Five Open World Games Everyone Should Play

By: Geoff Calver

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Open world games are awesome. Honestly, experiencing the sheer scope of Morrowind for the first time was just, well, mindblowing. Emerging from a dark, dank hold on a slowly shifting ship to see the undulating waters of the ocean and a small, coastal town nestled against green hills was an experience that made me smile and secretly cheer inside. Here was gaming at its best. No direction, a huge world in front of me full of possibilities, hidden secrets, dungeons filled with treasure and cities emerging over horizons.

I want to express my adoration for open world games and I also want to encourage people to play any of the games on this list if they haven’t already. But how do I define open world? After all, if I leave out Mass Effect, fans of the game will point out exactly why it is open world. The same concept applies to a game such as Deus Ex. In Deus Ex I can approach situations a number of different ways. So how do I define open world in a manner that explains why some excellent titles aren’t on this list?

Well, I suppose for the sake of this list, I don’t count Mass Effect because while there is a huge amount of exploration to be had in both the first and second games in the series (which is my favorite of all time, by the way) the different planets and places to explore don’t really ring “open world” to me. The planets are too barren and too devoid of places to explore to count as being a truly open world environment to me. Furthermore, even places like the Citadel are really just a large map rather than an open environment such as that in Fallout 3. That isn’t to say that Mass Effect isn’t an open world, it just isn’t open enough for me to include on this list.

So without further clarification of what qualifies as open world, here are the five open world games that blew my mind and that I think everyone should experience.



Fallout 3

Okay, yes, Fallout 3 has its flaws. The dialogue is just plain awful. There’s no reason why computers should still be working several hundred years after an apocalypse and the main storyline isn’t fantastic. But despite all that, this game is deep and beautiful. You begin Fallout 3 in a vault, which is essentially a fallout shelter. You have been raised your entire life inside the vault and when your father one day escapes to the outside world you follow him to find out why he left and to save him from possible danger. As you step from the underground world you’ve lived in and into the sunlight, you can’t see a thing. And then, the world opens up beneath you. Raw, desert under a hot sun. In the distance, destroyed buildings slowly become one with the earth and you have no idea where to begin. There’s no guidance, no hints at where your father is. There’s just a huge, open world in what used to be Washington, DC and what is now an barely habitable desert.

Fallout 3 uses the same graphics engine as Oblivion, and it does an amazing job of portraying a lonely, desperate world in which there is no law and killing is the fastest form of profit and the best way to ensure survival. It is a dog-eat-dog world and it’s downright depressing. In addition to raiders and others who want to kill you for what you carry on your person there are also mutant creatures galore. Despite all the desolation, this is a world that still feels very much so alive. Small communities of survivors bond together to thrive as best they can. Commerce lives in these communities and hints at a once glorious American past decorate rooms of destroyed homes and current shelters. Music by old bands like The Inkspots croon over the radio and a baritone-voiced DJ keeps survivors up-to-date on news in the region.

Furthermore, the quests you come across in the game are genuinely fun and really can’t be ignored. When you first hear of a “vampire” family living underground through a sister desperate to recover her sick brother who has joined their ranks it’s impossible to not want to find out just how vampire-like the clan is and why her brother joined in the first place. Combine the quests and exploration with the rewarding addiction of leveling up and becoming a stronger, more capable wasteland hero and you have a first-rate, unstoppable game experience.


GTA: San Andreas

Why is San Andreas on here instead of the groundbreaking GTA III or the stunning Vice City or, perhaps, the massive technological achievement that is GTA IV? San Andreas is the seminal GTA game on my list because it perfected the balance between an interesting, gang-based storyline and an all-out ridiculous sandbox experience replete with tanks, fighter jets and three cities to explore.

Look, I won’t say that San Andreas has the best GTA storyline. That goes to GTA IV. And I won’t say San Andreas has the best graphics. That also goes to GTA IV, though, for its era, Vice City was the prettiest of the second generation GTA games. No, San Andreas is the GTA game everyone should play because of how fun it is. GTA: San Andreas expanded the game world from one city in GTA III and Vice City to three full-sized cities representing Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. In between those cities was a vast area of countryside to explore and romp through. And the countryside features hidden surprises throughout. From a mysterious government facility in the desert to a graveyard for planes to a small town nestled at the base of a huge mountain, San Andreas’ countryside was arguably more fun to explore than its cities.

