Open-world games have only grown more popular with time, with many series even shifting away from linear design to give players more freedom and bigger areas to explore. Not every open-world game is created equal, however, with classics such as Grand Theft Auto 5 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild standing out against alternatives that rely too much on "stuff to do" and ever-bigger worlds than making the open world suit the experience. That can make it difficult to find the best open-world games, especially on newer consoles that have so many to choose from. We rounded up some of the very best ones in an unranked list, accounting for the world itself being a big reason for their inclusion--games with tremendous stories that happen to have open worlds, such as Nier: Automata, were left off for this reason. We've also geared this mostly toward newer games that are easily accessible today.
For more games to check out on the current consoles, check out the best PS5 games, best PS4 games, best Xbox Series X|S games, best Xbox One games, and the best Nintendo Switch games. You can also check out the best PC games if you want to game with a mouse and keyboard.
Arguably the greatest game in the Assassin's Creed series may only be tangentially related to the Assassins vs. Templars storyline, but that also means it's much less tied down by its baggage. A Mediterranean pirate adventure with a heavy focus on sea exploration via ship and tracking down buried treasure, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a tremendous adventure with a world you'll actually want to explore rather than just head to the next waypoint on your map. Tracking down a powerful enemy ship and tearing it to shreds with your cannons before moving in to take out the captain is a rush every time, as is trying to take on a well-defended fortress while avoiding a barrage of incoming shrapnel and explosives. It's also the perfect game for those who haven't been drawn to other Assassin's Creed games, as it wastes no time throwing you into the action.
See our Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag review.
Rocksteady set a new standard for superhero games with Batman: Arkham Asylum, and the studio somehow surpassed it with its sequel, Batman: Arkham City. The open-world Caped Crusader game features an oft-copied mixture of 3D brawling action and stealth, along with incredibly fun traversal via Batman's cape and various gadgets. There are tons of collectibles and side missions to find and complete, as you'd expect given Batman's many enemies, and getting from Point A to Point B is just as entertaining as whatever it is Batman actually has to do when he gets there. It's the type of open world that never gets in the way, something that lesser games often mess up in the ever-important drive for more "content."
See our Batman: Arkham City review.
Hideo Kojima managed to get two different games on this list, and they couldn't be more different. After parting ways with Metal Gear Solid publisher Konami, the director relaunched Kojima Productions and created Death Stranding, a game focused on creating connections--literal and figurative--between people at a time when society is just short of collapse. This mostly involves delivering packages as you climb, drive, and hike across the wasteland and work to avoid mysterious creatures and other dangerous scavengers. And while that may not seem like video game material, the gorgeous, tranquil environments and breathtaking music and sound design make such a simple task feel monumental. By creating your own bridges, you can even make the journey back easier--and even maybe help out another player or two.
See our Death Stranding review.
When a game is available on everything from Xbox 360 to Amazon Echo devices, you know it's doing something right. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim didn't need to revolutionize the formula Bethesda Game Studios established in its previous games, but it did refine it with an emphasis on discovery and freedom as well as a gorgeous and varied open world. Heading off in a random direction in other games usually just leads to a lot of wasted time. In Skyrim, however, it may lead to a new dungeon to explore, a new city to enter, or a new dangerous dragon to slay. No two players' experiences are ever exactly the same, and with a classless leveling system that lets you customize your character exactly how you see fit, you can keep experimenting and finding new things to do for years.
See our The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review.
Ubisoft knocked it out of the park with Far Cry 3, sending a group of privileged students into a gorgeous tropical setting filled with dangerous enemies to hunt, outposts to capture, and towers to climb--yes, the towers from so many Ubisoft games made an appearance here, but they functioned more as mini-puzzles than simple busywork. The chaos you can cause in Far Cry 3 is nearly unparalleled, whether it's by speeding into a group of enemies and firing an explosive at them or luring wildlife out of the woods to attack your targets. Far Cry 4 arguably included a better-paced story, but Far Cry 3 is still discussed nearly a decade after its launch for a reason.
See our Far Cry 3 review.
There hasn't been a more consistent developer for Xbox over the past decade than Playground Games, with each Forza Horizon game topping the previous one. Forza Horizon 4 takes the open-world racing series to rural England, sending supercars barreling across the rolling countryside and through tiny villages as residents just try to enjoy their morning tea. As with the other Horizon games, it's a perfect choice for those who usually don't enjoy racing because of its excellent rewind system and tons of stunts and non-race events to try out. Forza Horizon 4 also added a seasons system, changing areas and even making some of them accessible such as frozen lakes during the winter. In a game with tons of sleek, sexy cars, the world remains the star.
