There’s no shortage of amazing open-world PC games these days that offer different takes on playing in a virtual sandbox. Not only that, but the sandbox itself can vary greatly, from a post-apocalyptic countryside to the depths of the ocean and everything in between.
Beyond the locations, open-world games give us the opportunity to choose our own destiny as we explore off-the-beaten-path worlds teeming with side quests and little discoveries.
Sure, there are quests, storylines, and often RPG-like elements, but many of these provide an opportunity to choose your own adventure. Play by the book or go off on your own, it’s all up to you.
To celebrate this ever-growing genre of gaming, here’s a list of the best open-world PC games you can play right now.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by CD Projekt RED
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t just one of the best open-world games; it’s one of the best games period. While the previous two installments of the series received modest acclaim, the third blew its predecessors out of the water when it arrived in 2015.
You'll play as the game title’s namesake, a Witcher named Geralt, who’s on a mission to find his missing adoptive daughter in a war-torn medieval landscape.
The landscape is absolutely breathtaking, and you’ll traverse it by walking, sailing, or riding a horse through a variety of locales. These include the war-afflicted Novigrad and Velen, and the icy seas around Skellige in the North.
Geralt takes on his enemies with a combination of swords, crossbows, and bombs. While the combat can get challenging at times, it proves quite rewarding when you finally take down a high-level foe. Also, again, the areas in which you battle are just jaw-dropping.
Of course, it all comes back to your search for your adoptive daughter, who happens to be a child of prophecy. She has the potential to either destroy or save the world so yes, the stakes are high.
But the real sign of a truly killer open-world title? The Witcher 3 is difficult to put down thanks to its gripping narrative and hundreds of side quests. You’ll want to explore every corner, from the Skellige Islands to Novigrad.
2. Forza Horizon 3 by Playground Games
Racing games don’t usually fit the bill for open-world exploration, but the Forza series has long delivered high-speed fun that takes you off the dedicated race track.
The third installment in the Forza Horizon series focuses on the big Horizon Festival. In the previous games, you played as a driver hoping to make your big debut at the race. Now, you're more of a seasoned pro, running the show.
Don't worry, though, because this isn't an exercise in the logistics of running a big event. You'll compete in contests, cruise around the picturesque Australian countryside, and build a dazzling fleet filled with luxury vehicles and Jeeps.
The open world takes you all over the continent, from the forests and cities to the barren outback landscapes. All the while, your automated assistant, A.N.N.A., will offer suggestions for where to go next and point out racing challenges (Showdowns, Bucket Lists, and others) on the map.
You can activate A.N.N.A. with your keyboard or controller, but chatting with her using a gaming headset with your actual voice takes the experience to a higher level. Just ask her to map the best route for your next Showdown and hit the road.
The Showdowns don't disappoint, either, and they play out like scenes from The Fast and the Furious movies, complete with trains and helicopters. The Bucket List challenges, on the other hand, are time-trials or air-jump contests.
3. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain by Kojima Productions
In the fifth Metal Gear Solid installment, we catch up with Venom Snake and his old buddy/rival, Ocelot, who saved him from an attack when he came out of a coma.
Snake learns that his former partner is in Afghanistan and is being held captive by Soviet forces. Our hero is then tasked with saving his partner, in something of an effort to prove that he’s alive and he’s still got it.
As Snake begins his mission, you’re taken to the sprawling landscapes of Afghanistan and Angola. It can be a bit depressing at times - it’s a war-ravaged, bleached-out desert after all - but it remains thrilling.
During your time there, you can roll through the environment on foot, horseback, and with a variety of ground vehicles. You also have the option to use lethal or non-lethal weapons, and stealth remains the name of the game in The Phantom Pain.
The gameplay can be challenging at times, like in most stealth-focused titles, but MGSV is a real treat to play. The controls are more manageable than previous Metal Gear Solid games, and melee combat, running, shooting, sneaking, and driving are done with ease and precision.
Beyond the main mission, you’ll also work on building your base by creating new facilities, taking prisoners, and stockpiling resources. What makes the game particularly exciting is how it learns your behaviors. If you develop a series of go-to moves, your enemies will adapt. For example, if you rely on headshots for your kills, enemies start investing in helmets.
