While fighting and sports games may be best associated with the rise of the video game console, it’s the open-world genre that is currently enjoying its time in the limelight. As the power of consoles grew over time, so too did developers’ ability to increase the size of the worlds a player could visit and, with that, open-world was born.
Historically, video games were very linear and you followed a series of progressive levels toward the finish. Today, open-world games don’t require any such direction and you can complete a game in any number of different orders, and it’s this type of gameplay that has propelled its popularity.
Let’s take a look at the absolute best open-world games of all time so you know exactly which games to start with.
What is an Open-World Game?
At a high level, an open-world game is one in which a player can freely explore a game world without the need to complete a series of tasks or missions in order. The best open-world games will give the player the freedom and opportunity to explore side quests and other tasks without ever feeling pressured to come back to the main missions. Games like Grand Theft Auto V have so many different side benefits like playing a full round of golf without ever thinking that you are on the clock to complete the next mission. Not only does the open world format provide significant replay value, but it also adds a ton of extra fun.
#8: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Game of the year edition brings together the base game and all the additional content released to date
- Built for endless adventure, the open world of The Witcher sets new standards of size, complexity, and depth
- PlayStation 4 Complete Edition
- Over 800 awards won
Now a cultural phenomenon thanks to the Netflix show, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has long been regarded as one of the best open-world games of all time.
Part open-world, part RPG, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is notable not just for its outstanding gameplay, but how long the gameplay takes place. At an estimated 51.5 hours to complete the main story, you can up that number to closer to 173 hours if you are a true completionist looking to finish every single mission the game has available.
Taking place in a world where characters are known as Witcher‘s battle monsters, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has earned a 92 Metascore and, as of April 2022, has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. The highlight of the game is taking the protagonist with Geralt of Rivia and watching every decision he (you) makes and how it impacts the overall journey of the character and the storyline.
The game is available on every major console including the PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
#7: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
An unlikely arrival on any best-of list for open-world games, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a fantastic addition to the genre.
While it’s not quite as open world as say something like Grand Theft Auto V, it’s still loosely structured enough that you, as the player, have any number of ways to approach a task or complete a mission. Earning a 93 Metascore is no easy feat, and The Phantom Pain more than earns its high praise by combining the stealth-action genre with an open world across a 45.5-hour main story campaign.
Played from a third-person perspective, players once again take up the role of Snake, and with his arsenal of weapons, look to complete a variety of mission types. Even as stealth is important, the game tests your skill by encouraging you to try and complete the whole game without killing any enemy opponents. It’s a definite challenge but it makes the use of the open world all the more strategic and invites you to explore all around to help find unique ways to achieve your goals.
#6: Batman: Arkham City
Batman games have been hit or miss over the last three decades, but Batman: Arkham City is an absolute hit.
This 2011 game was a third-person gem that felt true to the nitty gritty nature of Batman comic adventures while also being a true joy to play. Over the course of 23 hours, players would take on the caped crusader in the third-person perspective that earned a 96 Metascore.
Everything from the combat to Batman’s pseudo-detective skills plays a big role in working through the game. There’s a lot of stealth at work as one might expect from a Batman title, but it’s the city of Arkham that’s truly wonderful to explore.
The open-world nature of the game was much larger than the game’s predecessor and it makes wandering around the city as much fun as the combat itself. In fact, it’s believed that Batman: Arkham City is the inspiration for another popular comic book game, 2018’s Spiderman-Man. The world is full of gadgets and supervillains and it’s Batman’s job to keep Gotham City safe from the Riddler.
#5: Elden Ring
- Xbox Series X
- Fantasy action-RPG adventure set within a world created by Hidetaka Miyazaki, creator of the influential DARK SOULS video game series, and Game of Thrones writer, George R.R. Martin
- Collector's Edition available
- PlayStation version available
- Xbox Digital Code available
With a massive single-player campaign that stretches between 55 and 99 hours, Elden Ring is a must-play open-world title.
As of February 23, Elden Ring has already sold more than 20 million copies and holds an incredible 96 Metascore. Adding to the game’s wow factor, Game of Thrones writer, George R.R. Martin, helped contribute to the storyline. It’s easy to sink your teeth into this game and constantly be surprised by the story being told.
A third-person perspective-based game, there are a total of six areas that the protagonist can play through, and just when you thought you’ve seen everything in one of the six lands, you’ll find yet another surprise. There are dungeons, spells, magic, more magic, and plenty of fighting. Crafting new items will help you beef up your character’s arsenal of weapons and spells and locating new materials for crafting is one of the many reasons to explore the huge map that makes up the Elden Ring world.
