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The Best Open World Games - And Why You Should Play Them

Updated on December 15, 2014
The world, as they say, is yours
The world, as they say, is yours | Source

The Whole Open World Is Your Oyster

What Is An Open World Game?

Back in the day, video games were simple affairs.

Most were 2 dimensional, and almost all were linear in nature.

What I mean by this is that the game dictates what you must do next - from the very beginning, right up to the end.

If I were to compare them to food, then in gastronomic terms, they were fun but a bit bland.

Open World Games try to turn that on its head and let you do whatever you want to do, when you want to do it.

They don't always succeed in every respect, but that's the general idea.

As a result, Open World (OW) games provide a great recipe for a full on gaming feast. They also provide the biggest bang for your buck - certainly in terms of how much time you get to play. Here's a delicious smorgasbord of them to get your teeth into.

This article will explain why they are so good and will share some of the finest examples of the genre. Yum!

Read on to find out more.

Open World Example: Grand Theft Auto

Let's start off with an example.

In 1997, Rockstar launched a title that would revolutionise video games.

It wasn't the first ever open world game, but they somehow nailed the formula which has been imitated ever since.

Grand Theft Auto, now in its 5th iteration, is considered to be the granddaddy of all open world games.

Whether we like it or not, it is the gold standard by which all others are judged.

Each entry in the series places players in a big city, in the guise of a minor criminal.

Over the course of the game, they take on missions, cause chaos and slowly rise through the ranks of the criminal underclass.

Many gamers, peace-loving and upstanding citizens in the real world, have turned into utter sociopaths within the game, only to return to normality as soon as the machine is switched off!

Grand Theft Auto V - Xbox 360
Grand Theft Auto V - Xbox 360

I'll let you into a secret: I have never played right through a GTA game.

I once played a small part of number 2, but couldn't get into being a criminal - perhaps I'm just too nice!

However, GTA 5 is one of the very best games out there with a huge city to explore and lots of vehicles to do it in.

It has an average score of 97 out of 100 on Metacritic.

Speaks for itself.


It's All About Choices - A typical open world game will have:

  1. A large "world" in which to play, explore and even live a virtual life
  2. A central storyline, with its own missions.
  3. A good number of side or optional missions
  4. All kinds of side activities and "mini-games" (usually optional)
  5. Transport and ways to get around quickly (from cars or horses, to "fast travel" points)

What Makes Open World Games So Good?

As noted above, you will still find a central story to keep you interested and engaged.

There will be plentiful side missions, many of which will form their own stories - at least, they will in the best examples.

Many OW games let you carry on playing even once you have "finished" them.

Alongside this, there will be all sorts of other activities you can do, depending on the game and genre.


For example

  • Red Dead Redemption (a Wild West game) features Poker games and hunting animals for their skins.
  • Batman Arkham City features lots of villains to take down, each with their own take on the Bat. Some require a straight up fight, while others require patience and use of your detective skills.

The world can be yours
The world can be yours | Source

They Will Never Take Our Freedom!

As you've probably worked out by now, what sets open world games apart from their peers is the freedom that they confer on the player.

There is often a degree of linearity to the central story missions, but it doesn't feel like it because you are regularly distracted by the other opportunities on offer.

It gives you a great sense of empowerment when you play these type of games.

Trust me, the first time you are in a game, think "I wonder what's over there" and then discover something new and exciting, you'll wish that more games were made like that.

So which one will you play?

Thankfully, there are lots of choices these days, so you can more or less pick a genre you are interested in and go for it.

From high fantasy, to modern day "realistic" cities, there's one for nearly every taste.

Let's have a look at some of them.


Ok, now some gamers would pull me up on this one because technically, Skyrim is really a Role Playing Game (RPG).

This means that the emphasis is on you building a character and developing your hero (or heroine) over the course of your time with them.

RPGs are usually associated with depth, including statistics and some number crunching.

However, Skyrim is much closer to an action game than that and one that also shows off the land that the developers have created for it.

I can honestly say that I have never come across a better example in terms of depth of play, breadth of content, or scope in terms of sheer size and wonder.

A pure fantasy setting, moving from dark dungeons, to villages and cities, to the tops of snow swept mountains, Skyrim always has something new to see and experience around every corner.

It takes a little while to get going and its enormity can be overwhelming at first, but it is worth persevering to get the best out of it.

IMO, if you haven't tried Skyrim then you really are missing out!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Legendary Edition - PC
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Legendary Edition - PC

I received a query in the comments asking whether the game is available on PC. The answer is 'sure thing'.


Graphical Prowess

So why are linear shooter games still so popular?

One of the reasons that titles like Modern Warfare wow us so much is that the graphics and associated drama are so amazing and/or over the top.

They can do this because they use smaller, often enclosed spaces in their 3D worlds - easier to program (comparatively).

