What’s the Best Open World Game of the Last 5 Years (2017-2021)?
Written by James Morgan.
Introduction and the Terms.
In this blog post I will go over the best of the best in open world video games from 2017-2021. I will be considering the gameplay, narrative, art style, game length and DLC from these products to deduce which of these is objectively best. I will not be considering the following: sales and gross income, any game that released outside of the time window, games that are not clearly open world games and online games/modes. Also, remasters will not be acknowledged but remakes will.
I started off this venture by looking at all the games that released in the five-year window and picked out all the ones I would say could be the best in some possibility, that These were the titles I ended up with for 2017: Yakuza 0, Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, Stardew Valley and Dead Rising 4.
To decide which ones were the best of 2017 is my first task in whittling down the games. First off, I cut DR4 (Dead Rising 4) from the list as it doesn’t compare to the others’ high-quality standard in this list, likely down to it being a good but forgettable Capcom zombie game.
Then Stardew Valley got axed as it’s not a conventional open world game; I can’t really argue it is better than the others, even with 60 hours in the game and it’s definitely not better than Hollow Knight, which I have a similar amount of experience with.
Now I have four games left, and I still want to get rid of one more; it will have to be yakuza 0; I have some good reasons for this. Despite how great the Yakuza prequel is, it’s impossible for me to deny the amount of people that preach positives about Breath of the Wild despite my personal dislike towards the game’s structure and components in general. So, Yakuza 0 has to go, leaving the best open world games of 2017 being the following: Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild.
For 2018 there were a lot of amazing games that released in the open world genre, here are my picks: Shadow of the Colossus Remake, Subnautica, Sea of Thieves, Far Cry 5, Don’t Starve, Yakuza 6 The Song of Life, God of War, Monster Hunter World, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Forza Horizon 4, Ni no Kuni II Revenant Kingdom Red Dead Redemption 2, Fallout 76 and Just Cause 4. Out Of these games I have picked 4. Normally I would try and get it to three, but this really was an exceptional year. Here are my choices: Shadow of the Colossus Remake, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man and Red Dead Redemption 2. All these games are masterpieces in their own right, and a masterclass in what they do, it would be unfair to not include all four.
This year was the opposite of 2018 in terms of quality open world games only having a few. Here they are:
Far Cry New Dawn.
Of these four my only pick is Death Stranding, for being the quintessential delivery adventure everyone wants to go on. It’s a very hit or miss game for some people, but I think it’s great and definitely the best one here.
2020 had lots of great games but one definitely out shined the others. Here’re the picks: Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Control, Maneater, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, State of Decay 2, Cyberpunk 2077, Ghost of Tsushima, and Animal Crossing New Horizons. Out of these games there are greats and disappointments but the greatest of the greats here is Ghost of Tsushima. I don’t think anything else this year can hold a candle to that, so that’s my only pick for 2020.
This year was a bit of a miss for open world games having the two best games of the year simply being “directors cuts” of previous great games. Here’s my choices: Forza Horizon 5, Monster Hunter Rise, Subnautica Below Zero, Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, Death Stranding Director’s Cut, Far Cry 6. Out of these games, Far Cry 6 is the only real new open world game, so that’s going to be my 2021 pick.
So, at this point I have Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, Shadow of the Colossus Remake, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2, Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima and Farcry 6.
Hollow Knight is a metroidvania (a 2D sub-genre) so upon a technicality you could say not an open world game, however it would be a disservice to this non-linear masterpiece to state that its lack of an unnecessary 3rd dimension would cut it from the list. The game is a marvel of creativity and hidden knowledge.
The story of Hollow Knight and its location Hallownest are shrouded in mystery and soaking in lore, with information hidden in the darkest corner of a spider’s web. Take the famed pale king a god like creature who is credited to the creation of Hallownest when he was once a “Wyrm” (a mythical worm looking God like creature) as seen bellow. All this info is displayed to the player via the cast-off shell area in kingdoms edge (as seen below) and further conformation in another lore tablet in the fungal waists.
