Open-world games have come a long way over the years, offering more freedom to explore and in how we approach objectives, but which ones have it all? The best open world, the best challenges, the best story, the best characters?
IGN’s staff duked it out (in a professional manner, of course) to put together a list of the best open-world games, looking at how they deliver as a complete package in letting us best get lost in a world, take over enemy outposts, and find a ridiculous way to outrun enemies. So without further ado, here are IGN’s picks for the top 10 open-worlds games of all time.
The 10 Best Open World Games
10. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales
New York City around Christmastime is magic. And Insomniac has done an incredible job of recreating that charming atmosphere in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Every aspect of this follow-up to the 2018 Spidey hit is undoubtedly built on the great fundamentals of that first game. But the approach to the world, mission design, and story is altogether stronger in Miles Morales, even if there is less of it. But the focus on a more select story and missions allow Miles’ journey to be so personally impactful on the player and character.
It’s a fantastic debut solo outing for Miles, with improved and smoother traversal and combat options, a stirring story, and a host of intriguing, important things to do. And that’s all while looking and running so well, both on PS5 and PS4. Insomniac somehow captured the real-world magic of New York and imbued it into Spider-Man: Miles Morales, letting players experience it any time of year. – Jonathon Dornbush
9. Horizon Forbidden West
Horizon Forbidden West improves on the Zero Dawn experience in just about every way. Aloy’s new journey features a dense world full of meaningful sidequests, where each character and their stories offer a unique entry point into the world. And it’s a world that feels like it meaningfully lives and even evolves around Aloy and the player. And to better serve those sidequests, Guerrilla has extended the reach of Aloy’s world to the titular Forbidden West, with a host of memorable locations that offer insight into both the current tribes populating the world and the crumbled remains of our former civilization.
Climbing traversal may not be as free as some other games on this list, but the ability to better search underwater and even take to the skies are welcome, joyous additions to the formula. Horizon Forbidden West is certainly built on the foundation of other open-world games, including Zero Dawn, but it’s an amazing step in pushing the genre forward and creating a captivating adventure in its own right. – Jada Griffin
8. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid 5 is one of the best examples of how an open-world game should approach its challenges. There's more than one way to go at any situation, and the result is a feeling of unprecedented freedom of choice.
At its best, it's pure play, reminiscent of smashing Army men together in a playground sandbox, but with a fantastic soundtrack and more than enough of Kojima eccentricity to make it feel even more special. While the story is ultimately unfinished, and it can't hold itself together through to the end, the freedom it affords makes it incredible regardless of its narrative shortcomings. – Seth Macy
7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It’s been a long-running joke that Skyrim exists on almost every platform imaginable. From its humble beginnings in 2011, launching on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, Skyrim is everywhere, including Amazon Alexa devices, for good reason. It set an entirely new standard for what an open-world adventure could be and remains amazing. The PC version houses one of the most bustling modding communities of all time, even having full-length games spawn from it. And with the recent upgrade to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, Skyrim still looks and plays fantastic.
With its engrossing story, living open-world, and more content than any one person knows what to do with, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim still stands today as one of the greatest open-world RPGs a person can spend their time with. – Mark Medina
6. Fallout: New Vegas
A fixture in the top open-world game discussion for the past 12 years, Fallout: New Vegas burned itself into our collective memories by dropping us into an amazing story that reacts to our choices and plays out all around us. Building on the foundation of Bethesda's Fallout 3, New Vegas moved us to the more colorful and diverse western region of the post-nuclear apocalypse United States and put us on a path to intersect with conflicts large and small.
We meet some of the Fallout series' best characters and follow what begins as a simple quest to find the man who shot you and left you for dead directly into the middle of a brewing three-way war between the New California Republic, a self-proclaimed new Roman emperor, and an immortal casino magnate to determine the fate of New Vegas. Even in all the years since, there’s rarely been an in-game world that felt as lived-in and busy or rich with stories, personalities, and dark humor – both on the surface and just beneath it – waiting for us to find them. – Dan Stapleton
5. Elden Ring
It may seem a little rash to just immediately catapult Elden Ring above some of the all-time greats that make up the top half of this list. That said, Elden Ring is one of the boldest and most groundbreaking open-world games of the past decade; one that empowers the player to find their own path without being guided by an endless series of map markers, waypoints, and hollow side quests.
