Top 25 Best Open World Games of all Time

Best Open World Games: Satiate your wanderlust with the top 25 open world games to ever grace the medium of videogames. [UPDATED]

by on 23rd Sep, 2013

Best Open World Games

open world games

Update: Check out what we have in place at #1 on this list!

As for 2013—well, it maybe the best year for open world games in gaming history—at least, thus far. While some of the biggest open world games this year have yet to be released, we can't help but think of how we'll update this list when they do come out—assuming they live up to their potential. 

What is an "open world" game? Wikipedia defines it as a type of videogame level design where the player can freely roam through the world and is given considerable freedom to interact with objectives and the like.

I decided against including the likes of Deus Ex and the Thief series, which despite the freedom they offer to the player, are strictly linear titles—at least in terms of exploration.

Rather, the showcase you see before you is a collection of the best open world experiences in which you, the player, can explore freely and to your heart's content while engaging in a myriad of activities unrelated to the "main story", if there is one.

2012 was a good year for open world games, especially with the release of Far Cry 3. 2013 is set to look even better, especially with Dead Island: Riptide, Saints Row 4, Watch Dogs, and the greatest of them all, Grand Theft Auto 5, on the horizon.

25. Driver: San Francisco

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Few games manage to bring cities to life outside of Grand Theft Auto and its fictional setting, but Driver: San Francisco manages to do just that with its semi-faithful recreation of the "City by the Bay" not just in architecture and layout, but in its spirit as well.

Driver: San Francisco's unique game mechanics allow you to hop into the bodies of San Francisco's many drivers, Quantum Leap style, and partake in their lives—at least to the extent where a lot of driving is involved. 

It may be a racing game at heart, but it's one with more soul than gasoline. 

24. Dead Island

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Set on a resort island overcome by a viral outbreak that turns everyone into zombies, you take on the role of one of four main characters who find themselves among the lucky (or unlucky) survivors. 

Equipped with little more than a boat paddle, you must make your way through the hordes of the formerly living and bring the rest of the survivors to safety before finding out what caused the outbreak in the first place. 

Dead Island may be a little rough around the edges, but its ambitiousness can't be denied. The game is without rival in terms of being an open world, zombie-killing action RPG. 

23. Infamous 2

Platform: PS3

As with its predecessor, Infamous 2 excels with its beautifully rendered open world environment. Its superhero themed action is punctuated by monumental set-piece battles that give consistency to the protagonist's story. 

In addition to open setting, the game's morality system pushes to provide two wholly different gameplay experiences. It even allows for players to create their own content to add to the world. 

22. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

There's rarely a dull moment in the Kingdoms of Amalur. It's a world filled to the brim with magic, mystery, and adventure. It even changes as you leave your mark upon the world. 

Thanks to the game's open world nature, you can go about saving the world at your own pace and opt instead to pursue numerous sidequests provided by townsfolk and magical creatures throughout the land. You can even collect scattered bits of lore. 

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is Fable done right. 

21. Crackdown

Platform: Xbox 360

There's plenty of fun to be had in Crackdown outside of the game's main narrative. With objectives and tasks that skirt the main story, players are free to roam throughout Pacific City. 

While the main story strictly limits you to playing the good guy, you can wreak havoc with your superpowers and face the wrath of your employers, or use those powers for good by going after the bad guys.

Great responsibility may come with great power, but so does fun—and Crackdown offers it in huge amounts. 

20. Ultima VII

Platform: PC

Ultima VII is the seventh installment in the long-running series of RPGs by Richard Garriott, father of the modern computer role-playing game. 

In this game, you once again return to the fantasy world of Britannia in which an mysterious being known as the Guardian has twisted the very fabric of reality, driving wizards insane and forcing every citizen to submit to his cruel will. It's up to the player—the Avatar—to unravel the enigma of the Guardian and set things right. 

Every action you perform in Britannia's wide open world has its consequences. 

19. Arcanum

Platform: PC

Populated with elves, orcs, humans, and a plethora of other fantasy races, Arcanum meshes Tolkienesque fantasy with the retro-science and industry of Victorian steampunk. It was the first RPG to do so. 

The world in which Arcanum takes place plays host to an unsteady equilibrium between the emergence of industry and the magic of ages past. As the protagonist in this story, you wield the power to tip the scales based on your actions throughout the adventure.—the world itself open and malleable to your feats. 

18. GTA: San Andreas

Platform: PC, PS2 & Xbox

Gamers can look back at the year 2004 and remember San Andreas with fondness, it defined open world environments in games with its near limitless interactivity. 

It's hard to wrap your head around the fact that Rockstar managed to fit so much content—from character customization and story, to the city of San Andreas itself—on a single disc for the PlayStation 2. 

