In the buzzword orgy that comes out of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, “open world” has been one of the most prominent offerings. You can't walk a mere foot without hearing PR reps talking about the huge, massive, friggin' ginormous open worlds their games boast. Bigger than all their other games combined! Bigger than anything else on the E3 floor! Bigger than the state of Rhode Island!
But as many ladies and some guys will tell you, it's not always the size of the open world that counts; it's what you do with it, if you know what I mean.
WATCH_DOGS clearly knows what I mean. As Nick Tan pointed out in his review, not only are players free to roam around Chicago as they want, scads of opportunities for side missions and fetchquests exist, to the point where the immersive main quest only makes up about 20% of the available objectives.
To show that it's in good company, here are our selections for the best open worlds in open-world gaming. These open-worlds are the ones that not only allow (mostly) free-roaming, but a lot of options as to when to pursue side quests and when to focus on the main story. It's time to see who can really rock the socks off an open world and who just has a big... uh... map screen, but doesn't know how to use it.
Whether one can classify Jet Set Radio as “open-world” could still be debated, but at least the sections of town have the characteristic feel to them. Players could work the main missions or skate, grind, ollie, and tag to their heart's content to rack up the points and be one hella phat graffiti artist, brah!
14. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Okay, so South Park: The Stick of Truth may not feature exactly the most open open world out there – really, it's just a quiet little mountain town in Colorado. But to the New Kid who moves in, as well as to Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, and the rest of the kids of South Park, it's a vast, sprawling kingdom, with danger and intrigue as far as the eye can see.
More importantly, the amount of side quests are ridiculous and challenging. From collecting Chinpokomon and underpants to beating up homeless people, a few days in my first playthrough were spent just doing side quests and blowing off the main one. Frankly, that Taco Bell could wait. It wasn't going anywhere. I just hope it has the Cheesy Gordita.
13. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
For many of us, this was our first open-world experience – Hyrule got huge! Granted, we had only seen the mystical land via 2D perspective before, but the point remains that we could roam freely amongst the different areas of the world either by foot or on horseback, and it felt spectacular. While the gameplay was still fairly linear, there were still decent side quests, also a new-ish concept back in 1998. Ocarina of Time opened up great possibilities in the world of gaming. Downside: Navi.
12. LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Knock it if you will, but the LEGO games are, for the most part, darn fun to play. From LEGO Star Wars to LEGO The Hobbit, if it's a popular film franchise, the LEGO games will reconstruct it (pun intended) with enjoyable and usually humorous results.
LEGO Batman 2 is more than a take on the Batman franchise – it brings together some of DC's finest superheroes and villains (in brick form, of course), and it also includes the first open-world setting in the LEGOsphere, with a sprawling, brick-built Gotham City that is both beautifully rendered and completely destructible in times of frustration.
11. Borderlands 2
The size of the world of Pandora blows the mind, and between the main quest, side quests, and nine mission-based DLC packs, one of which transforms the planet into a Dungeons & Dragons fantasy setting, Borderlands 2's open world can only be properly described as “badass.” And with the Pre-Sequel and Tales From the Borderlands in development, Pandora's about to get badasser. Yeah, badasser. Tiny Tina signed off on that line. You're welcome.
10. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
If Ocarina of Time's Hyrule was big, The Wind Waker's Great Sea was, well, great and sometimes even daunting. The moment you realize that your current location and your next destination was practically on the other side of the map caused a lot of players to save their game and hit the power button to go do pretty much anything other than sail... and sail... and sail.
Now that I've got that off my chest, The Wind Waker wasn't a huge variation off the formula, but it still provided a healthy amount of side quests to go with the main quest, such as the Picto Box and Deku Sprout side quests. And with the Wii U's The Wind Waker HD, the sailing has been cut down drastically, allowing the back half of the game to be not so tedious.
9. inFAMOUS: Second Son
Though I'm trying to figure out how Delsin Rowe can pull off Parkour stunts in such tight-ass skinny jeans, one thing I do know is that there's a whole lot of Seattle to explore in inFAMOUS: Second Son. Rowe will have ample opportunity to try his newfound Conduit powers across the city and inside Curdun Cay.
8. Red Dead Redemption
Saddle up, pardner, cuz not only are players in for an expansive patch of the rip-roarin'est part of the Wild West, but side quests involving outlaws, bandits, and a little five-finger fillet influences one of the best morality systems I've played in a long time. Throw in the Undead Nightmare DLC, and zombie looting and hunting for the Chupacabra adds to the side questing for more of a rootin' tootin' good time.
7. Fallout: New Vegas
Nothing gave me, as a resident of Las Vegas for over six years now, greater pleasure than to see Las Vegas in a state of post-apocalyptic decay. But it's more than just the Strip featured in Fallout: New Vegas, as the open-world features most of the Mojave Desert area, featuring Nevada as well as parts of California and Arizona.
The main quest was deep and could be tailored to a multitude of alliances. The most prominent sidequest, however, was avoiding glitches.
6. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
How open-world can you get? How about the whole Caribbean Sea? Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was widely praised for the openness of its open world, which included more than just the main three cities (Havana, Cuba; Kingston, Jamaica; Nassau, the Bahamas) but fifty other locations to loot, hunt, hire crew members, and scourge the seven seas for longer than it takes to sit through “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland.
Possibly one of the smallest open worlds on the list (challenged by Stick of Truth), Bully's Bullworth makes up for it in the multitude of side quests and numerous ways to individualize both Jimmy and the events of the game. Not to mention that while the “world” is small, the artwork still is stunning, and besides, who didn't want to give a big F-U to authority as a kid?
You can't really talk about sandbox games without talking about the ultimate sandbox. Maps, buildings, and environments are all your pixelated creation in Minecraft, going one step further than something like The Sims by requiring players to physically mine for the materials and to build and create the world around them.
People like that kind of stuff, I guess. But there's no doubt that it essentially creates an infinite possibility of open worlds.
3. Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus's massive world is only magnified by the fact that beyond Wander, the player character, his horse, and the behemoths known as colossi, there really is nothing else. The minimalist environment reduces Wander to a pocket toy in the vast open world of the Forbidden Land.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Forests, towns, dungeons, and dragons, as far as the eye can see, Skyrim features such an expansive open world that players can postpone or completely ignore the main quest as they see fit, focusing on side quests, NPCs, fetch quests, or experiment with mods that turn people into characters from Sailor Moon or Rick & Morty. The possibilities are endless and one of the reasons why Skyrim still enjoys considerable popularity even more than two years later.
1. Grand Theft Auto V
Any one of the GTA games could have sat atop the number one spot – the series practically redefined what it meant to be an open world since the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. But when the development team goes through as much research as the GTAV team went through to get even the most minute details of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas right in their building of San Andreas and the rest of Los Santos, that puts Grand Theft Auto V head and shoulders above the rest.
Between research photo and video work, watching documentaries, studying Google Maps satellite images, and even analyzing census research to give the proper demographic blending to bring Los Santos to life, when the team was asked what the most demanding part of creating the game was, the development of the open world was the response. Regardless of one's opinion of the in-game content, the hard work of the Rockstar North's team in the vast, sprawling streets of Los Santos can be easily spotted