The Top 5: Open World Games

Keeping in the spirit of open world games following the release of Grand Theft Auto V, we decided to list The Top 5: open world games! Let the arguments, er, I mean discussion begin!


5. Xenoblade Chronices – Yeah, this counts. There are several hidden quests that can only be found if you are wont to explore. That being the case, if we’re judging this list on the quality of the open world as a primary factor, Xenoblade has to come below other titles, given its limited exploration. Perhaps this is due to releasing on the Wii, but even so, this is several people’s JRPG of the year for 2012. I can’t forget the amazing soundtrack, with tracks by my favorite composer, Yasunori Mitsuda.

4. Fallout 3Fallout 3 had a great plot that was easy to follow, and kept me engaged. A lot of open-world games are about going off and doing whatever wherever, and Fallout 3 certainly has a lot of that. But many of these games have their core storylines suffer as a result of this. Fallout 3, and especially its DLC, has a great narrative that’s fun to follow.

3. Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimSkyrim gets a spot on my list for a few reasons. There’s a decent amount of variety in the world’s terrain, especially for a region that’s supposed to be mostly ice. But what I like most is whenever you reach a named region, there will be SOMETHING there. Whether there’s a crazy man sitting on the side of the road, or a ghost mystery at a town sitting at the bottom of a hill, I can spend as much time as I want in any one area. There’s always something to do.

2. Saints Row The Third – The sheer number of ridiculous activites drive this one home. I still laugh at Insurance Fraud. I also love the customizability of the main character, and the tongue-in-cheek approach to the plot. But most of all, I have to give shoutouts to Adult Swim radio, my favorite music in an open world game ever, because I can listen to Tim & Eric’s “Sports” forever and ever.

1. Grand Theft Auto IV – Grand Theft Auto IV was the only game on my list that presented an open world as if it were an actual living, breathing world. The people went about their daily lives, and I could hear them, and for all the canned dialogue in the world, it felt the most realistic out of all the contenders on the list. I could take my time and walk down the street and feel like this was a city. A twisted, perverted version of New York City, but that comes with the GTA territory.

Ted chose Xenoblade Chronicles as an open world game…..OK?

Ari –

My list might feel a little bit narrow this week, considering all 5 games are from only 2 series… If I had room for 10, I might have found a place for Red Dead Redemption, Fallout 3, FarCry 3, a couple of Saint’s Row games, and maybe even Infamous. But as it stands, I’ve had the most fun and put the most hours into the open world games listed below.

5. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – I had played Morrowind briefly years before I got my Xbox 360 copy of Oblivion, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with Elder Scrolls. Still, Oblivion was the first game in the series that really hooked me, though it did not do so easily. I fought tooth and nail against it. A lifetime of playing JRPGs had left me unprepared for the world Bethesda had waiting for me with Oblivion. I was completely overwhelmed by the character creation process, and I spent several hours just learning the basics in that introductory dungeon. When I stepped outside and had the whole world before me, I was flabbergasted. But I had felt the hype and had read the reviews, so I forced myself to keep going, and eventually things started to click. It was not long before dozens and hundreds of hours had gone by.

4. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – This is the Grand Theft Auto game that really went over the top with character customization and scope. The game opens up in Los Santos, a Los Angeles type city, which is big enough to house an entire open world game. If that was the entire game, no one would have complained. But that wasn’t enough for Rockstar Games. They decided to include two other cities based on San Francisco and Las Vegas as well, each of which was unique and interesting. I absolutely loved playing through Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, not only for its massive world, but for all of the things you could do while exploring it (gang turf wars, dating, tagging, etc).

3. Grand Theft Auto IV – Many people consider Grand Theft Auto IV a step back from San Andreas, and I can understand why. They definitely scaled back on the character customization, there is only one city (though it is quite enormous), and many of the features of San Andreas are simply absent from the sequel. Still, I consider Grand Theft Auto IV a marginally better game. I really enjoyed the story of Niko Bellic, with his cousin’s antics and his unlikely friends and enemies. I also felt like the Liberty City of Grand Theft Auto IV was the most interesting city yet crafted by Rockstar Games. There were also major improvements to how the game controlled, and I found the gunplay to be the best yet in the series.

2. Grand Theft Auto V – Last week we excluded Grand Theft Auto V from our Grand Theft Auto Top 5 lists because it was just too new. This week I’m including it in my #2 spot because I’ve had enough time with it to say it’s incredible. Rockstar Games seems to raise the bar with every new game in their flagship series. Grand Theft Auto V is clearly another improvement on its predecessors and has had me completely hooked to the point that I’m running late finishing up another game for a review! I just want to spend all damn day playing this game right now, and I haven’t felt like that about a game since Skyrim.

