Elden Ring is the open world game of 2022, and likely the one everyone will remember the most vividly. FromSoftware creates some of the most intricate and morbid worlds we've seen and Elden Ring was its first time creating a less linear and more open experience. Needless to say, it's a success.
Elden Ring is huge; the sprawling Lands Between are both beautiful and dangerous in every direction. Though there is a guided path through the game, and things you should do, there is a lot to discover and ponder on your own. As Tyler Colp says in our Elden Ring review: “Elden Ring's first few hours might remind you of gentler times in a game like Breath of the Wild, but no, FromSoftware has not abandoned its traditional brutality. Because of the open world, there are opportunities to circumvent some of the third-person, hack-and-slash fights that would eviscerate you in another Souls game, but it's still difficult—for me, one of the most difficult FromSoftware games.”
The order you try much of Elden Ring in will uniquely be your own, and as you discover more and more of the map you'll see everything from gorgeous fields that are juxtaposed to the many disturbing enemies that patrol them, to poisonous, scarlet lakes that you'll need to figure out how to cross. The world of Elden Ring is quite unlike anything else on this list.
Read more: Elden Ring is the new Skyrim
Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Released: 2020 | Developer: Ubisoft | Ubisoft
A looser grip on the series' trademark stealth, a simplified loot system, and a gorgeous interpretation of 800's England would be enough alone to edge Valhalla above the already excellent Odyssey. But Valhalla's surprises, specifically the open world ones, catapult it over the top. This is a massive, moody world, and Valhalla has a couple more waiting in the wings. You'll have to play it to find out what we mean, just know this game is much bigger than the surface implies. Ubisoft also fills all that space with meaningful encounters, ranging from absurd to tragic. Some of these tiny characters will stick in our minds much longer than the big ones on the box art. That said, female Eivor rules.
Steven sums it up in his review: “Most of the stuff you'll find is new equipment and treasure you can take back home or use for upgrades, but I also found hidden caves with challenging puzzles, secret boss battles, and weird little one-off quests that are often bizarre and sometimes hilarious. One time I happened upon a Viking who didn't realize he had an axe lodged in his skull. He asked me what he should do so I offered to remove it, and he died instantly. That was it. Quest completed, I guess?”
Released: 2020 | Developer: Kojima Productions | Steam
Kojima's first game after leaving Konami, Death Stranding is set in a post-death reality where the concept of the afterlife has been blown open. Your goal as Sam Porter Bridges is to rebuild America by walking across the country and linking up cities, preppers, and waystations to, uh, the Time Internet? It makes next to no sense, but that's OK. Death Stranding is an indulgent mood piece first and an excellent hiking and delivery game second.
Andy Kelly puts it nicely in his review: “Some jobs seem impossible. Standing at the foot of a mountain, snow whipping at its peaks, fragile cargo stuck to every inch of your suit, you wonder how you'll ever get over it. But you power on, one step at a time, patiently placing ladders and climbing ropes, edging closer to your destination. Along the way you might have to slip into Metal Gear mode and sneak past BTs, or deal with extreme weather such as disorientating blizzards. You might even get knocked out by terrorists and have your cargo stolen, forcing you to sneak into their camp and take it back. But after all that, you make it, and it feels incredible.”
Red Dead Redemption 2
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Released: 2019 | Developer: Rockstar Games | Steam
Rockstar's historical open world series finally hit the PC with Red Dead Redemption 2, a monumental ode to the fading American frontier. RDR2 is rife with detail, overstuffed with little touches: animal corpses persist and decay, the protagonist Arthur has commentary for nearly every location and character, and random world events make the world feel lived in, be it sucking on a man's snakebite wound or getting ambushed by hillbillies.
It's all layered into an excellent story that'll take you as long as the complete Deadwood series to get through, and that's if you're rushing. And on top of it all, Red Dead Online brings a DayZ adjacent quality to the open world, invoking everything from serious roleplay to ridiculous, surreal shenanigans. It's also one of the prettiest games you can play on the PC today. With the mods rolling in quickly, RDR2 is bound to be a PC game we talk about for years and years to come.
