Readers discuss the most enjoyable open world games they’ve ever played, from Red Dead Redemption 2 to Dead Rising.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Grackle, who asked how intrinsic the open world design is to your enjoyment and what it is that made your favourite so engrossing.
As you might expect, Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and Elden Ring dominated the discussion, but there were plenty of other games mentioned as well, with nobody seeming to be tired of the concept just yet.
I mean there’s no argument, right? It’s Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. Elden Ring was great, my favourite game of the year, but compared to Zelda its open world still felt sterile and uninteractive. It was filled with secrets, but you could never really interact with the world, just ride over it.
In Zelda though the physics engine and the magic abilities felt like a true sandbox, like you could do anything you can in the real world and all the fantasy stuff from Zelda on top of that. The fact that they got all that working on the Switch (the Wii U, really) is proof that even with something like an open world game it’s not the technology that makes it good, it’s the design and the imagination.
Naturally I’m looking forward to the sequel, but they are going to have to pull out all the stops to better the first game. I’m still not sure where they’re going with the city in the clouds but introducing new magic abilities is a good direction, as that’s only going to increase your interaction options.
Often sung hero
For me personally the answer is Zelda: Breath Of The Wild but as a parent I’ve got to say the answer is probably Minecraft. The way it inspires my kids is nothing short of magical. They spend hours building and exploring, and playing and chatting with friends online, and it all seems very healthy and educational.
There is a game mode to it too, which I didn’t realise at first, with a kind of survival theme where you have to build a house and protect yourself from monsters. It seems a bit silly to suggest Minecraft is underappreciated, given how successful it is, but I think it actually is in terms of how adults perceive it.
From an early age I’ve been fascinated by malls, and I do mean malls, American, not shopping centres, British. Probably because I watched a lot of rubbish 90s/00s kids comedy shows where everyone hangs out at the mall. So yeah, from that alone you can probably guess where this is going.
My favourite open world game is Dead Rising, with the Willamete Park View Mall being a great setting for a video game. The mall is fantastic, and I’d argue it’s got better as a setting with the age of the game (now 16 years old) since now malls have become barren areas ripe for liminal space photography, so it manages to play into this a bit since the space is filled with empty shells of humans.
There’s a hell of a lot to explore and lots of secrets to be found, from hidden katanas and sub-machine guns, to cinemas full of (fictional) movie merch and an entertainment plaza complete with children’s play area and roller coaster. Despite being 16 years old, every time I go back I always find something new. Of course, the architecture of the mall is ridiculous, if this were a mall in real life it probably would have been shut down quickly because there are plazas you can’t access unless you go outside, which kind of defeats the purpose of a mall being a massive in-door area, and equally why is there such a big mall in such a small town? Who would actually visit the place?
As open world games have evolved to contain entire cities and now entire worlds worth of content, often without there being much in-between important landmarks, kind of defeating the point of the game being open world, there’s something quite cozy about how small the mall of the first Dead Rising is, and personally I’d like to see a return to smaller open world areas. Less is more.
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I don’t know if this will be a common choice or not, it would’ve been a few years ago, before Zelda, but my favourite is still Skyrim.
That was my first introduction to open world games and I was blown away by the size and scope of the game. I couldn’t believe you could not only go wherever you want but there’d be a little story moment or encounter at pretty much every point of interest.
It’s no wonder so many people say they play the game for hours and yet never beat the story. That to me is the sign of a good open world game though, and proves that it’s the centre of the game and that it couldn’t live without it.
I do like Zelda and Elden Ring as well, but for me their worlds are a bit too big and lack as much character. Plus there’s the whole nostalgia thing with Skyrim. Also, a shout out to Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. Really fun game with tons of different open worlds in it, I have no idea how they got it all done!
The obvious choices
Most recently, it’s obviously Elden Ring. I currently put that and Zelda: Breath Of The Wild in the top tier of open world games and everything else is some way below them in the league table.
For me, it’s always about how the design plays into a sense of discovery and exploration. It’s all well and good having a beautiful looking open world but when all the gameplay content just leads you by the nose, and hour 50 is no different from hour five aside from the story, it might as well be a short linear adventure half the time.
I completely disagree with claims I’ve seen that Elden Ring gains nothing by being open world. The discovery element is fundamental to the design and that isn’t just about some sort of random placement of content. There’s real consideration given to the player’s sense of ownership in their adventure.
Of my two top picks I’d still give the nod to Breath Of The Wild, as Elden Ring lifts a lot of its design principles (the manual map marker system is pretty much fully replicated and its impact shouldn’t be downplayed) while not being as complex in terms of overlapping systems that enhance the sense of freedom further.
Both games get the usual gamer backlash to some extent, but I think those who question all the praise overlook their design achievements. I’ve seen so many complaints that Breath Of The Wild’s world is too ‘empty’, as though that’s a euphemism for there not being enough pointless buildings and non-interactive non-playable characters to create a sense of ‘immersion’. In terms of worthwhile content and variety, it’s among the least empty games I’ve ever played.
It’s definitely Red Dead Redemption 2 for me. No other game has an amazing an open world as it does and I doubt any will until GTA 6. You can criticise the gameplay, and I do agree some of the dialogue goes on too much, but no other game has made me feel like I’m in other place as much as this.
I am a cowboy when I’m playing Red Dead and the open world is a big part of making that illusion come true. The sense of immersion is amazing and for me there’s no one that does anything like this nearly as well as Rockstar. As I think Saints Row has just proven.
A big hit with me was The Witcher 3 due to it being such a big world, yet always seeming to have something interesting around every corner. Sounds Like Fallout and Elder Scrolls games, but the events in The Witcher 3 seemed better directed and produced, with a little more emotion involved.
I felt The Witcher 3 was good even though it was mostly scripted for main quest storyline reasons, though the effects that happened through the in-game choices in this world were better than most other open world games I feel.
The future for open world games does look promising, with better artificial intelligence for us to enjoy and maybe the characters you face will genuinely remember you as someone of good, dodgy or evil intentions – which could spread a more realistic reputation of your in-game character.
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