You can check out the video above, click through the gallery below or scroll down the page for the full list. Let us know in the comments what was on your list that didn’t make ours!
The Best Open Worlds in Video Games
10. Sunset City (Sunset Overdrive)
In a world turned upside-down – or, maybe in some cases it’s more accurate to say inside out – by an energy drink apocalypse, the unique urban landscape of Sunset Overdrive was keen on changing the rules for what it meant to traverse a giant metropolis. Rather than relying on running or driving, it’s over-the-top means of traversal sets Sunset Overdrive apart from other open worlds. By enabling rail grinding, wall-running, and comically huge bouncing on nearly every surface, Sunset Overdrive’s city became a zany fun house that was a blast to get around in and also perfectly mirrored the game’s off-the-wall sense of humor.
Add that to some wonderfully designed setpieces, like a medieval-themed roller coaster and towering skyscrapers wrapped in rail lines, and Sunset City quickly became the perfect place to blow up hordes of mutated goons with unparalleled flair.
– Brendan Graeber, Guides Editor
9. The New World (Horizon: Zero Dawn)
Horizon: Zero Dawn’s world is a gorgeous sandbox of dramatic locales peppered through with huge, dinosaur-like machines intent on murdering you; it’s much more fun than it sounds.
Snowy mountains beg you to climb them, dense forest-land house unseen horrors and calcified skyscrapers now serve as platforms to get from A to B. There’s still a thrill seeing an enormous Thunderjaw stomping round in the distance – this is as close to a proper dinosaur game as we’ve had in the last 10 years, and the threat it houses at its core is wonderfully tempered by the gorgeous trappings that surround it.
– Lucy O’Brien, Executive Editor
8. Kyrat (Far Cry 4)
Even though the most recent entry in the series added some additional vehicular mayhem, Far Cry 4’s Kyrat offers some of the most spectacular sandbox action that gaming has to offer. The lush forests, snowy mountains, and farmlands of this fictional Himalayan country are densely packed with open-ended activities, dangerous wildlife, and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore for secrets. Add in the fact that you can roam the wilds with a friend in online co-op and you’ve got a tasty recipe for an insanely good time.
– Jon Ryan, Senior Editor
7. San Francisco Bay Area (Watch Dogs 2)
Watch Dogs 2’s version of the Bay Area is slightly more condensed than its real-life counterpart, but if you can’t physically travel to San Francisco, this is definitely the next best thing. From the Painted Ladies to the Golden Gate Bridge, all of SF’s biggest landmarks are here, and the city’s melting pot of cultures is pretty well represented across the varied neighborhoods.
Full of interesting side activities and secrets to uncover, Watch Dogs 2 is virtual tourism at it’s best – even if its traffic is unbelievably light and the game’s story about our descent into a high-tech corporate dystopia somehow manages to be less depressing than the real thing.
– Mark Medina, Editorial Producer
6. The Caribbean (Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag)
While plenty of Assassin’s Creed games offer hyper-detailed recreations of historical cities across the globe, few offer as satisfying a blend of worthwhile exploration and diverse gameplay as the crystal blue waters of Assassin’s Creed IV’s Caribbean setting. Okay, and the Atlantic coastline a couple of times.
Point is, whether you were skulking about the streets of Nassau, diving for treasure in old wrecks, hunting sea monsters or sinking ship after ship after ship, Black Flag’s nautical playground may not be the biggest world the series has ever seen, but it still remains the best it has to offer, and hands-down the ultimate simulator for those of us wishing to become the scourge of the high seas.
– Jon Ryan
5. Skyrim (The Elder Scrolls V)
Despite being the fifth entry in a beloved franchise full of historic characters and moments, the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim provides the perfect introduction to the massive Elder Scrolls universe. Featuring a wide variety of biomes from ice-capped mountains to grassy farmland and medieval strongholds, the beauty of Skyrim is in its interwoven connection between nature and civilization.
Each town is ripe with personality and factions that introduce you to story and gameplay options you may have not considered. Been roaming around the tundra’s of Whiterun with nothing but a sword and board? A quick stint in the Dark Brotherhood just West of Falkreath will have you hooked on the life as an assassin. Skyrim’s world facilitates exploration in a literal sense; traversing the landscape step by step, but also an exploration of its mechanics through the environment and citizens of the province. It’s a world so well-detailed that we know we’ll see Todd Howard put it on PS5 and the Series X, and we probably won’t even be mad.
– Nick Limon, Producer
4. The Continent (The Witcher 3)
From the fields of White Orchard to the mountains of Ard Skellig and the cobbled streets of Novigrad, the world of The Witcher 3’s is endlessly fascinating to explore. Not content to design just one of the most visually impressive fantasy landscapes in recent memory, CD Projekt Red packed every corner of its massive world with engaging content.
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Whether it’s something as simple as clearing a bandit camp or discovering a hidden chest at the bottom of a lake, or kicking off an elaborate hunt for new witcher gear or to stop a monstrous beast from terrorizing a remote village, Geralt’s adventures across The Continent offer players one of the most fully-realized sandboxes ever. Coupled with some of the best-written side quests in modern games, The Witcher 3’s vast and varied world is one players can easily lose themselves in for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours.
– Jon Ryan
3. America, 1899 (Red Dead Redemption 2)
No matter where you are in the massive world of Red Dead Redemption 2, be it the muddy livestock town of Valentine, with its wooden buildings and rustic charm, or the grimy and growing metropolis of Saint Denis, or from snowy peaks to gator-infested swamps to thick forests or flat deserts, the sheer assortment of ecosystems and environments seamlessly stitched together to make up Red Dead 2’s simply magnificent world is almost as astounding as the wild level of bespoke detail injected into every single nook and cranny of the map. Few open worlds are quite as uncompromisingly hand-crafted as the edge of America’s final frontier as depicted in Red Dead Redemption 2.
– Luke Reilly, AU Games Editor
Few video game landscapes evoke the sort of wonder and mystery that Hyrule manages in Breath of the Wild. From the moment you step out onto the Great Plateau, you’re met with sweeping vistas in all directions, and it’s no secret why your adventure begins on top of a towering plateau: you’re broadly encouraged to glide down and begin exploring in any direction you choose. Hyrule never tries to box you in or control your desire to explore the unknown, and despite overwhelming danger in certain areas, Breath of the Wild smartly ensures you have all the necessary tools to access every part of its gigantic map.
Perhaps most important of all is its reliance on hiding just secrets behind every corner: another eye-catching locale to investigate, another shrine nestled away to be completed, or another mysterious spot where a Kork is almost certainly waiting for you to find them.
– Brendan Graeber
1. Los Santos/Blaine County (GTA 5 / GTA Online)
The layers upon layers of utterly bonkers granular detail across Grand Theft Auto V’s world is second to none, even seven years after its original release. No corner of its immense world is untouched by Rockstars designers, from the cramped vestibule of an isolated rural bar to the pockmarked surfaces of Los Santos’ decaying freeways. Just walk a block or two and take note of the individual storefronts or the unique graffiti as grass sways and trash flutters by.
No part of this world, whether in single-player or in GTA Online, feels or looks like another. Besides, name another open world where you can ride a rollercoaster by the beach, base jump off a mountain or skyscraper, then hop in a monster truck or weaponized big rig for a mad-max-style vehicular deathmatch. It simply can’t be done.
– Luke Reilly