There are certain games that help to define the very era of gaming that we live in. For now, those experiences seem to be steeped in the “open world.” These games provide vast landscapes in which we can explore, wreak havoc, or play the hero; it’s a sense of ultimate freedom in an environment that has very few borders, and very few instructions for what players “should do.” The Elder Scrolls series has been focused on the open-world experience since the third game in the series, Morrowind. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim seemed to perfect this art, delivering a game that was the pinnacle of open world experiences. Because it’s made such a strong impression for so many gamers, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best games like Skyrim that you can find for the Xbox One and PS4 in 2017.
If you’re looking for more, great open world experiences, then look no further! The games on our list of recommendations will tickle that Skyrim itch like nothing out there, and might just win you over to some new franchises, as well.
One of the primary things that more advanced gaming tech has given us is freedom. Assets that load faster, as well as higher graphics fidelity across the board, has opened up wide-ranging vistas and compelling, explorable worlds; experiences that were once almost entirely limited to PC gamers, who always had better hardware suited to the task. Now, open-world games are everywhere. Not all of them grant as much freedom to players as Skyrim—some still focus primarily on narrative and storytelling—but the concept has taken hold firmly, and doesn’t look to be letting go anytime soon.
The PS4 and the Xbox One aren’t the only systems getting in on the open-world trend, either. Though we’re primarily limited our list to those two consoles, another game that’s nearing release is actually a major title from Nintendo. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (featured below) is going to be the series’ first open-world adventure, and it’s debuting on Nintendo’s new console, the Switch, in March.
A World Worth Exploring
What’s so compelling about open-world gameplay? The answer to this question actually has multiple layers; it’s more complex than you’d think. If you imagine each open-world game on our list as a response to this question, you’d notice that they’re all mostly trying to answer it in very different ways.
For games like Skyrim, the open-world is at the heart of the game’s experience. Your journey is meant to be a malleable one, wherein your character can grow in any way that you see fit, and you can affect the world in realistic ways. Killing certain other characters might block off future avenues of trade and alliance, for example. Exploring too dangerous of an area too early might be a punishing experience…or it might just be the challenge that you need. The choice is always yours, and that choice is at the crux of the experience. The open-world is, essentially, a canvas for the gamer’s paintbrush.
Others use it as a medium for storytelling. Sometimes, a meandering story can be kept on its necessary rails, while still giving players the chance to act how they want in the wider world around them. Many of the games we feature below do just this!
10 Best Open-World Games in 2017
Let’s be clear—open-world games are a trend, right now, and the 10 that we’re talking about here are by no means the only games out there. You’ll find dozens more if you only look, and if you’re willing to dip into previous console generations, you’ll come upon even more.
However, if you played Skyrim, loved it, and want more, these are the games that deserve your attention right now.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
This is the latest in a long-ranging series from legendary game developer Bioware. The Dragon Age franchise has always been compelling, with a precedence placed on great stories, fantastical environments, and memorable characters. If you’re looking for something with a bit more narrative than Skyrim had to offer, you’ll love this game.
You’ll benefit from having played previous games in the series, but it isn’t necessary; Inquisition does a good enough job of filling in the gaps that you can leap right in. You’ll form a diverse party full of interesting people, many of whom are sometimes at odds with each other, and undertake a massive quest. Recruit to build your Inquisition, and prepare to root out and combat a demonic force that threatens the fabric of reality itself. There’s action, adventure, humor, romance, and just about everything that you’d expect from a great fantasy novel at play, here.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Looking for a darker tale? The Witcher is the series you should turn to, then. This world has always been a bleaker one, but that’s not to say it isn’t without its humor. The primary protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, is a notorious slayer of legendary monsters, a man who has sacrificed much in exchange for the skills and power necessary for doing so.
But he’s not exactly your typical video game protagonist. He’s a fighter, a mercenary, a lover, and if you play your cards right, an exceptional Gwent player (seriously, just look it up.) It’s a bloody, violent story, and if you’re sensitive to nudity, sex, or intense action, it won’t be your cup of tea. But if you want something a bit more life-like in your gaming, set your sights here.
Final Fantasy XV
Coming in at the tail-end of 2016, Final Fantasy XV is a game that took the world by storm. It’s been long-awaited by a loyal fanbase, who at times questioned whether they’d even see this game. But it’s out, it’s great, and if you enjoy open world experiences, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.
It’s not terribly similar to Skyrim, truth be told. There’s a story at the heart of this game, and at times, that story demands that you quit the open-world exploration and enjoy a more “on rails” experience. But the characters are some of the most endearing we’ve seen in years, and the bond that they form—these four men on a road trip to save a kingdom—will tug at your heartstrings, and probably have you crying before the end.
If you enjoy Skyrim, you’re going to enjoy Fallout 4. Why? Because the control scheme is almost identical, and you’ll be using many of the same strategies and ideas to explore the game world. This is probably because the revamped Fallout series is also helmed by Bethesda, the very same studio that gives us the Elder Scrolls franchise.