People often describe the city (or cities) in recent Grand Theft Auto games as being “alive,” or as the main character. With Grand Theft Auto V, that argument has more merit than ever. And yet, there are also three very interesting main characters for the player to control, and the overall story is the strongest yet in a Grand Theft Auto game. Still, whenever I play Grand Theft Auto V, I just marvel at the depth of the city and how fully realized it is. Hearing a news story on the radio about my recent hijinks and then finding another story about it on the in-game internet is always a surreal experience. I’ve got to stop… I could write an essay about this game.

1. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – There is only one game I have put more hours into than Skyrim: a little game called World of Warcraft. To me, Skyrim is the current standard of open world single player RPGs. I’ve played over 250 hours of it, and I know I will go back and play at least another hundred or two before I can say I’ve done everything I wanted to do… and that’s all before getting into the user created content and mods!

As an open world game, it hits all the marks. You can ignore the storyline and just go exploring in any direction, and if you do, you will find almost everything in the game accessible, with only a few limited roadblocks for storyline content. No matter what random direction you choose to walk in, you will find something interesting. It’s just packed with content, both for the unpredictable adventurer and the storyline follower. This is my (internet equipped) desert island game.

Both Ari and Sean think Skyrim is the bees knees.

Chris –

5. Crackdown & Crackdown 2 – Players take on the role of a genetically enhanced Agent whose job it is to take down crime syndicates in Pacific City. There were no set missions, players are allowed to freely roaming the four islands destroying the different syndicates and their crime boss. Different color power orbs power up the Agents so they are tougher, stronger, and jump higher.

4. Red Dead RedemptionRed Dead Redemption’s wild west, open world was a dangerously fun place to explore. I had my horse stolen by a woman who was in need of help, I helped a stranger whose brother was being hung by bandits, I tied a woman to railroad tracks, I saw a man running from coyotes, I dueled a man for no particular reason, and my horse was killed by a mountain lion. All of these events were random and happened to me in the first hour of the game.

3. Batman: Arkham City – Running around Arkham City as Batman taking on criminals and the different rogues was fun. I like the game even though there were way too many Riddler trophies.

2. Infamous & Infamous 2 – Imagine shooting someone in the face with lightning; that’s what happens when you play Infamous. Former bike messenger turned hero/villain Cole MacGrath can run, jump, and climb any structure in the open world environments of Empire City as he takes on gangs with special powers.

1. Saints Row: The Third & Saints Row IVSaints Row centers around the Third Street Saints as they take on rival gangs in Steelport City. Completing quests was fun in Saints Row: The Third, things got strange in Saints Row IV with the ability to run, jump, and flow throughout the city of Steelport.

PlayStation Plus
The recent Saints Row games wubwubwubed their way into Chris’ #1 spot.

Sean –

5. Saints Row 2 – I hate to be one of “those people” as Ryan Clements told me at E3, but I much prefer Saints Row 2 to all other games in the series (caveat being I haven’t played 4 yet). Actually, I don’t hate to be that guy because Saints Row 2 is just a better game in every conceivable way. First of all, the customization for the characters was astronomical with so many options that I could accurately create myself in the game. Stillwater was a much better world, with much more variety and things to do, the soundtrack was infinitely better and playing co-op was just a blast from start to finish.

4. Grand Theft Auto V – Yeah, this might seem odd seeing as the game is barely out a week but I’ve been playing it for a week and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of things to do in this game. I haven’t been to the movies, competed in a triathlon, went scuba diving for leisure, ridden the Ferris wheel, raced a jet ski, been mountain biking, skydiving, and haven’t played golf. And those are just the things off the top of my head that don’t involve criminal activity. There is so much to do in this game that I see myself playing it for months…and GTA Online isn’t even available yet. Whew. I’m wasting time writing this, I need to be playing more Grand Theft Auto V.

3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – I’ll justify this with a little anecdote. So I was approaching a town to receive a quest when a dragon appeared in the sky and attacked the town. The townsfolk and myself managed to finally kill the beast but not before the dragon claimed several lives. One of which was the NPC I was going to receive the quest from. That was just one of the many experiences I had in my time with the game which clocked in at over 255 hours and that was before the DLC!

