This is a bit of a complicated category because this isn’t simply “Best Open World.” Open worlds certainly qualify — and may have an advantage — but these are the games I enjoy being in the most. “Being in” might be about exploration or how you interact with the world, but it could also be a combination of visual and audio execution, or even worlds with phenomenal backstory. Everything should add up to a fully realized game world. “Most well-realized universe” just isn’t quite as catchy a title.
The world of Fallout 76 isn’t as interesting as previous entries. This is mostly due to the fact that there aren’t characters around to build that lore and personality. Still, it’s cool to see the different environments of Appalachia and listen to the occasional audio diary.
The coolest thing about Gris is how the world changes as you progress in the game. Each area you finish adds new layers to the backdrops and the area designs are surprisingly diverse.
The Banner Saga 3
There is a ton of story going on in The Banner Saga 3, and the sheer volume of names for characters and places can be overwhelming. But this world always felt like one worth saving.
5. Guacamelee 2
The coolest thing that Guacamelee 2 does is open up the universe of the first game to include, well, other universes. The primary one you play through is a slightly altered reality from the original. But what sets it apart is the ability to switch back and forth to a World of the Dead world, where everyone is a skeleton and there’s a slight shimmer to the background.
Guacamelee 2 didn’t make the honorable mentions list for Best Looking because I had to have a cutoff somewhere, but the difference between the “regular” reality and the World of the Dead is noticeable and super cool. There’s also a nice personality to this setting that makes it fun to be in, which is certainly a good reason to get it on the list.
4. Pokemon Let’s Go
Including remade old games on these lists is always tough because in many ways they often have an unfair advantage. This is especially true for Pokemon Let’s Go, as it’s a remake of one of my favorite games of all time. Still, the look of the game is completely new and is a perfect excuse to enjoy the world of Kanto all over again.
I don’t remember who it was so I can’t give credit, but I read a tweet that effectively said Pokemon Let’s Go showcases Kanto in a way that only my imagination could do back in the Gameboy days. I think that’s an excellent perspective. I’ve had in my mind all the ways things would look if Pokemon were “real,” and Pokemon Let’s Go lets me live in as realistic a version of Kanto as we’ve seen so far.
3. Red Dead Redemption 2
Again, I can only fairly speak to the parts of Red Dead Redemption 2 that I played, but there’s plenty in the opening hours to make this game a strong contender on this list. But it’s worth saying that it could have won had I played through the whole thing.
I can’t think of another game where the world has felt so lived in. NPCs you come across truly feel like they’re going about, living their lives. It’s like if Skyrim had come out this year and had all the same technologies afforded to it. But even beyond what Bethesda has been able to do, there’s an attention to detail that permeates Rockstar games that only comes from incredible talent and near infinite resources.
2. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Again, I have to knock Assassin’s Creed Odyssey ever so slightly for being similar to Origins, but there’s enough new stuff here that it does stand apart in the context of world-building. Odyssey is a huge game with tons of variety in environments. Not all of them are as unique as in Origins, but again, Odyssey doesn’t have to compete against that game in 2018.
Despite having done it dozens of times over the years, standing atop a building or monument or mountaintop tree and letting the world “sync” as your eagle flies around you is still absolutely breathtaking. I know there are hundreds of people at Ubisoft that work on the Assassin’s Creed games, but I still don’t know how they create a world this vast in just a few years of development.
1. God of War
To iterate on my comments in Best Looking, the visual variety of the realms in God of War is truly astounding. Going into the game, I did not at all expect to be moving between worlds throughout the story. Obviously, I was pretty blown away by the final presentation.
Where the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 feels lived in, the world of God of War feels ancient, as if even Kratos’ world-altering story is just a blip on the experiences of this setting. That isn’t an easy feeling to create, and Sony Santa Monica nails it. I can say with certainty that this isn’t a place where I’d actually like to live, but boy was it a great place to spend 20 hours in a video game.
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