Top 20 Biggest Game Worlds of all Time
Twenty biggest open worlds in videogames you could very easily lose yourself in.
by Ian Miles Cheong on 27th May, 2012
Biggest Game Worlds
Digital worlds are part and parcel of the videogames we play. It is the geography in which the characters with whom we interact, and the places in which we go. It's where the magic happens, and we visit these lands every time we play a game.
While most games are made up of levels and static missions, some among them—like the ones this article is about—offer seamless transitions with wide open maps that provide the player with the illusion (or in some cases, the reality) that the world in which they walk is one of colossal proportions, comparable to the real world.
The only way one can measure the 'true' size of any game world with any amount of accuracy is through measurements provided by the game developers, because each game's geography has its own metric. Rather than to chart these worlds under the false pretense of square mileage, I've opted to chart these worlds based on how big they seem when one actually plays these games.
Furthermore, this list does not include any games which take place in space, which would by far exceed the scale of any terrestrial-based games. Given the relative emptiness of space, there wouldn't be much to see, anyhow.
Editor's note: I didn't include Daggerfall on this list because the maps were randomly generated, and the transitions were not seamless.
#20 GTA 4
Grand Theft Auto 4 takes place in Liberty City, which is Rockstar's simulacrum of New York City—or Manhattan Island and its surrounding boroughs.
While many parts of the map have been scaled down for accessibility and gameplay purposes, it's hard to shake the feeling that you're driving around in New York City whenever you start up GTA 4. You can even catch a ride in a cab and tour the sights as he drives around the city.
And when you get tired of driving around peacefully, there's always the option to unleash hell and take on the entire police force.
#19 Batman: Arkham City
Arkham City is the world of Batman writ large. It is what happens when you take the seedier portion of Gotham City and turn it into a gigantic prison by building a fence around the imaginary borders.
Even so, it's huge—and Arkham City is made even bigger thanks to the inclusion of the underground city that lies beneath the stones of Gotham. Did you know that there used to be a city where Gotham now stands? Well, I didn't either—at least not until I played the game.
You can either fly around the city on your gliderrific batwings or treat the city as your playground in Catwoman's chapters. It's a wonder how she manages to run around so much without tiring herself out.
#18 Burnout Paradise
Burnout Paradise is widely regarded as Criterion Games' best title and with damn good reason. It's also one of the few racing games out there that manages to faithfully provide its players with the recreation of a city that not only feels real, but real enough to make you want to drive around just for the sake of driving around. That's pretty important for a game that's solely about racing.
As the game is set in an open world environment, so too are its tracks which are simply portions of the open world cordoned off for the purpose of racing. Drivers can even go online to participate in open world races or simply mess around with others.
Racing games just don't get any better than this.
#17 Dark Souls
The entirety of Dark Souls takes place in a relentlessly hostile environment called Lordran, the land of ancient lords. In what appears to be a twist of the typical adventuring trope, you play the role of an Undead. Your quest to ring the two Bells of Awakening and undo your curse will see you fighting unforgiving foes who will do anything to get in your way and prevent you from fulfilling your mission.
Quests aside, Dark Souls' medieval environment may be large and spacious, but you'll have some difficulty admiring the architecture and the scenery because just about everything in the world wants to kill you—and it's never a good idea to stay in one place for too long.
#16 Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is the third game in the Assassin's Creed series. Why it wasn't called AC3 is anyone's guess. Brotherhood expands upon the Italian setting of Assassin's Creed II and is set almost entirely in the city of Rome.
Instead of splitting the narrative into multiple parts made up of smaller cities to explore, Brotherhood's Rome allows you to traverse a full-sized city that's almost built to the scale of real world Rome. Missing are its countless streets that would undoubtedly bog down any experience the game has to offer, but all the monuments and famous buildings are definitely present—and they're located where they're supposed to be.
In defense of the game's reproduction of Rome, it makes sense that Ezio wouldn't bother remembering each of the nameless streets as his recollection is limited to the places he knows.
#15 Far Cry 2
Far Cry 2 is set in a fictional and nameless central African state that offers a diverse range of geography including deserts, jungles, and savannas. It's populated by warring factions, mercenaries, and the civilians (and native wildlife) caught within the crossfire.