#4: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Make your own path, choices, and consequences
- Find multiple solutions to tons of dynamic puzzles
- Surprises hide around every corner
- Scavenge armor, weapons, plants, animals, and more
- Live off the land: cook food and brew elixirs
- Utilize special technology: in-game Sheikah Slate controls, objects and enemies
It’s infrequent that we see masterful open-world games become a staple on Nintendo consoles, but in the case of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a masterful game is exactly what is available.
Setting the bar for future open-world releases on the Nintendo Switch, this 2017 release has helped propel the Nintendo Switch console into its role as the third best-selling console of all time. Earning a 97 Metascore amid near-universal praise, there is just something magical about continuing the Zelda series on the Switch.
Over 50 plus hours of gameplay, Link will need to become an expert puzzle solver, embrace adventure and climb, climb, and climb again to discover everything this open-world game has to offer.
Breath of the Wild has found success because it asks players to explore and discover all while providing them with game mechanics that take little time to master. As a Nintendo Switch exclusive and with a sequel on the horizon, Breath of the Wild will continue to propel the genre for Nintendo console owners for a long time to come.
#3: Read Dead Redemption 2
- From the creators of Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption
- Covers a range of 19th century American landscapes
- Play as Arthur Morgan, lead enforcer in the notorious Van der Linde gang
- Interact with every character in the world with more than just your gun; engage in conversation with people you meet.
- Your actions influence Arthur's honor
- Horses are a cowboy's best friend, both transport and personal companion; Bond with your horse as you ride together to unlock new abilities
After eight years in development, the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 took the open-world game format by storm with its western style setting in 1899.
Playing as the protagonist, Arthur Morgan, the game switches between first and third-person camera views as players roam around the gigantic western part of the United States. Often regarded as Grand Theft Auto on horses, there is just something magical about the romantic way in which Red Dead Redemption 2 portrays the old west, its characters, and their interactions.
As the game progresses, the player decides just how much of a moral code Arthur Morgan wants to live with. Will he be a decent cowboy looking to move away from his cowboy gang ways or will he continue to be a thorn in the side of everyone he meets?
With a main story that runs across 50 hours at the bare minimum and a Metascore of 97, more than 50 million copies have been sold, and it’s one of the best-selling games of the previous decade.
#2: Grand Theft Auto V
- Premium Edition
- PlayStation 4
- Open-World game design lets you explore every area of Los Santos
Often regarded as the best definition of today’s open-world games, Grand Theft Auto V has helped redefine what open-world games are meant to be.
Developer Rockstar may not be responsible for the open-world genre, but with the releases of Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2, they have raised the bar in so many different ways. The game itself takes place in the fictional world of Los Santos, a Los Angeles-like setting as you take on the role of three separate protagonists who will discover the world on land, sea, and air.
Today, you can play the game and spend hours doing nothing but golfing on the game’s fictional golf course. Tomorrow, you can get back to pursuing your life of crime and punishment by stealing a car and pretty much doing anything else you want.
Released in 2013, Grand Theft Auto V has lived across three generations of console gaming and shows no signs of slowing down. Having sold more than 175 million copies worldwide, it’s on pace to be one of the most successful console games ever, winning award after award and earning a Metascore of 97.
#1: Grand Theft Auto IV
- Complete Edition
- Features episodes from Liberty City, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony
- Xbox 360
Released in 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV was just as magical as its successor, though it managed to score one point higher with Metacritic, earning a 98 Metascore.
Behind that score is protagonist Niko Bellic who arrives in Liberty City (meant to be New York) with the goal of establishing himself as a criminal kingpin. Upon its release for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it quickly became one of the best-selling and biggest-earning games of its generation with more than 25 million copies sold.
While the gameplay isn’t as lengthy as its successor, Grand Theft Auto IV can still run a player over 27 hours for just the main story and more than 40 hours if you look to complete the main story and all side missions.
As is the case with most Grand Theft Auto games, players are forced to choose just how much of a moral code they want to live by, which ups the stakes throughout the game. Where GTA IV really shined was its multiplayer mode as up to 32 players could play against one another or in co-op mode across a variety of game types.
When it comes to open-world games, there are just so many strong entries vying for a place on every best-of list. While games like Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 have raised the bar for the future, there is no doubt that developers are already looking to take advantage of the technology within the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X to create bigger open worlds than ever seen before.
Until then, that every game on this list is still playable on modern consoles is a testament to the strength of the open-world genre.