The concept of a free-flowing, expansive open world was, not so long ago, little more than a total pipe dream. Sure, games like Elite or Zork were commendable in terms of scope back in the day, but it wouldn’t be until recently that gamers could truly explore vast, fleshed-out landscapes without either putting up with obscenely-restrictive draw distances or trudging through a litany of loading screens. This may come across as gross hyperbole, but early open world games really were that rough.
These days, of course, every third game that releases seems to boast the largest, most content-packed open world ever devised. There comes a point where, rather than trek through empty fields or abandoned streets, it may be more convenient to simply expedite the process and cut straight to the next story mission. In ancient times, gamers would refer to these gameplay segments as ‘levels,’ though those who grew up playing early Nintendo games couldn’t have known the joys of picking up fifteen different side quests and losing track of what you were doing on six separate occasions on your way from A to B.
That isn’t to say that open world game design is inherently bad, and it’s a particularly useful tool in story-rich RPG game development. There’s hardly a better way of investing a player in the lore of a world than allowing for them to explore it themselves. Of course, there are a handful of games which take this principle to the extreme, and some of the largest maps in RPGs can literally take dozens of hours to cross.
23 Fallout 4 - 3.8mi²
Despite generating an incredible amount of hype and daring to take on the task of succeeding what was perhaps the best game in the series, Fallout 4 was, by and large, a bit of a disappointment. Part of that sentiment was due to the game’s relatively small map, which was a downgrade in terms of size from proceeding Fallout games. Though it would be expanded in later DLCs, the small slice of New England made playable in Bethesda’s late 2015 release just didn’t cut it for many. That said, the title still stands head-and-shoulders above others in the genre—gamers just expected more from such a prolific franchise.
22 Fallout: New Vegas - 4.1mi²
Surprisingly enough, everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic romp through the Mojave desert is actually slightly larger in terms of available gameplay space than its successor, albeit not by much. Though apparently relatively small at the outset, Obsidian Entertainment made sure that the barren wastes surrounding New Vegas were carved up and difficult to trudge through, which padded out the experience and made the world feel just a bit larger than it actually was. Most New Vegas players will, for instance, be hard pressed to forget the first time they plotted a course for New Vegas only to be met by an angry swarm of cazadors.
21 Dragon Quest VIII - 6mi²
Dragon Quest VIII was the first in the series to actually be known as a Dragon’s Quest game in the West; all previous titles in the series being known as the Dragon Warrior games. It also stands as one of the best JRPGS available on the PlayStation 2. Many remember it fondly, though it didn’t sell overly well due to the fact that JRPGs still weren’t a best-selling genre in the region when it was first released. In 2014, however, it was ported to the Nintendo 3DS, where it received the attention it originally deserved. The most impressive thing about this title may be that, at a whopping six square miles, one of the largest open worlds in RPGs managed to fit on a portable system.
20 Kingdom Come: Deliverance - 6.1mi²
2018’s Kingdom Come: Deliverance is notable not for its incredible gameplay innovations or fantastical take on the genre: the grim, sober reality of true-to-life medieval existence is what really makes this title unique. It’s still an RPG through-and-through, but the tough, unforgiving survival-centric nature of the gameplay, to some, bests the outlandish, over-the-top sorcery and swordsmanship showcased in game franchises like The Elder Scrolls. The map isn’t overly large, yet the six-odd square miles explorable in Kingdom Come are well utilized. Fields and dirt roads feel believably lengthy without overextending themselves, and some of the game’s towns are shockingly expansive.
19 The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - 10mi²
Speaking of The Elder Scrolls, the third entry in Bethesda’s notoriously sprawling, intricate and amazing fantasy RPG series was truly larger-than-life when it first released. While the first two mainline Elder Scrolls experiences were restricted to a false 3D perspective which was littered with 2D, forward-facing sprites, Morrowind was an all-new experience available to play in all three dimensions. What’s more is that, for a brief period of time, this romp through the world of Tamriel was the most expansive 3D game available. A hardware pusher like few others, 2002’s epic fantasy RPG is a cornerstone of modern gaming.
18 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Special Edition) - 14.8mi²
Perhaps to most recognizable title to be featured on this list, 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was the title which propelled the Elder Scrolls series into the public consciousness. An epic fantasy experience full of dungeon crawling and dragon slaying, this title is so well-known that your grandmother hasn’t just heard of it—she’s the headmaster of the Guild of Mages. Skyrim may actually have a slightly smaller map than some imagined it to, as it was, for 2011, overwhelmingly large. Though it only allows for a relatively meager 15 square miles of explorable space, it’s hard to feel like time spent exploring the land of Skyrim was ever wasted.
