In light of Prototype 2 hitting shelves next week, we decided to draft up a list of 15 of the best open-world video games around. Some of these games date back quite a few years, while others are relatively recent releases. But whether old or new, they all provide some of the best escapism you can find in gaming if you just need a break from the trials and tribulations of real life.
And for the record, our definition of “open world” means that you can pretty much just venture out in any direction and do whatever you want after the game’s tutorial is complete — if it even has one to begin with.
Entries are also in no particular order.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda’s latest entry in The Elder Scrolls franchise might just be the most robust. Skyrim is a humongous world brimming with things to do and dragons to slay. While the game does have a solid narrative pulling the experience together, the truth is most of the fun of Skyrim is derived from just wandering arounnd picking berries and chasing deer. We’ve done this… for hours.
Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar’s 2010 western effort ranks as one of our favorite games of all time. The game’s story was incredible, and it’s open world vast and beautiful. We often found ourselves just staring at the sun as it set instead of partaking in the next story-driven mission. Rockstar nailed the look of the dying west and it made the experience of Red Dead Redemption an immersive one.
The original InFamous established a great foundation for developer Sucker Punch. And with InFamous 2, Sucker Punch took the series to the next level. The introduction of New Marais was a great touch and made for a much more lively, thriving environment to muck around in than the first game’s Empire City. InFamous 2 had its issues, but at least the game world was a thrilling one.
Batman: Arkham City
For their follow-up to Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady gave every Bat-nerd what they wanted: an open-world Batman game. Arkham City let us truly experience what it’s like to protect a city as the Caped Crusader. The game world featured a ton of interesting sidequests to partake in and secrets to uncover to keep even the best detectives busy for days. There’s a reason Arkham City won our game of the year in 2011, and the title’s open world factored into that heavily.
Considered to be the grandfather of the open-world game, Shenmue introduced many of the staples we now deem commonplace for the genre, such as day/night/sleep cycles, real-time weather effects and fully-voiced non-playable character with their own daily schedules. Director Yu Suzuki wanted Shenmue to, in some respect, simulate real life for the player, and it proved an immensely successful experiment, ushering in not only a sequel but an entire subgenre to the industry.
You walk out of the Vault and the entire Wasteland is your oyster. You think, “Shit, where to now?” And that’s the beauty of Bethesda’s Fallout 3; you could literally go anywhere and do anything. From that moment on you shape your character’s destiny. Oh, you can also choose to nuke a town into oblivion, so there’s that.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Assassin’s Creed II introduced us to Ezio and Italy, but it was Brotherhood that truly took full advantage of the Assassin’s Creed brand. There was a ton of activities to do to keep you busy between all the assassination attempts and rooftop jumping. The full scope of the game world might have opened up in stages, but that doesn’t change the fact that Italy was your playground at all times, whether you were following the narrative or just exploring the city to find new assassin recruits.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
While San Andreas isn’t our favorite of the Grand Theft Auto series, it’s still the most impressive from a gaming environment standpoint. The world of San Andreas was positively massive, collectively pulling together three distinct cities — Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas. Let us also not forget that there was plenty of country tying the three cities together to explore. There was so much to see and do in San Andreas that it was absolutely overwhelming. Not that that’s a bad thing at all.
Saints Row: The Third
The world of Saints Row: The Third is straight-up obnoxiously comical. That’s why exploring it is so much damn fun. One minute you’re flying around in a futuristic hover ship, and the next you’re beating someone to death with a huge dildo bat. Saints Row: The Third never takes itself too serious and that leads to a wealth of hilarious gameplay experiences.
World of Warcraft
Crack. That’s what this game is. The most popular MMORPG out there, World of Warcraft features such a massive world with so much content that it’s been able to keep people enthralled for eight years and counting. With frequent expansion adding even more new content, World of Warcraft’s world continues to grow and be the hot-spot destination for folks who just want to get away from the troubles of the real world.
Dragon Age: Origins
Bioware’s original Dragon Age title took us by surprise. We weren’t sure what to expect from the game, but once we got our hands on it, it was clear that BioWare managed to create a magical fantasy role-playing game. The game’s lore was expansive, it’s world lush. We lost days to Dragon Age: Origins. If only we could say the same thing about its sequel…
It doesn’t get much sweeter than being a super soldier with a badass nanosuit and having an entire island in front of you to screw around with. That’s the original Crysis in a nutshell. The game clearly had a straightfoward narrative structure, but how you progressed to that endgame was up to you. You could go in guns blazing, or take the more indirect approach and stalk your prey from the shadows and tall grass. Or, you could just say screw the mission and run off into the jungle and mess around for a few hours. Crysis was linearity without boundaries. Yea, try to wrap your head around that oxymoron.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic holds a very special place in our hearts. This game represents the greatest realization of a fully-fledged, interactive Star Wars universe. BioWare took the lore of Star Wars and added their own unique backstory to it that enriched the overall canon tenfold. Then they allowed us to play around in it. Knights of the Old Republic is a game full of memorable locales and quirky characters that would fit right in at our favorite Mos Eisley watering hole. And let us not forget, the success of Knights of the Old Republic spawned a fully-realized MMO based around its canon. Impressive, most impressive.
Minecraft is the very definition of open-ended. You’re dropped into the game world and just told to go. You figure out quickly that you need to break down rocks to build, harvest materials to craft, and fortify for nightfall when the ghoulish creatures of the world come out to play. There is no end to Minecraft. You just explore and build until you are dead. But there’s something to be said about this formula when over 26 million people obsess over it.
Just Cause 2
The game’s title is its motto. You do everything in this game just ‘cause. Just Cause 2 is an absurd video game, but one that proves immensely rewarding for creative-thinking gamers thrust into a sandbox scenario. While there is a story to Just Cause 2, the real reason to play this game is to see how far you can push the game world. The answer: far.