Besides other titles in the GTA series, there really is no other game like it—only imitators. San Andreas is Los Angeles of the 90s come to life.

17. Xenoblade Chronicles

Platform: Wii

Xenoblade Chronicles could be described as huge, complex, and a whole series of other adjectives—none of which would adequately describe everything it has to offer. 

This gem of a JRPG, limited to the Nintendo Wii, not only offers an intricate story set in a meticulously put-together world but also highly customizable characters that serve to invigorate the JRPG genre. The game invites players to explore its vast and open world with a focus on doing whatever the hell you want whenever you feel like it. 

JRPG fans couldn't ask for a better, more immersive game. 

16. Borderlands 2

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Like the first game, Borderlands 2 takes place on the planet of Pandora. It's not exactly "post-apocalyptic" but it comes pretty close to what you'd expect from a planet destroyed more or less by corporations who are hell-bent on digging up resources and finding something called The Vault.

The planet's full of raiders—disenfranchised miners and former employees of corporations who were left behind on the planet to fend for themselves—and survivors who eke out a living as best they can using the resources left behind by those very same corporations—and new ones intent on claiming Pandora's riches.

The game is designed as a semi-open world title split between spacious levels, each with their own architecture and assortment of enemies, traversable through the use of vehicles or on foot.

15. Burnout Paradise

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

The entirety of Paradise City is your racetrack in Burnout Paradise. 

Instead of a series of self-contained challenges, Burnout Paradise offers up an open world where players are free to roam. And with the game's online mode, players can drive around the city and challenge other drivers to races, and even turn them into burning heaps of scrap metal.

Burnout Paradise serves as the benchmark for sandbox racing games, and is easily one of the best racing games ever made. 

14. Batman: Arkham City

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Not only does Batman: Arkham City surpass the likes of its genre-defining predecessor, Arkham Asylum, it also breaks new ground. 

The game does away with the zones and transitions of the previous game in favor of the truly wide open setting of Arkham City. 

Beyond progressing through the game's main story, you can roam through the streets of Arkham City as either Batman or Catwoman, each with their own arsenal of gadgets and skills. There's a variety of missions and open world sidequests that will keep you busy for dozens of hours. 

13. STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl

Platform: PC

The atmosphere of STALKER is so thick you could cut it with a knife. And atmosphere is what defines STALKER. 

It's a first person, survival-horror game set within the radioactive wasteland of Chernobyl, where men known as Stalkers eke out a dangerous living by retrieving strange, reality-defying artifacts. They aren't alone in the wasteland, which is haunted by mutant horrors and an assortment of nightmarish creatures. 

This open-ended setting allows for players to perform a myriad of objectives for the wasteland's human inhabitants while unraveling the mystery of Chernobyl. 

12. Assassin's Creed 3

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Assassin's Creed 3 is set in the New World, thousands of miles away from the settings in the previous titles in the series, which took place in Europe and the Middle East. The newer game puts players in the role of Connor Kenway, who's yet another descendant of Desmond.

This time around, you run about the American colonies of Boston and New York and fight your way through some of the biggest, and most important battles of the American War of Independence. Though your allegiance is with the Assassins, you find your goals in alignment with the revolutionary movement and take on the British Empire.

Like all previous Assassin's Creed games, you're free to roam wherever you choose and participate in a wide variety of engagements ranging from optional missions to quests that see you hunting rare animals and gathering knick-knacks for a pirate.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a sandbox for the skilled. 

11. Fallout 3

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Hardcore fans of the original Fallout may disagree, but the Wasteland has never been better realized than in Fallout 3. Like other Bethesda titles, Fallout 3 allows you to create your own adventure. 

It is set in a vast landscape that would be relentlessly bleak were it not for the remnants of civilization and the hope of survival. Fallout 3 is absorbing, immersive, and beautiful in its desolation. 

10. Dark Souls

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Dark Souls is fear in the form of a videogame, and I refer not to its scares—for it has none of those cheap thrills that leap at you from darkened closets and ventilation shafts—but to its challenges. The fear of death is a constant challenge and you must be prepared to die if you wish to make any progress whatsoever. 

It is with knowing this fear that we learn to conquer it, for death is not permanent in Dark Souls. Through death comes learning, and learning how to avoid death—while fully embracing its inevitability—is the only way to progress through the deadly, but beautiful environs of Dark Souls. 

There's never been a game more stressful—or satisfying to play. That outlook depends on how well you manage your fears. 

9. Saints Row 4

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Saints Row 4 is the open-world genre taken to its most logical conclusion. Which is to say that it's entirely open and free for you to do whatever the hell it is you want to do without even the slightest boundary to keep you in check.

