Trends in gaming come and go, sometimes they are like mayflies and barely two years pass before a new hot thing appears on the horizon. Other things, of a more fundamental nature, last for decades. One of such things is your game’s structure: discrete levels/missions, and open world, or maybe something in between?

In this text we will take a look at one of the options: the open world. We’ll briefly discuss what an open world structure is and what it means for the game, and then move on and provide you with a list of best open world games which are well worth your time.

What is an open world in gaming?

To put it simply: and open world structure is one where the players are free to explore the world at their leisure, even when they are not on any mission. It also usually means that most locations aren’t separated by loading screens, although exceptions exist. For example The Elder Scrolls games are famously open world, but most buildings are larger cities aren’t contiguous with the open over-world and the players face a short loading screen when entering or leaving.

Depending on the game, there may be some in-game obstructions blocking your entry to a locations. One option is the story progression: some location may be blocked off until a certain point in the story when the player acquires a key, or some event clears the way, for instance. Another way to restrict player exploration is by putting a challenge that can only be beaten by a better equipped or developed character: enemies to strong to be defeated yet, or a path to the next piece of content requires you to have a specific item or ability. Specific locked locations aside, most of the world is open and the players can spend exploring it to their hearts’ contents.

The Big Names of open world games

Although there are plenty of developers embracing the open-world design, there are some that are more successful than others. Here we take a look at them.

The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition 2016-10-27 Bethesda Game Studios
The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion Game of the Year Edition Deluxe 2009-06-16 Bethesda Game Studios
Fallout 4 Game of the Year Edition 2017-09-26 Bethesda Game Studios
Fallout 76 2018-11-14 Bethesda Game Studios
Far Cry 6 2021-10-07 Ubisoft Toronto
Watch Dogs Legion Standard Edition 2020-10-29 Ubisoft Toronto
Assassins Creed Odyssey Standard Edition 2018-10-05 Ubisoft Québec
Assassins Creed Valhalla 2020-11-10 Ubisoft Montreal
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt GOTY Edition 2015-05-18 CD PROJEKT RED
Cyberpunk 2077 2020-12-10 CD PROJEKT RED
Grand Theft Auto V 2015-04-14 Rockstar North
Red Dead Redemption 2 2019-11-05 Rockstar Games
Subnautica 2018-01-23 Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Saints Row IV Game of the Century Edition 2014-07-15
Mad Max 2015-09-01 Avalanche Studios
No Mans Sky 2016-08-12 Hello Games


Despite a tendency to make technologically…rough games, Bethesda is behind some of the most beloved open worlds out there.

TES III Morrowind made a big splash in the RPG pond back when it first launched, and over nearly twenty years it has accumulated hundreds of mods, visual overhauls, and ambition projects trying to transplant it to other games. TES V: Skyrim, now available on most popular consoles doesn’t fall far behind.

Even Bethesda’s take on Black Isle Studios’ Fallout license created large open world worth exploring and, in the case of Fallout 4, transforming. Structurally, both series are similar: first-person (with optional third-person) perspective action-RPG titles relying on giving the player a large number of possible ways to interact with the environment, and thus enabling playing many different roles through action more than through dialogue.


A big part of Ubisoft’s modern identity comes from making open-world games, typically set in the real world, or at least real locations.

The Assassin’s Creed series is famous for recreating the way cities looked in specific eras, be it Jerusalem during the crusades (Assassin’s Creed), Victorian London (Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate), or the Caribbean (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag). Recently Ubisoft decided to go even further back in time. AC: Origins takes place in Ancient Egypt, at the inception of the Assassin and Templar orders, and allows us to meet the likes of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.

Meanwhile AC: Odyssey takes place in Greece during the Peloponnesian War, over around 400 years before Origins. There’s also the Far Cry series, which tends to take place in modern times, but in scarcely populated and/or developed locations. This series of FPP action-adventure games is a study in chaos, as the player’s action can spiral out of control and provide emergent storytelling.

Ghost Recon Wildlands also takes place in modern day, but focuses more on squad tactics and black ops rather than general mayhem of Far Cry. Finally there’s the nascent Watch Dogs series, which is soon to see its third instalment. It’s set in a slightly more futuristic version of our world, one where a operating system is capable of governing various city systems. It’s ample playground for talented hackers, the protagonists of WD.

CD Projekt Red

Relative to the likes of Ubisoft and Bethesda, CDPR is a newcomer, but they’ve already captured the gaming Internet’s heart through The Witcher 3, the final chapter in the story of Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster hunter.