17 The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - 15mi²
It just so happens that many of the mainline Elder Scrolls titles are relatively similar in size (save for one major exception with which longtime fans of the series will be familiar), so it makes sense that Skyrim’s predecessor would just slightly superseded it’s sequel in terms of map size. Though neither Skyrim nor Oblivion stack up to some of the more sizable RPG maps, they both still manage to feel epic in both scale and scope. Games in this series tend to focus more on story and atmosphere than sheer world size, and, in doing so, manage to feel much larger than some games several times their size.
16 Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning - 16mi²
2012’s fantasy action RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was an interesting gem which was somewhat overshadowed by all of the other terrific high fantasy role-playing games the gaming populace had been treated to during that time. We were only a year removed from Skyrim, of course, and some weren’t quite ready to move on. That said, for those who haven’t lost their last-gen consoles to the mothball mayhem of their disorganized attics or basements, Kingdoms of Amalur is definitely worth a replay. With a total of sixteen square miles of explorable play space, this title is totally stuffed with content.
15 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - 20.8mi²
Equating digital terrain to real-world metrics isn’t an exact science, and some disagree on the total size of the world present in The Witcher 3. Most speculate that, including the game’s two sizable expansions, Wild Hunt offers slightly over 20 square miles to explore. Of course, everyone familiar with RPG video games should be acutely familiar with CD Projekt Red’s uber-famous Witcher series, the third installment of which may just go down as one of the best gaming experiences of this generation. The Witcher 3 can easily take upwards of 100 hours on a stop-and-smell-the-roses first playthrough, and that is due in no small part to the expansive play space.
14 Sacred 2: Fallen Angel - 20.8mi²
Released back in 2009 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is, though still a pretty solid game, definitely starting to show its age. That shouldn’t inhibit anyone’s enjoyment of the game—particularly if low-res 720p textures are your preferred aesthetic—and any RPG aficionado familiar with the later Ultima games may well feel at home with this title. Completely loaded with content and explorable environments, it takes most player ages to reach the credit crawl, and that’s only if they refuse to bog themselves down with side quests. With 22 square miles of high fantasy thrills to uncover, RPG fans could hardly go wrong with Sacred 2.
13 Guild Wars 2 - 36mi²
2012’s Guild Wars 2 was an MMORPG triumph made particularly memorable for its humor and its use of a live event system by which players could tackle giant bosses as a patchwork community. While many lesser MMOs are subject to declining player bases, Guild Wars 2 has stayed relatively strong, and a constant stream of new updates and innovations keep enough people coming back to ensure a modestly-sized community will remain for the foreseeable future. Though there is talk of doing away with certain in-game realms, Guild Wars 2 offers a massive set of areas and a ton of content for players both new and old to explore.
12 Dragon Age Inquisition - 45mi²
Despite being locked in the grip of one of the most notoriously awful publishers in the gaming industry, Bioware’s long-heralded Dragon Age series has mostly afforded near-uncountable hours of enjoyment to those fascinated by high fantasy RPGs. Dragon Age Inquisition is seriously large—most players report viewing the credits after lengthy 90 hour campaigns, and a more laid-back playthrough could easily take some players well past the hundred hour mark. Needless to say, the world on offer in Inquisition is nothing short of jaw-droppingly large. With multiple biomes and seemingly-endless torrents of content to work through, Bioware has made their already massive map feel even larger.
11 Final Fantasy XI - 70mi²
Debuting in the United States all the way back in May of 2002, Final Fantasy XI (also popularly referred to as Final Fantasy XI Online) was about as massive as MMORPGs could possibly have been at the time. Nearly ridiculous in terms of scope and digital scale, XI was also ambitious for congealing the entire world into one single set of international servers while relying on a ubiquitous, rudimentary translation system to help foreign players to communicate with one another. With a whopping 70 square miles of playable space, this turn-of-the-century Final Fantasy experience was, at the time, totally unparalleled. Though Square Enix pulled the plug on the game’s servers back in 2016, dedicated fan servers have helped to keep this odd duck alive well past its expiration date.