Released: 2022 | Developer: Insomniac | Steam
Now that some PlayStation exclusives have made it to PC, we can add them to this list. And when it comes to not just open worlds but open cities, Marvel's Spider-Man does it best. Swinging around the city as Peter Parker is an absolute delight. The physical movement is smooth and snappy, and that transition from flying across the city, hearing a call for help, and transitioning those swings into fighting moves against New York's criminals is simply sublime.
Peter Parker's photography habit highlights a lot of the real elements of the city and many easter eggs too. I'm not one to chase collectables, but Spider-Man's recreation of New York City changed that for me as I scrambled onto the right building to get the angle of the Empire State Building I wanted. The photography concept alone shows just how thoughtful this open world is when it comes to making sure it's true to the comics and the city itself.
Spider-Man shows you it's possible to make a properly enjoyable superhero game where you feel just powerful enough and have the space to explore those superhuman abilities. New York feels massive, and swinging around it isn't easy if you're not considering your next move. Getting across Central Park without those tall buildings is not easy, next time maybe I should just go around or jog through instead. As Rick Lane says in our Spider-Man review: “Swinging through the New York skyline was always the best bit of Insomniac's title – with the Ratchet & Clank studio delivering possibly the best movement system in any game of the last decade.”
Read more: Bully Maguire pushes his way into Spider-Man Remastered
Released: 2018 | Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment | Steam
Subnautica's vast ocean environment and the diverse underwater biomes provide one of the most striking, gorgeous, and terrifying open worlds in PC gaming. Games are rarely—and literally—so sublime.
Reviewer Phillipa explains her fascination so: “I adore the way the lighting and the art create the sense of each biome as being a distinct underwater creation, both alien and familiar. I love following the creatures around—even the more aggressive ones—and will happily front crawl my way into a curious labyrinthine cave system without remembering to lay a path of glowing markers so I can get back out.”
The simulation is fairly surface level, but Subnautica's accolades are best reserved for how it creates the illusion of ecosystem. Big fish eat the little ones, and their respective physical and behavioral attributes make sense for where you find them. It doesn't hurt that most of them look quite nice against the darkness of the deep ocean blue. And between all the exploration at the behest of natural curiosity, a story sort of just happens to you. To say anything more would spoil an excellent sci-fi mystery.
Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition
Release: 2020 |Developer: Guerrilla | Steam
Another PlayStation game that's made its way over to PC, Horizon: Zero Dawn is the first of the two Horizon games. You play Aloy as she has to save the last vestiges of human civilisation, which has reverted back to clans, tribes and kingdoms following an earlier apocalyptic crisis. Now humans live alongside robotic wildlife, with hunters and gatherers scavenging ancient tech underneath ruined skyscrapers.
Horizon's world is an awe-inspiring wilderness full of fields of long grass (perfect when you need to hide from some robots), gargantuan mountains begging to be climbed, and crumbling ruins that still manage to catch the eye. It sets off your imagination, leaving you to wonder what the planet could be like if humans just disappeared today and nature took its course. It's less interested in making you hunt for treasure and dungeons, and more interested in making you discover what happened to the world to make it like this.
“Alongside The Witcher 3, this is one of the most intriguing, believably lived-in open worlds on PC,” reads our Horizon Zero Dawn review. While the opening hours point to the sort of generic, frost-covered environment so many hypothermia-courting games have already covered, Horizon’s gorgeous world quickly proves itself to be one of the most visually varied around.”
Read more: The Umbrella Academy writing team will be handling Netflix's Horizon adaptation
Grand Theft Auto 5
Released: 2015 | Developer: Rockstar Games | Steam
This is what money is for: creating a kind of pastiche of a real-world location that’s so staggeringly accurate in atmosphere and details that it’s actually better than being in the real thing. Los Santos represents the meticulous approach Rockstar gave to the compact Liberty City in GTA 4 and brought it to the scale of 2004’s San Andreas—and the result is an open world of such a high standard that it’ll only likely be topped by Rockstar itself. Between GTA 5's strong multi-protagonist campaign and the mad playground of GTA Online, there’s well over 100 hours of chases and gunfights across land, air and sea for those who want it here.
