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The Best Open World Games

by Kimberley Wallace on Dec 02, 2013 at 01:24 PM

Part of the thrill of gaming is being able to step into imaginative worlds that let us make our own marks in them. In an instant, we can be transported to virtually anywhere, such as places in history or fantastical lands. Therefore, we thought we'd celebrate some of the best, as we look forward to new open world adventures with new consoles. The list below is in no particular order and is comprised of games from this past generation. The list focuses on the worlds themselves and the freedom they put at your fingertips.

Red Dead Redemption

A big part of what makes Red Dead Redemption thrive is its Wild West backdrop. The dangers of the time period lurk within; robberies constantly occur in towns and on deserted roads. Innocents often get held captive for money or worse, and it's up to you if you want to play hero. Saloons showcase some of the personality of the time with plenty of drinks, music, and gambling to go around. The competitive spirit is also alive and well as you engage in shoot-offs with other cowboys and outlaws trying to make a new for themselves. While there's plenty of action around every bend, the moments where you're just exploring the majestic backdrop riding your horse also add to the experience. However, where John Marston's journey most makes its mark is in its shifts from killing to farming, using its world to speak to the narrative's deeper dilemmas. 

Sleeping Dogs

Not stopping to look and embrace Sleeping Dogs' Hong Kong is hard. From high rises to billboards, the city has a pulse and plenty to get wrapped in, such as cockfights, karaoke, drag racing, and more. Whether you're making a drug bust or just exploring a serene temple, Sleeping Dogs shows both the beauty and ugliness of Hong Kong. The city is flooded with tourists and desperate merchants, who also add personality to the populated locale. Sleeping Dogs brings Hong Kong right to your fingertips and lets you lose yourself in its atmosphere and activities, making it one memorable destination. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The snowy Nord homeland of Skyrim is enough to give you a chill during exploration, but where it stands out is in how its realism overlaps fantastical elements like a created language of the dragons. Skyrim has a rich history that entices you to explore more, whether it's chatting up NPCs for insight or finding hidden places that reveal its secrets. Its treasures locked within are an adventurer's delight and a loot lover's dream. Not to mention, Skyrim also lets you have a stake in its land; you can build homes in multiple places and marry. Not many games can entice people to dedicate over 100 hours, but Skyrim provides enough content and intrigue to prolong the experience. 

Assassin's Creed II

While the Assassin's Creed series has taken us to many locales, nothing can compare to the first steps you take in Assassin's Creed II's Italy. The majestic architecture is breathtaking; as you ascend rooftops and towers, the beauty takes over as you make your way through popular cities, such as Venice, Rome, and Florence. This is a stark contrast to the violence you commit as Ezio along with his assassin kin. Exploring different regions and landmarks may be the premiere highlight, but the side activities that play off the assassin theme also make for compelling content. Like helping a young Leonard da Vinci before he hit his stride with inventions, racing fellow citizens, using your eagle vision to find prime targets to take down, and locating hard-to-find glyphs. 

Saints Row: The Third

Steelport's vibrancy and liveliness make it cross between New York and Las Vegas, but where Steelport becomes its own is the ridiculous antics that can occur during your ventures. How many places actually let you use a giant purple *** as a weapon, or would applaud you for using a fart in a jar to stink out the enemy? Your next step could also have you streaking or busting people at an S&M house. That's just scratching the surface of what you encounter in the world of Steelport, activities like  Prof. Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax (shooting mascots has never been so fun), playing in traffic in insurance fraud, and riding a flaming ATV also keep the fun going. Unpredictability also runs through it; you never know when a rival gang is going to show up...or a zombie infestation. A day in Steelport is like living out an episode of your favorite comedy relief show… a much needed break from your everyday life, which makes its world so damn entertaining. 

Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V uses the backdrop of Southern California to speak to its themes and parodies of American culture. Its biggest asset is just how much it absolutely nails the culture and setting, making you feel like you're actually driving through California. Certain landmarks, such as the Los Santos airport (which mimics LAX), are done with such precise detail that you feel like you're at the real venue. Driving through the streets and taking down heists have plenty to keep you busy, but the world also offers a bunch of side activities, like taking on the role of a tow truck driver, playing the stock market, and competing in a game of darts. As with most GTA games, you can still purchase your own stake in the land by acquiring businesses. The fun also now extends to an expansive online mode. While it took its time to get all the kinks figured out, it's not only ambitious, but has brought GTA fans together in a new way. Part of the lure of Grand Theft Auto V is making your own stories in the world; the little things like an unexpected crash or stopping for someone who's yelling for help are what makes the experience so hard to top. 

Mafia II

Mafia II sends you to Empire Bay, a fictional city in the vein of New York or Chicago, set somewhere in the 40's and 50's. Being an immigrant and coming to the Little Italy District of Empire Bay, should provide hope, but instead ends up being a hard road to pave for a family. Joining the Mafia is the only financial option and Mafia II does a good job at letting you see the highs and lows of being a member of the trusted group. Unlike most of the games on this list, Mafia II isn't set on giving you diversions, but telling a focused story in its world. The world itself is why it earns a place here; the level of detail to the time period is just astonishing with war propaganda posters, fancy cars, and racism running rampant. The building designs and interiors also measure up to that of which we've seen in Mad Men, which depicts the same period.

 Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 takes you on an island adventure through the South Pacific islands that's both fun and terrifying. After a vacation goes horribly wrong (hello, human trafficking!), it's up to you to survive the island as you're hunted down by pirates. Far Cry 3 puts so much freedom in your hands. Not only in how you approach missions (guns blazing or sneaking around enemies), but also in side activities to spend your time on, such as hunting, racing, finding collectables, and shooting challenges. The island is also full of secrets to snuff out, such as ancient ruins, wrecked ships,and underwater treasures. You won't forget your first brush with a shark or Komodo dragon, nor watching the map fill up as you uncover more of the island. 

Fallout 3 

Exploring a wasteland could have been downright boring, but Bethesda broke new ground for its Fallout franchise with Fallout 3. Stepping out of Vault 101 for the first time and seeing a desolate, torn-up land before you creates a hopelessness, urging you to explore for something...or someone to get by. The best moments in Fallout 3 are the choices you make to survive and the companions you pick to help you overcome the daunting odds, whether you're up against a slew of mutated beasts or finding a way around the wasteland's many barriers. Seeing how the world has unraveled after a nuclear war and watching how cultural advancements have stagnated is eye-opening and poses an eerie "what if" scenario.

Just Cause 2

Without Rico Rodríguez fighting to overthrow a dictatorship, the island of Panau might as well be any other tropical island.  Its foliage is gorgeous and there's plenty to explore in nature, but that only gets you so far.  But what happens when giant statues, massive explosions and a grappling hook appear?  One of the best open worlds around.  Just Cause 2 is nothing if not the essence of raw destruction and its world is fit for the cause.  Use your hook to get sky high, then drop grenades on your foes. Or just grab a rocket launcher to see what will burn. The answer? Just about everything. And we wouldn't have it any other way.