Open-world games are one of the most popular genres in the industry. After developers realized that they could create massive worlds that players would want to explore, they knew that there was a lot of money to be made. Thus, just about every developer imaginable is adding their own spin on the genre each year with new releases, be it sequels or new franchises.
These games have been around for several years, but they’re a relatively new trend as far as the industry is concerned. It’s to the point now that most of the major AAA releases every year are open-world games. While there are a lot of problems with how major developers are handling their games now, that’s not to say that there are some shining examples of how to make an open-world game within them.
Some of the best games of all time are marked as open-world, which makes talking about them a difficult task. Many of them are held in such high regard that it’s nearly impossible to have anything critical to say or even rank them against other open-world games. With that in mind, we’re going to rank the top 30 best open-world games of all time.
Keep in mind that these are our opinions. After looking through what fans seemed to agree on and what we felt were personally better choices, we came up with this list. If there are some open-world games you feel we missed, feel free to let us know what your choices would be in the comments.
30 Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor
At the bottom of our list is Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. With a game that seemed to borrow elements so heavily from the Arkham and Assassin’s Creed series, it seemed that it would be a total bust. However, the game manages to shine through the utilization of these systems and bring together an experience that The Lord of the Rings fans can enjoy. The Nemesis system is a pure highlight, and seeing the world of Mordor as a more dynamic, lived-in location was a nice change from the typical barren wasteland that we’re used to from the films.
29 Saints Row IV
The Saints Row series has always been about crazy and wacky concepts come to life and giving players every tool in their arsenal to play around with them. Saints Row IV takes a lot of those ideas and goes the extra mile, making it one of the most screenshot-worthy games in a long time. There are all sorts of things players can do and crazy elements to see. It builds on its predecessors with all the right steps and additions that make it hard to not regard as the best in the series.
28 Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning
With many AAA franchises starting to find their own places of comfort to settle in, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning came as an entirely new franchise and blew them out of the water. It was set in a medieval world and packed to the brim with impressive monsters, interesting story elements, and some of the best combat put in a game at the time. The game came out last console generation, but with THQ Nordic acquiring the property, it’s possible we could see this franchise return.
The fun of Terraria is that it takes the concept of Minecraft and turns the game into a more goal-oriented RPG adventure. There are powerful weapons to obtain, plenty of bosses to fight, and new NPCs to fill your house with. With its support over the years, the game has grown a greater identity against its competitors and has built itself as one of the more unique open-world experiences. Complete with multiplayer support, a release on all consoles, and a low price tag, what’s stopping you from picking it up?
26 Dragon Age: Inquisition
Before BioWare tried to make a galactic open-world game with Mass Effect Andromeda, they already had a well-designed open-world game on their hands with Dragon Age: Inquisition. This game puts you in the role of a medieval hunter and throws you into a world that’s practically begging to be explored. The story elements left much to be desired, but when your goal is to slay dragons and go through all sorts of new locations, those negative elements can be forgiven.
25 Just Cause 3
Why would you blow up an entire town full of enemies and watch the pieces fly through the sky? Just because. The Just Cause series is all about pulling off ridiculous stunts just because it’s plain fun to do so. Just Cause 3 nails this to a ‘T’. The entire draw of the game is playing around with the physics system just to see what you can come up with next. The game could’ve been boring, but it’s the system of experimentation alone that thrusts it into one of the most unique open-world games ever made.
24 Don’t Starve
There’s a lot of simplicity to a game like Don’t Starve. It’s nothing more than surviving. Players are dropped on an island and must gather resources to build their own camp before night falls and sinister monsters try to take their lives. Players learn through experimentation and are punished for their mistakes, yet its simple nature doesn’t totally discourage players from trying again. It’s addictive and fun, just like an open-world game should be. There’s also a version where you can play with your friends.
23 The Forest
An open-world survival horror game shouldn’t work on paper, but The Forest pulls it off extremely well. This is largely due to how smart the AI is, giving players the sense to always look over their shoulders. The game forces players to act purely based on instinct, which is something that many games could never achieve. Players can build entire defense posts to ward off enemies or they can venture into the unknown to complete the game’s overarching goal. Their choice.
