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The 20 best open-world games

Elden Ring screen shot
(Image credit: FromSoftware Inc.)

When you want to play a big adventure at your own pace, then you'll want one of the best open world games. While most games force you to follow a linear path from one level to the next, open-world titles let you roam anywhere you want, pursuing the plot at your own pace and discovering tons of valuable side activities. The bad open-world games are tedious and repetitive; the good ones give you an incredible sense of freedom and discovery.

While open-world games have been around since the '80s, we now have the tools to make the settings come alive. We can explore fully populated cities, travel across miles of varied terrain and undertake hundreds of unique quests. Since it can be a bit tough to track down older systems, we've restricted this list to games you can play on modern PCs and consoles.

Read on to discover the best open-world games on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC.

Best open world games: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

1. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

While Assassin's Creed Valhalla is the latest entry in Ubisoft's long-running franchise, it's arguably not the best one. Instead, if you crave an historical action/stealth simulation, my recommendation is to hit the high seas with Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. In this rollicking pirate adventure, you take control of Edward Kenway: a reluctant Assassin who also commands an independent warship called the Jackdaw. As you explore the lush Caribbean setting, you'll cross paths with famous pirates such as Edward "Blackbeard" Thatch and Anne Bonny, and unravel a Templar conspiracy that threatens the New World. The stealth and platforming work fine, but the ship-to-ship combat is where the game excels.

Best open world games: Batman: Arkham City

(Image credit: Rocksteady Studios)

2. Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City represents the first time the franchise attempted a true open-world design. The previous game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, was more of a Metroidvania, which put Batman in a closed environment that slowly opened up as he gathered better gear. By contrast, Arkham City lets the Caped Crusader explore huge chunks of the world right from the get-go, taking on fan-favorite villains such as Ra's al Ghul, Mr. Freeze and the Riddler as he goes. You can even play as Catwoman in a few freewheeling side missions. With tight, rhythmic combat and plenty of worthwhile side missions, Arkham City is a treat for comic book fans.

Best open world games: Death Stranding

(Image credit: KOJIMA PRODUCTIONS)

3. Death Stranding

If you like your open-world games deeply weird and somewhat inscrutable, then Death Stranding is probably the game for you. You play as Sam Porter Bridges, who is essentially a deliveryman on a post-apocalyptic Earth. As Sam delivers increasingly important cargo, he learns more about the cataclysm that ended civilization, and why establishing human connections is now more important than ever. The game features an all-star cast, including Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen and Léa Seydoux, and comes from Metal Gear mastermind Hideo Kojima. While Death Stranding isn't for everyone, it's definitely not a by-the-numbers open-world game, either. You'll have to try it for yourself and see.

Best open world games: Dragon Age: Inquisition

(Image credit: BioWare)

4. Dragon Age: Inquisition

If open-world games tend to feel a little too big and aimless for you, then Dragon Age: Inquisition might help split the difference. This BioWare RPG has all of the company's hallmarks, including strategic real-time combat, well-developed party members and plenty of romanceable characters. Where it differs from previous Dragon Age games, however, is that Inquisition lets you explore 10 huge, distinctive areas, from plains, to forests, to mountains, to cities and beyond. While you can't seamlessly traverse the whole world, each area functions as sort of a miniature open world, making the game feel both big and approachable. You can also import your story choices from the previous games.

Best open world games: Elden Ring

(Image credit: FromSoftware Inc.)

5. Elden Ring

Elden Ring answers the burning question, "What if Dark Souls were an open-world game?" This FromSoftware gem casts you as an adventurer in the dark-fantasy Lands Between, where you must defeat four evil demigods and reassemble the titular Elden Ring: a powerful artifact that can shape the fate of the world. How you go about this is almost entirely up to you. Only a handful of bosses and levels are required, and the game gives you almost no guidance about where to go or what to do next. The game is incredibly challenging and occasionally punishing, but the tight combat and incredible sense of freedom are worth the frustration.

Best open world games: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

(Image credit: Bethesda Game Studio)

6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

You can't talk about open-world games without discussing The Elder Scrolls series. This landmark RPG franchise has been around since 1994, and arguably reached its apotheosis in 2011. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the most popular RPGs of the last three console generations, and it's available on no fewer than eight different platforms. You start off by creating a character from a variety of races and classes, then set off to explore the high-fantasy world of Tamriel and, well, do basically whatever you want. You can follow a directed story, or just set off in a random direction and find hundreds of side quests as you forge your own path.