You can even turn GTA 5's open world playground more to your will with GTA 5 cheats and the best GTA 5 mods.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition
Release: 2022 | Developer: Bethesda | Steam
Skyrim is the best Elder Scrolls open world to play today. Some will say Morrowind should be here, while others will sing the praises of Oblivion, but for me Skyrim is the definitive open world game. And as much as you might love the others, it's pretty hard to play some of the older entries without some mods. Skyrim's gargantuan wilderness and diverse cities beg to be explored. I want to see a settlement on the horizon and trudge over to it. I want to fear a new dungeon with bones scattered outside it. And I want to glitch my horse up a sheer cliff to see if I can find a faster way over to my next destination.
As Tom Francis says in his Skyrim review: “It's hard to walk for a minute in any direction without encountering an intriguing cave, a lonely shack, some strange stones, a wandering traveller, a haunted fort. These were sparse and quickly repetitive in Oblivion, but they're neither in Skyrim: it's teeming with fascinating places, all distinct. It was 40 hours before I blundered into a dungeon that looked like one I'd seen before, and even then what I was doing there was drastically different.”
Read more: Starfield isn't just a Skyrim 'reskin' says head of Xbox Game Studios
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Released: 2018 | Developer: Warhorse Studios | Steam
Buggy as it may be, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an open world RPG slash immersive sim whose ambition outpaces its problems—most of the time. Not only is the small slice of medieval Bohemia beautifully rendered, but it's a complex (and loosely historical) simulation of life and death there too.
Andy Kelly attempts to summarize the scope in his review: “If you get caught stealing, you’ll end up serving some time in jail. If you unsheathe your sword during a fist fight, your opponent will back down and maybe even apologise. Nobles will be more willing to speak to you if you’ve had a bath. If your reputation in a town is especially high, people on the street will shout your name and sing your praises.”
He goes on for a while, and even then, barely touches on everything. The detail in the simulation is almost absurd, a depth most big studios wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, but Kingdom Come manages to keep everything together well enough. And through it all you play a naive, vulnerable, unremarkable young man. Small dangers cast tall shadows over Henry, a lovable oaf, imbuing a plain world with the mystery and danger we look for in great open world adventures.
Release: 2020 | Developer: CD Projekt Red | Steam
Cyberpunk 2077 was a disappointment at launch, but after a lot of patches it's turned into an amazing open world. So many RPGs have fantasy and medieval settings, so this recommendation is for those wanting to explore somewhere a little more technologically advanced. You take control of V, a character of your own making, and embark on an adventure with Johnny Silverhand, played by Keanu Reeves, with some guns, some gore, and a healthy amount of romance.
Night City is a lively, bustling city packed to the brim with busy buildings, shops, and people. It's a maze of interconnected districts, where you'll find plenty of guns, fights and cash hidden away in its many nooks and crannies. And seeing that skyline flickering with neon lights from the outskirts is pretty dreamy too.
“There won't be another open world like this for a long, long time,” reads our Cyberpunk 2077 review. “The scale and density is mind boggling, every area clearly touched by countless artists and neatly embedded into the history and logistics of Night City.” Although it was janky at release, its scope still impressed. With CD Projekt Red's intention to come back to the Cyberpunk universe, it might be worth taking a look at 2077.
Read more: Cyberpunk 2077 is getting a full sequel
Dying Light 2
Release: 2022 | Developer: Techland | Steam
Dying Light 2 is all about freerunning through an open-world while being chased down by zombies. The city of Villedor does not look like your typical post-apocalyptic wasteland. Sure, there are zombies and wrecked tanks littering the streets, and when night falls it becomes a nightmare, but during the day, when the sun streams down on the autumnal-hued trees and lush gardens growing on top of the city's historic buildings, Villedor is picturesque.
To explore the city, you'll need to take advantage of your impressive parkour skills, and a few more advanced tricks. From grappling hooks to paragliding, the world of Dying Light 2 is made to be scrambled over and tumbled between. As Christopher Livingston says in his Dying Light 2 review: “With all of these tools in play Villedor becomes a brilliant playground, a massive, zombie-filled puzzle I can solve by climbing, leaping, gliding, and swinging, whether I'm on a quest or just exploring.”
