The roots of the open world trend are commonly associated with 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Even though expansive world maps with tons of secrets and side quests were not new to the industry, the fifth entry in The Elder Scrolls franchise had an everlasting impact. To this day it is regarded as one of the best games of all time and, besides The Legend of Zelda, one of the reasons why people got excited about the Nintendo Switch. The HD remaster was not only well received, it also sold well for what at the time was a five-year-old game.
Whenever we think “open world,” huge maps with tons of icons popping up to indicate side quests and secrets come to mind—but the scenario imagined is usually a medieval land, a distant future, or masses of land punctuated by small settlements. As common as they should be, open world games taking place in large cities aren’t as popular as fantasy worlds such as the aforementioned Skyrim. In recent years Ubisoft’s Watch_Dogs franchise, as well as Rockstar’s beloved Grand Theft Auto, proved that there’s still a lot of interest for existing metropolises and current settings. However, most AAA developers still opt to provide players completely new worlds and distant futures, such as Mass Effect: Andromeda and NieR: Automata.
Anyone looking to explore a modern city or town may have trouble finding games besides the most obvious ones. With that in mind, we’ve decided to remind players of five modern open worlds worth checking out—or if you never played any of these games, worth exploring for the first time.
Rockstar is mostly famous for Grand Theft Auto and more recently the Western open-world shooter Red Dead Redemption. In 2006 they released a new IP called Bully, a video game nearly as violent and controversial as GTA where players take control of 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins. Despite what the name led concerned parents and angry politicians to believe, the cult classic has Jimmy fighting off the school bullies instead of being one of them. It has some interesting messages regarding school life and who the real bullies are as well as an interesting open world to explore. Bullworth isn’t a massive town, but it’s well constructed and crawling with collectibles and side activities. Exploring the streets through the eyes of a teenager is a unique experience we rarely have in 3D action games.
Greenvale (Deadly Premonition)
Inspired by the classic TV show Twin Peaks, Japanese detective game Deadly Premonition couldn’t be more appropriate. It features an eccentric FBI agent, mysterious murders that happen when it rains, and bizarre supernatural occurrences. Topping all that is Greenvale, the fictional North American town where the story takes place. Instead of delivering a linear story with consecutive levels, the developers decided to give players the opportunity to explore the town as well as interact with its inhabitants. There is a decent amount of collectibles to be found, but the game’s most interesting aspect is the fact that each NPC has their own schedule. Depending on the time of day and how far into the story the player goes, townies can be found in different places for their own purposes.
Theftropolis (Retro City Rampage)
Following the trend of tribute retro games, 2012’s Retro City Rampage is a parody of old-school Grand Theft Auto. It features an array of weapons (including some curious ones akin to Dead Rising‘s arsenal), vehicles, the ability to customize the playable character (your dreams of wreaking havoc as Jim Sterling or Phil Fish have finally come true), and a city filled with well-hidden collectibles and unaware pedestrians. The controls are tight considering the 2D graphics, so it’s a great alternative to anyone curious about old-school modern open worlds or whose computer and wallet are just not strong enough for 3D graphics.
Europe (Euro Truck Simulator 2)
When it first came out in 2013, Euro Truck Simulator 2 took the PC community by surprise. Hardly anyone was expecting a simulator to be this mechanically deep and polished. Even after the release of American Truck Simulator, the European map has been kept up to date, including a vital update to implement Steam Workshop support. The cities virtual truck drivers get to visit are just big enough to accommodate a few facilities, but the references to their real world counterparts are hard to miss. The game is mostly linear at first, but once it opens up players can freely explore this recreation of Europe. Unlike regular driving, Euro Truck Simulator 2 provides a relaxing experience with some beautiful sceneries.
Hong Kong (Sleeping Dogs)
Open world games which allow players to explore a whole city often have them living in a North American metropolis (or the recreation of one). Few were inspired by locations from other parts of the world, Sleeping Dogs being one such case. The 3D action game, which focuses mostly on hand-to-hand combat instead of gunfights, has an interesting representation of Hong Kong to brag about. Wei Shen returns to his home country as a sort of undercover cop, the same job he’s been doing in the United States. in Hong Kong he must win the trust of the triads in order to help the local police take them down. Shen can acquire a plethora of clothes and vehicles to support his mission, as well as collect several hidden treasures scattered throughout the map. The level of detail put into this game world and how foreign it feels make it one of the most interesting items on this list.
Are you familiar with any of these worlds or would you like to explore them? Have you any interesting stories to share that are related to these games and their maps? Or perhaps you would like gamers to get to know or be reminded of other modern open worlds we didn’t include? Let us know every easter egg and collectible locations in the comments below!