Touted as a realistic game, you'll have to navigate through the terrain with a map that you'll actually have to stare down at. There's no heads-up display to tell you where to go in this game, so exploration is as real as it gets.
I should add that the journey the player undertakes is not unlike Joseph Conrad's journey into the Heart of Darkness.
#14 Just Cause 2
If you've ever wanted to experience what it'd be like to play Venture Bros' Brock Samson, then Just Cause 2 is just the game to let you do it by putting you in the role of the very Samson-like Rico Rodriguez, a secret agent/daredevil.
You're free to roam the fictional island nation of Panau, that's loosely based on South East Asia. It's even as big as any island you'd actually visit in real life thanks to the game's engine.
Instead of just running around on foot, you're free to drive all sorts of vehicles in addition to having access to a parachute and a grappling hook that are always ready to be deployed. The sky is literally the limit with what you can do in Just Cause 2.
#13 Red Dead Redemption
Few games accurately portray the Wild West—a time and a land where lives were cheap and bullets were even cheaper, both equally fleeting. Like the Grand Theft Auto series, Red Dead Redemption isn't set in anyplace that's real, and instead offers players with a world that's just seems real enough to be a place that actually exists.
You take on the role of John Marston, a former outlaw in service of the US government who seeks to bring to justice the lawless men he used to work with. Although the game is Marston's story, you'll have the freedom to roam through the game's various locales either as a man of peace, or as a man who shoots just about everything that gets in his way.
I opted for the latter, because there's no fun in being peaceful.
Vanguard may not be a game you've played, but it's an MMORPG with lands so big that players had to walk for miles before they even ran into each other—which was, perhaps, the game's biggest flaw upon its release half a decade ago.
The geography of Vanguard (which is set in the mythical fantasy world of Telon) is split into three distinct regions—Thestra, Kojan, and Qalia. Thestra embodies just about every European medieval fantasy world you could imagine, Kojan is distinctly Asian, and Qalia is like the land out of the 1001 Nights—or, you know, Arabia.
Now that it's going to go free-to-play, the servers may become more populated than they've ever been and players won't have to walk for miles just to see each other.
#11 Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
38 Studios may have gone under, but the world they crafted remains one of the biggest and best designed open worlds to date.
The game is set in the Faelands, one of the so-called Kingdoms of Amalur and home to the Fae. The Faelands are divided into separate regions, including the forests, plains, canyons, marshes, and the crystal kingdom of Alabastra.
Had the developer that made the game not shut its doors, we'd be looking at a sequel to Kingdoms of Amalur that would've been set in one of the other kingdoms. 38 Studios even had an MMORPG planned, which would've encompassed all the kingdoms in the game, including the one we get to explore in Reckoning.
With any luck, someone else will pick up the license and put to use all the resources and lore they developed for the setting.
Rift is an MMORPG that appeared more or less from nowhere and took the market (previously thought impossible to breach thanks to the presence of World of Warcraft) by storm.
Set in the fantasy world of Telara, the game has its own sort of logic—Telara is the focal point of the five different elemental Planes, and exists where each of these planes intersect. Regardless of how it's constructed, there's a lot to explore, and there's even portions of the elemental planes (which are entirely instanced) that you can visit in Rift.
The best thing about Rift is its open raids, which allows public groups of dozens of players to team up against invasions that happen sporadically across the land.
#9 Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is set in the grimdark (yes, that's a word) Warhammer Fantasy setting, where war is perpetual and every race is at war with just about everyone else.
With the focus on player versus player combat, much of the game's action happens out in open world battlefields rather than instanced missions, where the goal is to kill the opposing army and take over their resources.
The game may be focused around player killing, but it also rewards explorers thanks to the inclusion of a Tome of Knowledge, a book that logs everything you accomplish, places you explore, and all the things you discover in your journeys.
#8 Diablo 3
When Diablo III was first announced, there was some worry that the game wouldn't be as vast as Diablo II, which was set in multiple environments across the world of Sanctuary. Thankfully, the third entry in the Diablo franchise managed to surpass expectations with its relatively seamless world that's very neatly divided by the game's four acts.
With no loading screens apart from the one you see when you first start the game, Diablo III not only feels huge—it IS huge. And best of all, it doesn't feel empty.