Beyond the world of San Andreas, the game featured such a plethora of fun activities to undertake that it couldn’t possibly qualify as just another GTA game. I spent hours simply commanding a jet fighter, bombing cars on the roads below me. I traversed the countryside in my numerous cars looking for hidden easter eggs and unique sights. I roared down the winding roads of San Fierro and flew along the highways of Los Santos only to block the road, take out a rocket launcher and create a massive pileup of burnt out cars while commencing to lead the cops on a long chase to the plane graveyard, where I would get into my jet and take them out from up high. Yes, GTA IV may have a more realistic-looking world, but it lacks the fun factor of San Andreas when the main storyline is finished. Vice City may be gorgeous and fun, but it’s not nearly as large nor as full of ridiculous things to do as in San Andreas. Is there a jetpack in Vice City? I didn’t think so.


Mafia

Mafia II will be coming out later this year, and I look forward to its release eagerly. Quite honesty, Mafia was one of the greatest open-world experiences I ever had.

Why is Mafia a game everyone should play? Because it offers a unique twist on the sandbox game. Rather than being set in an RPG world or in the modern U.S. Mafia‘s setting is in the 1930s when the Mafia was king and men like Al Capone ran bootlegging operations and were afraid of no one. The game follows a young man, Tommy Angelo who, while driving a taxi, is hailed by a Mafia member and asked to get a wounded man to a private doctor. Evading pursuers, Tommy wins the admiration of the mobsters he helps and soon becomes a “made man”. Over the years he becomes disillusioned and works with a detective to help bring down the mob from the inside.

The game features a stunningly depicted city based on New York and Chicago and features a beautifully rendered countryside replete with farms, tunnels, mountain, rivers and foliage. The game features highly realistic car physics, reflecting how real cars from the 1930s would have driven. Cops will pull you over for running red lights and issue a ticket, if you drive a car for long enough it will run out of gas and car accidents will actually harm Tommy.

The story is absolutely compelling beyond words. It is highly detailed, full of emotionally-charged moments and tense firefights. Mafia is quite simply a game that must be experienced. But, I caution that it should be played on the PC. It’s not nearly the same experience on the PS2 or Xbox to which the game was ported a couple of years after its release on the PC.


Oblivion

Yes, it’s another Bethesda game, but it’s hard not to be blown away by the beauty of the world Bethesda created. The swaying grass in the forest, the vast wilderness, the high mountains covered in snow. Unfortunately, Oblivion is plagued by many of the same issues that hurt Fallout 3 - the same voice actors for basically everyone in the game world and poor writing to go along with it. But, the world is just so beautiful and expansive that I can’t ignore this game or stress enough that everyone should play it.

Half of the time I spent playing Oblivion was simply spent in awe of the surroundings. I strapped myself into the saddle on my horse and wandered through vast forests and would stumble upon amazing, hidden caves, small ponds, towering trees and vast hills. I made it a quest to reach the highest points in the game, climbing far up mountainsides in amazement at the detail put into the game. The green forests turned into aspen highlands that became snow-covered, rocky peaks. This is a vast world that is so stunningly alive that it just needs to be explored. By everyone.


Assassin’s Creed II

Assassin’s Creed was a flawed game experience. The story was weak and everything you did was repetitive. But, Assassin’s Creed II is simply a great, beautiful open-world game.

Set in renaissance Italy, Assassin’s Creed II takes place in painstakingly detailed recreations of Florence, Venice and Tuscany. The level of detail put into these surroundings is absolutely stunning and it’s worthwhile to play the game simply to travel around the cities, looking upon marvelous landmarks such as the Duomo in Florence and St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Furthermore, the Tuscan countryside recreated in the game is absolutely beautiful. Poppies grow in the fields and in the distance, churches watch over small Italian villages and villas. Beyond committing assassinations and attempting to discover why your father was killed, you now have incentive to climb to the tops of towers, collect feathers scattered throughout the world and purchase goods at stores – a villa. You essentially inherit your uncle’s villa, which is surrounded by a small, depressed village with shuttered shops and crumbling architecture. You can spend money on improvements to the town, and completing side quests, purchasing art and weapons and finding scattered treasures throughout the world will improve the villa to the point that it becomes a bustling, beautiful town reveling in sunshine and vibrant, green trees.