Read more: I really wish Dying Light 2 wasn't an RPG
Forza Horizon 5
Released: 2021| Developer: Playground Games | Steam
PC Gamer gave Forza Horizon 5 the medal of Best Open World in 2021, which means it naturally deserves a spot on this list. Forza 4's interpretation of Great Britain was good, sure but come on, Mexico's natural diversity is just a little more interesting to drive through. Instead of endless fields and hills, you get to race through ancient temples (a bit disrespectful, sure, but immensely fun), deserts, rainforests and beaches that will make you wish you had a nice, cold cocktail in your hand. It's simply a more vibrant setting, and one that's perfect for a spot of digital tourism.
The weather and time of day can also have a transformative effect, and while the sunshine is lovely, races are considerably more thrilling when you're in the middle of a storm or being chased by a wall of sand. Weather is local and affected by the changing seasons, too, making this a world in flux.
As Phil Savage says in our Forza Horizon 5 review: “Really, then, the major new feature of Forza Horizon 5 is, simply, its setting. Mexico is more varied and vibrant than Forza Horizon 4's UK—with rainforests, towns, deserts and many, many cacti to bash into. The weather is more interesting too, with dust storms adding an atmospheric twist to events.”
It even manages to avoid map icon fatigue, as each promises another fun activity, especially since it now includes some surreal Hot Wheels tracks. It might be one of the best racing games around, but it could also teach most open world games a thing or two.
Read more: Best Open World 2021: Forza Horizon 5
Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl
Released: 2007 | Developer: GSC Game World | Steam
In Stalker, the open world is your enemy. Gamma pockets, anomalies and radioactive storms can end you in moments. Any building can hide scavengers or horrifying mutated creatures. Ammo and armour is scarce, and you’re lost in a wasteland so bleak as to be almost completely alienating. But as the Stalkers know, the Zone has a strange allure. Explore the blasted husks of Ukrainian factories and apartment blocks, and try not to be too unnerved by the lifeless quiet. After a while, Stalker’s desolation becomes beautiful.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Released: 2015 | Developer: CD Projekt RED | Steam
An outstanding technological achievement, The Witcher 3 is the vanguard of a new wave of open world games able to leverage the power of modern gaming systems to create environments of extraordinary detail and scope. The bogs of Velen are a moody aperitif that primes you for the bustle of Novigrad and the sweeping forests of the nordic Skellige region—one of the most beautiful game locations ever.
You can spend hours sailing around those islands, stumbling upon quests, breaking curses, killing monsters and playing Gwent with rowdy locals. The Witcher 3’s towns are noisy, bustling places that make other open world towns seem lifeless by comparison. It’s a pleasure to simply pick a direction and walk—the hallmark of a great open world.
Here's our list of the best mods for The Witcher 3.
Metal Gear Solid 5
Released: 2015 | Developer: Kojima Productions | Steam
Metal Gear Solid 5 only truly comes into its own as an open world game when you stop using the helicopter to get to every mission, and work your way through each of the two massive landscapes (Afghanistan, and the Angola-Zaire border) picking off Side Ops like an RPG. Kojima Productions’ stealth action game encourages true freedom of approach, and its progression systems properly reward the player, too. You start by headshotting enemies with a rubbish pistol and end by dragging enemies towards you with a magic robot hand, sticking tanks on balloons, and calling in airstrikes on bears. Great game or greatest game?
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Release: 2012 |Developer: SCS Software | Steam
Euro Truck Simulator might not be as flashy as Forza Horizon 5, but it's no less fun. Lots of people play Euro Truck Simulator 2 so they can listen to music, converse with friends on Discord, or listen to a podcast while they play. The world is there as a great background to drive through and come away with the satisfaction of a job well done.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 released back in 2012 but SCS Software has kept its foot on the gas and continued to pump out updates and improvements across the last decade. With the expansions have come whole new countries, including Iberia, Italia, France, Scandinavia, and more. And it's not just new maps: new trucks, trailers, routes, and jobs have been flung in for good measure. Euro Truck Simulator delves more into the real work behind a job than most other simulators do, while giving you a great little tour of Europe.
