The 10 Best Open-World Games [January 2023] – VG247
It feels good to take the path less travelled, sometimes.
Open-world games are among some of the best out there. Over the grand course of time, these worlds continually get bigger and better. More immersive and imaginative, and they just keep on coming. These games enthrall people with their vibrant world building and detailed quests that only enhance the story of the world you’re in.
Once you find an open-world title to fall in love with, you’ll no doubt find yourself continually going back for more, wanting to explore every nook and cranny that the world has to offer. They are games that have plenty of life in them, inviting you to play them over and over again, whisking you away to unimaginable worlds that you could only dream of.
Without further ado, here are ten of the best open-world games, with plenty of honourable mentions to consider trying, too. It’s also worth noting that in this list, we tried to focus on games with the best open-worlds to immerse yourself in. As a result, you’ll notice a lack of survival-type and MMO open-world games here.
It only feels right to begin this list with The Game Awards’ 2022 Game of the Year winner, Elden Ring. Considering it only released in early 2022, Elden Ring is fresh on peoples’ minds, yet I guarantee it’s an open-world game that players will remember vividly for years to come; it has that type of effect on you.
Elden Ring rose to fame as FromSoftware’s venture into an open-world, and The Lands Between is among one of the best, and biggest, worlds to roam around. That said, this world is far from safe, and Elden Ring does its very best to bludgeon you into defeat. This, ultimately, makes the experience of Elden Ring all the more captivating; it’s a true challenge, and the keenest of explorers will reap the most glorious of rewards.
Elden Ring also has a linear path to follow, but its open-world allows you to stray from the beaten path for as long as you’d like. You’ll often do this as you make your character even stronger, and as a result, the story of Elden Ring becomes your own.
Let’s not also forget that different character builds and classes can lead to very different play throughs, and Elden Ring’s intense, engaging combat is among some of the best out there. You can plough through Malenia with your spells, and then witness a friend obliterate the boss with their daggers; both are very different experiences, and make Elden Ring’s replayability endless, if you have the time to spare.
Red Dead Redemption 2 throws you into the perils of fictional cowboy, Arthur Morgan. In this open-world title, there is a whole world to explore that’s packed to the brim, and it’s your responsibility to craft the type of cowboy that Arthur Morgan is.
The morality system at play is what defines your character; you can choose to be an honourable cowboy, or instead, be a stray in society. Regardless of which route you pick, you’ll find yourself running into many strangers and stories that you’ll be curious to clear up, making each play through or each time you even pick up your controller unravel differently. The variation at play here, and detail, is what makes Red Dead Redemption 2 so enticing to players.
It’s also hard to neglect the amount of detail this game has. No, I’m not talking about the realistically large horse bollocks you’ll often see which shrink when it gets cold (although this is impressive). I’m talking about Arthur’s dialogue, the photorealistic landscape, and the abundance of unique characters you’ll meet as you take on this cowboy adventure.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild marks Link’s dive into open-world territory, and it’s a vast and beautiful one at that. Pushing the Nintendo Switch to the height of the hardware’s potential, Breath of the Wild also has a linear path of quests to follow, each pushing the story along.
However, like most other entries on this list, you can stray from this path and do whatever you want with your time. The game is packed with charming yet familiar NPCs, perplexing puzzles, and more traversal options than ever before. Breath of the Wild quite literally breathes even more life into an already beloved series, and aren’t we glad to know that it’s soon getting a sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
The Witcher 3 is notable not only for being a great game, but for how it established the bar for open-world games. Even now, multiple years and DLC later, the game reigns high as one of the better open-world games out there. Sure, combat isn’t the best and traversing the world can be a little janky, but there’s nothing quite like taking on the role of the one and only Geralt of Rivia.
The environment in The Witcher 3 is a grand one, packed with foliage, animals, and varying biomes. From the swamps of Velen to the lively city of Novigrad, this is a world that feels lived in. Its dynamic characters, gruelling monsters, and intricate quests can keep you busy for hours, and when you’ve had enough, you can sit back and simply play some Gwent.
Yes, Rockstar has managed to bag itself another spot on this list, because how could I neglect to mention Grand Theft Auto V? Seven years on and the game is still packed with players, most of them venturing into online play or the weird yet interesting world of GTA role-playing, but still!
Grand Theft Auto V shows no signs of slowing down. That is, until Grand Theft Auto VI finally launches (which won’t be anytime soon). That said, the legacy this game has made for itself is magnificent. If you’re yet to play it, you’ll also be glad to know that the game has aged relatively well.
The open-world here, Los Santos, emulates Los Angeles as much as one game in 2013 possibly can. And in Los Santos, you don’t necessarily have to abide by the law; in fact, Grand Theft Auto V regularly encourages you to break it. Crime and chaos ensue in this game, with various LA landmarks reimagined to soak in as you cruise Los Santos in that stolen car, or in the back of a police car; the choice is yours.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has just as much staying power as Grand Theft Auto V. The game follows Oblivion, and initially released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2011. Since then, Skyrim has made it onto each new console generation, been ported to Nintendo Switch, and has been re-released God knows how many times now.
