10 best open-world games of the 2000s

Many of these are some of the best games of all time (Images via Take Two/EA)
Many of these are some of the best games of all time (Images via Take Two/EA)

Like all genres, the open-world category had humble beginnings, but has emerged into a mainstream behemoth today. Every other modern game, regardless of genre, aims to implement open-world design in one way or another. Yet, all of this is thanks to a growing interest in expansive and immersive worlds.

The early to late 2000s resulted in some of the most influential and revolutionary open-world names ever made. Some of these franchises continue to get new entries that take the iconic formula to new heights and scopes, while others have faded into obscurity. Regardless, these are some of the best picks from that golden era of gaming.

These open-world games are worth checking out today, despite being over a decade old

1) Deus Ex (2000)


Regarded as one of the best PC games ever made, the original Deus Ex continues to be the source of inspiration for modern immersive sim games. Developed by Ion Storm and published by Eidos Interactive, the legendary game features UNATCO agent JC Denton on a journey to face off against powerful shadowy organizations.

Enhanced with cybernetics, players explore the cyberpunk sandbox open-world in first-person with an emphasis on stealth. The various explorable maps of the game hide many secrets and demand use of the various augmentations to progress, in addition to offering various ways to solve problems.

2) Gothic (2001)


Underrated RPG developer Pirahna Bytes released the first Gothic for PC to good critical reception. However, they ultimately failed to pierce the mainstream front.

Set in a medieval fantasy world, it features a prisoner of a mining colony set out on a perilous adventure against the orc faction - only to realize a greater evil is looming overhead. The open-world is ripe for exploration and is very interactive, including the ability to hunt animals, acquire their meat, and cook it for consumption.

A brand new remake of the game is coming in the future courtesy of publisher THQ Nordic and developer Alkimia Interactive.

3) The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)


Arguably the best entry in Bethesda's iconic Elder Scrolls high-fantasy series, Morrowin's atmosphere and depth is unmatched even today. Comparatively, even the latest entry, Skyrim, is simplified in many aspects, like the RPG mechanics.

The narrative revolves around the demi-god Dagoth Ur, who aims to break Morrowind free from Imperial reign. The open-world is unlike any other fantasy setting, as the giant mushrooms and ominous fauna result in an alien planet-like feel. The combat may feel pretty dated today, but the freeform exploration, quests and game design are still worth experiencing.

4) Freelancer (2003)


An overlooked space sim, Freelancer was ahead of its time for a 2003 game. Published by Microsoft Game Studios, it was created by Digital Anvil and sees players command space pilots and progress through various star systems.

Dogfights, trading and exploration form the core basics of the spaceship gameplay. The story campaign sees Edison Trent trying to save the Sirius sector from an alien attack. The game was unfortunately too ambitious for its own good, as features had to be scaled back for release, such as a static world. But that still does not diminish this underrated space-farer's accomplishments.

5) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)


Developer Rockstar has created a household name for themselves with their Grand Theft Auto series of open-world action-adventure games. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the best entries in the beloved franchise thus far, and with good reason.

Ex-gangster CJ is drawn back into criminal life when he arrives in San Andreas. Meet back up with childhood friends and engage with rival gangs as players explore the world at their leisure. In addition to featuring the tried-and-true GTA mission design, car-hijacking and firefights, there are various activities to partake in. It even incorporates lite RPG elements with CJ's physical stats, which can be affected by external factors like eating or exercising.

The recent Grand Theft Auto Trilogy - Definitive Edition remaster bundle includes Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as well.

6) Shadow of the Colossus (2005)


The beloved PS2 game blew fans away, not just as a technical marvel, but also as a work of art. Sony Japan Studio and Team Ico's open-world adventure features Wander, who must revive a girl named Mono. To do this, he must set out and take down larger-than-life creatures called the Colossus.

A large part of the seamless open-world's exploration is horseback riding. The monsters are scalable and must be defeated in different ways, including using the environment to the players' advantage. It was a very different game for its time, and in some ways, still is.

7) Dead Rising (2006)


Originally released as an Xbox 360 exclusive, Dead Rising from Capcom is a sandbox survival-horror game. Photojournalist Frank West is trapped in a zombie-infested shopping mall and must try to escape within 72 in-game hours.

As such, this third-person action sees players mow down hordes of enemies with anything they can get their hands on - from golf clubs to mannequins, nearly everything not nailed down can be weaponized. Throughout the adventure, players will also encounter survivors to save and dangerous psychos - crazed human bosses.

8) Crysis (2007)


The iconic PC original from Crytek was renowned for melting players' rigs back in the day - figuratively of course. The open-world first-person-shooter was a graphical marvel for 2007 and holds up amazingly even 15 years later - a testament to the impeccable visual design and art direction.

As US Delta Force soldier Nomad, players arrive on an island after receiving a distress call. Equipped with the high-tech Nanosuit, employ various playstyles to take down both human soldiers and alien enemies. These range from sneaky to guns-blazing using the different abilities like cloaking and super-strength.

Revisit the beloved classic as part of the Crysis Trilogy Remaster, available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

9) Fallout 3 (2008)


The first Fallout game to step into the 3D realm, Bethesda's Fallout 3 made many changes from the established isometric formula. Taking place in the post-apocalyptic Capital Wasteland in the year 2277, players must track down their father James, who has left the safety of the Vaults for unknown reasons.

Explore the ruined open world, engage with its denizens and take on missions in either first-person or third-person. There are many skills, perks and abilities to invest in, allowing players to roleplay as they wish. New combat elements like V.A.T.S. help enhance the gameplay by allowing auto-targeting specific body parts.

10) Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)


The game that started the fad of Arkham combat-inspired games, Batman Arkham Asylum is one of the most important superhero games ever. It was developed by Rocksteady and features DC's iconic caped crusader, Batman.

After the villianous Joker escapes from the high-security prison of Arkham Asylum, the Dark Knight must track him down and deal with the minions he has unleashed. Players can explore the open-world and utilize Batman’s various gadgets and skills for combat, exploration, stealth and puzzle solving.

The combat in particular is a highlight, featuring fast paced action and the iconic counter system that allows skillfully taking on hordes of thugs.

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