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The 10 best open world games to play in 2023

Keep your options open

A bloodied Snake and co. walk towards the camera in MGSV.
Image credit: Image Credit: Konami Entertainment

The best open world games can mean a lot of things, but here we're going with the strongest selection of games set in a sandbox, where the onus is less on survival and more on exploration or questing. You know, the sort of games where you're let loose on some open turf, perhaps with an objective, perhaps not, but always with an eye to see what's over yonder. There are some exceptions to the rule, but we reckon they're justified because some worlds are too special to discount. So, join us as we've put together our list of the 10 best open world games to play in 2023.

The 10 Best Open World Games

Yep, open world games are still a big deal in 2023. I mean, we've got Bethesda's much anticipated Starfield arriving soon, and we're all hoping it lives up the hype and isn't a stinking sci-fi mess. Despite not being very good, Arkane's Redfall was an open world swing by Microsoft in the hopes it would cash in on the sandbox-likers. That's the thing, really. Get open worlds right and they can be, genuinely, spectacular forays into the most memorable spaces. Cyberpunk 2077's upcoming Phantom Liberty DLC will look to convert those who ditched the game after its rocky launch, for instance.

Not to discount some of the biggest games ever, right? Grand Theft Auto is an almost universally known thing at this point. Expect us to keep an eye on the heavy hitters as they evolve, as well as any smaller entries that pique our interests, too. And to make the entries below easy to follow, you'll find links to all of the best open worlds on this list. Don't be afraid to fight for your own favourites in the comments if you think they've been missed out. We might just include them in a future update.

10. A Short Hike

A screenshot from A Short Hike which shows two characters chilling by a campfire.
Image credit: adamgryu

A Short Hike takes the crown for the loveliest game on this list. You play as a cute penguin who decides that they'd quite like to reach the summit of Hawk Peak. And so, off you pop, on a calming ascent which you can tackle any way you'd like. There's fishing by river banks or diving off cliff edges and soaring over to hidden treasures.

There are many other wonderful bits about the game, but it's bumping into other hikers that makes the climb particularly memorable. You might get involved in some races, you never know! Oh, and the soundtrack by Mark Sparling is lush and relaxing. What a world to soak in. Please give it a go.

9. Hitman: World Of Assassination

Ian Hitman wearing a bird costume in a Hitman 2 screenshot.
Image credit: Image Credit: IO Interactive

Hitman: World Of Assassionation may not spring to mind as a traditional 'open world game', but hey, it's all of Hitman 2 and 3's offerings bundled into one mega-package of mini-sandboxes. You control Agent 47, a bald man with a barcode on the back of his head. He's good at garroting folks and making quips while garroting folks, and it's up to you to deploy the garrote, and sometimes explosive rubber ducks, to assassinate high profile people.

What makes Hitman such a great open world game is the freedom you've got from the off. Each formula one race course, or Italian town, or quaint manor house has so many ways to creatively kill off the bad guys. There's a demo on Steam, too.

8. Yakuza 0

Kiryu fighting in a Yakuza 0 screenshot.
Image credit: Sega

Yakuza 0's open world may not have the same scale as Elden Ring, but boy is it filled with colour and personality and bicycles and thugs. Set in 80s Kamurocho and Sotenbori (based on Kabukicho and Dotonbori, respectively), the game sees two timelines converge as you take control of Kiryu and Majima, a couple of A-star fellas who plunge themselves headlong into a melodramatic tale of crime and loyalty.

If you've never played a Yakuza game before, you're in for the biggest treat. The world and its story veer from serious to wacky, but in a way that just… fits? You'll go from a heartrending cutscene to decking out your own Hot Wheels car, to managing a cabaret club, and back again. There are shocking twists and genuine laughs, all set in bustling renditions of Japan's most famous entertainment districts. There's honestly nothing quite like the Yakuza series, and Yakuza 0 is the place to start.

7. Forza Horizon 5

A jeep makes a huge jump in Forza Horizon 5.
Image credit: Image Credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/ Xbox Game Studios

Justin said Forza Horizon 5 is "as close to flawless as any racer has ever come" in our review. Whatever you might think of this, the game is a might open world racer that's - as cheesy as it sounds - an actual festival. Chopping up Mexico's dusty beaches, tangled jungles, and sunny streets is a carefree celebration of swinging the back out. The map is filled with interesting slants on traditional races, and it's perhaps one of the most positive games, ever? It's the sort of game where if you could crash your Bugatti Veyron through someone's porch, it would give you a little treat for doing so.

Maybe one of FH5's strongest assets is being a racing game for people who might not be into racing games. You can take it as seriously as you'd like, and it's an actual joy to hop in and drive around Mexico for a bit, whether that's with pals or on your lonesome.

6. Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 image showing Arthur Morgan riding a horse with an ally while staring towards the camera. He is holding a revolver.
Image credit: Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption 2 might seem like too obvious a choice for a list like this, but it's an obvious choice for a reason: it's really good. And man, its open world is an astonishing feat and totally transportative. The diversity of flora and fauna, hooves crunching in snow, crouching over a clifftop and watching a herd a bison graze. It might not be as densely packed as say, Elden Ring, yet that isn't Rockstar's aim here.

As we pointed out in our Red Dead Redemption 2 review, the game is more of an orchestration of action rarely seen in open world games. You've got carefully curated heists, with a slow-burn story that catalogues the rise and fall of Arthur's gang as motivations once aligned go out of joint. There's relative freedom to relax - at least early on - and soak in the pleasures of taking a bubble bath or hunting a gator, or simply rolling a potential purchase around your hands in some out-of-the-way shop in a little town. RDR2 is special.