Where Assassin’s Creed felt like a forced effort, Assassin’s Creed II is a near-perfect game. The story is far more excellent than in the first game and there is so much to do in this world that it is extremely addicting. Pick up Assassin’s Creed II if you haven’t already, and that includes all of you who hated Assassin’s Creed. Trust me. I hated the first game. I bought it and gave up early on because it just was repetitive and boring. Assassin’s Creed II is nothing of the sort. It is quite simply a game that everyone should try out.


  • Jo-C-lo

    good review, i own AC 2 & Fallout 3 and they are great games worth the expended money … i gave up with obvlivion and i trade it….

  • Rob

    180 hours of Fallout 3 game play and that was before the DLC stuff, now its 230 hours, and still from time to time just jump in for fun, I only wish Bioshock 1/2 was open world, the weird shit you would find there would never end….. Nothing like escapism..

  • Sammy

    I agree with the majority of this list, and regardless of my opinion on certain titles, as far as open worlds go you are dead on. Oblivion and Fallout I think are the best on the list not only because of the games themselves, but the vast amount of quality mods for both.

  • Jonan

    Well I agree with you on those games. You are right about Mass Effect 1 and 2. They are both amazing games but aren’t as open world as Oblivion for example.

  • http://gamdo.co.uk Lc

    Fallout 3, I’m glad this is top of the list! What a game! The best open world game by far. Great article will probably give Assassin’s Creed II a go now per your recommendation.

  • Tuck

    I totally agree on what you call “open world”. yes, mass effect 1 and 2 were great games, but no, i cannot agree to a fully open world. i’m playing assassins creed 1 again before running through 2, and fallout 3 was just awesome. reading this maybe i should check out mafia, but i am burnt out on the whole gta series…

  • Geoffrey Calver

    @Tuck – I highly recommend Mafia as a great alternative to the GTA series. Extremely authentic, movie-quality script and excellent voice acting. Definitely a serious gamers game and well worth checking out if you are a fan of GTA or if you want an open-world experience that’s very different from GTA.

  • Jo

    I didn’t think the writing in Fallout 3 was so bad compared to other games I’ve played.

    I agree with you about the pretty open world games, though.

  • mkreku

    You should try playing the Gothic games. Any of them beats Oblivion, hands down. Also noteworthy are Two Worlds, Boiling Point and Risen. Your list is a little too generic. There are a lot of great games out there, besides the obvious blockbusters.

  • Tom Hoeler

    Its still really really early, but Just Cause 2 might be added to this list in the future….

  • evan

    Just Cause 2 is a great open world game. The sheer scope of the island may turn some people away.

  • Alan Urtz

    I’m seeing a distinct lack of Stalker: SoC on this list Geoff.

  • Drakon

    +1 mkreku, nice to see another Gothic fan around. The list is ok, but it’s comprised of games that everyone knows of anyway. Completely agree on San Andreas as the best GTA game of them all, I was so disappointed to find out that GTA IV had an exclusively urban setting.

    As a personal side note, there’s something in open-world games that turns me off sometimes. The whole “huge, open-ended world” mojo doesn’t really do much for me most of the time. Call me crazy, but I’d rather just have a scripted, linear game that’s well-written and engaging, instead of endless generic landscapes that give me no real incentive to explore. Weird, I know.

  • Mark

    @ROB

    dude, r u seriuos?. u said its already 150 hours .Well, i m big fan of fallout3 too. but i hav played for 40 hours but i already hit the lvl cap and i still hav many quests and DLC to finiish. but now i hit the lvl cap, i m not in a mood to finish them. i m surprised to hear that u hav played for 150 and plus DLC it would b 230 hours??? Dude, R U Serious?!!.

  • aceboogie

    I cosgin this list… Fallout 3 takes the cake IMHO, simply the purest open ended experience to date. I disagree about the writing (I think the amount of optional permutations are fantastic), although I admit the voice acting is inconsistent. But its world is so detailed and full of personality, haunting and hilarious at the same time, that it more than makes up for its flaws. Plus it has an incredible soundtrack.

