Open World video games
September 3, 2008 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Are there any good 'open world' video games that don't involve stealing cars and beating up prostitutes?

I really enjoy nonlinear, open-ended video games where you're (mostly) left to explore the world on your own. Are there any good games in this genre besides the GTA ones? I have a PC, a Wii, a PS2, and a PS3.
posted by logic vs love to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I have to admit a fondness for the Spyro series. It's sort of open to some extent, but it does have somewhat linear gameplay. I'll be watching this as well.
posted by piedmont at 11:19 AM on September 3, 2008

You may want to check out Mass Effect for PC. I played it for hours upon hours on the Xbox 360. Its repeatable, each play through is different, lots of side missions and stories to pursue.
posted by wavering at 11:19 AM on September 3, 2008

For PC, if you don't mind fantasy CRPG's, I'd recommend any of the main Elderscrolls games. Namely, TES III:Morrowind and TES IV: Oblivion. They are about as open ended as you can get and they're also extensible with tons of user created mods. Lord knows how many hours I've put into Morrowind over the years and I still haven't even scratched the surface of doing and seeing everything in every way that I may want.
posted by cimbrog at 11:21 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

...Hit submit to early...You may want to check out Assassin's Creed as well. Very open and interactive, lots of stuff you can do, but don't need to do. Just don't play it if you have vertigo. The first few jumps from way up high could get to you.
posted by wavering at 11:22 AM on September 3, 2008

I was going to suggest Oblivion as well. It's definitely swords and sorcery, but it's fantastic. The upcoming Fallout 3 is made by the same studio (Bethesda) and will likely have a very similar open world style.
posted by Nelsormensch at 11:23 AM on September 3, 2008

Morrowind is fun, and I've heard good things about its sequel, Oblivion.

On preview: Too slow, but I have links...
posted by Hermes32 at 11:23 AM on September 3, 2008

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a fantasy RPG in a huge open world with many side quests. It's available for PC and PS3.
posted by TheSlate at 11:25 AM on September 3, 2008

If you don't mind going old school, the Starflight and Star Control games offer huge open universes as well.
posted by TheSlate at 11:29 AM on September 3, 2008

The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion sounds like the perfect choice for you. It's fantasy, so no real world sandbox, but it's a vast open world with lots to discover. You can play how you want. You don't even have to touch the main quest, you can just travel around, doing any of the many quests you choose to. Mostly you serve as a force of good, although there are theivery and assassin questlines too.

Or you can just putter about and make your way through the world as you choose, someone's even started a blog doing just that. It's on PC and PS3, get the Game of the Year edition for all the bonus content that's been released. Whether you get PC or PS3 version is up to you, PS3 is guaranteed to run smoothly, while on the PC you can probably get better graphics and access to mods people have made.

Also, I've recently been replaying Bully. It's basically GTA crappy private school. It's violent, but more of the wedgie/slingshot variety than the mass murder of Grand Theft Auto. It's out on PS2 and Wii, I think the Wii has a little extra content, not sure how the graphics stack up as I've only played PS2.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:29 AM on September 3, 2008

Fable, it's the shiznit. If you don't mind paying a monthly fee World of Warcraft is pretty fun, a little too fun actually. I had to force myself to quit playing after 2 months, it was taking over my life. Ninja Gaiden is pretty awesome, probably a little more linear than the games above but still awesome. Oh, just came to mind, Spider Man 2 and 3 are freaking awesome. They're set up just like GTA except you're a hero and you can freaking websling, seriously awesome.
posted by BrnP84 at 11:31 AM on September 3, 2008

I first saw Spore in a demo in 2005. It is FINALLY coming out. Here's hoping it's as great as promised.
posted by nushustu at 11:32 AM on September 3, 2008

The Gothic series is kind of like this, or for space exploration instead of fantasy, Space Crusaders II (good game, bad name) and the X series are both pretty awesome.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:33 AM on September 3, 2008

Some in outer space (some 3-d pilot sim, some top-down 2-d, and with varying degrees of possible linearity):

