Open-world games have evolved and changed a lot since their inception, with more freedom and larger sandboxes to explore and enjoy. This genre has seen many changes throughout the years, with different game genres adopting the format for maximum player engagement and freedom.
With more and more publishers and developers gravitating towards the open-world genre, it's always a tough decision to make on which title to pick. To help with that, we have compiled a list of five top-notch open-world titles worth the user's time and money and five to be avoided at all costs.
Five engaging open-world games
1) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an open-world thrill ride. Nintendo's magnum opus for their most innovative home console, the Switch, has been a talking point among open-world genre fans for years since its launch, and for good reason.
Though the story might feel a bit too simplistic for a game released in 2017, the gameplay and the world itself more than make up for it.
Very few titles have come anywhere close to matching the charm, variety, and freedom it provides. Every inch of the map is filled with some fun to explore, find or experiment with.
As soon as Link gets the paraglider, gamers are free to explore and go almost anywhere. The sense of freedom and exploration this game provides is genuinely astounding.
With a robust combat system and a host of fun activities to partake in, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild truly is one of the greatest and most realized open-world games in existence.
2) Red Dead Redemption 2
Rockstar Games' wild west epic Red Dead Redemption 2 needs no introduction for any open-world enthusiast. The title is an immersive masterpiece bound to grab players' attention throughout its sizeable 50 to 60-hour-long campaign.
Red Dead Redemption 2 narrated the tale of one Arthur Morgan, a part of the Van der Linde gang and a wanted outlaw, led by none other than the notorious Dutch Van der Linde. Though the story progresses linearly, users are given plenty of choices in the story, as well as Arthur's life, to personalize the experience to their liking.
Red Dead Redemption 2 revels in the storytelling department with a heartfelt tale of revenge, redemption, and sacrifice. But it doesn't just stop there.
An open-world, action-adventure at heart, Red Dead Redemption 2 possibly has the best-looking and most immersive game. Gamers are bound to spend countless hours just exploring and soaking in the atmosphere of this thoroughly detailed and gorgeous Old West.
3) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt Red's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an undisputed juggernaut. The game is not just a tremendous role-playing title that players have come to expect as a sequel to the phenomenal The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings but also a fully realized open-world offering.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has set a new bar for games of the open-world genre. Every inch of the map has something exciting to discover for users.
A Legendary monster to hunt, new armor sets and weapons to find, or perhaps a new side-quest with a narrative that can rival entire main storylines in other titles, gamers will never know what they will stumble upon while exploring the beautiful world of the game.
It is filled with several different and completely varied locations to explore, from the bustling streets of Novigrad to the gorgeous verdant fields of Toussaint in the Blood and Wine expansion. Players will have plenty to do and discover in the fantastical adventures of the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia.
4) Elden Ring
FromSoftware's Elden Ring is without a shadow of a doubt the most innovative and groundbreaking title in the open-world genre. The game revolutionized the Dark Souls formula that the developers have been polishing with every other entry and added a massive world for users to get lost in.
The sense of freedom in Elden Ring without the obtrusion of typical open-world hand-holding is truly magnificent. The sense of discovery in this game is unprecedented, and that's saying a lot given the other games listed here.
Gamers are rewarded and encouraged to explore the varied and often breathtakingly beautiful map of the Lands Between.
The game's several and diverse biomes are filled to the brim with dungeons and catacombs to discover, weapons and armor to find, and many bosses to conquer. There are entire optional areas that can only be revealed via partaking in specific character quests or solving environmental puzzles.
Yes, the title is quite challenging, and that's something that comes with the territory of being a souls-like offering. But all it requires is a bit of patience and perseverance from individuals, and the game will reward them aptly with an immensely thought-provoking narrative and an open-world experience that's unique to the genre.
5) Grand Theft Auto 5
Rockstar has always been the best at creating a believable and awe-inspiring open-world sandbox. They essentially pioneered the 3D-video gaming genre with Grand Theft Auto 3 in 2001, which made Grand Theft Auto a household name.
Grand Theft Auto 5 is a game that Rockstar had been building up to. Released in 2013 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it took the world by storm with its phenomenal visuals, an extensive map of San Andreas, and a compelling and exciting narrative.
