In the last month we've had two major open world video games release in Horizon Forbidden West and Elden Ring and if you've read my reviews you'll know that I felt very differently about the worlds in both. For me Horizon Forbidden West featured one of the most rich and lived in worlds ever while Elden Ring's map served as a glorified boss room (although credit to it the world does look great). So while the open world hype is still going strong I'm taking a look at the 5 best open world maps in video games of all time. It goes without saying that this is entirely opinion and don't get upset when minecraft isn't on the list, a big map doesn't make a good map. It should also be said that this is in no particular order.
Watch Dogs 2 (2016)
I have been waiting since the day I started this site to get an excuse to talk about Watch Dogs 2, it is easily one of my most played games of the last console generation. One of the things that makes this game so good is the map and the world it takes place in, obviously the fun hacking gimmick helps but the world is what sets it apart. A sunny San Francisco (actually San Francisco not a GTA San Fierro style knock off) is the setting and it's easily one of the best examples of a lived in and authentic world out there. You want a hot cup of coffee? Stop off at one of the many Quinkies dotted around the bay. Maybe a nice cold Beer is more your speed. You best believe that you can pick one up in one of the many drinking establishments to be found in the 2016 sequel. Obviously cafes, bars, and burger joints add nothing substantial to a gaming experience but it certainly helps to add a certain layer of authenticity to a map so closely based on the real world, just look at Red Dead Redemption 2 and its many saloons (and check out the linked article). The whole map is gorgeous, vibrant, and bright but what really makes the Watch Dogs 2 map so lived in is the population. Every and I really mean every npc has a name, a brief social profile, and a little backstory, you can even hack their phones to read personal text conversations. There are so many neat little NPC interactions in this game that I could honestly dedicate a whole article to. Watch Dogs 2 is a great example of a game that has an open world that is truly just fun to hang out in.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Everything I've said about Watch Dogs 2 can be said for this one, Watch Dogs walked so Red Dead could run. There are six different unique territories with eleven unique towns in Rockstar's second go at the wild west. The map perfectly blends from snowy mountain passes to verdant meadows to horrible swamps to wide open barren desert plains, and if you thought that was all you'd be mistaken, they even threw a fully built up fully lived in city into the mix just for good measure. You can talk to every NPC whether they want to or not, you can stop off at one of of the nine saloons for a quick bite to eat or a drink (they actually do make a difference in this one with weight cores being a thing), you can take some time out and fish the day away if that's what you want. What makes the map of Red Dead Redemption 2 so good is that you really can just hang out in it and do nothing for as long as you want and it never gets old. Just soaking in the surroundings while trotting down to Lagras from Valentine for a spot of swamp fishing is just as fun as any heist the game encourages you to pull off which is a testament to how great the world is in this game.
Horizon Forbidden West (2022)
Easily the newest and best looking map in the list, Read Dead Redemption 2's wild west comes close in the looks department but nothing so far beats the visuals of Horizon Forbidden West. It's not all about how the map looks but obviously if it looks nice that definitely helps, no one wants to be trudging about a grim awful map, nobody (I don't care what anyone says, the Death Stranding map just isn't appealing). It should be a crime to rush through this game just because of how well crafted the whole world is, both the environment and characters (or enemies) within are all so artfully created that you'll find yourself hooked even if the game interests you in no other way. The Forbidden West doesn't have anything like the food and drink establishments or fishing and hunting from the last one on the list but I would argue that it doesn't feel like it needs them. Side quests, amazing vistas, and the sheer amount of attention to detail will make you feel like you're part of this world.
Assassin's Creed II (2009)
Maybe Assassin's Creed II is a game best left in memory, it's definitely showing its age but at the time it's depiction of Rome was groundbreaking. The Assassin's Creed franchise has always pioneered with it's settings and maps and the second installment was no different. Maybe this one isn't the biggest or the most full of things to do but it more than makes up for it for how they so faithfully recreate rennaissance Italy and make it all climbable and fully explorable. I strongly believe that this game laid the groundwork for games like The Witcher (specifcally the third one) to thrive on by introducing a wider audience to the grounded historical setting. There are two very good reasons this game is remembered so fondly one is Ezio and the other is the setting. Brotherhood nearly took this spot but the variation in this one is what makes it more impressive to me, Brotherhood takes place in an amazing recreation of Rome but the variation between Tuscany, Florence and Venice really wins it for the second game. It was a huge step up from Assassin's Creed (the first game) as well, it was a third bigger, it was much more dense (both number of buildings and population), and it had more to do within (side quests, collectibles, shops etc.).
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Yes this is a bit of a predicatble one and it required no thought at all which is why I left it until last. GTA V is still going strong nine years on with an incredibly huge player base both online and offline. I'm not going to sit here and pretend that that's entirely due to the world it takes place in but Los Santos has become iconic, maybe more than any other video game world ever and you can argue with that all you want but you'd be wrong. Yes Skyrim, The Witcher 3, Minecraft are all iconic and yes their maps are too but show anybody a picture of Los Santos and there's a very good chance they'd recognise it. Ask anybody over the age of 13 (I'm in no way endorsing this game for under 18s) and they all will have spent time crashing their way down to Vespucci beach in a maxed out Weeny Issi and if they say they haven't they're lying. What makes Los Santos so great is that every location is so instantly reconisable and memorable even if they're nothing spectacular. Los Santos operates in a weird zone of the uncanny valley where everything is so close to reality that it's clearly closely based on a real place but far enough away (e.g Taco Bell is now Cluckin' Bell) that it instantly melts itself into your brain. For the time the way NPCs acted and interacted with the world whether in vehicle was absolutely revolutionary, weirdly enough it was briefly being used to teach self-driving cars until Take-Two sent cease-and-desist orders out. If it were a list of the most modern and cutting edge open worlds GTA V would no longer make the cut, it's getting on a bit now, but for a list on the best of all time it does make the cut. Like Assassin's Creed II before it, Grand Theft Auto V has been surpassed by other games now on a technical level but nothing beats Los Santos in terms of how enjoyable it is still to this day. Few other games would let you meet with 30 other friends while you all drive rocket bikes and batmobiles at each other. Rockstars biggest achievment is making Los Santos the ultimate sandbox.
Maybe you don't agree with this, and that's ok, in a week I probably won't either, it's hard to narrow down all open world games into a top five. Sign up here for more like this and look out for a review of The Batman later this week!