5. Subnautica

Undersea exploration in a Subnautica screenshot.
Image credit: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Subnautica's open world is, for the most part, an underwater wonderland filled with coral reefs, volcanoes, and neon jellyfish. It's a survival game at heart, where you craft oxygen tanks and pod homes to keep yourself in tip top condition underseas. And there's nothing quite like riding your handmade submarine off the edge of a cliff and staring into a vast inky blackness. Honestly, it's both mesmerising and terrifying as you wonder what's beneath, then hear a bloodcurdling roar bubble upwards. Subnautica is, without a doubt, a horror game in disguise.

As with all the open worlds on this list, Subnautica lets you submerge anywhere and everywhere early on. But it's great in letting you know your limits, and gradually exposing you to new and helpful materials, or areas, or whatnot. The game never makes the survival aspect a chore.

4. American Truck Simulator

A screenshot of American Truck Simulator's Montana expansion, showing a curved road, a truck, and a lotta trees.
Image credit: Image Credit: SCS Software

For a game limited to major highways and byways in a cut-down version of a fraction of the USA (still building eastward with each expansion), American Truck Simulator feels vast and free. That is partially the romance that American trucking holds for a European: the call of the open road, those flat lands with endless skies, and the Americana that drips from every vintage convertible and neon-lit gas station. But it is still huge, and feels surprisingly open and free even though you're mostly driving a set route to a time limit.

One job you're hauling a load up the Pacific Coast Highway on a glorious day, next you're winding through narrow unknown roads at night with a wide load, then you're blowing through mundane towns you've never heard of and wouldn't want to live in but are glad to have briefly known. And you can always sack off and go exploring because hey, it's only money. The developers are also increasingly supportive of tourism, adding viewpoints at pretty places and even creating reasons for trucks to go where they shouldn't, into Yellowstone. Honk honk!

3. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

A bloodied Snake and co. step off a helicopter and walk towards the camera in MGSV: The Phantom Pain.
Image credit: Konami Digital Entertainment

Metal Gear Solid was always revered for its complex sneaking systems, but Metal Gear Solid V took that depth and applied it to (multiple) enormous open worlds. Sneaking across the sun-scorched mountains of Afghanistan is as much an exercise of imagination as it is a test of your stealth abilities. Sure, you can choose to take the long way around an enemy outpost. If you’re boring. But why not ride your horse straight through it instead, avoiding conflict by hiding against the body of your trusty steed? Or take out the soldiers using a tranquiliser gun, before shipping them off to home base using a big comedy balloon? Or avoid stealth altogether, and call in your helicopter to gun them down while A-Ha’s Take On Me blares out of its speakers?

The world of MGSV is a delight, sure, but it’s the playful things you can do in it that makes it feel truly special. Every journey back into enemy territory is a fresh opportunity for expressive decision making. Part immersive sim, part stealth sandbox, the game really is something else.

2. Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines

A quiet city street at night in Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines.
Image credit: Activision

Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines may need a big ol' mod to get it in working order, but it's pen 'n' paper RPG is a wonderful descent into sex, blood, and dependency, going to dark nooks and crannies which other games dare not. The game offers you so many choices, too - ways to succeed or fail, miserably - in the first half, which makes it one of the truest RPGs on PC. There are a myriad of ways to tackle any situation, whether that's finding some passcodes, sucking on some necks, or doing some sexy sweet talk. Couple these choices with superb writing and you've got a world that genuinely feels alive, even if the character models look... less alive.

But why is Bloodlines on an open world list? Because of its setting in a grimy 00s playground, small but dense, where you get to know the denizens that stay up late for all sorts of reasons. There are odd pockets and secrets to find in the four areas: Santa Monica, Hollywood, Downtown Los Angeles, and Chinatown. And after the gunsmoke has cleared and you've failed your last attempt at a seduction, the thing you'll remember most is your rundown apartment in Santa Monica, the red lit windows of the club in LA, the graveyard in Hollywood...

1. Elden Ring

The Volcano Manor in Elden Ring
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / FromSoftware Inc, Bandai Namco Entertainment

Elden Ring is an open world RPG set in the Lands Between, a place teeming with gangly beasts that want to murder you. Except it's a really wonderful world, actually. One that gently guides you in the right direction, yet tempts you off the beaten track and into ruined forts, or tight knit caverns, or elevators that'll blow your mind. Without sounding overdramatic, you probably haven't ever encountered an open world as dense as Elden Ring's.

What's special about Elden Ring is its freedom to explore, not only on your spectral steed, but in your character's build, too. Want to go samurai? Sure. Want to go for a hybrid of mage and knight? Absolutely. It's the first FromSoftware game which actively encourages you to probe the dark if you're struggling with a big obstacle. You never know what you might find, and crucially, how - if you can survive getting your skull crushed by a rock giant, or something - whatever it drops, or unlocks, might help you push further.

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About the Author
Ed Thorn avatar

Ed Thorn

Senior Staff Writer

When Ed's not cracking thugs with bicycles in Yakuza, he's likely swinging a badminton racket in real life. Any genre goes, but he's very into shooters and likes a weighty gun, particularly if they have a chainsaw attached to them. Adores orange and mango squash, unsure about olives.

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