Before we get stuck into the meat of the article, let’s offer up a few definitions first.
What is an open world game?
What is a sandbox game?
“Sandbox games” and “open world games” can be used interchangeably. A “sandbox” is a developer’s term for an open world that gamers can play in.
What are some of the best open world games out right now?
Looking for a rundown of the best of the best? Look no further than our list.
Red Dead Redemption 2
It’s finally here. After a seemingly never-ending wait, Red Dead Redemption 2 is out, and the verdict is in. A score of 97 on MetaCritic.com marks it out as the best-reviewed PS4 and Xbox One game of all time.
Let’s just say the wait has been worth it.
The game sees you take control of Arthur Morgan, a lieutenant in the van der Linde gang. Morgan runs errands for head honcho Dutch, a troubled surrogate father who tries to justify the gang’s actions, even as he pulls the group further down the rabbit hole.
Dutch is a memorable antagonist and Arthur a fantastic foil, but the world is the true star: a slice of the Wild West depicted at the tail-end of the nineteenth century. Here, the old world and the new rub shoulders: steam trains chunter past men on horseback; the industrialised city of Saint Denis neighbours the alligator infested bayou; and lawmen, with sophisticated new toys, try to keep the time-honoured cowboy in check.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The land of Hyrule is teeming with things to see and do. The extent of the fictional world you see is entirely up to you. The game’s endgame – a meeting with the big bad boss, Ganon – is technically accessible from the very start, but that’d be a bit like carrying a knife to a gun fight.
To succeed, you’ll need to invest some time into BoTW’s myriad gameplay systems. Discover the world, level up your character and peel back the mysteries of Hyrule piece by piece.
This is a game that never tells you how to play and it’s a delight from start to finish.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Yes, a new Assassin’s Creed game rolls around every year, but no entry in the series has ever felt quite as grand as this.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey is a suitably epic exploration of Ancient Greece, putting you in the shoes of Alexios or Kassandra, depending on whether you play as a woman or a man.
Either way, you’re a descendent of king Leonidas I, tasked with navigating a war between the Athenians and the Spartans. It’s a fictional tale told with real spirit, served up over the course of a 60-hour story. But that 60-hour mark can stretch north of 100 hours if you really stop to take in the sights.
More than ever, Odyssey feels like a brave new direction for the series, embracing role-playing mechanics and moving away from the action-heavy approach of previous entries.
Just Cause 4
The Just Cause series has always been known for its bombastic thrills and Just Cause 4 might be the most over-the-top entry yet.
Its December 2018 release brings the series’ three-year hiatus to an end. This time, the action takes place in the fictional South American country of Solis, with you once again filling the shoes of crimefighting extraordinaire, Rico Rodriguez.
Solis is an enormous playground with a great deal more variety than Just Cause 3’s Medici. You can look forward to desert, snow, grassland and some amazing new weather effects too.
More and more, games are trying to ask serious questions about life and the world around us. Just Cause 4 isn’t. It’s only interested in good old-fashioned unpretentious fun.
Upcoming open world games
Release date: TBC 2019
Image credit: Cyberpunk.net
If Red Dead Redemption 2 was the biggest game of 2018, then expect Cyberpunk 2077 to be the biggest game of 2019. (On the off chance it spends longer in development, substitute 2019 for 2020.)
The game is based heavily on the pen and paper RPG by Mike Pondsmith. Yes, for the first time, the world of Night City is being taken off the page and being transformed into a fully explorable 3D world.
And based on what we’ve seen, courtesy of a 48-minute gameplay demo, the results are staggering.
Developers CD Projekt Red have settled on an immersive first-person viewpoint, making you feel as if you’re inhabiting the body of your character. This only heightens the sense of wonder you feel as you step out onto the bustling streets and cast your eye up towards the dizzying heights of this vertiginous world; one where buildings tower towards the sky.
Release date: 14 May 2019
When Rage was released in 2010, it was something of an oddity: a corridor shooter that wanted to be an open world game, with driving bits thrown in on top. Clearly Mad Max was an inspiration. But Rage never quite hit the mark. The levels were too small; the driving sections an afterthought. You never felt truly free.
Well, eight years later, Rage 2 is on course to set the record straight. Developers Avalanche are building an enormous sandbox and they’re weaving the driving and shooting bits into the fold with the necessary care. All the component parts seem to be working together far better.
In a nutshell: there’s still plenty of driving and shooting mayhem, only it’s underpinned by a commitment to giving the player freedom.
Release date: 15 February 2019
Image credit: metrothegame.com
The first two Metro titles took place in the deep depths of the Russian metro (hence the name) after nuclear fallout had rendered the world above ground uninhabitable.
But in Metro Exodus, protagonist Artyom and a ragtag group of fellow survivors head for the surface, embarking on a year-long trek across the irradiated planes. For the first time, Metro operates within a quasi-open world.
The series has always been good about giving you a choice to play the way you want to. Bigger environments in Exodus will only enhance this feeling. Proceed stealthily, favour all out action, or strike a balance between the two. But tread carefully, because monsters and desperate survivors lie in wait.
Release date: 22 February 2019
Image credit: EA.com
Anthem represents a bold new direction for Bioware. An MMO set on a far-flung planet, the game promises four-player cooperative action as you adapt, survive and overcome a hostile world.
Anthem doesn’t have the political intrigue or storytelling beats of Bioware’s other famous franchise, Mass Effect, but the good news is that the bulk of the old Mass Effect team has worked on Anthem.
Look forward to a gorgeous and continuous open world, one that never pauses to load as you explore its lush geography.
Looking for more open world goodness? Check out Unexplored, a fun campaign that looks at ten destinations have hitherto been overlooked – picked by gamers for gamers.
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