    New Vegas is gonna be amazing…

  • Flogle

    Shadow of the Colossus missing here.

  • matt

    TBH though graphically poor, you cant beat the first two fallouts,The mixture of black humor and gore not to mention the total open ended gameplay means you can spend a endless amount of time messing around and not need super awesome next gen graphics to enjoy. Not to mention the master from the first one is creepy lol. Saying that though i agree with aceboogie New vegas is gonna rock, mostly because the creators of the first two FO games are working on it :D.

  • Matt

    What about just cause 2? The map is HUGE!

  • Andy

    good reviews.. but..
    “There’s no reason why computers should still be working several hundred years after an apocalypse and the main storyline isn’t fantastic.”

    you really have no idea about the whole fallout world do you? i mean, the roots.. why computers work 200 years after the apocalypse..

    http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Fallout_Wiki

    yeah. the main story is kinda….. kinda veg, but its kinda hard to write a story, in a game, where its suppose to be a “chose your own way..” kinda game.. if ya know what i mean. i think Bethesda does a superb job on their games and are vastly underrated, apose to rockstar.. ea.. ..all the big super name corps. yeah, there are bugs in the game.. like all games.. some more then others, but really, when ya have games with this much depth and possibilities, its gonna happen.

  • Max

    Red Faction Guerrilla and Just Cause 2 should also be on the list as they are both very good open world games as well.

  • Max

    i think fallout is a good game but nothing is like Red Faction were u can blow up any building and every car and most bridges in this game.

  • Robert

    In Just Cause 2 u can do everything u can do in GTA plus more so yes this is a great game as well i have to agree. And Red Faction is the bomb i love that game an i love to play it online as well with lots of people. Very fun indeed.

  • zs

    mafia indeed is great for its time, but the new mafia doesn’t look ok at all. might be an interesting open world experience though. fallout, I didn’t play, I was just shocked at the low quality of the texturing and the ugliness of the landscape from the start, so I left the game in a hurry. oblivion is great, although old graphics, and therefore not so good looking. compared to the fancier, more recent gothic 3 and sequel. I can’t wait to see arcania. oh, and there is risen, a fancier, more lush gothic, absolutely stunning. and I totally hated assasin’s creed, it was so epically boring and weird… I’m not sure I want to play the second, despite your very inspiring words. we’ll see…

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  • Random

    @zs

    It sounds like you need to stop playing the pathetic console ports of these beautiful games.

  • anonymous

    Assassin’s Creed had a weak story? Are you one of those people that begrudged the existence of wordy cutscenes that you couldn’t skip? Its story was one of its greatest strengths! And not just in my opinion, it was almost universally praised! It had a deep, philosophical, compelling story, with an intense and fascinating aura of intrigue and mystery that left you excited and anticipatory for the next installment.

    AC2, on the other hand, had a story that was so laughably shallow and ill-executed that it could have been written by a five-year old. Ever worse, could have been (and WAS) written by committee. It had childish, cheap plot twists that were down-right insulting to the otherwise well crafted characters and world; and it SERIOUSLY lacked for depth and development.

    It DID have an INCREDIBLE world and vastly improved gameplay, though.

    I personally never found AC to have boring repetition; the parkour element was enough to keep me happy for the length of the game.
    But AC2 was an undeniable improvement in those respects.

  • Dom

    Saints row2 any one

  • MAX

    I think just cause 2 is the best open world game, the gameplay is superb but graphics are not up to the mark but still look good for a game that is so vast and has stunning locations from barren deserts till snow clad mountains everything is great. There is not a single location in the game that cant be accessed from the beginning of the game,every location is unlocked from the start of the first mission unlike any other open world games .
    GTA 4 is also good, the best part of the game are its graphics quality hats off to rockstar games although the game requires high system configurations the game is worth playing even the story is good perfectly blended with nice dialogues.
    It also has a multiplayer option where 32 players can play together in a single event however a multiplayer mod is yet to be developed for just cause 2 which will only be available for pc.

  • ttackett123

    red dead redemption?

  • kryn

    Say, that picture of a giant biodome ring looks awesome! Can anyone tell me from what game it is?

