Gaming has come a long way in the past 10-15 years – look at how much Shadow of the Colossus has improved in its remaster to understand what we mean. Graphics are sharper, gameplay is more fast-paced, and developers can create vast, detailed open worlds that simply couldn’t have run on previous generation consoles or older PCs.
There’s so much variety in open-world games too, from survival games that pit you against the environment to RPGs with a never-ending questline.
But with so much available, how do you know which is the best open-world game for you? Don’t worry, we’ve rounded up our selection of the best open-world games right now – keep reading to find out more. If open world games aren't your thing, take a look at our favourite Early Access games, the best FPS games or our epic MMORPG games roundup to keep you occupied.
Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series has got to be one of the most popular game franchises of all time, and GTA V was no exception. The open world of San Andreas was expanded upon in GTA V, providing a 50km square map with everything from a busy city to a sprawling mountain range and everything in between.
The real beauty of GTA V isn’t in the graphics (although it’s visually stunning) but is rather in the design of the map and NPCs. You could eavesdrop on every single NPC in GTA V and hear a totally different conversation relating to the area that they’re in, or what they’re doing. You can’t say that about a lot of games, and it’s one of many examples of Rockstar’s level of detail.
The level of detail that Rockstar achieves, offering everything from unique and entertaining NPC conversations to weird radio adverts and an impressive range of activities you can take part in, makes the open world come alive and more importantly, makes you want to discover what might be hidden within.
Plus, once you get bored of exploring alone, you can head to GTA Online and explore the same map with a whole lobby of online players. What’s not to love?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Zelda’s Breath of the Wild is incredible – even more so when you consider that the entire open world can be explored while on the go with the Nintendo Switch. Link is resurrected after 100 years of Ganon ruling Hyrule, and you’re tasked with taking him down however you can.
Explore the open world, find items and skills that let you take on ever more powerful monsters and hone your craft before going head-to-head with some of the deadliest characters in the Zelda franchise. The game will point you in a specific direction to follow the main questline, but you can completely ignore that and strike off wherever you like. The map is broken into 15 main areas, each of which is uncharted until you scale the tower at its centre.
Simply put, the game and world both feel absolutely massive, and we can easily believe that Breath of the Wild is up there with the best when it comes to mammoth runtimes in an expansive open world.
Find out more in our Zelda: Breath of the Wild review.
Assassin's Creed: Origins
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the best in the AC series so far, and is possibly one of the best games of 2017 overall. Following the underwhelming reaction to Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Ubisoft went back to the drawing board and took ‘a year off’ releasing games to really nail the open world of Ancient Egypt in Origins.
Taking on the role of Bayek, you and your wife confront the Order of the Ancients, the predecessors of the Templar Order, trying to take control of Ancient Egypt. As well as a story that would give Hollywood writers a run for their money, the open world of Ancient Egypt is one that is vibrant and alive.
The NPCs are designed to live life and interact with the world around them, meaning you may see sights like crocodiles attacking Egyptians if they wander too far from the riverside market, or see Hippos charging at Garrisons, providing you with the perfect distraction to get by unnoticed.
It’s the way that NPCs interact with the world, combined with the stunning backdrops and the variety of caves and tombs to explore that provides a phenomenal open world game.
Find out more in our Assassin's Creed: Origins review.
Ark: Survival Evolved
If you’ve ever wanted an open-world survival game where you take on dinosaurs alongside other players, then Ark: Survival Evolved is the perfect game for you. Like other survival games, you’re required to level up, craft items and build your fortress, but where this differs from other games is dinosaurs; as well as battling dinos by yourself and with other players, you can capture them and have them as pets that will protect your supply caches or do your bidding in huge online battles.
It adds a great dynamic, as you can use dinosaurs to explore the open world by land, sky or water. Soar to the snowy mountain-tops on the back of an Argentavis or dive to hidden caves at the bottom of the sea on the back of a Plesiosaur – it’s all possible in Ark: Survival Evolved. With mysteries to solve, caverns and other points of interest to discover and an ever-changing online world, Ark has something for everyone.
Metal Gear Survive
Metal Gear Survive takes place following the events of Ground Zeroes, and is technically a spin-off from the MGSV timeline. Essentially, a wormhole appears and promptly sucks Motherbase into its churning maw and end up in a desolate dimension where you’re forced to survive.
You’ll find new features when compared to previous MGS games, most notably the introduction of a hunger and thirst system that really limits -ahem-, that really enhances the survival experience. Your character levels up and unlocks new talents as you progress through the game, and the growing library of things to craft should keep you busy for a while.
But while some of these activities are certainly enjoyable, there is a lot of busy work required before you can progress through the story. Finding food on top of scavenging for materials so you can actually play the game gets a lot less interesting after you’ve done it for the fifth time. And when that’s combined with oxygen consumption in the dust, you’ll find yourself heading back to Base Camp fairly often to replenish your stats.
But despite the frustrations, fans of Metal Gear V will feel right at home here with the game’s tone and feel. The wanderers being dangerous up close, and a need to be more tactical makes a nice difference to other zombie titles that encourage you to hack and slash. If you’re a fan of zombie games and the Metal Gear series, you really can’t go wrong with this one.
Read more in our full Metal Gear Survive review.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Ghost Recon: Wildlands offers something slightly different to other open-world first/third-person shooters like GTA V – tactics and teamwork. Set in a huge open world in Bolivia, you’re tasked with dismantling the country’s most powerful cartel, guilty of terrorising Bolivian residents for quite some time.
You drop in as a squad of four (three NPCs or three buddies via co-op) and have the entire map to make use of. Go off-road to ambush your targets from the treeline, or get an amazing vantage point from a makeshift sniper nest a few hundred feet away. The open world allows you to tackle situations in an almost endless number of ways, from being stealthy and using the environment and day/night cycle to stay unnoticed, to going all-out and bursting through the front door backed up by tanks and armed choppers.
And the best part is that because it is an open world, you can bail out at any time and try again later. Plus, it’s always fun being chased by a paramilitary group through a dense forest with your buddies, right?
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
For fans of the LOTR universe, there’s no better game available for console and PC than 2017’s Middle-earth: Shadow of War. The sequel to Shadow of Mordor once again sees you in the shoes of Talion, and picks up right after where the first game ended – no spoilers here for those that are yet to finish!
Like the first game, the open world is split into various regions that you can travel between. Each region varies widely in terms of environments, and you’ll find lush forestry, icy wildlands and much more. You’ve also got a bigger and better Nemesis System at play that provides every orc you meet with a personality, backstory, accent and various specialities that spice up the combat.
Find out more in our Middle-earth: Shadow of War review.