See our Forza Horizon 4 review.
Already experts in open-world design from their time working on the Infamous series, the developers at Sucker Punch went in a completely different direction with Ghost of Tsushima. A (mostly) realistic take on samurai combat in feudal Japan, the game's environments are absolutely breathtaking, with flowing fields of bright red flowers and trees rustling in the wind. Traveling it, whether on foot or horseback, is a joy, especially when you come across another samurai who wants to engage in an all-or-nothing duel that ends in a single sword slash. Depending on your preference, you can opt for a direct and honorable style or an Assassin's Creed-in-Japan stealth approach, and Ghost of Tsushima gives you plenty of tools and abilities to keep it fresh the entire time.
See our Ghost of Tsushima review.
It's a video game unicorn we're unlikely to ever see again, selling over 150 million units across two console generations--and it soon comes to a third. Grand Theft Auto 5 delivers a bright, vibrant satirical Los Angeles--dubbed Los Santos--and lets you use it as your playground. Even if you never want to play through the main story, you can sink dozens or even hundreds of hours into GTA 5 by just exploring the city, causing chaos and making bank. Or you could play tennis. And once you've had your fill of offline play, GTA Online provides an always-evolving place to take over Los Santos with your friends, even eight years since it launched.
See our Grand Theft Auto 5 review.
While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild revolutionized open-world design when it launched in 2017, another game--Horizon: Zero Dawn--took more of an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, and it saw nearly as much acclaim as Zelda. Set in a post-apocalyptic North America that has been overtaken by dinosaur-like robots, Horizon features some of the familiar tropes of other open-world games, including unlocking areas via towers, but it's paced so well and there is so little filler to get through that the familiarity doesn't feel like uninspired design. Tremendous combat and the ability to ride on the back of a robot dinosaur as you plan your next move help to make it a thrill until the closing credits.
See our Horizon: Zero Dawn review.
The open-world game that would define open-world games for years to come--as in, it's still doing it--The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild doesn't have "no" in its vocabulary. In a radical departure from the other games in the series, Breath of the Wild ditches traditional dungeons and progression in favor of a truly free-form structure that lets you take on the final boss 20 minutes in, if you so choose. Getting there in fighting shape is quite a bit harder, but the steps you take to get there are up to you--even if that means solving a puzzle in a way the designers didn't intend or leaping over the entirety of a castle to skip to the final boss.
See our The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review.
One of the biggest games to release on PS4--and PS5, along with the standalone adventure Miles Morales--Marvel's Spider-Man is the webslinger's most impressive outing ever. For the first time since Spider-Man 2 a few generations ago, it actually feels good to soar around New York City and save helpless citizens from ne'er-do-wells, and with a flashy, acrobatic combat system that blends some elements from a… more caped superhero game with the flair and goofiness we expect from Spider-Man. Collectibles, random open-world events, and plenty of unlockable goodies make Spider-Man a ton of fun to play once the story has finished, and it's even more stunning on the PS5 with its visual enhancements.
See our Marvel's Spider-Man review.
Metal Gear Solid 5 is one of the most immersive and compelling open-world games of all time. It's actually a few different open worlds, with one in Afghanistan and one in Angola, and each is yours to explore and free-roam on many of the missions. Aside from completing main objectives, Venom Snake can sneak into various areas to scout for information, learn interesting details on the enemies he encounters via his reconnaissance technology, and use a Fulton recovery system to send supplies and people back to Mother Base. Metal Gear Solid 5's biggest surprise is that it delivered near-perfect open-world stealth gameplay from a series that often prioritized story above all else, but it sure is fun to sneak around!
See our Metal Gear Solid 5 review.
It's a series that has been around for decades, but the 2020 iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator is on another level. Exploring the entire world in your airplane--with many of the airports and buildings being bespoke rather than data-generated--is an experience you simply cannot get in another game. It truly is an open world, as checking out your ideal tourist destination is as simple as setting coordinates and heading in that direction. It's a relaxing and refreshingly goal-free game that is perfect if you're looking for something to just unwind with in the evenings, even if you have no interest in ever actually flying a plane or traveling the globe.