Instead of forcing you to play through a story that keeps you roughly in check by means of rules enforced by cops and the like, the game actively encourages you to break the rules by subverting the rules of engagement that typify open world gaming experiences.

You're free to do what you like, when you like, and however you like. That is Saints Row 4, and it's a blast.

8. Fallout

Platform: PC

Perhaps one of the best RPGs ever created, Fallout is one of the first games to offer an open world environment coupled with brilliant storytelling. 

Set in the 22nd century, Fallout provides a chilling look at the future of the 1950s had the Cold War come to a head with the mutually assured destruction of both the world's superpowers. Even as humanity struggles to survive in the aftermath of the war that almost ended the world, further threats loom upon the horizon and threaten to make mankind forever extinct. 

Needless to say, Fallout laid the foundations for narratives in role-playing games as well as open worlds for games in the generation subsequent to it. 

7. Far Cry 3

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Far Cry 3 has drawn comparisons to The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in its encouragement of exploration, hunting, and crafting, the open world experience is actually quite different between the two.

While Skyrim allows the player to take the entire map at their own pace, regardless of their participation in the main quest line, Far Cry 3 is designed for the player to balance their exploring with making progress in the game. However, you will find pockets of time to wander about as you please, and indulging in what Rook Island has to offer will greatly aid you in your quests.

Far Cry 3 is proof that first person shooters can offer more in the way of exploration and world-creation beyond shooting people in corridors.

6. Morrowind

Platform: PC

Morrowind was a rare game for its time. Offering vast vistas and sublime greenery, Morrowind effortlessly captures the hearts and minds of players not only with the land, but with freedom it provided.

It is a massive, open-ended game that allows you to do what you want, when you want, wherever you want. You could be a warrior fulfilling an ancient prophecy, or a sneak thief who seeks only to enrich himself through the misery of others—or perhaps even a little bit of both. The choice is yours to make in Morrowind. 

5. Just Cause 2

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Just Cause 2 sees the return of daredevil/action movie badass Rico Rodriguez in an open world adventure set in the diverse, tropical playground of Panau. 

Panau is a fictional South East Asian country where violence is rife and where the physics enables Rodriguez to perform death-defying stunts with the game's wide assortment of vehicles, weapons, and trick-enabling gadgets. 

The game's story isn't big on its demands to your attention, allowing you to do whatever you please, whenever you please. 

4. Red Dead Redemption

Platform: PS3 & Xbox 360

Red Dead Redemption is the Old West made anew with the fiction of Rockstar Games, and it's every bit as bleak and unforgiving as it was back in the olden days. 

It is within this unforgiving land that a man, John Marston, seeks redemption—not only for his life, but for his soul. And it is only within this land that such redemption is possible.

Needless to say, the game's atmosphere is second to none, and it is host not only to John Marston's story and those of his counterparts, but to the greater battle between the old and the new—the stolid Old West and the march of Progress. 

3. Minecraft

Platform: PC & Xbox 360

Minecraft is ultimately our number one pick for the best open world videogame ever made based on the simple fact that the world in which it takes place is that of our own creation.

It offers players the ability to build kingdoms, go on adventures, and craft narratives that far transcend anything created by a game developer. The world of Minecraft is a sandbox, and it's ours to play in and to do as we like.

The game is what you make of it. 

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Skyrim is the fifth game in Bethesda's ever popular series of role-playing games. Like its predecessors, Skyrim takes place in an open environment in which we're given leave to explore the world as we see fit.

While the world of Skyrim is charming and consistently engaging,  it doesn't simply tell us a story—it offers us instead a chance to weave our very own tale. 

Skyrim is interactive art at its finest. 

1. Grand Theft Auto IV

Platform: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

Liberty City is a city alive. It's alive with the daily goings-on and the countless lives of its citizens, and alive with the criminal activities with which the protagonist involves himself. 

Rockstar managed to infuse this fictional representation of New York City with more than just buildings and NPCs—they gave it a heart, and you can hear its pulse whenever you're driving down a street. 

You have the freedom to follow the story or to wreak havoc throughout the urban jungle of Liberty City, and you are all the while a part of it, within it, and never without it.

Tie for 1. Grand Theft Auto 5

Platform: PS3, Xbox 360

Grand Theft Auto 5 is by and large one of the biggest open world titles ever conceived. It's bigger than GTA 4 and Red Dead Redemption combined, and brings to life the city of Los Angeles in the fiction of Los Santos.

Through years of hard-worn development and research, Rockstar has managed to create one of the most believable environments to ever grace the medium of video games. 

Due to the fact that the game is new, and because it wouldn't be very fair to GTA 4 to call it a lesser title compared to GTA 5, we're naming this one a tie for first place on our list of the best open world games of all time. 

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