22 Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
When Assassin’s Creed started to get stale with releases like Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft decided to take a different route with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Players were in the shoes of someone who stole the identity of a life-taker rather than being born into it. Furthermore, the ship combat and naval exploration were much more fleshed out from the previous game, creating an experience that was part open-world action game and part open-world pirate game. The results were excellent.
21 Batman Arkham City
After Batman Arkham Asylum put developer Rocksteady on the map, they outdid themselves with Batman Arkham City. The combat was smoother and the world was much larger, giving the Dark Knight a portion of Gotham to fly around. With the series already creating the freeflow combat and predator system that people loved so much, the sequel simply refined those elements, created a better story, and gave more of what the players wanted. It remains arguably the best Batman game ever made.
20 Borderlands 2
Who would’ve thought that a gun-based RPG open-world game with a cel-shaded art style would’ve been so good? Borderlands 2 takes a lot of cues from MMOs with its quest system and new weapons to discover, but it does all of those things so well. It’s game that knows what it wants to be and just has a lot of fun with it. What’s better about the sequel is that it made a lot of improvements over the first game to create one of the best open-world games.
19 Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 is an interesting game because it takes the conventions of shooting games and makes players think twice before pulling the trigger. What are the implications of said behavior? How would those actions affect a person in real life? It presents a compelling narrative through that organic moral system while still setting it against a gorgeous world with insane characters to meet and plenty of hostiles to take down. Even with subsequent entries, Far Cry 3 remains the best of the series.
18 Burnout Paradise
Taking a racing game to an open-world was always a risky idea, but Burnout Paradise executes it so well that we wonder why developers didn’t try it earlier. Zipping around Paradise City is a breeze as each location connects to another, making each race and each chase feel like they have greater significance. On top of that, the driving itself remains a pure thrill as players bust through gas stations, take shortcuts through construction zones, and figure out the lay of the land to best avoid the police.
17 Xenoblade Chronicles
Despite Monolithsoft having two other Xenoblade Chronicles games that came after this one, the entry on the Wii remains the best of the bunch. The story is downright masterful as it explores its hero and his motivation for going on his quest. It also has one of the most unique settings in any JRPG to date, as the game takes place on the bodies of two giant titans. The combat is intense, rewarding, and exciting, and the soundtrack is perfection. These things come together to make one of the best JRPGs of all time.
16 Monster Hunter World
While Monster Hunter had no shortage of fans for a long time, it was Monster Hunter World that got plenty of new people excited about the series. Capcom simplified many elements that kept players away from previous releases, and the game is all the better for it. Hunting monsters remains as difficult and adrenaline-fueled as ever, with the graphical system of modern consoles making each location and monster stand out like never before. It’s the most concise Monster Hunter to date, and it’s worth a shot for newcomers and veterans alike.
15 The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter saw AAA games with objectives and made a hard pass. This is a game about a mystery but doesn’t force players to solve it in a linear way. As a matter of fact, the game tells players almost nothing and has them exploring a gorgeous and unique world to answer their questions. It takes most tropes from the open-world genre and casts them aside in favor of a game that wants players to feel free and progress in their own way.
14 Super Mario Odyssey
While some might consider Super Mario 64 the best of the series, we have to give to Super Mario Odyssey. Nintendo perfected their old formula this time around. Mario controls and moves around better, and each new kingdom is a small sandbox where players are free to explore at their own pace. With dozens of new characters to meet and hundreds of Moons to find, this game will keep players busy for dozens of hours. That’s all without mentioning the game’s beautiful soundtrack or gorgeous graphics.
13 Nier Automata
Nier Automata shouldn’t work, but somehow, with all its gameplay styles and crazy ideas, makes for one of the best games in 2017. It has tight action, brilliant graphics, and a world that feels real. Every location just makes players have questions about what happened. What’s better is that the story also has its own version of exploration with five possible endings to discover. There’s so much to do and see in Nier Automata that it’s difficult to not recommend.
There’s a reason Minecraft became so popular. Players start in a procedurally generated world full of mobs, dirt, trees, and NPC villages. Their goal is whatever they decide it is, whether it be recreating the White House entirely out of wool or finding the portal to the Ender Dragon. The limitations of Minecraft are entirely up to the players, and that’s the sheer fun of the game. The possibilities are endless, the creations are astounding, and the fun will never end for those that want to play.