Escape Velocity
Wing Commander Privateer
Independence War 2
Space Rangers (bad name, pretty good game)

On the water, which is like weaksauce space for species too incompetent to get many members into real space, there's Pirates and I believe some others.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:34 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Skate's world is massive. I've been playing for months and am still finding new areas. Also give Burnout Paradise a look-it features a huge open world, tons of secrets, nonlinear gameplay. A huge plus for Burnout is that the developers keep adding new features to the game via free DLC.
posted by neilkod at 11:35 AM on September 3, 2008

And if you had access to a 360, Crackdown is loads of fun. Prostitutes, no - stealing cars, yes. Now where is that last agility orb???
posted by neilkod at 11:37 AM on September 3, 2008

Seconding Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Both are fairly open. Oblivion is perhaps the defining wide-open adventure/rpg game of the decade. Mass Effect suffers greatly from some painful repetitiveness when you go off on all the collecting quests... but otherwise is a beautifully crafted game.

On a whim I started playing this game Dracula III: The Path of the Dragon, which is a point and click adventure game in the classical sense (Sierra-style) but makes use of a revolutionary 360 degree - so although it's not truly wide open, it feels that way because you can look all around you seamlessly. It's sort of period piece, you play a priest, it works like a piece of horror fiction.

I have a love-hate relationship with Assassin's Creed. I found the game play enjoyable, but the interface incredibly annoying. We're talking save-points and several minutes and multiple interactions to simply quit the damn game. Very annoying.
posted by wfrgms at 11:39 AM on September 3, 2008

Oh, I'll The Witcher to the list also. Total sleeper RPG, fairly open in some spots.

Avoid any and all Neverwinter Nights 2 and it's add-ons at all costs. That sequel did for NWN1 what the Matrix 2 did for the first. Awful, buggy, infuriating. If I were a lawyer I would build a class action suit around it... bleh.
posted by wfrgms at 11:42 AM on September 3, 2008

Sounds like you're looking for an MMORPG. World of Warcraft is the obvious popular choice, but there are plenty out there.
posted by skallagrim at 11:43 AM on September 3, 2008

Bully is good, but it may be too mission based for your liking.
posted by twine42 at 11:47 AM on September 3, 2008

If you ignore the whole "killing the colossi" aspect of the game, Shadow of the Colossus is an excellent horse-riding and fruit-picking simulator. There's a number of places in the game that you have literally no reason to visit other than sightseeing.

As for your original question, your requirements may involve a bit of hyperbole, but I can't recall a single instance in GTA: San Andreas (other versions may be different) where the game requires you commit violence against a woman, prostitute or no, in order to advance. That said, no matter how you play the game, it is still pretty inherently violent so I understand your aversion to it.
posted by LionIndex at 11:48 AM on September 3, 2008

The Simpsons Hit & Run is a fun, goofy GTA knockoff that is a lot of fun and has voice acting by the original cast. You should be able to pick it up cheap used for PS2.
posted by mattholomew at 11:54 AM on September 3, 2008

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl or its upcoming prequel is very open ended and non-linear if you like survival horror and want challenging gameplay. Very realistic ballistics engine means you can't just wave a gun around and clean up bad guys, but have to pick your way around cover and use gun sights and scopes to engage enemies. Closing with an enemy is usually not an option, since you're very fragile to accurate fire. Level design is impressive, even grittier and gloomier than Half Life 2, and the atmospherics are intense. You don't find night-vision goggles until later, but the sun sets/rises in game time so you'll spend a night or two effectively blind except for lightening flashes, or have an underground firefight where you're just responding to muzzle flashes. It's immersive and scary and hard and demands acute situational awareness because your flanks will not be covered by linear level design or scripted fights.