However, the developers have to use lots of tricks to make you think you could go past barriers and off into the horizon - even though you can't.

OW games literally let you go where you want, but may end up looking not quite so good as their linear counterparts.

That said, I think that the power of our consoles and PCs are beginning to remove the distinction.

Skyrim is a notable example of this.

You could nitpick at the fine details and say this texture on the wall or that character's face looks nowhere near as good as in a shooter, but that's missing the point.

Like the paella pictured right, it's when you take all the graphical elements together and view them as a whole that it creates a sense of atmosphere and even awe.

I've lost count of the times when I have looked up at the mountains or down into beautiful valleys and stopped for a moment, just to appreciate the scenery.

When would you get that kind of experience in a FPS?

A typical scene from Skyrim
A typical scene from Skyrim | Source

Batman Arkham City

I have written extensively about Arkham City, including it's own review.

Suffice it to say that IMO, it is the best game of all time.

The sense of empowerment as you "become" Batman is incredible.

If you like the Bat, then you should get this game!

If you want to know more then see my review below.

Watch Dogs

The very latest entry in the genre, sees you playing as a hacker in a sprawling futuristic version of Chicago.

It offers lots of guns and cars, as you might expect, but also adds the ability to hack everything and everyone as part of its core gameplay experience.

Touted by the marketing machine as a true next gen gaming experience, the jury is still very much out on it.

I've been checking on user reviews on Metacritic and I can tell you that the gaming community has been completely split - some love it, some hate it and some are straight down the middle about it.

For me, I am itching to get my hands on it (it's my birthday next week, so I'm hoping for an Xbox 360 copy!), but since public opinion is similar a certain Assassin's game when that first came out, it's probably destined to become a classic!

Asassin's Creed

If you like your open world to be historical, with plenty of techno-babble and a twist of conspiracy, then you'll love the Assassin's Creed series.

This collection gives you three games - each one a massive adventure in its own right - and sets you loose in renaissance Italy and Constantinople.

The story makes more or less sense, depending on which iteration you play, but it's all good fun.

What I particularly enjoy about these games is that alongside the gaming aspects, you get to see lots of amazing real world locations and there is a database entry, telling you the real and imagined histories for each one.

What do you think?

Have questions?

Have you played games in this genre?

Which is your favourite and why?

© 2014 Tim Bader


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    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @nipun-max: Me too (you'd never guess, would you?)

      Thanks for reading.

    • nipun-max profile image


      4 years ago

      I always love open world games

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @georgepmoola2: Thank you.

      Thanks for reading.

    • georgepmoola2 profile image


      4 years ago

      Good review!

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Seasons Greetings: I've not played Carmaggedon but have certainly heard of it - very controversial when it first appeared, as I remember.

      I think it would just about qualify as an open world game, but strictly speaking, it would probably be labelled as an "action/ racing" game by most gamers I know.

      To each their own though!

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @stephen-homewood: Thanks, Steve.

      I'm really surprised as most companies are obsessive about getting their wares out on every possible platform.

      I did a quick check around the web and it seems there is a possibility of end of November for the PC version - although it isn't a firm date.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      @Tim Bader: No release date yet for GTA V on pc.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image

      Laura Brown 

      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I haven't heard of the open world games term. I play Carmageddon which I think could be an open world game. I love it because I can play the race, the demolition or just head out and explore for as long as I keep from getting crunched by other cars.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Becksta: That's a good question.

      Skyrim is available on all the main platforms, including Xbox, PC and Playstation - I've added a link to the PC version above, for your reference.

      Note that the Legendary Edition includes all the previously released updates and download content, so you get even more for your money!

      Hope you like it.

      Thanks for reading.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      @Tim Bader: Skyrim is a game I've seen a lot of in recent weeks, and it's one I'd like to get my teeth into, so my question is:- Is it available on PC or just Playstation 3?

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Been playing watchdogs on pc and having a blast. I love how you can hack other players online and all the little touches spread through the city. I agree also that skyrim is a great game. Would love to play GTA V when it finally comes to pc.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Lorelei Cohen: Indeed we can!

      It's amazing in Skyrim when you go wandering up a mountainside, get into the middle of a snowstorm and then see it piling up against the rocks.

      Of course, if you want a social life with real people, you need to limit your time with the virtual ones!

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      4 years ago from Canada

      I am shocked at how realistic game play has become. We can virtually live in the internet now.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @DreyaB: You're welcome!

      I agree with you about Skyrim, it is an excellent game (I never managed to get into Oblivion in the same way, though it too, was very well done).

      I'll be adding some others into the mix soon, so stay tuned! ;)

    • DreyaB profile image


      4 years ago from France

      I love RPGames and Skyrim (and its predecessor Oblivion) is the best open world game in my humble opinion - I just love it. Might have to check out some of your other choices though. Thanks for the ideas. :0)


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