11 Shadow Of The Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus has beauty in absence. It’s not set in an open world where there are plenty of things to do, NPCs to meet, and side quests to complete. Instead, it’s all about finding the various colossi and bringing them down. End of story. However, this simple design allowed Team Ico to show their knack for creating a memorable experience. Shadow of the Colossus treats every encounter as its own intense puzzle. The story is where the game shines as well, forcing players to rethink everything they’ve learned about games up to that point.
10 Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon took what was established with Burnout Paradise to create a concise racing game in an open-world that is just so much fun to explore. Newer graphics allow it to stand out from the competition in ways that no one could imagine. Everything feels connected where a traditional racing game would force players to scroll through menus. While it was hard to decide which game in the series would take this spot, Forza Horizon 4 irons out a few kinks from the previous game to where we believed it to be the best in the series.
9 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The Grand Theft Auto series is all about letting the players do what they want. Each game puts players in a massive city-based sandbox and lets them go crazy. The series has always been light on story, but it’s the gameplay where developer Rockstar made a name for themselves. Of all the games, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is arguably the best in the series. Every action has a reaction in the game’s world, every moment is more exciting than the next, and the fun factor never seems to stop.
8 Horizon Zero Dawn
If it weren’t for another game coming out in 2017, Horizon Zero Dawn probably would’ve taken the Game of the Year award. Developer Guerrilla Games created this world that impressed just about everyone. It did away with many boring aspects of standard open-world games, like poor inventory management, lame towers, and fast travel systems. The game also throws in massive robot dinosaurs to defeat and a compelling story that will keep players going all the way through the end. It’s one of the best-looking and best-playing open-world games ever made.
7 Fallout 3
Every Fallout seems to bring something new to the table, but there’s a pure joy behind Fallout 3 that makes it (for us anyway) rise above its predecessors and successors. It has one of the most memorable worlds in the franchise, has plenty of notable monsters to tackle and gives a clear yet hyperbolic picture as to what the world would be like after a nuclear fallout. Bethesda was firing on all cylinders with this release, which makes their handling of Fallout 76 all the more saddening.
After years of Marvel video games not quite gaining the attention that the Arkham games or Injustice series got, Insomniac delivered with Spider-Man on the PS4. This is a game designed so well that simply moving around the world is a pure treat. You never want to use fast travel, and that’s the mark of a great game. Then there’s the fact that it has one of the best Spider-Man stories ever put to any sort of medium whatsoever, and it’s all set against great combat, plenty of fan-favorite costumes, and glorious visuals.
5 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
There’s a reason Bethesda keeps releasing Skyrim on new platforms. The game is so good and so popular that people want to play it. One of the biggest open worlds to date (at least at the time), Skyrim just gave players so much to do, so many villages to travel in, and so many monsters to slay. Couple that with an upgrade system that allows players to become whomever they want to, it’s a fantasy game that lets players get absorbed for months. Then there’s the mod support.
4 Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
With the Metal Gear Solid series not having quite the clout that it used to, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain came out of nowhere to become one of the best open-world games of all time. Konami just understood what a good game was and went for it. Players can come up with all sorts of crazy solutions to take down their foes, and it was all set against a brilliantly designed world that still integrated the stealth and espionage that made the series so poignant in the first place.
3 Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 is an impressive sequel in every sense of the word (except for the part where it’s actually a prequel). There is so much attention to detail and so much care put into the game that it’s hard to image what it must’ve taken from Rockstar to achieve. Every character is important, every location is more impressive than the last, and every shootout is just as fun as the next. If you’re looking for an astounding experience set in the wild west, Red Dead Redemption 2 is the game for you.
2 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a lot of the draw that Skyrim does. It throws players in an expansive open-world in a medieval setting and has plenty for them to do within it. Where we feel The Witcher rises above that game is that its combat is much better designed and more exciting to watch. Just about every character is a treat to watch, and even the side quests are some of the most compelling ever put in a video game.
1 The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
Coming in at our number one spot is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While not a perfect game, it essentially learns from every other open-world game that came before it to create a world unlike any other. The game doesn’t hold the player’s hand, allowing them to experience the world and even the story in whatever order they want (even if that means not at all). It’s a game that motivates exploration through its visual design alone. It just does everything right, and Nintendo should be commended for it.