5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Hours of play: 175 hours
See that mountain? You can climb it. You can also attach octopus balloons to a raft to float into the air, or turn a fallen tree into a deadly projectile. Mixing up the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s ingenious mechanics is what makes its open world so deliriously freeing as it encourages that special breed of mad scientist experimentation so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the best Nintendo Switch games available right now as well as one of the best open world games. Instead of quests propelling you around most of the map, you’ll find curiosity getting the better of you most of the time as Breath of the Wild’s landmarks are downright intriguing and offer the chance to find out more about the world before Calamity Ganon struck. Or you can hunt down the 600 adorable Korok Seeds. Or perfect your cooking repertoire. Or take on a Lynel. Or...you get the idea.
4. Red Dead Redemption
Available on: PlayStation Now, Xbox One
Hours of play: 47 hours
The wild West is on its last legs, and you’re there to see its final steps. Red Dead Redemption is a swan song for the dying age of cowboys, outlaws, and frontier towns which’ll become all too clear when you’re galloping through its scrubland as former outlaw John Marston pondering whether you can ever retire from a life of crime. Prepare to feel like a tiny speck in Rockstar’s massive world thanks to breathtaking scenery and the vast open spaces. But feeling lost in the colossal scale of the game is the whole point of Red Dead Redemption: its sparse surroundings prove just how hard it is to survive in the inhospitable land. The quests will force you into all the map’s nooks and crannies, and its characters - especially John Marston - are so well-written that they won’t budge from your memory. Get some handkerchiefs ready. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
3. Grand Theft Auto 5
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Hours of play: 77.5 hours
Come on, GTA 5 was always going to be in the top three best open world games. You know it. I know it. It’s the most successful entertainment product of all time, for Christ’s sake! Driving through the winding streets, taking advantage of certain adult clubs, skydiving, stabbing sharks with knives, tracking a serial killer, running from the police (or fighting them if you’re thirsting for that 5-star wanted rating), going full Trevor and causing as much chaos as possible, and do I really need to carry on listing all the stuff you can do? Grand Theft Auto is a web of criminal exploits and mind-boggling potential, with every single inch of the world filled with NPCs to manipulate, missions to hunt down or just colossal heights of shenanigans to engage in. It’ll swallow you whole, spit you out, and have you itching for more.
2. Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Hours of play: 222 hours
Skyrim’s world doesn’t revolve around you. Somewhere in the wilds there’s a necromancer trying to animate a skeleton. At the same time during the day you’ll find a pack of bandits taking on a giant (R.I.P.), or wander into a nearby village only to have a dragon attack it when you’re stumbling out of the inn. Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim is made for stories, and it’s so eager for you to sample its delights that even if you were to avoid every major settlement you’d still run into 30% of its quests out in the wild. The map is just filled with stuff to do, bizarre things to see, creatures to impale with sharp implements, NPCs to pickpocket, creepy Dwemer ruins to explore...oh, and dragons to fight. Even after playing it for a casual 100 hours (those are rookie numbers) there are still quests that you won’t have found, and hidden bosses waiting to be slayed. It’s hard to overestimate the impact Skyrim has had on the lives of gamers everywhere, but to get a good idea of its effect and just what Elder Scrolls 6 has to live up to, you’re best off jumping in and starting your new life in its world.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Hours of play: 167 hours
Geralt isn’t perfect. His surroundings aren’t perfect either. War ravages most of the countryside, with bloodthirsty creatures who don’t even stick to the shadows anymore preying on innocent civilians, while others try to keep their identity secret in the human-dominated landscape. Yet that’s what makes The Witcher 3 the best open world game to play right now. Because everything is broken in its own special way, there’s always something plastered on peeling notice boards for Geralt to do (for gold, of course). Stick to the dirt country roads and help villagers with the monsters baying at the door while they look at you and your yellow eyes with suspicion, negotiate with a well-meaning poltergeist in the middle of a city, or just uncover all those mysterious question marks dotted over the map. The Witcher 3’s imperfect world makes for a perfect game, meaning it’s set an incredibly high bar for the future of open world games.