The world of The Lands Between is not only gigantic, but it’s positively dense with caves and catacombs to discover, roaming boss battles to conquer, valuable treasures to uncover, and all manner of challenges to overcome. The journey through Elden Ring is not an easy one, especially if you’re not familiar with From Software’s unique philosophy when it comes to teaching its lessons through punishing difficulty, but it’s constantly rewarding, surprising, and awe-inspiring in ways few games are. – Mitchell Saltzman
4. Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 is deliberate in the way it allows you to live out the life of a fictional cowboy named Arthur Morgan. Morgan’s story is an authored experience but the magic of Red Dead Redemption 2 is how the game’s open world allows players to flesh out that life with meaningful experiences thanks to its meticulously crafted world.
Want your Arthur to get really into hunting? Then have fun stalking, trapping, and skinning hundreds of animals, complete with their own food chain and habits. Want to get weirdly into artifact hunting? Then go right ahead. Or perhaps you just want to soak in the atmosphere and hand carve your bullets by campfire for a small damage buff. There are no wrong answers. Just a world stuffed with mystery and wonder that allows us to reach back in time and discover the world of the wild west for ourselves. – Nicholas Limon
3. Grand Theft Auto 5
A perfect send off to the Xbox 360 and PS3 era of gaming, Grand Theft Auto V's legacy and influence has maintained a powerful presence in the industry spanning into two additional hardware generations, as GTA V proved to be a powerful force on both the PS4 and Xbox One, and may likely be again on the PS5 and Xbox Series. And, of course, it never truly leaves the spotlight thanks to the impressive and regular updates Grand Theft Auto Online receives.
But Grand Theft Auto V more than earns that legacy as a glorious achievement, thanks in part to its triple-protagonist structure that offers a compelling overarching narrative that keeps you invested in the end. And the immersiveness of its open world cannot be understated – Los Santos is brimming with life, interesting places to explore, and an incredible amount to do both in the campaign and in GTA Online. Compete in a triathlon, purchase properties, or even trade stocks in the virtual stock market – you can do all that and a lot more in the finest example of a modern open-world in gaming. – Taylor Lyles
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Even as it was released near other entries on this list, The Witcher 3 set a new bar for open-world games, one that plenty of other games are still compared to now, seven years later. From the barren hills of Velen to the bustling streets of Novigrad or the verdant fields of Blood & Wine’s Toussaint, every corner of The Continent is full to bursting with monsters to slay, secrets to uncover, and dozens of hours of side quests that feel just as fleshed out and meaningful as its main story.
Add on two of the best expansion packs ever in gaming, which are both included in the current retail version and introduce new maps, upgrades, and collectibles, and you have so many more reasons to explore this exceptional fantasy world. – Jon Ryan
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is the ultimate realization of the promise of the Zelda series, a template first laid out way back in the NES days. Breath of the Wild is, quite simply, the game we imagined ourselves playing all those years ago. The images we held in our minds, colored by the art in the instruction manual, were suddenly made three-dimensional, fully explorable, and infinitely replayable.
Even though Breath of the Wild came out in 2017, we've still not seen any game come close to its blend of charm, freedom, and gravitas. Simply pointing Link in any direction was a guarantee for discovery and adventure, and the movement afforded by the addition of so many easily climbable surfaces, makes it the greatest and most magical, fully realized open-world game ever created. – Seth Macy
Those are our picks for the Top 10 Open-World Games, but be sure to let us know what is on your list that didn’t make our cut. And for even more top 10’s, be sure to check out our ranking for the best Far Cry games and the best Assassin’s Creeds.