Best open world games: Fallout 4

(Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

7. Fallout 4

While old-school Fallout fans will probably never come around to the 3D installments, the newer games are not without their charms. Fallout 4 casts you as a survivor in a post-apocalyptic Boston, on the hunt for your estranged son. (In a cool bit of character design, your son's appearance depends entirely on how you design your character, and your spouse.) Fallout 4 has a huge world to explore and plenty of secrets to discover, plus a satisfying combat system and dozens of ways to customize your character. You can even gather materials and build your own settlement, which adds some welcome sim elements to the game.

Best open world games: Far Cry 6 screen shot

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

8. Far Cry 6

Far Cry 6 may not be the most inventive or daring game on this list, but it knows exactly what it wants to be, and delivers on that premise almost flawlessly. In typical Far Cry fashion, this open-world first-person shooter takes place in a familiar-but-fictional location that's just on the cusp of a political revolution. This time around, the place is the Caribbean island of Yara, and the turmoil comes courtesy of local despot Antón Castillo (Giancarlo Esposito, naturally). Playing as freedom fighter Dani, you'll commandeer a variety of vehicles as you liberate bases, hunt down better equipment and shoot down a whole lot of bad guys.

Best open world games: Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

9. Forza Horizon 5

Not every open-world game has to be an action/adventure or role-playing game. Forza Horizon 5, for example, is a racing game, and a pretty impressive one at that. Players can jump into hundreds of vehicles, from muscle cars, to sports cars, to dune buggies and more, and customize them any way they see fit. This time around, the action takes place in Mexico, from Guanajuato to Cabo San Lucas and beyond. Players will drive through cities, across deserts and around ancient ruins as they explore the gorgeous landscapes and undertake a variety of challenges. You can also play online with friends — or rivals.

Best open world games: Ghost of Tsushima

(Image credit: Sony)

10. Ghost of Tsushima

While we love a good samurai game, there were truthfully only a few times in history that these disciplined warriors fought foreign threats rather than each other. The 13th century Mongol invasion was one of those times, and that's when Ghost of Tsushima takes place. This open-world action/adventure game casts you as Jin Sakai: a disgraced samurai who must decide whether to fight honorably, or embrace his Ghost persona, who dispatches Mongols with stealth. With incredibly stylish sword combat, worthwhile side activities and a fantastic sense of style, Ghost of Tsushima is like playing your own (extremely long) Akira Kurosawa movie.

Best open world games: Grand Theft Auto V

(Image credit: Rockstar North)

11. Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto is a series that needs no introduction, and Grand Theft Auto V is the easiest entry point on modern systems. (We don't talk about the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — The Definitive Edition.) Grand Theft Auto V is an open-world crime game, where you play as three different criminals with intertwining stories. Michael De Santa is an experienced bank robber; Franklin Clinton is a former gang member; Trevor Philips is an independent drug dealer. Together, the three of them take part in a sprawling drama, full of both vehicular and on-foot mayhem. This game also grants access to the ongoing Grand Theft Auto Online mode.

Best open world games: Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

12. Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Zero Dawn developed a dedicated following as soon as it debuted, and Horizon Forbidden West has arguably improved on the formula. This action/adventure game takes place in a post-post-apocalyptic United States, where nature has pretty much recovered after the big cataclysm. Protagonist Aloy uses her bow and her staff to fight off both giant robots and malicious humans, all while discovering more about how the world came to be in its current state. The big draw in Horizon Forbidden West is the strategic ranged combat, which sets it apart from most melee-focused open-world games. The lush landscapes also look breathtaking.

Best open world games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

(Image credit: Nintendo)

13. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Tom's Guide declared The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to be the best game of the last decade, and with good reason. This ambitious Nintendo Switch game puts an open-world spin on the Legend of Zelda formula, and it works beautifully. Instead of exploring a collection of discrete dungeons, Breath of the Wild contains 120 bite-sized Shrines, each of which contains a puzzle for Link to solve. Apart from the Shrines, Link will have to navigate his way around the wide world, collecting weapons and armor as he goes, with relatively little guidance along the way. It's open-world design at its finest, as no two players will have quite the same path through the game.

