The best open-world games

Gabe Gurwin

Just like you probably enjoy getting to choose your own path in real life, you want to have the same freedom in your favorite video game. Open-world games like The Division 2 have only continued to grow in popularity since their release. 

While this genre of gaming can be a little intimidating for anyone without tons of experience in gaming, there are plenty of great open-world games to chose from.

The Division 2

The Division 2 Warlords of New York

A major improvement in mission design, variety, and endgame content compared with its predecessor, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 didn’t make drastic changes, but it implemented players’ feedback in a way that made it a much more enjoyable game. Weapons feel more like weapons and less like toys this time around, with normal enemies not taking dozens of bullets to kill, and Washington, D.C., has varied environments filled with businesses and greenery.

Once players finish the main storyline in The Division 2, the entire map changes, creating new threats that weren’t there at the beginning of the game. A return to New York City is even coming in a free update, and the purchase price includes expansions to keep the community together.

Read our full The Division 2 review

$14 from Amazon

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro easy mode mod FromSoftware Souls games gameplay difficulty

FromSoftware is famous for its world design, with Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series featuring some of the most memorable locations in video game history. However, the studio took things in a different direction with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice by giving the protagonist jumping and zip-lining capabilities for climbing and planning ambushes. It completely changed how a FromSoftware world functions, requiring careful observation before moving on to the next area.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice put a greater emphasis on stealth than past FromSoftware games in order to capitalize on this new verticality, but also managed to deliver a brilliant parry-based combat system. It makes every battle feel important and functions beautifully in combination with stealth kills.

Read our full Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review

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Borderlands 3

Gearbox Software took years to finally deliver Borderlands 3, but the wait was definitely worth it. Yes, the game is effectively more Borderlands, but the series isn’t limited to Pandora anymore. Instead, the Vault Hunters travel to several other planets with much different environments, including a neon city planet that would fit in a Blade Runner movie.

The same shooter-looter formula from the past games is still in full effect for Borderlands 3, and though there aren’t any drastic changes for naysayers, it is exactly what fans were hoping for. Combining great boss fights, creative weapons, and plenty of hidden areas with side quests to complete, it’s a world to get lost in for dozens of hours.

$14 from Amazon

The Surge 2

The Surge 2 Xbox One

The Surge featured a novel limb-targeting system and interesting streamlined take on a Souls-like experience, but its world was drab, and areas blended together because of the large industrial complex setting. For The Surge 2, Deck13 took the action into a nearby city with much more variety. Giant forests, museums, corporate facilities, shopping centers, and even waterside depots are all included in the world, and it still manages to fold in on itself — sections you reach hours into the game will reveal themselves to be right next to much earlier areas.

What didn’t need to change was the combat, and it remains as tight and intense as ever. Players can choose from even more weapons, many found by defeating powerful bosses, and the game’s later stages kick up the difficulty considerably and test every move at players’ disposal.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The standard by which other open-world games have been measured since its release in 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the best game Bethesda Game Studios has ever made — and given the number of ports it has received on everything from the Nintendo Switch to PlayStation VR, the company knows it.

Set in an unforgiving and often frozen world filled with undead creatures, giants, and plenty of fire-breathing dragons, Skyrim is so packed full of memorable lore and quests that it’s almost impossible to see the game in its entirety. Of course, that hasn’t stopped players from trying.

Read our full The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review

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The Witcher III: Wild Hunt

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CD Projekt Red has a knack for telling intimate and grounded stories despite magic and fantasy elements so prevalent in its work, and this has never been more apparent than in The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. Set in an absolutely enormous open world filled with countless quests, The Witcher III somehow avoids having any filler.

The characters you meet are all interesting, the smallest side quests have unique and often funny twists and turns, and the environments are stunningly realized. It can be rather overwhelming, but those who only plan on playing one game for the next few years can do a whole lot worse.

Read our full The Witcher III: Wild Hunt review

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Batman: Arkham City

The best-realized version of Rocksteady Games’ Batman adventure, Batman: Akrham City has everything a fan could want in a video game. Gotham City’s closed-off prison has expanded into the streets, with gangs and famous villains free to commit heinous crimes with little repercussion.

The odds are stacked against the Caped Crusader, whose battle with the Joker reaches a climactic boiling point. Soaring through the air, throwing gadgets, and just pummeling enemies into oblivion feels amazing, and there are a ton of collectibles hidden in the city’s many nooks and crannies.