Now, I can already hear plenty of you grumbling that I chose Skyrim for this list over its predecessors, Morrowind and Oblivion. But for the sake of pleasing everyone, I chose this because it’s the most easily accessible to every type of gamer. That’s exactly what makes it one of the best open-world titles; jaded open-world player, or veteran of exploring, Skyrim has something to enchant just about anyone who plays it… for the most part.
The world of Skyrim is enormous; you can explore the wilderness and fight with hostile travellers all you’d like, or you can go about learning magic up in the mountains. If you’re feeling chaotic evil, you can join the Thieves Guild, or even become a vampire. On a later play through, Skyrim is also some of the most fun with modding I have ever had. Failing that, there are dragons, and dragons are certifiably cool.
While Forza Horizon 4 had us driving around a faithful depiction of the Great British West Country, who actually wants to do that? Not me, and not many of us who actually live here, I imagine. Forza Horizon 5, however, whisks us off to Mexico, and is a lot more interesting as a result. You’ll spend plenty of time racing through fields, forests, and on the track, but there’s so much more to take in.
You can skid through the dense forests trying to flee a storm that’s following you, or kick back and take in the sunset as you try to reach top speeds on the roads. It’s all incredibly picturesque, you’re at the whim of the weather, and the urge to explore Mexico for yourself is strong while driving around this particular title.
With a driving game, you’d expect barren stretches of land and tracks built for racing, but Forza Horizon 5 lets you be a tourist in a beautiful landscape.
No Man’s Sky didn’t have the best of receptions at launch, but it’s certainly made one of the biggest comebacks since. Taking player feedback into account, the game feels like a wholly different experience now than it did back in 2016.
Right now, No Man’s Sky is the best open-world game set in space. You do everything a lowly space wanderer would do; figure out your purpose in all of this, upgrade your ship, communicate with aliens. Then there’s hundreds and thousands of procedurally generated planets and solar systems to soar around and explore.
This might seem daunting, and initially it is, but once you get to grips with No Man’s Sky, you’ll find yourself entranced by the most lush, vibrant planets, unimaginable creatures, and endless possibilities.
The oldest entry in this list comes from Obsidian Entertainment, the gaming giant behind fantastic titles such as Grounded, The Outer Worlds, and more recently, Pentiment. Back in 2010, however, it released Fallout: New Vegas, which still reigns as the superior instalment in the series to this day.
Gameplay here is a little jankier than most of the titles in this list, but it’s well worth it, as any New Vegas fan would eagerly tell you at length. Thrown into a desolate world made up of three factions, Fallout: New Vegas leaves every decision down to you; which faction will you work with? And how will your character evolve throughout your play through?
Dialogue in New Vegas is stronger than ever, with troves of options to choose from as you let the story unfold, and the RPG gameplay that Fallout fans already know and love. If, with your open-world experience, you like to dive into immersive role-playing where your decisions actually matter, pick up Fallout: New Vegas.
The New Vegas modding community is also still relatively active, if you find that you want even more quests and dialogue to discover.
There are plenty of other Assassin’s Creed titles that we could place here, but Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey has the best open-world of them all. Taking place during the Peloponnesian War between 431 and 422 BC, Odyssey tells the story of a Spartan mercenary fighting on both sides of the war as they try to find their family, and destroy the Cult of Kosmos.
If you’re a fan of mythological history and the magic of discovery, and prefer hands-on combat with less of a focus on stealth, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is the open-world title for you. The world itself is a vast and varied Penopolose peninsula, that our own guides editor James Billcliffe describes as “a joy to explore, with the sprawling seas giving the player more options for as-the-crow-flies travel than the meandering streams and tributaries of Valhalla.” Can’t argue with that.
Of course, we couldn’t fit every one of the best open-world games onto this list, so here are our honourable mentions if none of the above take your fancy.
Honourable mentions include Terraria, Far Cry 3, Far Cry 6, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, Fallout 4, Dying Light, Days Gone, Death Stranding, Horizon Zero Dawn, Horizon Forbidden West, Genshin Impact, Spider-Man, Batman: Arkham City, Xenoblade Chronicles, The Forest, Minecraft, Watch Dogs 2, Sleeping Dogs, Sea of Thieves, Borderlands
For more on the best games of all time, take a look at what we reckon the best survival games are, as well as the best co-op games to pick up and play with friends.
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Kelsey’s passion for gaming began with Resident Evil, and it’s been rather difficult to get her to shut up about horror games since. When she’s not scoping out new ways to scare herself silly or commiserating the cancellation of Silent Hills, she can often be found fawning over cute Pokémon and Kirby, or being very average at FPS games.
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