Best open world games: Mad Max

(Image credit: Avalanche Studios)

14. Mad Max

Perhaps Mad Max came out at the wrong time. In 2015, players were already starting to feel some open-world fatigue, and on the surface, Mad Max didn't do much to snap them out of it. At first glance, this companion piece to Mad Max: Fury Road was just another open-world collect-a-thon, forcing its titular protagonist to conquer a bunch of same-y bandit bases and collect a bunch of same-y doodads. Play Mad Max for long enough, though, and the game leans into its incredible vehicle customization and satisfying car combat. It also makes you fight for your health and gas refills, and the survival elements mesh well with the post-apocalyptic setting.

Best open world games: Marvel’s Spider-Man

(Image credit: Insomniac Games)

15. Marvel’s Spider-Man

One of the shorter games on this list, Marvel's Spider-Man demonstrates that open-world games don't need enormous maps or hundreds of hours of gameplay to craft an absolutely captivating experience. In this action/adventure game, you'll take control of the titular webslinger as he fights crime all around Manhattan. Swinging around New York City is a pure delight, thanks to tight controls and plenty of stylish traversal skills. But the game also has a heartfelt Spider-Man story, with infamous villains such as the Vulture, Electro and Dr. Octopus. You can play through the game in less than 20 hours, making it a great weekend project.

Best open world games: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

(Image credit: Monolith Productions)

16. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is one of those games that, on paper, shouldn't work. You play as a random Ranger shortly before the events in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As such, you know going in that you won't be able to participate in — or alter — any major plot points. But Shadow of Mordor proves its worth with the inventive Nemesis system, which procedurally generates orcs with individual names, strengths and weaknesses for you to fight. This creates some fantastic emergent storytelling, on top of a surprisingly decent revenge narrative. Just be aware that the sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, doesn't hold up nearly as well.

Best open world games: Red Dead Redemption 2

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

17. Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most ambitious games ever created. Eight years in the making, the game makes the American West come alive. You play as Arthur Morgan, a Wild West outlaw in 1899. In this open-world Western, Arthur can explore five distinct settings, ranging from rivers and mountains to deserts and Native American settlements. As you might expect from a Western, you'll ride horses, fire shotguns, evade lawmen and rob banks, all of which feel fun and fluid. But what really makes RDR2 special is its attention to detail, from grooming your horse to improve its speed, to snow melting off of your clothes as you warm up.

Best open world games: Saints Row IV

(Image credit: Deep Silver Volition)

18. Saints Row IV

The Saints Row series started as a slightly wackier take on the Grand Theft Auto open-world crime formula. However, it got a little more bizarre in each installment. By Saints Row IV, the story (narrated by Jane Austen) concerns a superpowered U.S. president who has to single-handedly fight off an alien invasion. Saints Row IV lampoons every video game trope it comes across, from casual violence to romance subplots. The open world in question is a computer simulation of Steelport, the explorable city from Saints Row III. If it's not the most vibrant setting, it's at least one of the funniest, with some comic twist in almost every side activity.

Best open world games: The Witcher III: Wild Hunt

(Image credit: CD PROJEKT RED)

19. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt arguably raised the bar for the whole open-world genre. After the first two Witcher games, which were more traditional RPGs, The Witcher III opened up the wide world of Temeria, with four huge regions to explore and lots of optional objectives to pursue. What sets The Witcher III apart from lesser open-world games is that each quest feels unique and impactful, and many side quests can affect the main plot. You play as Geralt of Rivia, who finds himself in the middle of deadly monsters, powerful sorceresses and scheming royals as he tries to stop a catastrophic war.

Best open world games: Yakuza 0

(Image credit: Sega)

20. Yakuza 0

The Yakuza series is something of an outlier in the open-world genre, as it focuses on density rather than size. In Yakuza 0, you'll explore only two relatively small areas: the fictional Japanese districts of Kamurocho, Tokyo and Sotenbori, Osaka. However, both Kamurocho and Sotenbori are packed to the gills with interesting things to do, from slot-car racing, to martial arts training, to cabaret club management and beyond. You play as Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima: two low-level yakuza enforcers who find themselves caught up in a complex crime drama. Come for the heartfelt story and intense melee combat; stay for all the bizarre side quests.

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.