A GotY version TW3 features several large areas for the players to explore: White Orchard, Velen (with the cities of Novigrad and Oxenfurt), the Skellige islands, Kaer Morhen, and Toussaint. Each area has its own visual identity, and its own selection of quests of various degrees of complexity. We can expect as much dedication and diversity from the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.


Rockstar is the masterclass in detailed open-worldbuilding. Whether you step into a Grand Theft Auto game, be it GTA5 or, if you have a console, Red Dead Redemption 2, you’re in for not only a gripping story of the society’s darker side, but also a believable simulation of the world.

GTA allows you to golf, engage with in-game stock market, or deliver pizza if you so please. There are limits, of course, but Rockstar games have an absurd amount of detail put into the worlds they feature.

Other notable games


Release date:2018-01-23
Developer:Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Subnautica is probably one of the most beautiful games around, with vistas comparable only to underwater nature documentaries.

It takes place in an alien planet’s ocean, and the player character is a survivor of a spaceship crash. He (the character isn’t customisable) has to collect debris to repair his rescue pod and establish at least a modest base in order to survive.

Subnautica is a unique open world, because it allows the player to truly explore in three dimensions. As the player discovers enough resource in shallow waters, he can craft tools allowing him to dive much, much deeper, and survive encounter with depth-dwelling creatures. There are no hard borders, the player’s freedom to explore is limited only by the oxygen supply and the ability to weather attacks and environmental damage, both of which improve as the player acquires new tech.

Key features
  • Exploration in three dimensions
  • Stunning environment and wildlife
  • Interesting mystery to uncover
  • Survival mechanics are as complex as you want them

Saints Row 3 & 4

PS3, PS4
Xbox 360, XOne
Release date:2014-07-15

Saints Row, especially the last two instalments, is a wonderful, cheesy, ridiculous romp through urban landscapes. Although originally a GTA clone, it has since then evolved into a cheerful satire of what GTA is.

It’s completely over-the-top, it knows how to use a licensed track well, and either entry has a large city made available to the players. Although the activities aren’t as plentiful as in GTA, the ones that are there are well worth the time.

There are insanely brutal reality shows, physics-breaking insurance frauds, and SR4 has tower climbs like the best of Ubisoft games, which test the player’s skill at using the SUPERPOWERS that the main character has. If you can accept the irreverent tone of the games, they are two of the most entertaining urban open worlds out there.

Key features
  • Unfiltered and over-the-top dialogues and action
  • Absurd side-activities
  • Extensive player character customisation
  • Huge urban areas to explore and cause mayhem in

Mad Max

Release date:2015-09-01
Developer:Avalanche Studios

Nobody could have foreseen that an apparent companion game for George Miller’s fantastic Mad Max: Fury Road movie was going to have one of the best post-apocalyptic open worlds of its time.

Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max game is a very solid 7/10, a perfectly entertaining game that nevertheless can’t compete with some heavy hitters. The first thing you need to know about its open world is that it’s mostly the floor of a dried up sea, which influences the vistas: like “beached” ships, or a lighthouse.

The next thing you need to know is that you don’t have to, and, really, shouldn’t, explore on foot: you have a customisable car, the Magnus Opus. It will let you drag wrecks out of the sand, ambush enemy convoys, and make travel much more engaging than a regular on-foot travel would be.

Key features
  • Vehicles are the focus of story and action
  • An actually engaging post-apocalyptic open world
  • A good adaptation of George Miller’s classic franchise
  • Customisable car and player character progression

No Man's Sky

Release date:2016-08-12
Developer:Hello Games

There’s no debating that No Man’s Sky had a terrible launch, not because the game didn’t work, but because it didn’t have what it advertised.

But since the release Hello Games worked hard to update, upgrade, and expand the game, which now by all accounts seems to be a really good, relaxing production, with diversity and actual content.

No Man's Sky
Image credit: Hello Games

By far the biggest draw of NMS is its virtual infinite number of alien planets to discover and explore. Each planet is procedurally generated, and the process includes not only the landscape, but also wildlife. The player has a spaceship at their disposal, with which they can freely fly around the system, or initiate a jump to another system. There are also bases to be built, planets and wildlife to be named, and other players to be met.

Key features
  • Virtually infinite number of new worlds
  • Procedurally generated worlds
  • Crafting and trade
  • Boundless exploration

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