Witcher series drew a lot of inspiration from Gothic in terms of gameplay and world building but unfortunately Gothic is still mostly unknown in the west to this day. It’s still quite popular in Europe, though.
I just watched a video on its open world and read a few things and got a lot of Witcher vibes. I saw it didn’t get a lot of traction in the West. That’s too bad. It looks like it does some really remarkable things. I saw something that said if you steal an NPC’s weapon and they see you with it later, they’ll demand it back. That’s pretty fucking cool.
Well the weapon thing is a very specific scenario that only happens a couple of times I believe. Butt there are a lot of small details like that. For instance, if you unsheath your weapon in town the guards with sheath theirs and warn you to put it away while common folks will cover in fear, if you’re strong enough that is. If you don’t put it away, they’ll attack you and most likely kill you. Also, if you enter into someone’s house uninvited everybody in the area will yell at you to get out. If you don’t, they’ll attack you and most likely kill you. If you’re caught stealing or attacking anyone unprovoked you’re pretty much a dead man. I could go on and on. It’s just a fantastic game and they’re currently working on a remaster of the original. Finally! I’m not too confident they will do it justice because nobody makes RPGs anymore. If they try to make it appeal to modern audiences it’s 100% going to be dead on arrival. But we’ll have to wait and see.
Including Oblivion and Skyrim over Morrowind and Daggerfall has totally lost any credibility this list had. Not surprised that someone with such little knowledge/taste is missing genuinely great open world games such as Escape From the Pit. But then again, this article is the opinion of folk who clearly haven’t played many games.
I have played too many games, to be honest. I don’t know how you gauge taste when you don’t know me, but you do you! I am going to add Escape to the list though. 🙂
Good to see the additions. Seems a lot more credible now.
Thank you! 🙂 I now have more games I need to play.