Anyway, that's my bit. Assassin's Creed is fun and easy and repetitive. Oblivion is fun and touristy and has a terrible combat system. I loved both games, and non-coincidentally, they also let you gallop around on horses. I posit that this feature makes games awesome.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:55 AM on September 3, 2008

A few comments on other mentioned games... I found Assassin's Creed to be fun in theory, but very repetitive very quickly. I also didn't understand the scifi wrapping they put it in. You're a guy in some futuristic lab recalling the activities of your ancestor. Why can't they just set the game back then without the annoying futuristic set up.

Simpsons Hit and Run is an excellent game, but it's VERY driving based. Especially in the later stages of the game, you need to perform near flawlessly to pass the missions.

I wanted desperately to like S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but it was just too hard. I loved the open world, but I hated having to take out dozens of soldiers every time I crested a hill. There's a sequel (prequel?) out in a few weeks that may fix this, but I think I've heard it's actually harder.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2008

I may be coming completely out of left field here but have you considered the microsoft flight simulator? if exploring the world is your kind of thing this is very likely up your alley. if airplanes interest you as well. if they don't ... there isn't much else to do but flying around.
posted by krautland at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2008

Mount and Blade is a pretty neat open-ended house combat/rpg game.
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:42 PM on September 3, 2008

It's old, and you'd have to spend $30 for a used dreamcast in order to play it, but I really think that Shenmue right be right up your alley. I love this kind of game, too--unfortunately, there's something insanely real about it, in that you can easily spend a lot of your time playing video games within the game or (worse) going to work.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:44 PM on September 3, 2008

Destroy All Humans is a GTA3 inspired game set in little-grey-men-and-flying-saucers conservative-1950s. Some of the humour is pretty juvenile, but some of it is good. I think GTA4 is the better game though.

Also, you might find "sandbox game" to be a useful search term - it's the usual name these days for this open-world genre, referring to sandbox gameplay, ie. here - have a sandbox with some toys and tools - now go make your own fun.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:45 PM on September 3, 2008

I really enjoy nonlinear, open-ended video games where you're (mostly) left to explore the world on your own.

If the game denies you options such as violence or vice, then it's hardly open-ended. However, there are games which are almost entirely about world exploration rather than character interaction, thus allowing for open-ended play in the world without violence. Check out URU: Ages Beyond Myst. There is a free demo for PC.
(The game also expands to a sort of MMPORG exploration game, but I think playing it in the regular single player experience is more what you're after)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:55 PM on September 3, 2008

Probably totally unlike anything else you have ever played, but check out nethack - it's a classic, and seriously addictive. World of Warcraft, suggested above, inherited a lot from this genre via Diablo II.
posted by ghost of a past number at 1:56 PM on September 3, 2008

Dead Rising: Chop 'Til You Drop is coming out for Wii. Unfortunately, it may be nowhere near as cool as the XBox 360 version. The Wii can only handle 100 zombies at a time.
posted by spamguy at 2:06 PM on September 3, 2008

Mercenaries 2 is getting *decent* reviews. It features an open sandbox map of an entire South American country. You can steal and blow up whatever you want, and I don't believe there are prostitutes (depending on your feelings about the mercenary trade.)
posted by Doctor Suarez at 2:36 PM on September 3, 2008

Knytt and Knytt Stories. These are in a completely different style from the other games mentioned in this thread (i.e., indie lofi platformer), but they give an incredible impression of vastness and are focused on exploration. Plus: no prostitutes or car theft to be found. (I don't even think Knytt has a weapon...)
posted by aparrish at 3:39 PM on September 3, 2008

Seconding Spiderman 2 for any last generation console (Gamecube, XBox, PS2). One of my favorite games of all-time, it's so open-ended. It is event-driven, but you can take your sweet time, and generally just explore a very seamless NYC. It's a huge city, and webslinging is... awesome.
posted by Precision at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2008

I saw fallout 3 mentioned above, but not the first 2: Fallout and Fallout 2 are both very open world games.

If you enjoy either of them, be sure to look at Wasteland, which is the spiritual predecessor to the series. Commodore 64 - era graphics.
posted by Four Flavors at 3:40 PM on September 4, 2008

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