Here is a quote from the Hollow Knight fandom wiki “The Wyrms were ancient beings who pulled bugs into their thrall. – They also had the ability of foresight, meaning that they could predict the future to some extent… At a certain point, all Wyrms died out or were wiped out from Hallownest.”
This example shows the way story is presented in Hollow Knight and personally the lore style is great and I love it. The gameplay is intuitive and difficult in a fun and rewording way, but the world design and exploration are where the game shines. The follow up silk song is expected to drop in 2022.
Horizon Zero Dawn.
Horizon Zero Dawn is the most recent of these games I have played, so my opinions are fresh on the topic. The game is based around this dystopian future where machines roam the world akin to animals, and humans have descended into tribes and hunt with arrows and spears. It constantly juxtaposes in the world with the stark contrast in highly advanced tech and primal hunting.
The game develops on open world tropes such as towers to reveal areas of the map with the “Tallneck” machine as seen here. You still climb them, and you still reveal an area of the map when you reach the top, however they move and you have to find a high point to jump on. Here I am hanging from one in the games desert area.
This development of prior tropes is very enjoyable, and the Tallnecks are one of my favourite things about Horizon Zero Dawn. The map is vast and full of beauty with highly contrasting areas close together such as the Jungle and the desert location. The story is ok but can be quite predictable, however the sci-fi elements of the story are grand and thoroughly intriguing.
Truly, it’s the world that tells the story and that’s super fun for exploration! The game is not without its flaws as the traversal can be a little tedious in places and the gameplay can get repetitive. These things look to have been massively improved in the soon arriving sequel Horizon Forbidden West due to release on the 18th of February 2022 only 11 days away as of writing.
The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild is a Zelda game first and foremost, however it’s nothing alike older Zelda games. Personally, I don’t like this as I liked the adventurous feel of the more story-driven games, rather than the open world archetype for the franchise. This being said, a lot of people really like the game, here’s a quote from my tutor Jessie “it’s a solid open world game.”
The world design feels bland with hugely empty parts of the map, and the story is scattered. The gameplay is fun but there’s not a huge amount to do with the combat. The main aspect of the game is shrines these are dungeon like puzzle areas, they’re fun, but that’s basically the whole game, 120 -shrines!
Show of the Colossus (Remake).
I played Shadow of the Colossus as a child, because my dad had the game on our PS2, so I have a sort of nostalgic feeling towards the game and the 2005 version. The 2011 HD remaster was nice but nothing new, however the 2018 remake is a masterpiece reborn on a new canvas. Needless to say I have played the game many times and it’s one of my all-time favourites. Bias aside, the story is a bit weird and complicated but also super simple.
The game consists of 16 incredible bosses you (Wander) have to fight and the gameplay of you climbing up these huge and majestic creatures is undeniably enjoyable. The world design and traversal of the map is great, having your sword reflect the light to lead the way to the next fight. The game can be short but it’s massively replayable and a blast to play over and over again.
God of War 2018.
God of War is the fourth instalment in the franchise, having different gameplay style and direction than the previous three, even to the point where the game is just God of War not God of War 4 as you don’t necessarily have to play the original three to get what’s happening in the game. The story follows Kratos and his son Atreus, long after the Greek mythology story of the first three games. Kratos is now in ancient Norway in the realm of Midgard and the game follows his quest to spread his dead wife’s ashes in Jötunheim, the home of the giants. The story is amazing and a totally different tone to the brutality of the previous games. The gameplay is simplistic but brilliant, it really doesn’t get old easily. The whole game is a spectacle and the sequel God of War Ragnarök is the most anticipated game of 2022. “2020 Golden Joystick Awards, the game received the award for Most Wanted Game. It was also a nominee for Most Anticipated Game at The Game Awards 2020” that’s an extract from the wiki page on the new game.
Marvel’s Spiderman and Miles Morales.
These games have the same open world area and follow-up story, so makes sense to put them together. The story from Spider-Man PS4 is masterful for a superhero game. It even includes fan favourite caricatures like the Rhino, who hasn’t had a full appearance in a film. They’re Spider-Man games so the swinging has to be perfect; luckily it is! Some great story moments include the Spider-Cat side mission from Miles Morales and all the Otto parts in Spider-Man PS4.