10 World Of Warcraft - 80mi²
9 Xenoblade Chronicles X - 154mi²
8 Star Wars Galaxies - 200mi²
Star Wars Galaxies managed to excite hardcore fans of the galaxy far, far away despite all of the negativity in the fan base resulting from the release of the prequel movies. A totally ambitious title for 2003, Galaxies was an MMORPG which allowed players to define their own roles and choose their own paths in the world of Star Wars. It was—and, to some extent, still is—rare to be given such an uninhibited look into the world George Lucas helped to create, and it was an amazing experience. With 200 square miles to explore across a handful of planets, it’s a real shame that support for this title was axed all the way back in 2011.
7 EverQuest - 294mi²
EverQuest, an ambitious MMORPG released in ye olden times of 1999, was almost larger than life itself when it first released, and the fact that a dedicated community still exists surrounding these games should stand as a test to their quality. Though a pretty generic fantasy experience padded with repetitive actions and boxy, dated visuals, EverQuest was a cutting-edge title eighteen years ago. That said, new players would probably do well to steer clear of this thing in 2018 unless they’re overly familiar with the genre. Those who do delve into this aging one-time great will be treated to a nearly-overwhelming 294 square miles of playable space.
6 Asheron’s Call - 500mi²
Another MMORPG initially released in 1999, Asheron’s Call is perhaps most famous today for a 2017 YouTube video showcasing someone’s grandfather playing the game with characters he created when the game first launched. If someone was willing to maintain an in-game character’s existence for over eighteen years, that ought to be indicative of the quality of Asheron’s Call’s online experience. Though the servers finally shut down in early 2017 after nearly 17 years of service, hardcore fans aren’t likely to forget the time they spent scouring the game’s incredible 500 square mile map.
5 Final Fantasy XV - 700mi²
Famous for its massive scale and for restoring the Final Fantasy name in the minds of gamers worn down by sub-par past releases, Final Fantasy XV is perhaps the most well-received game in the series to be released in the last decade. A JRPG at its core despite a few decidedly-Western influences, fans will love grinding through the game’s hundred-plus hour story time and time again. Of course, with some bosses nearly as large as other game’s entire maps—and that is barely an exaggeration—XV has the kind of staying power few that other games could possibly boast.
4 Chronicles Of Elyria - 12,741mi²
Coming sometime in 2019, the still-unreleased Chronicles of Elyria claims to be the new standard-bearer for medieval MMOs as we round the corner into the 2020’s. While the game’s roots seem firmly planted in much older titles, Elyria is a drastic upgrade from the fantasy-inspired online RPGs of yesteryear. We’ve yet to see how this game performs in the wild, so it’s tough to know if it will be able to live up to expectations. That said, MMO fans are losing their minds over this title, and, with a supposed 12,741 square miles of explorable game area, it may be worth checking out when it launches sometime next year.
3 Guild Wars Nightfall - 15,000mi²
Proceeding the previously-mentioned Guild Wars 2 by seven years, Guild Wars Nightfall is a relatively forgotten addition to this famous series of MMORPGs. Though only a minor update when compared to the first title released only a year prior, Nightfall’s major advancements came in the form of playable area and map design. While still a medieval fantasy sort of ordeal, players could now explore an incredibly robust and expansive terrain. With somewhere around 15,000 square miles of digital ground to cover, 2006’s Guild Wars Nightfall sill stands as having one of the largest playable worlds ever to be released.
2 Lord Of The Rings Online - 30,000mi²
Popularly considered to be the largest MMORPG ever to be released in terms of map scale, Lord of the Rings Online is so monstrously, ridiculously large that it may well have made Tolkien's jaw drop. Rightfully so—if there’s any fantasy property deserving of an incredibly detailed, in-depth MMO, it would almost certainly be Lord of the Rings. First released just over a decade ago, the game is definitely starting to grow a bit long in the teeth. That doesn’t mean it should be passed up, though, and the unreal 30,0000-odd square miles of play space could feasibly keep LOTR fans engaged for years to come.
1 The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall - 62,000mi²
Those who believe the worlds of Morrowind, Oblivion or Skyrim to be large clearly aren’t aware of what awaits them in some of the older Elder Scrolls titles. Though pretty clunky by today’s standards and, in some instances, outright ugly, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is nearly unfathomable in terms of scale, especially 1996. It’s tough to imagine that the largest playable space ever included in a game was released back when Quake was still a behemoth of a game that required top-of-the-line PC rigs to run. Fans of Bethesda’s newer TES games owe it to themselves to cast their minds back twenty-odd years and give this thing a go.