Read our full Batman: Arkham City review

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Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Take robot dinosaurs, futuristic bows, and a civilization fractured to the point of being unrecognizable, and you get Horizon Zero Dawn. A full-fledged role-playing game and one of the best action titles of the generation, Horizon Zero Dawn gradually presents you with even more terrifying and difficult threats as you explore its destroyed post-apocalyptic world, and the mix of overgrown foliage and cold, sharp metal is nothing for of stunning.

With plenty of points to climb and multiple ways to approach combat scenarios, it makes the most of its space to deliver as a stealth game or an all-out action-packed shooter.

Read our full Horizon Zero Dawn review

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Middle-earth: Shadow of War

The groundwork for Middle-earth: Shadow of War lies in its predecessor, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but the sequel expands its massive Middle-earth setting with varied areas that show off the fiery, twisted mountains as well as the (slightly) more tranquil plains.

With the Nemesis system, you can run into a previous duel partner at nearly any moment, and they can strike you with an ambush attack in the middle of a different mission. Have your own supply of allied orcs, however, and you can strike fear into the heart of Sauron’s army and take the land for yourself.

With satisfying combat inspired by the Arkham series and plenty of gear customization options, it’s a can’t-miss open world game.

Read our full Middle-earth: Shadow of War review

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The illusion of immersion can often be broken in games that show their limits too clearly, such as locking off certain areas until you’ve reached a certain level or acquired a certain tool. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo hardly ever says “No.”

If you want to blow past the majority of a dungeon by performing an odd trick with your bombs, or you want to circumvent the “correct” way of solving a puzzle by lining up your metal weapons and running electricity through them to complete a circuit, you can. If you even want to skip the entire game and just jump straight to the final boss, you can do that too, and Nintendo manages to do all of this without losing the heart and soul that made the series so popular.

Read our full The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review

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Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto 5 gallery 770-1280

Rockstar practically invented the modern open-world game with Grand Theft Auto III, and the series was never better than it was in 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V. Set in the gorgeous Los Santos and surrounding metropolitan area, Grand Theft Auto V features everything from bank robberies to a full-scale tennis simulator, and you can do any of them for hours on end.

With three protagonists to switch between at nearly any time, you can jump from destination to destination in a hurry, and the game’s online component lets you cause mayhem with your friends, as well.

Read our full Grand Theft Auto V review

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Red Dead Redemption II

Red Dead Redemption 2/Rockstar

It’s reductive to call Red Dead Redemption II a western version of the Grand Theft Auto series, but that’s only because you get even more freedom in Rockstar’s latest open-world adventure. The prequel offers a massive southwestern world to explore on horseback or foot, with different quest lines emerging naturally as you interact with locals or spot a dangerous outlaw in the wild.

Simply heading off in any direction almost always results in finding something interesting to do, whether it be a new animal to hunt, a bounty target to bring in, or a house to burglarize.

Read our full Red Dead Redemption II review

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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Wildly different from every preceding game in the series, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is ostensibly a game about the ongoing war between the Assassins and the Templars, but it’s actually the best pirate game ever in disguise.

With a ship loaded up with crew members, you can sail into the sea and ambush passersby, launching cannonballs at their hull before hopping aboard yourself and picking apart their measly fighters. Small island villages are surrounded by trees, creating unique stealth scenarios when taking out targets on land, and buried treasure gives you reason to explore the entire map.

Read our full Assassins’ Creed IV: Black Flag review

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Minecraft

An open-world so large, you’ll never see the entire thing, Minecraft became every child’s obsession because its gameplay loop is so engrossing and addictive.

Finding resources while trying to fend off the elements and a variety of spooky monsters, your goal is to continue building a larger and more formidable home for yourself, and just when you thought you couldn’t make it any fancier, you discover a new element or construction technique to take your architectural abilities a step further.

Fun by yourself but even more enjoyable with a friend, Minecraft can become your only game – and it will if you let it.

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Forza Horizon 4

Yes, you’re in a vehicle for the entirety of Forza Horizon 4, but the latest game from Playground feels much more like an open-world game than a racing simulator. Rural England is filled with drifting challenges, ramps to jump, speed traps, and hidden cars to collect, and when you do finally try out a race, many of them take you on cross-country journeys through the woods, rolling hillsides, and even beaches. Friends can drop into your game at any moment, as well, and you can drive around tackling the many challenges together.