Red Dead Redemption 2.
Red Dead Redemption is a western RPG (Role Playing Game) franchise set in the American west during the end of the 19th century and in this instalment, we play as Arthur Morgan and experience the downfall of the Van der Linde gang. The game sports the usual Rockstar gameplay and gunplay. Some may find the gameplay repetitive but it’s definitely fun, especially with the dead eye mechanic slowing time to hit precise shots. The story is one of the best video game story’s to have been told, with a 50-hour adventure full of twists and turns. The games excruciatingly realistic taking time to show Arthur picking up each can of beans you try and pick up. It’s simply one of the greatest experiences gaming has ever had to offer.
Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima’s first game away from Konami, and it sure is unique, the game got panned by lots of critics upon its release for being a glorified parcel delivery game set in a post-apocalyptic America. IGN, who are infamous for giving games better scores then they deserve, even gave the game a 7. However, the game is good, maybe not in a traditional sense, but it’s good. The gameplay is different and can be exciting but quite repetitive with lots of fetch quests. The story is closer to a film narrative than a normal open world story.
Ghost of Tsushima.
Ghost of Tsushima is a 2020 open world game designed by Sucker Punch Productions and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. I have called games in this list masterpieces, however, none of these games come close to Ghost of Tsushima. Ghost is the closest a game has ever come to being pure art, with the colours interacting and blending to create a sandstorm of glamor, it’s art in its purest form. The game has a photo mode that you can almost spend as much time in as the game itself. The gameplay is perfect and new stances and enemy types introduce new refreshing moments to combat.
The story is beyond anything else and rivals that of Red Dead Redemption Two’s story. You become Jin Sakai when you play as the Ghost, you feel his pain and loss throughout. The world is full of things to do, interesting NPC’s (non-playable characters), amazing wildlife, jaw-dropping sights and breath-taking duels. The game takes place in 11th century Japan during Kutan Khans attempted invasion of Tsushima Island, during the Mongol invasion of Japan. The story follows Jin Sakai, also referred to as the Ghost, as he fights to take back the island. The story is full of twists and drama, cantering on the theme of honour within the samurai. The game is great, and I would go as far to say it’s one of the best games I’ve ever had the privilege of playing.
Far Cry 6.
Far Cry 6 was the only real open world game to release in 2021, it’s a decent Far Cry game, but nothing special compared to the others on this list. It’s Ubisoft’s first-person open world game franchise. It seemed like the effort was there, but the execution just wasn’t much different. I’m a Far Cry fan, but this wasn’t anything special just par for the coerce.
What’s The Best?
For gameplay, it’s between Hollow Knight and Ghost of Tsushima, as neither game has any kind of repetitive gameplay, and both the games have an almost perfect gameplay experience. The sword stances and special moves in Ghost make the moment-to-moment gameplay timeless, the same applies to Hollow Knight. For story, its Red Dead Redemption 2, I could not in good conscience say that anything beats this game’s story in the open world genre. It’s a masterclass in what it does. For popularity and public response, the best is definitely God of War, the public response when the game was announced at E3 was a loud screeching cry of excitement from classic fans, nothing compares to that. For the experience, it’s Shadow of the Colossus Remake, this game is a blast of fun from the past that I’ll never stop loving. For the overall product, it must be Ghost of Tsushima, this has every component of a grand machine and it’s all put together in the perfect puzzle that is this game. No other game is worthy.
All the games within these 10 are great in their own right, some do things that others can’t, and some have perfect components, but in the end of the end, only one can reign supreme as champion of the last five years in open world gaming. That game is Ghost of Tsushima. This has been James Peter Morgan, over and out.
-Red Dead Redemption 2 by Chesnot on Getty Images.
-Death Stranding Image by Bryan Bedder on Getty Images.
-Horizon Zero Dawn Cosplay photo by read Mark Ralston on Getty Images.
-God Of War photo by Christian Petersen on Getty Images.
-Ghost Of Tsushima photo by VES 2021 via Getty Images.
-Sony Conferance Ghost Of Tsushima photo by Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg.
-Lead photo by Alexander Kovalev on Pexels.