The title was indeed the defining moment in open-world gaming history with its remarkably detailed city structures filled with glossy skyscrapers and people in luxurious automobiles. It also had lush mountain tops with wildlife of all shapes and sizes and countrysides with dry pavements and rusty old wagons littered throughout the map.
The geographical diversity in Grand Theft Auto 5 is staggering and, even after all these years, remains practically unmatched by most offerings in the genre.
Five games with a boring open-world
1) Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Ubisoft's open-world design is something that has regularly been a topic of criticism. Cramming an unnecessarily large map with mundane activities and calling it a day is what most modern games from this company do.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is no different. In fact, it's the worst culprit of the so-called 'Ubisoft open-world design' in certain ways. A massive map of England at the precipice of the Viking invasion of the English land filled to the brim with activities that are borderline fillers contribute nothing to the overarching narrative.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla's issues don't just end at the redundant quest design but also the so-called open world. Most places in the title are just copy-pasted across the map, with no distinct or recognizable features present throughout England.
It's tough to connect to a game's world when every other landmark location is an exact copy.
2) Need for Speed Payback
The Need for Speed games have always been about users expressing themselves through cars. The in-depth customization of vehicles allows them to tune a boring-looking Volkswagen Beetle into a racing beast on the streets with massive spoilers, widebody kits, and custom liveries to tear the road in style.
Another thing that these titles got right was the world setting. While there are only a handful of open-world racing games out there, among those that offer gamers a big open map to explore while cruising in their custom-built racing machine, Need for Speed's offerings have always stood out to be the best.
Need for Speed Payback, however, is a different story. Though the game has a good story and the arcade-racing gameplay and customization are top-notch, the open world is as bland as they come. From the lack of any substantial variety to outright boring locations to cruise through, it is not a fun time to do anything other than racing.
3) Mafia 3
Mafia games are known to be some of the very few noir titles that translate well into the open-world landscape. Games in this series give players a deep dive into the worlds heavily influenced and inspired by movies like The Godfather.
On the other hand, Mafia 3 seriously lacked the charm and subtlety of the noir genre. The game was just bland and not in a good way. The original title and its sequel were masterpieces in storytelling with fun gameplay mechanics.
Mafia 3 had very little to offer at launch in terms of gameplay variety. Players were relegated to the repeat mission structure for the entire campaign length. Adding to the fact that the game was shipped with a host of performance issues on both console and PC, Mafia 3 was a frustrating experience.
Though the title had a beautiful world, the sheer lack of innovation and variety in its gameplay systems made it a boring Mafia game.
Anthem is a quintessential example of how not to design a game that's heavily centered around open-world exploration, online multiplayer interaction, and looter-shooter gameplay.
The title was a broken mess at launch with terrible netcode, erratic AI, and obnoxious mission design. Developer Bioware wanted to capitalize on Destiny's fanfare but could not manage to deliver even the basics of looter-shooter role-playing games.
Anthem's world is its worst feature. The feeling of soaring through the skies using mech suits does feel great, but the novelty wears off rather quickly, as the world is just set-dressing for the monotonous missions.
It's a shame that Anthem turned out the way it did, as the game had the potential to be something great but got crushed under the heels of corporate greed and mismanagement.
5) Far Cry 6
This is another Ubisoft entry on the bad part of this list. The Far Cry series always used to be a fun open-world adventure, albeit with significant flaws.
Far Cry 3, as great as the game was, brought ideas that culminated in something that is now universally despised, the 'Ubisoft open-world formula.'
Far Cry 5 tried to rectify some things that fans of the genre have started to get tired of seeing in every other title. Climbing towers to unlock the map, hunting animals for crafting, and a vicious cycle of repetitive side-quests. These were all eliminated in Far Cry 5 in favor of a cohesive story and fun and fresh gameplay systems.
Far Cry 6, however, tried to emulate the success of Far Cry 3 again and, in pursuit of that, brought several of the previous issues back in the series. The quest design was laughably bad, with the only new and standout quests being the fighting game-style rooster fights.
The rest of the missions had the same 'go there and shoot that' type of mission structure.
Far Cry 6's world design was notoriously dull as well. In true Ubisoft fashion, most of Yara's map is filled with repeated assets, with very few, if any, notable locations.
Far Cry games used to be the best when it came to fun open-worlds, but now, with recent titles, the series has turned into a tedious grind without much payoff for the gamers.
Note: This article reflects the writer's opinions.