In recent years, one of the most popular genres has been open world games. Inspired by the success of series like Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls, there have been numerous new IP set in sprawling open worlds, along with new entries in established franchises that have morphed into open world games.
Quite a few of these open world games have received widespread critical acclaim, standing as some of the highest-rated video games made to date. Open world games are often massive undertakings, and as a result, tend to give players more play time than most titles, whether that time is spent completing quests or just messing around in the sandbox.
Out of all the open world games that have released over the years, the following are the best the genre has to offer.
Assassin’s Creed 2
Assassin’s Creed 2 is the height of Ubisoft’s open world stealth franchise, streamlining many of the features from the first game and adding a much more interesting protagonist to drive the story forward. Assassin’s Creed 2 offers one of the best open worlds in the series, as it gives players the chance to explore a gorgeously rendered Italy during the Renaissance. While completing assassinations and other missions is the main draw of the game, it’s also a great pleasure to simply explore Italy and check out some of the impressive landmarks and architecture.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Batman: Arkham City flirted with becoming open world, but stopped short of fully embracing the genre. Batman: Arkham Knight, meanwhile, is a full-fledged open world experience, allowing Batman to explore the crime-ridden Gotham City. To make exploring Gotham a bit more entertaining, Batman is able to utilize the Batmobile to his advantage, and is also able to get around using the various tools in his utility belt.
Fallout 3 married the setting and concept of the Fallout series with the open world RPG gameplay Bethesda is known for, and the result is one of the best open world experiences in gaming. Fallout 3 lets players explore Washington D.C. and the surrounding area after the world has been ravaged by nuclear warfare, giving them the chance to see a number of recognizable landmarks that have been warped by war and time. The game also has plenty of completely original locations filled with memorable characters, like the charming (possibly doomed) little town of Megaton, for example.
Far Cry 3
While it’s not the first open world Far Cry game, Far Cry 3 perfected the franchise’s take on the genre. Far Cry 3 sets players loose to explore a large tropical island at their leisure, all the while being taunted by the devilish pirate lord Vaas. Far Cry 3‘s villain helps the story stay engaging, but the real stars of the game, and what helps it stand apart from other open world titles, is its wildlife.
Not only must players contend with deadly pirates and other armed combatants, but they’re just as likely to be killed by a Komodo dragon that can pounce from out of nowhere. Besides serving as yet another threat on players’ lives, wildlife in Far Cry 3 serve another purpose, as players often have to kill and skin them in order to craft better equipment.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Almost any Grand Theft Auto game since the third one could have made it on this list, but we decided to include Grand Theft Auto 5 as it is the most fully-featured GTA to-date. The single player experience is a riveting one, letting players bounce between three complex and interesting characters as they explore the sprawling city of Los Santos and the highly detailed surrounding countryside.
The online multiplayer, meanwhile, is what has kept Grand Theft Auto 5 going to this day, four years after its initial launch. Grand Theft Auto 5‘s online multiplayer gives players the chance to create their own characters, purchase their own apartmenst and cars, and wreak mayhem with friends online. Supported by a number of game modes that continue to grow in number with each update, Grand Theft Auto 5‘s online is the blueprint other open world multiplayer games should follow.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s open world may not be as fleshed out as some of the other games on this list, but thanks to the innovative Nemesis system, it still has open of the most engaging open worlds in gaming. For the uninitiated, Shadow of Mordor‘s Nemesis system allows enemies in the game to remember the player and change based on their interactions, which gives random encounters with foes in the open world a lot more meaning.
Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption takes everything people love about western movies and blends it with Grand Theft Auto-style gameplay and storytelling. Red Dead Redemption delivers a compelling open world populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, and is punctuated by one of the best endings in gaming history. Considering how Rockstar hit it out of the park with its first attempt at an open world western, expectations are high for the followup, Red Dead Redemption 2, which is expected to release in fall of 2017.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim is one of the best open world games for a few reasons. For one, it features a vast open world with no shortage of interesting things to see. Secondly, it’s a game that can truly be played forever, as it features dynamic quests that never stop generating for the player. It also features some of the most engrossing quest lines in series history and gives players more freedom than almost any game before it.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
While past Zelda games featured open world elements, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first in the series to completely embrace the genre. And even though Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s first attempt at a completely open world Zelda game, it stands as one of the finest examples of the genre, with more perfect scores than any other game in history.
Breath of the Wild features an open world that makes exploration a pure pleasure, with a landscape riddled with treasures, enemies, hidden dungeons, and more. It also manages to sidestep one of the more frustrating aspects of open world games, letting Link climb virtually any surface he comes across instead of forcing him to walk around mountains and other large structures.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher series is another that started as semi-open world, but didn’t dive into the genre completely until its latest entry. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt tears down the restrictive barriers that kept the previous games from being fully open world, letting Geralt explore one of the largest open worlds in gaming history. What’s even more impressive about The Witcher 3‘s open world is that despite its immense size, the game still manages to have an absurd level of detail that’s just not found in most titles.
Gamers can’t seem to get enough of exploring the vast worlds provided by open world games, as evidenced by the success of recent open world games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Looking to the future, there are plenty of other open world games on the horizon that are brimming with potential, such as Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2. As it stands, there seems to be no end in sight for the open world genre, and we’re not complaining.
Which open world game is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!