The theme of go anywhere, do anything, you know it well: that magical feeling of stepping into a new Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Fallout, or other open-world game. The landscape unfolds around you, filled with a million-and-one little adventures to explore. See those mountains in the distance? Chances are you can climb them. See all those cars on the road? You can pop on down and make one your own. There’s something new waiting for you around every corner; hiding under every stone.
But not all open worlds are created equal. The games collected here represent the best of their genre. Entire cities, kingdoms, and continents are brought to life with staggering scope and intricate detail. If you have roughly 200 hours of free time and want to get lost in another realm, well, you’ve got options. These are our picks for the best open-world games of all time. Which is your number one?
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
Assassin’s Creed’s jauntiest outing since 2, Black Flag masterfully combines toe-to-toe swashbuckling with sailing in a luminous Caribbean archipelago. Tiny islands, whales, forts and colonial armadas provide the variety on the ocean, and the sizeable islands host traditional free-running Assassin’s Creed action. After a poor third entry in the series, Black Flag was a salty lungful of fresh air.
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 drops you right into the middle of a kidnapping plot on a tropical island; and you’re the victim. It hinges on a strong power-fantasy plot, playing Jason Brody as a reluctant hero who gets consumed by forces much larger than he could ever comprehend. It’s hardcore stuff, with some powerful moments of self-realisation, and that’s not even the best part. As you explore the vast island that you now call home, it’s difficult to not get caught up in the beauty of it all. It looks absolutely stunning, shining a darker shade on the violent secrets that it holds, all of which you uncover.
Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar decided to completely alter the course of gaming again and release Grand Theft Auto V, which was the stark re-invention that the series had been needing for a while.
The fictional world of Los Santos is one of the most intricately designed, believable worlds ever seen in a game, as the ecosystem seems to ebb and flow with every action you take. It’s an incredibly believable world, mixed with all kinds of different types of people and a humming sense of movement that never draws attention to the player.
If you’ve never played EVE Online, you’re sure to have heard the stories. Thousands of players and fleets of ships fighting out in space, alliances toppled by traitors, spies murdering CEOs, and lots of theft – all this without developer involvement. Sounds like one of the best space games on PC to us.
It’s a living galaxy with a complex player-run economy, filled with corporations and alliances that rise and fall, and opportunistic pirates, soldiers and businessmen waiting to fleece or destroy you. It’s glorious.
Fallout is similar to the Elder Scrolls series, being made by the same developer (Bethesda Game Studios) and being an RPG, but it sets itself apart with its story, combat, setting, and unique experiences.
This game puts you in a world that experienced a nuclear holocaust. Some people survived: some for the good, others for the worse. Fallout 3 has one of the best opening scenes of any game I’ve personally ever played, and it really hooks you in and makes you want to explore the game even more. Once you get into the game and start exploring and things, you’ll be amazed by what’s waiting for you. Like other games, strategy is your choice and what you do will influence everything that happens.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher: Wild Hunt is a story-driven, next-generation open world role-playing game set in a visually stunning fantasy universe full of meaningful choices and impactful consequences. In The Witcher you play as the professional monster hunter, Geralt of Rivia, tasked with finding a child of prophecy in a vast open world rich with merchant cities, viking pirate islands, dangerous mountain passes, and forgotten caverns to explore.The cities are smaller and the plot’s nonsense, but few games can match the excitement of smashing a port.
The Elder Scrolls
Bethesda has got the best of both worlds right now; the high-octane, apocalyptic Fallout series contrasted with the swords and sorcery styling of the Elder Scrolls games. If the nuclear destruction of mankind isn’t your thing, then the latter fantasy RPG series that has been causing gamers sleepless nights since 1994 will probably do it for you. Skyrim and Oblivion, taking off from the excellent Morrowind and creating an enormous fantasy world for players to get lost in forever. Its world is an amazing feat of technical wizardry, a functioning world that has more little nooks and crannies than you’d ever find with a strategy guide. There’s towns, holds, dungeons, caves, side-quests and who knows what else, all there for the player brave enough to find them. Oblivion encourages pure exploration perhaps more than any game on this list, as the lofty hills and valleys all hold incredible secrets to discover.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Minecraft’s open-world is that each one is different, and belongs solely to the player who created it. Many games attempt to create a experience that is unique to each player, but few have ever achieved it the way Minecraft has. If you’ve played Minecraft, it’s highly unlikely that it was anything at all like the time someone else played it, as the world created within was unique to him or her. In the truest sense of the word play, Minecraft is about playing. It’s a beautiful moment when you create a new Minecraft world and see what goodies await you, and how quickly you’ll have to take shelter to avoid the monsters that will come out of the dark. Straight-up fun is mixed with terror, which often sees the player scrambling for a good hiding spot or engaging in some combat with your hand-crafted sword. You create the world, fill it with whatever you wish and make it your own, which makes Minecraft one of the most incredible open-world games ever.