Instead of a fantasy landscape, however, Fallout 4 is set in the post-apocalyptic United States. It’s wild and absurd quite often—those with a sense of morbid humor will get the most joy from it—but the open-world elements are some of the best we’ve ever seen. You can help or decimate three prominent factions of people that have emerged since the nuclear end to civilization. You can also craft a full gamut of weapons and addition to your mechanical power-armor. You even get a canine friend who will accompany you through the game, named “Dogmeat.”
The downloadable content that’s been released over the past several months is good, too, and has only helped to flesh out and expand one of the better games of this console generation.
No Man’s Sky
First off, I would not recommend buying No Man’s Sky when it isn’t on sale. Why? Because marketing issues plagued this game’s early release, and it led many players to assume that the game was something entirely different than it truly was. It’s not an epic space opera, comparing to the scale of something like Mass Effect (discussed below, by the way.) It’s an open-world, sandbox adventure that’s more relaxing than it is thrilling.
In No Man’s Sky, you’re an explorer. You start with a ship, a tiny sliver of supplies, and are set loose to explore an impossibly large galaxy. There’s no overarching story, other than the narrative that might be built by your imagination, based on your own experience. You can build bases, scavenge in hostile environments, and eventually buy massive freighter ships, to start building your own fleet. Why? Because you can. And because there’s so much to do and see, this can be a great game for those times when you need to switch your mind off, and just explore.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
This is another title that’s difficult to compare to Skyrim. That said, it’s one of the best open-world experiences that you’re going to find on the Xbox One and PS4, so it’s worthy of a spot on this list. Metal Gear Solid V is the end of a legacy; the final step in a game series that’s stretched from the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
Your character, Big Boss, is on a mission of revenge and purpose. You’re tasked with dismantling a shadowy terrorist group, shrouded in mystery, while simultaneously building an army that operates on its own principles, without any form of national oversight. There are quite a few politics involved, here, but in truth, they only help to make the story more compelling.
Dark Souls III
The Dark Souls series is a tough recommendation when we’re comparing it to Skyrim. Really, the only connective elements between the franchises are the dark, gothic veins that run through both of them. However, I’m willing to hedge my bets and say that you’d enjoy Dark Souls III. The only word of caution—you’d better be ready to die. A lot.
The Souls series has always been about throwing the most intense, extreme challenges possible against players. You can wield a wide variety of weapons and magic, but what is truly necessary is mastery. The boss monsters that you’ll face down are enormous challenges, and one wrong step against any of them can mean “game over.” On top of that, though, the world that you’ll explore is extremely compelling, full of contextual narrative elements that come together to tell a dark, albeit engrossing, tale.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This game hasn’t been released yet. Does that mean it doesn’t deserve a spot on this list? Hell no. It’s also not going to ever see the light of day on the PS4 or Xbox One, so if that’s a turn off for you, move right along.
However, if you’re getting excited about the upcoming Nintendo Switch (or if you already own a Wii U) then you’re primed and ready to enjoy the most recent episode of the legendary Zelda franchise. It’s going full open-world, in ways that we’ve never seen before. Link—one of the longstanding protagonists of the series—can go anywhere, do anything, and tackle the world in any order that you want to. Watch the trailer if you need any extra convincing because this is going to be one of the best new gaming experiences that you’ll find during 2017.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Sci-fi fans cannot be left in the dust, oh no. The Mass Effect series hasn’t always been “open-world” in the strictest sense, but it’s approached those boundaries enough to be included on this list. And the latest in the franchise is shaping up to be a truly excellent game, that we’re going to see later in 2017.
Instead of saving a known galaxy, this time, you’ll be exploring an entirely new one. The paradigm has shifted from “defender” to “pioneer,” and though we haven’t had a chance to play the game, yet, that theme looks to be spread throughout the entire experience quite thoroughly.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Here’s another game that we’ll be hearing a lot about in a very short amount of time. It releases at the end of February, and even though consumers haven’t put their hands on it, Horizon: Zero Dawn already has people whispering “game of the year.”
It’s hard not to be excited about it. You play as Aloy, a woman from one of many various tribes of people inhabiting a familiar-looking, yet wild and foreign landscape. Most animals are gone; they’ve been replaced by hulking, robotic monstrosities, machines designed in the likeness of beasts and dinosaurs. There’s a mystery at the heart of this game, one that’s closely tied to Aloy’s own origins. We don’t know many of Horizon’s secrets, yet, because it hasn’t been released. But if you like open worlds, and want to look forward to something original, this is the hype train that you’ll want to board.
Whew! There you have; 10 titles for the PS4 and Xbox One that you’re likely to enjoy if you were a fan of Skyrim. If you have any questions about our selection (or some recommendations of your own) let us know in the comments, below!