Draw distance is important for projecting not just the “illusion” of a large environment in linear corridor shooters, but also for depicting really large environments. It helps to see that the virtual world in which you walk is a big one, with monuments and geography that lend the impression that you’re in a world not unlike our own.
In this article, we take a look at some of the biggest open world games and a few more linear titles that happen to be exceptionally good at providing the illusion of an open world thanks to the details in the background—which do a better job at depicting ‘vastness’ than the walled in skyboxes of most other games.
TERA may not be World of Warcraft, but it's a gorgeous game and while some elements (ahem, the characters) may be entirely questionable, the game is a gorgeous one and it gives many other MMOs a good run for their money. Questionable content aside, it's gorgeous and it plays well.
16. Dragon’s Dogma
Touted by some as a competitor to Skyrim, and by others as a more open-world version of Assassin’s Creed, it would be more accurate to say that Dragon’s Dogma is very much its own game. It offers a huge, sprawling city, in addition to a vastness of surrounding lands.
15. Max Payne 3
Set in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, Max Payne is a man who’s out of his element and torn between two worlds: the rich who tower above the populace in their high-rise buildings and their members-only dance clubs, and the poor whose sprawling favelas make up much of the city.
14. Assassin’s Creed Revelations
Assassin’s Creed Revelations is set in the city of Constantinople, which consists of four districts and blah blah blah. Point is, it’s a majorly huge city and you’ll get to traverse throughout the whole of it, unlocking one piece of the city at a time as Ezio gets up onto the towers and does his thing with the eagle.
13. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
World of Warcraft may have seemed like a big game for its time, especially in contrast to competing MMORPGs like Guild Wars and Lineage 2. Azeroth is a big, sprawling world, but it paled in comparison to Outland, an all new land introduced in the Burning Crusade. Players could soar through the air in flying mounts and behold the vastness and majesty of all the environments of Outland.
Azeroth too was reshaped in its entirety with the release of the latest expansion pack, Cataclysm. As the initial design did not allow for flying mounts, all of these locations had to be redesigned, and vastly expanded in size and scale.
12. Far Cry 2
Far Cry 2 is one of the few games set in Africa that actually makes you feel like you’re in a place that’s incredibly hostile and, without a doubt, unwelcoming. It’s a wild, untamed land, and you can drive or walk around pretty much anywhere you look at. Just remember to stock some pills for that pesky malaria disease that’s eating you away and you’ll be just fine. If you don’t like what you see, you can also burn the whole place down. Videogames!
11. Arkham City
The city of Gotham—now resectioned, walled off, and turned into an expansion of the Arkham Prison—is Batman’s playground to glide around in on his bat-whatchamacallits and scare the living daylights out of anyone stupid enough to stand in his way.
Arkham City is way bigger than its predecessor, Arkham Asylum, and it shows.
10. Fallout: New Vegas
The arid Mojave desert may not be much to look at but the spectacle of New Vegas in the distance will reverse that impression.
New Vegas is where you’re headed, and that goal’s made clear because it’s the only light you’ll see at night besides the moon and stars.
9. Shogun 2
Shogun 2 Total War may be the only strategy game on this list, but it's also one of the few games that actually offers a scale that's true-to-life, realistically portraying the battlefields as they were.
See that island over there? You can walk to the other end of it, assuming the game lets you and doesn’t shove you into one of its obligatory cutscenes instead. The draw distance in Crysis is immense, and were it not for the somewhat linear, corridor-esque portions of the game, it’d be possible to do just about anything.
Some might call Rage more of a tech demo than an actual game, but where the game falters in terms of storytelling, it makes up for it with its vast environment and great combat mechanics.
The game’s large environments are traversable on foot, or by vehicles, and their scale is evident thanks to Rage’s powerful id Tech 5 engine.
6. Arma II
Arma 2 may be more than a couple of years old, but being developed for high-end computers that weren't even available at the time has its perks especially since every computer these days is capable of running the game at its highest settings—allowing the game to reach its full potential.
Vast and foreboding, the maps in Arma 2 span over 10km and are now home to threats worse than enemy soldiers thanks to the development of DayZ.
5. Battlefield 3
Battlefield 3 offers the largest, and most detailed battlefields in any first person shooter. While some games like MAG offer huge locations, they are otherwise insufficient in detail and lack the sense of vastness offered by BF3.
Just about anything can be blown up, and suffice it to say, there’s nothing more awesome than watching a huge radio tower collapse to the ground whether you’re watching the demolition from just a few feet away or from all the way across the map.
4. The Witcher 2
Dragon Age 2 (which isn’t at all the game I’m writing about) caught a lot of heat for presenting players with one of the most drab and dreary environments in a videogame ever as its first location. In direct contrast to Dragon Age 2, The Witcher 2’s first location is set in a colorful environment—a rebel keep under siege by the king’s forces.
War is the backdrop of The Witcher 2’s storyline, and the sheer scale of what’s at stake can be seen right from the get go, giving the player a damn good first impression.
3. Red Dead Redemption
It would be hard to experience the vast expanse of the desert were it not for the capabilities offered by Red Dead Redemption’s powerful engine.
Whereas most games fail to convey the size and scope of a wide open area, RDR does it with aplomb. If you can see it, then you can go to it—either on foot, or more preferably on horseback.
The game seems like just about any other Bethesda title when you first make your way through the character creation screen and the rest of the tutorial phase.
It’s impressive, but it never truly comes into its own until you finally emerge from the dungeon and your companion—be it the Stormcloak or the Imperial—point out the Bleak Falls Barrow ruin in the distance. It’s at that moment that the vastness of Skyrim’s world hits you, and it’s all possible thanks to the game’s powerful engine.
1. Just Cause 2
The fictional land of Panau, which is based on South East Asia, plays host to some of the most beautiful locations ever before seen in a video game.
Though mostly tropical, the islands are host to a variety of environments—all of which are viewable so long as you have a clear line of sight.