Metal Gear Solid V may not have the epic boss battles of previous installments or the long, dramatic, and sometimes bizarre cutscenes (thankfully), but the open world, challenging gameplay, and updates on the franchise formula make it a modern classic.
4. Grand Theft Auto V by Rockstar Games
Since the third game in the series,Grand Theft Auto has grown into a platform best served for messing around in an open world filled with crime and mayhem. And in GTAV, you're dropped into a version of Los Angeles that’s sprawling with varied environments and tons of character.
Run, fly, and drive through the city while completing the 30-plus-hour campaign with three incredibly unique protagonists. Or, you can take some time off to do what you want. Go on a rampage, steal some sweet rides, or enjoy some self-care by hitting the tennis courts or the local yoga studio.
Of course, the real fun comes in seeing what you can get away with before an epic police chase ensues. How many people can you take out and how many cars can you steal before the 5-star wanted level catches up with you?
While GTA V hit shelves back in 2013, its online communities (both multiplayer and mod creation) are thriving. And if you do dip into some mods, you’re granted some crazy abilities like playing as Iron Man or even flying around as a Game of Thrones dragon.
It’s really become a hub for those who like to create and tinker, along with cause a citywide riot. Also, the included Rockstar Editor gives you the opportunity to film your gameplay and edit the footage into your own short film.
5. Fallout: New Vegas by Obsidian Entertainment
While Fallout 4 is the most recent installment in the post-apocalyptic franchise, Fallout: New Vegas nearly perfected the choose-your-own-adventure gameplay. It also retains the weirdness and whimsy that makes these games special.
It’s almost like a Fallout 3.5, and it takes place in 2281 Las Vegas following the Great War between the U.S. and China. In this version of the future, Canada has been annexed into the U.S., the UN doesn’t exist, and you can get free electricity from the Hoover Dam if you can harness its power.
In New Vegas, you play as an anonymous courier who was left for dead. You roam around the desert landscapes of Arizona, California, and Nevada hunting down your would-be killer and taking on side quests.
Within the open-world desert wasteland, you’ll explore underground shelters, chat with folks in your community, and battle against mutant animals and monsters you encounter along the way.
The combat system, VATS, can be difficult to use at first. It’s an active-pause combat system that slows down time when you’re in the midst of a fight. This allows you to inflict specific injuries and ramp up the gore factor.
You have the option to make the game more of a survival-centric experience, too, as part of hardcore mode. In this mode, food, sleep, and water are essential - and going without them means death.
Despite the bleak atmosphere, there’s some pure fun to be had as well. You can gamble in the city of New Vegas by playing the slot machines and roulette and blackjack tables. Just don’t win too much; it may bring you some unwanted attention.
6. Subnautica by Unknown Worlds
The depths of our own oceans may as well be another planet, never mind the oceans on an alien one. And in Subnautica, one of the best open-world games of the past year, you head beneath the seas on a distant world.
This game is an underwater survival adventure made for single-players only. The premise is quite simple: you crashed into a new planet, and you’re the sole survivor among your crew. You also have no food or resources. As a result, much of Subnautica’s gameplay focuses on gathering materials and learning how to survive for more extended periods at a time.
While there is a main storyline, you can make progress in it at your own pace as you eventually discover recordings and evidence of past survivors. If you’d rather just explore and not worry about that, you can elect to play in “creative mode.” This lets you explore the vast ocean and, you know, not worry about running out of oxygen.
Aimless exploration isn’t everyone’s thing, of course, but it’s nice to have the balance of poking around however you see fit combined with the continuing narrative.
Are you ready to play?
Between exploring seascapes and fighting monsters in foreign lands, there’s no shortage of ways to escape the daily grind with these incredible open-world games.
You’ll need to make sure your equipment is up-to-date though, so you can play not just these titles but those coming out in the coming months.
If you’re looking for a gaming system that can keep up and keep you prepared for the future, check out our HP OMEN gaming computers, including customizable desktops to create the ultimate game room, and powerful laptops that are perfect for gaming on-the-go.
About the Author: Dan Marzullo is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dan produces strategic marketing content for startups, digital agencies, and established brands. His work can be found in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, YFS Magazine, and many other media outlets.
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