  • johannes

    elder scrolls III???? hello MORROWIND???????

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  • Stefan

    I really love san andreas I grow up whit it. On every computer I had (a lot) first thing I installed was GTA SA….I am GTA lover I have almost every game from GTA series (GTA 2,GTA 3,GTA SA,GTA VC,GTA IV,Lost And Damned,Ballad Of Gay Tony)…GTA 1 was too old so it could not be installed on W7…I either don’t play 2,3 or VC much but I like to have them so I fell I have complete collection…You forgot Saints Row 2 it is much alike GTA it is great OW game..I’d like to try them all beacuse I love OW games and each and every one has something special to discover and another type of expirience.In my opinion Rock Star Games is best for OW games I love them. Bye

  • lowell

    red faction!? thats your example of a game where you can destroy everything?

    pathetic!

    compared to the bad company : battlefield series “which everything and i mean absolutly everything is destructable” red faction is junk!

    to bad they couldn’t make a game like this into open world :P

  • Anonymous

    you forgot STALKER HOW DARE YOU? :P

  • Ackwell

    I would also add Mount & Blade series into this list. A sand box game if there ever was one.

  • Eric

    Mercs 1 should be on it, not mercs 2.

  • Anonymous

    what about red dead redemption????????

  • http://none anonymous

    Red dead and assassins creed two I think were the best open world games yet.

  • http://none anonymous

    Mercs was boring. Little cars and destruction sucked. Many more better games. Only good because is only ok open world teen game.

  • sahitya

    ya ac2 is best of assassins creed series ac brotherhood also good but it has highly contrasted colours and gta4 is lake of problems it has improved graphics but it has many errors and yes i am a pc gamer.
    I have a question fallout 3 is third person camera game or not.

  • sahitya

    and mafia 2 is realy good i want to try this one of them

  • J

    This list sucks. Oblivion & Fallout 3 for sure, but besides them it sucks

  • me

    @j
    funny, bu oblivion and fallout 3 were the only two he gave cons too…

  • brad

    where is final fantasy 12 ?

  • http://yoyo.com starboi

    just cause 2 is a very awesome game better than gta sa

  • sahitya

    i cant belive “just cause 2″ is better,awesome and 3d vision with big open world game in one dvd i am surprised to play this game .every one should check it out really awesome game.

  • sahitya

    prototype is also good in action . looks like activision great working on the prototype 2 devlopment . And also we should play assassins creed revelations.

  • Sinful

    J is right Oblivion and fallout 3 are really the only games on here worth playing.

  • gggg

    bitch you forgot saints row 2

  • Rightest

    Make your own list if you’re not happy. Don’t sit there and bitch at someone else over the internet like a fool.

  • LOL :)

    I think fallout new vegas is the best after oblivion ;) XD also fallout 3 isnt that bad

  • Anonymous

    gggg:bitch you forgot saints row 2

    Ermm dude this is what he thinks!

  • ncb77

    how ’bout just cause 2 dude?

  • ryan

    what about he infamous series? those are some awesome open world ones to.

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  • http://www.dao-alqamar.net Moonlight

    I think the GTA series is the best and The Getaway too.

  • NikoJohnsonVersetti

    This list had to be made before Red Dead Redemption thats all i gotta say

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  • Anymous

    Critic…

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    Maybe not in the same league as these games but Red Faction Guerrilla is a very fun open world game. Heaps of places to explore and different vehicles to drive. Good battles also with constant reinforcements joining the scene.

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    I think Red Faction Guerilla is one of the best open environment games I EVER played..

  • jake

    smart :|]

  • Anonymous

    Gmod is the best sandbox(openworld) game out there and it is heaps cheap only $10

  • badguy

    and red dead

  • wtf

    should i buy GTA IV or Saints Row 3

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  • no

    Assassin’s Creed was amazing. The storyline gameplay got boring, yes, but if this game was a book it would be amazing. Combat was greater than that of the other Assassin’s Creed games all the way up to Assassin’s Creed Revelations. You could go to 3 other places, and travel throughout the Kingdom, fighting through Templars and riding horses. That’s the best game in the series, in ny opinion. Assassin’s Creed III didn’t exactly blow me away.

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