Read our full Forza Horizon 4 review

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Far Cry 4

Far Cry 3 reinvented the fish-out-of-water shooter series with its focus on charismatic villains, hunting and crafting, and all-out chaos, but it was its sequel that perfected the formula. Set in a fictional Himalayan country called Kyrat, the world of Far Cr 4 is similar in size to its predecessor, but it’s packed full of content like enemy outposts, climbable towers, hidden caves, and side missions.

With the series’ fantastic shooting controls, a worthy villain in Pagan Min, and a more personable protagonist, it’s an emotional and brutal journey for those willing to see it through to the end.

Read our full Far Cry 4 review

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain de-emphasizes the best aspects of previous games in the series will emphasizing the things no one liked in those games, and it somehow works.

An open-world stealth-action game with dozens of ways to approach any situation, Big Boss can sneak into a base completely undetected to steal some intelligence, or he can call in an attack helicopter to support him as he floors it through the front gate on a truck filled with C4. The story is almost nonexistent at points, but the level of freedom Hideo Kojima and his team give to you makes it one of the best stealth-action games ever made.

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Dark Souls

It can often feel like you’re entering completely separate environments, but Dark Souls is indeed an open-world game, its labyrinth-like structure folding in on itself as you unlock its interconnecting paths and make your way back to its hub area.

Filled with some of the toughest challenges in video games, Dark Souls demands you full attention, but those willing to put in the time and effort will be rewarded with one of the best action-role-playing games ever. Endlessly replayable – and never any easier – it’s even better with the enhancements in Dark Souls: Remastered.

Read our full Dark Souls review

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Marvel’s Spider-Man

Insomniac Games not only nailed the web-swinging movement in Marvel’s Spider-Man, which is undeniably the most important part of the game, but the studio also delivered a heartwarming and hilarious tale with a large roster of Marvel characters.

Soaring across New York City, Peter Parker is always ready with a silly quip, and when you find baddies in need of a butt-kicking, the game gives you a ton of acrobatic abilities. You can tie enemies in webs or send them flying with powerful kicks, and with several optional suits to wear, you can do it looking like classic comic book Spider-Man or some terrifying Iron Man crossover.

Read our full Marvel’s Spider-Man review

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Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2

The first Watch Dogs was set in a dark, rainy, and depressing version of Chicago with an equally dark and depressing protagonist. For the sequel, Ubisoft doubled down on the humor and lightheartedness as it moved to San Francisco, and its story of hacktivists fighting against a Google-like technology company was much more interesting than a simple revenge story.

Using your in-game phone, you can half people’s computers, mess with traffic lights, and control security cameras as you sneak by and eliminate guards, and it’s all done with a sense of style and flair that the original game completely lacked. Invading other players’ games is just the icing on the cake, but it’s still endlessly amusing.

Read our full Watch Dogs 2 review

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Nier: Automata

Nier: Automata review

Many open-world games throw a billion objectives onto a map and hope you’ll want to mindlessly complete them, but Nier: Automata uses much of its space for pure observation. As you explore its desolate, strangely peaceful post-apocalyptic world, you’re left to wonder if Earth is actually better off with humans gone, and the machines you encounter are often non-threatening until you actively engage them. It presents a moral dilemma before the game even dives into existential territory later on, and it helps to create one of the most fully-realized visions in a game or any other medium.

Read our full Nier: Automata review

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Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs

A classic Hong Kong crime tale of deceit and undercover investigation, Sleeping Dogs is far more than a police-themed Grand Theft Auto game. Hong Kong is filled its own unique set of activities, including gambling on cock fights, and the game features a deep martial arts combat system that goes beyond the simple melee attacks seen in other third-person shooters.

A stellar voice cast, including an early appearance from Oscar-winner Emma Stone, make Sleeping Dogs a gripping crime tale that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Read our full Sleeping Dogs review

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Infamous: Second Son

Infamous Second Son screenshot 16

Released early in the lifespan of the PlayStation 4, it can be tempting to overlook Infamous: Second Son as a simple technical demo, but Sucker Punch’s game is a stunning superhero adventure that gives you remarkable levels of freedom to choose how you fight.

With multiple strains of powers to choose from, including smoke and neon, you can fly through the air, sprint alongside walls, and fire smoldering bolts at your enemies, all with a sense of fluidity that we’ve rarely seen since. As with all Infamous games, the choice is yours to play as an upstanding citizen or a ruthless killer, and the story changes significantly based on the path you take.

Read our full Infamous: Second Son review

$14 from Amazon