2. Far Cry 3 – Here’s another anecdote. I stake out one of the many enemy compounds. Carefully, stealthily moving around the outskirts of the encampment marking each and every enemy. Finally I am ready to move in but first I use my bow to take out the enemy alarm from a distance. Successful, I advance one step when a tiger comes out of the woods and rushes the camp taking out every enemy, making the compound mine in the process. These type of random events are peppered throughout this thoroughly amazing and pitch perfect game from Ubisoft. If you haven’t played it, you should do so. Easily my favorite game of 2012.

1. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas – I’m going to cheat a bit here and reiterate what I said on my top 5 Grand Theft Auto games list from last week: Building on the promise and scope of the previous 5 titles, Rockstar unleashed their magnum opus, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. Taking place is a satirized version of Los Angeles in the 90’s, San Andreas blew the previous games in the series out of the water. The music was awesome, the character customization was awesome, the story was awesome, the world map was awesome. Everything was blown up to awesome size AND it had Area 51 and a mother f***ing jet pack! Awesome from start to finish.

Far Cry 3 is Sean’s favorite game of 2012.

Alex –

For my list, I wanted to make sure that each series’ games were best represented. So no, you won’t see 5 Grand Theft Autos on my list. We already did that last week, after all. But what you will see is a pretty diverse list that I’ve carefully curated. So here it is!

5. Assassin’s Creed II – The last game Patrice Desilets made at Ubisoft before he left, Assassin’s Creed II is also the most heartfelt game in the series. Featuring a traditional hero arc of a man who has everything taken from him, only to emerge like a phoenix from the ashes, Ezio Auditore de Firenze will probably be considered as one of the most memorable characters that’s been introduced this generation. Assassin’s Creed II also ironed out many of the things people didn’t like about the original Assassin’s Creed while adding more mission variety and telling a compelling story in the process.

4. Grand Theft Auto V – The game just came out, but its world and characters have already made such a strong impression on me that I felt it deserved a spot on this list. It’s definitely the most rich and detailed Grand Theft Auto world to date, with its developers taking a huge risk with telling a story that’s uniquely GTA in very different ways. Yes, you can change characters on the fly. Yes, the driving is better. Yes, the storyline is all kinds of messed up. But the one thing that Grand Theft Auto V has that no other Grand Theft Auto has done since San Andreas is being able to portray different kinds of culture and sociology in an effective way. Just try going into a posh suit store with Franklin versus going in with Michael and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

3. Sleeping Dogs – I’m Asian. I like kung fu. So if you give me kung fu in an open world scenario that has a progression system similar to SEGA’s Yakuza series and some uniquely flavored side missions that not only provide depth to the main character but are also fun, of course I’m going to take notice! Playing both roles, as a cop and as a triad, was certainly one of the most surprising things that I found fun. It also helped that the numerous expansions really helped extend the game further past its launch. I’m anxiously awaiting the announcement of a follow-up to this game. It’s definitely a must play!

2. Saints Row IV – There have been many different cities and iterations in the world of Saints Row, but none is as crazy and outlandish as the Steelport in Saints Row IV. Featuring a fantastic cast of characters and cameos that totally outdoes Saints Row The Third, they finally nailed my hopes and dreams of what a sequel to Saints Row: The Third should be. I know that much of the crew thinks I’m crazy that I wanted things to be zanier than the previous game, but Saints Row IV delivers in spades. If you’re curious what else I think of it, check out my review going up on Friday!

1. Red Dead Redemption – To me, out of every single game on my list, none portrayed as realistic of a world in the genre as Red Dead Redemption. Sure, there’s weird emergent stuff that occasionally happened in the background, but the game had a really good excuse for it to do so: it’s the wild west. This might be unfair, given that I’m placing such a high importance on the perceived realism of the game, but I can’t help it. I value engaging experiences, and Red Dead Redemption’s world, coupled with its mood, story, and its expansion (Undead Nightmare FTW!) make it my favorite open world game out of the bunch.

Red Dead Redemption was pretty awesome [except Mexico – Sean] [including Mexico – Ari]

So there you have it. Some variety and some cross over. What are some of your favorite open world games? Let us know in the comments!



0 thoughts on “The Top 5: Open World Games

  1. MORROWIND!!!! People NEED to give Morrowind more credit, the story and cities knock Skyrims out of the water, along with the spell system. Yes the graphics and combat are dated but as an open-world game, it is an explorable, timeless masterpiece. Just my 2cents 😀


    1. 🙂 Now that I’ve played so much Oblivion and Skyrim, I really want to go back and spend more time with Morrowind. The question is, should I go the Overhaul route or the Morrowind in Skyrim route?


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