See our Microsoft Flight Simulator review.
Monolith's Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel, Shadow of War, clearly got inspiration from the Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham games when crafting its dark Tolkien world, but the studio didn't just make a copycat game. Shadow of War in particular makes fantastic use of the Nemesis System, a feature that lets unique enemies remember past encounters and evolve based on them, coming back to find you while you're out exploring and potentially throwing all your plans into disarray. You can also use this to your advantage in order to move an enemy further up the food chain and then mind-control them, gaining a tactical foothold among the Uruks and Orcs. Special spectral abilities also let you move across the vast plains in a flash, often culminating in a brutal takedown of an unsuspecting enemy.
See our Middle-earth: Shadow of War review.
One of the biggest games of all time at this point, Minecraft's open world is unlike most of the games on our list because it's different for every player--it's procedurally generated when you start a new game, ensuring you'll never run into the same resources, environments, or enemy clusters on two different saves. Several times bigger than the actual planet Earth, the world isn't just a huge part of the game; it is the game. From digging underground for rare minerals to finding the perfect place for your shelter, Minecraft's fun is in seeing what your own unique world has to offer, all while fending off hunger and the occasional Creeper. It's an inventive person's dream game, with endless opportunities for custom building designs, as well as Creative mode for those who just want to make some cool stuff.
See our Minecraft review.
No, not the version of No Man's Sky that released back in 2016. That game was suffering from an identity crisis and was undercooked in several key areas, but developer Hello Games has drastically improved the space exploration game since then. The "open world" is so big that it's not feasible to see the whole thing, letting you stop suffering from completionist stress and actually enjoy the unique animals and flora you find. With base-building, multiplayer, and a steady stream of updates adding more to do and see, No Man's Sky is a remarkable turnaround for a game that very well could have been on a "biggest disappointments" list before. We've even re-reviewed it a few times to account for these changes.
See our No Man's Sky Beyond review.
Red Dead Redemption 2 arrived about eight years after the original game, which was released when open-world design wasn't nearly as emergent or player-driven. Rockstar Games didn't just deliver "another Red Dead Redemption" with the prequel, however, offering an unparalleled Western filled with shootouts, chases, armed robbery, and general drunken debauchery alongside a plethora of other activities. Its take on the dying age of the outlaw emphasizes exploration rather than just telling you where to go, leading to lots of fun anecdotes as you venture into the wilderness to hunt a rare animal or take back a bounty target.
See our Red Dead Redemption 2 review.
Ratchet & Clank, Tony Hawk, and Jet Set Radio all came together, formed a delicious cosmic gumbo, and turned into Sunset Overdrive. Initially an Xbox One exclusive, the open-world third-person shooter is incredibly self-aware and satirical, even making use of the game's UI for jokes, and it plays fast and loose with the laws of physics to great effect. Surfaces are bouncier than trampolines and you can grind on edges and rails at will, all while blasting mutated energy drink creatures with ridiculous weapons. In fact, moving constantly actually increases your score, and Sunset City is a blast to navigate. Unlike many other open-world settings, it's also not all that huge, keeping you from feeling overwhelmed as you search every nook and cranny.
See our Sunset Overdrive review.
One problem with big open-world games can be inconsistency in writing quality--the smaller side quests can sometimes have a "this is filler content" feel to them, but that isn't the case with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. CD Projekt Red's enormous open world is host to a ton of different missions ranging from slaying powerful monsters to helping an old lady locate a lost cast iron pan. And despite the superficial premise of some of these, they're all given the same care and attention, which only helps to further immerse you into the world and Geralt's complicated role. The fact that a game about using magical abilities to fend off terrifying creatures can still be entertaining when you're addressing someone's familial troubles or lost cookware is a testament to its quality.
See our The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review.
Turning a long-running open-world series known for goofy brawling combat into a role-playing game sounded like a very weird decision, but "very weird" is part of the Yakuza games' DNA. With the seventh main entry, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Sega made the radical decision to shift to role-playing combat similar to games like Dragon Quest in order to fit the protagonist Ichiban Kasuga's obsessive otaku interests. But this shift--a surprisingly welcome one--doesn't stop Like a Dragon from continuing the series' famous… eccentricities. All the weird open-world stuff you expect to see in Yakuza remains in Like a Dragon, including plenty of optional mini-games and a sub-story involving a group of adult men in diapers.
See our Yakuza: Like a Dragon review.
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