A lot of action RPGs try to make up with size for what they lack in content, but every part of the Diablo III world feels "lived in". Even the dungeons are explained through journals for why they exist.
#7 Fallout 3
Fallout 3 is Bethesda's take on a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. with much of its buildings reduced to rubble thanks to China's nuclear detonations on the capitol.
Washington D.C. is pretty much ground zero, but thanks to a couple of hundred years and the low nuclear yield of Chinese nukes (most of which went towards bombarding military facilities instead of political ones), a good portion of the city remains standing. Which is good, because without any architecture, Fallout 3 wouldn't be a very fun place to visit.
If you've ever been to D.C. or at least seen pictures of it, you'll notice that a good chunk of the monuments and buildings everyone knows remain standing. There's even a simulacrum of the D.C. metro in the game. But it's filled with ghouls, so bring a gun.
When Morrowind was first released, it was heralded as being one of the biggest games ever made—and for its time, it certainly was.
Set on the island of its namesake, Morrowind, and populated by a host of very angry dark elves, the game puts players in the role of a "chosen one" type character who's fated to save the world from an evil Daedric prince called Dagoth Ur.
You could go along with the prophecy, or you could just say "screw it" and explore the island of Morrowind at your leisure.
The size of Oblivion makes Morrowind seem like a playground—which isn't to say that Morrowind is small, only that Oblivion feels that much bigger.
Despite the fact that Oblivion lacks the bizarre architecture of its predecessor, it makes up for it with the addition of Oblivion Gates, which are pathways to another dimension that looks a whole lot like hell.
If you didn't think Oblivion was a big enough place to explore or missed the weirdness of Morrowind, the game also saw the Shivering Isles expansion which added… well, the Shivering Isles.
#4 Guild Wars
The second Guild Wars may be well on its way, but the first game—and its expansions—offered some of the vastest locations to ever grace an online game. Though much of the game was instanced for the sake of gameplay, the lands in which Guild Wars took place were certainly interconnected.
Players started off on the continent of Tyria, which was blasted to hell and back by an event called the "Searing". That you got to experience this as it happened was one of the coolest things as it gave you the impression that the world did, for a fact, change.
Together with other players, you progressed through the story by traversing the world—which consisted of seared lands, snow-capped mountains, tropical jungles, and finally, a place that could very much be described as the edge of the world. The game was made even larger with the Factions expansion, which added Asian-themed land of Cantha; and Nightfall, which contained the continent of Elona, a land heavily based on North Africa.
If you thought Oblivion and Morrowind were good looking games, Skyrim reimagines the world of the Elder Scrolls in an entirely new (and entirely better looking) light.
This time around, you must scale the highest peaks and venture into the deepest depths beneath the mountains while fighting hordes of the angry dead, ferocious beasts, and all manner of arcane machinery. Unlike Oblivion, even the dungeons are crafted by hand, so you'll never see the same two dungeons.
You'll even slay dragons in your adventures. It's quite a bit like Dungeons & Dragons in that sense—which begs the question: why hasn't anyone made a D&D game like Skyrim?
#2 World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft never had any 'humble beginnings'. It was a game epic in scope since its inception, offering two vast continents: Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms—the lands themselves based on the Warcraft series of real-time strategy games.
While we may never revisit Warcraft in the form of an RTS, we can certainly visit Azeroth in World of Warcraft, which has been expanded with the addition of Northrend and the Outlands—a whole different world—since its release. The most recent expansion, Cataclysm, even destroyed the lands of old to make them anew, and the upcoming Mists of Pandaria will add yet another land to visit.
It is difficult, if not impossible to compare the size of most other MMORPGs with Azeroth's world, as most of them are about as small as one of the larger areas in World of Warcraft.
Minecraft is by far the largest world you could ever visit, thanks to its seeded (or procedurally generated) environment.
Every journey you take in Minecraft is an adventure seeded with numerous challenges (in the form of angry skeletons or exploding creepers) and rewards (like diamonds!). It's possible to adventure alone, or with a friend—or many friends, for that matter thanks to the game's flexibility.
Each of the adventures you have can be every bit as memorable as any in a pre-designed world.