In his Euro Truck Simulator review, Tim Stone says: “On this occasion that environment is a swathe of Europe stretching from Plymouth in the west to Wroclaw in the east, from Aberdeen in the north to Milan in the South. The tangle of motorways and major roads is stylised and condensed, but feels massive.”
Read more: Euro Truck Simulator 2 is quietly one of the best open world games on PC
Just Cause 2
Released: 2010 | Developer: Avalanche Studios | Steam
Not exactly the deepest of the games on this list, but one of the most empowering, exciting, and silly. Rarely has such a huge and beautiful open world felt like a true playground, and with a grappling hook and infinite parachutes to swiftly navigate the lush and tropical island, it's always playtime. Your boots will barely touch the ground before you're careening through the air again, zipping from place to place amid chaos and destruction. Just Cause 3's world may have been bigger, but this one is definitely better.
Released: 2015 | Developer: Avalanche Studios | Steam
There's a certain dismal beauty to a destroyed and decaying world, and the wasteland of Mad Max is filled with horrible, yet still somehow lovely sights. From blasted industrial landscapes to desolate deserts to lakes of toxic sludge, the world is a dangerous and atmospheric place to explore. Plus, you get to drive through it all in a souped-up car, spike-covered as you battle roving gangs of War Boys, Buzzards, and other psychopathic speedfreaks. While Mad Max gets a bit repetitive, and it's not as much fun when you have to get out of your car and fight on foot, its open world is still provides hours of high-octane fun.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Release: 2020 | Developer: Asobo Studio | Steam
Microsoft Flight Simulator arguably delivers the best open world of all time because it's literally the world. It's one of the few games where you can probably visit your own home, even if it does look a little different. MFS really knocks the exploration of new places out of the park. As well as flying over your usual stomping grounds, you can also fly over the Alps, the Bahamas, the volcanoes of Iceland, or into hurricanes in the United States. The exploration of a world has never been so expansive, technologically impressive, and accidentally included a terrifyingly monolith because of a data issue. And it's bizarre that this world, the world you can explore, is the one out of your window.
“Do you ever wonder how it'd feel to take a few years away from games, and then peek back through the curtain once you'd become out of touch? Quite often, Microsoft Flight Simulator feels like that peek,” reads our Microsoft Flight Simulator review “In its scope and fidelity, it seems to be visiting from the future, when it's commonplace to have access to a photorealistic Planet Earth and the freedom to explore it. When you can hop in a plane and fly over your own town, in the same weather conditions and lighting you can see outside your window. When 'open world' means just that.”
Read more: Microsoft Flight Simulator pilots are flying through Hurricane Ian
Saints Row 4
Released: 2013 | Developer: Deep Silver | Steam
A delightfully silly satire on games, don’t let Saints Row 4’s slightly dull city put you off. Powers like superhuman speed, Hulk-like jumps and a range of comedy guns and wrestling moves mean this is the closest thing to Crackdown you can find on PC, except it’s better, because it has jokes. It also has an inflato-ray that puffs up enemies until they pop, and a Dubstep gun that changes firing pattern depending on the costume you give it. Based on this information, you've probably already decided whether to give it a try or not.
Released: 2006 | Developer: Bay 12 Games | Steam
The best game ever made, if you can learn how to play it. Like Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress can generate a planet in moments. It goes further than using erosion patterns to plot realistic river routes, or using geology to weave skeins of ore into the crust in believable patterns. Its models builds whole societies—heroes, battles, wars and religious beliefs included. Sometimes a society won’t even survive the world creation process. Instead you come across their abandoned halls as you manage your fortress, or encounter their ruins in DF’s roleplaying mode. The ASCII interface is offputting to some, and it’s best played with some aids, but this is the most advanced open world generators available, and it’s still being updated with new features and behavioural tweaks.
Released: 2011 | Developer: Mojang | Mojang
What if an open world wasn’t just a challenge to be survived, but a bedrock on which to build a world of your own? Many games have tried to emulate Minecraft over the years. Some, like Terraria and Starbound, have done a great job, but the original is a generation-defining work that’s still growing with every update. As a survival game it’s relatively crude, but it’s an incredible building game, and players have used Minecraft’s creator tools to build extraordinary things. Minecraft isn’t just a great open world game, it’s a cultural phenomenon.