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Best Overall: The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time at Amazon
"A perfect example of an open world, with lots to explore, great gameplay variety, and an ever-present spirit of adventure."
Runner-up Best Overall: The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt at Amazon
"Takes place in a massive open world that’s beautifully rendered with impressive graphics that hold up today."
Best for Switch: The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild at Amazon
"One of the purest open world gaming experiences around, and it’s also one of the most magical."
Best for Xbox One/PS4: Red Dead Redemption 2 at Amazon
"Has a lot to offer fans of Westerns, as it takes place in a fairly wild west."
Best Platformer: Super Mario Odyssey at Amazon
"Offers massive levels with plenty of exploring to do, giving it a bit more of the open-world feel than many other platformers."
Best Stealth Action: Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain at Amazon
"Makes for an incredible experience if you want to tackle missions your own way."
Best Superhero: Batman Arkham City at Amazon
"The combat is amazing, and the freedom to explore and approach combat how you want just makes it better."
Best VR: The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim VR at Amazon
"You can feel a lot more like you’re really in Skyrim than ever before."
Courtesy of Amazon
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time may not have one of the biggest open worlds, but it’s one of the classics. It's a perfect example of an open world with lots to explore, variety, and an ever-present spirit of adventure.
Ocarina of Time not only had an open world that had Hyrule at its heart, the aqueous Zora domain, the volcanic Death Mountain, the wooded Kokiri Forest, and the desert that was home to the Gerudos, but it also included travel through time. This lets you explore the world as a child before the land of Hyrule is devastated by the villain Ganon, and to see it after as well.
While the graphics will likely feel pretty dated because of its age, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time stands the test of time as a compelling classic, important to Nintendo's history, and worth playing by anyone that loves a great adventure and an interesting open world.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is pretty much the game of the decade. CD Projekt Red’s third installment in the Witcher series continues to follow the monster-hunting witcher Geralt. The game takes place in a massive open world that’s beautifully rendered with impressive graphics that hold up today, especially on powerful PCs that can push the graphics to the limit.
The Witcher 3 has plenty of RPG elements, letting you level up Geralt and learn new skills to use in and out of combat with all sorts of interesting humans and terrifying creatures. It also lets you choose your weapons, armor, and effectively your combat style. There are plenty of large adventures even just to hunt down some of the most powerful armor in the game.
Beyond the wonderful characters, magical open world, and compelling stories, The Witcher 3 also has expansions available that add new storylines, new regions, and dozen of hours gameplay. Fans of fantasy will have a lot to love in The Witcher 3, and fans of Don Quixote may find an especially sweet treat at the beginning of the Blood and Wine expansion.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the purest open world gaming experiences around, and it’s also one of the most magical. After a brief section of the game where Link, the main character who had been asleep for 100 years, learns a few skills and learns more about the state of Hyrule, the entire game world is suddenly open. You’re able to go right from the starting section the game and head directly to the final boss of the game.
But, if that’s not your style, there’s so much world to explore and so many ways to see it. Many animals roam the lands, and a surprising amount can be ridden, though tamed horses are the most reliable. You’re also able to climb any surface in the game, making exploration anywhere possible. And, a hang-gliding kite makes for some exciting ways to get around.
On top of the exploration, there are interesting characters to meet, a variety of truly challenging enemies, and no shortage of mysterious encounters with some of the more magical aspects of the game world, and it’s all backed by a wonderful musical score.
If you’re looking for a more recent open world game to enjoy on your PS4 or Xbox One, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most impressive options. It definitely has a lot to offer fans of Westerns, as it takes place in wild west-esque atmosphere and there’s ample gunslinging to be had. And, even though Red Dead Redemption 2 is the latest entry in a series of games, new players can still pick up the story without worrying about being totally lost.
Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in 1899 and follows the outlaw Arthur Morgan, who’s part of a band of outlaws led by a Dutch van der Linde. While you’re playing a criminal, you do have options for just how bad a guy you want to be in the game, as you are confronted with moral choices throughout the game.
In Red Dead Redemption 2, you’ll explore the west on foot, on horseback, in carriages, and on trains — whether you’re riding inside the train or having a gunfight on the roof is up to you though.
The delightful adventures of Super Mario take an open-world spin in Super Mario Odyssey. It’s not quite the same type of open world you get from other games, as that’s not really a way to make a platformer. But, Super Mario Odyssey has massive levels with plenty of exploring to do, giving it a bit more of the open-world feel than many other platformers.
And, not surprisingly, Super Mario Odyssey delivers an impeccable package. Beyond all the fun mechanics for getting around (the huge variety of jumps, wall kicks, and the like), Super Mario Odyssey features a new character called Cappy, that takes the place of Mario’s signature hat and allows Mario to possess just about anything he encounters in the game world.
The possession mechanic makes for a lot of curious encounters and also opens the door for some creative approaches to exploring the game world. If the large levels and freedom to explore it in a variety of ways don’t earn this Super Mario Odyssey some credit as an open world game, little else could.
All of the tense stealth action offered by previous games in the Metal Gear Solid franchise got the open world treatment in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The game takes place in 1984, though not quite the historical 1984, and it follows a haggard Snake who’s seen much of what he worked for taken away from him.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain features multiple open world settings, with Angola and Soviet-Afghanistan offering tons of space to explore. Both regions are militarized, so you’ll often run into compounds filled with enemies or the occasional patrol that won’t be happy to see you. And there’s wildlife to watch out for, as well as the occasional superhuman to worry about.
Given the open world and stealth nature of the gameplay, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain offers an incredible experience if you want to tackle missions your own way. You can approach many objectives from a different direction, set up distractions, sneak in and out unnoticed, or go in guns blazing with helicopter and artillery support.
Superhero fans, and Batman fans, in particular, have been getting a great treat from Rocksteady Studio’s Batman: Arkham series of video games. And, Batman: Arkham City took the formula that had been developed in its predecessor and spun it into an open world game. Batman: Arkham City takes place in a section of Gotham that has been converted into a massive, lawless prison.
In Batman: Arkham City, Batman works to figure out what all is going on behind the scheme to create huge prison. In some sections of the game, you’re also able to play as Catwoman.
Throughout the game, you get to use Batman’s detective skills to find clues as to what’s going on. You also have an impressive arsenal of gadgets and weapons that help you fight off minor criminals and supervillains alike. You can use your zipline to get around or to latch onto an enemy and yank them towards you for a powerful clothesline. You can also use explosive gel to set remote traps for enemies or suddenly disperse enemies in the middle of a brawl. The combat is amazing in Batman: Arkham City, and the freedom to explore and approach combat how you want just makes it better.
While a lot of developers aren’t making massive open worlds in VR, Bethesda has shown an inclination toward converting older games into VR (and also a propensity for re-releasing Skyrim on new platforms). And, luckily for VR fans, the wonderful world of Skyrim was brought to VR with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR.
In Skyrim, you play as a Dovahkiin destined to battle dragons and save Skyrim. But, that’s just the premise. You get to create your characters, choose your skills, and decide which adventures have the most appeal to you. If you never want to fight a dragon because you’d rather focus on your thieving skills in the Thieves Guild, that’s an option. You could just as easily dabble in magic or choose sides in a civil war.
Skyrim has already proven itself one of the most engaging open worlds in gaming history. There’s an incredible amount of world to explore, and with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR, you can feel a lot more like you’re really in Skyrim than ever before.