Video games transport us to new worlds. We all know that, but some types of game do it much better than others. Open-world games are the ideal way to escape your own four walls for a spell. Scouring the land for secrets, taking on a juicy side quest you were lucky enough to discover, or just traveling around admiring the view, open-world games offer no end of immersive tasks to keep your mind busy. There are some real gems out there, and here are some of the best open-world Switch games.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Of course The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is on this list. It is practically the essence of open-world games. In Skyrim, the world is yours to do with what you wish. Create your character, choose your fighting style, and off you go. It’s close to the epitome of fantasy escapism; your character is just a cipher to do whatever with, and there’s no overwhelming set of systems to get caught up in like in many CRPGs.
Skyrim has a decent story to follow, but why pursue that when you can plunder every corner of Skyrim and take on any number of fascinating side quests? Like The Witcher, Skyrim bucks the RPG system of bland side quests by offering characters and scenarios often more interesting than the main plot itself. Whether you’re dealing with a mad cult or solving a string of grisly murders, you’ll find no end of interesting things to do.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is probably the most predictable on our best open-world Switch games list, but for good reason. Of course, its most outstanding feature is really just existing: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s biggest departure to date with its IP, taking a predictable franchise, turning everything on its head, then giving you the keys to it. This incarnation of Hyrule is basically a character itself, arguably even the main character.
You’ll learn how it works, where it hides its secrets, and how to cooperate with it as you slowly expand your horizons, and that’s really the big joy of Breath of the Wild’s open world. It’s always encouraging you to find that next secret, raid a new enemy camp, or see what treasures lie in store around the next bend.
Dragon Quest Builders 2
Dragon Quest Builders 2 isn’t an open-world game in the phrase’s strictest sense. You’re plunked down onto a series of islands with distinct tasks to complete, but it’s up to you what you do in-between. Each island is entirely open for exploration from the moment you arrive too. Like with Minecraft, you can do whatever you want with the resources you gather as you explore. Want to help a resident build houses and fields to support life? Get started. Want to fill up half the island with toilet stalls? You can do that too.
Like all good open-world games, Dragon Quest Builders 2 rewards your exploration efforts too, but in a different way. Sometimes, you’ll find new recipes for building new stuff or rare materials you can use to build it. The best thing is a good majority of what you can build in Dragon Quest Builders 2 is completely optional. It’s that freedom to shape your experience and leave your custom mark on the land that makes Dragon Quest Builders 2 among the best open-world Switch games. Plus, you can build some pretty wild stuff.
“Open world” usually brings to mind big, epic fantasy stories or games offering nearly unlimited freedom. Then there’s Don’t Starve. You’ll play as Maxwell the mad scientist at first, before unlocking a number of other wacky characters with unique abilities. Whatever your choice, your goal is surviving in a Tim Burton-esque nightmare-scape, full of things that really want you to die. Maps are randomly generated, but they’re completely open-world as well. You can go almost anywhere from the start — assuming you don’t need an invention to make it across the water or access another area.
You might not get to do that, depending on how strong your survival and discovery skills are, and that’s one of the unique things about Don’t Starve as an open-world game. The other unique thing is the tension. A lot of open-world games let your brain switch into idle mode while you get from one point to another. In Don’t Starve, you better pay attention to what’s just off screen if you want to stay alive.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is basically synonymous with open-world games at this point. The Witcher 3’s first area, White Orchard, may be deceptively simple and small, yet even that’s stuffed full of things to do, from finding gear and upgrades to discovering side quests that flesh out the game’s already-strong world-building. And after that, the map opens up in a huge way.
The Witcher 3 is as full and expansive as you want it to be — or not, if you just want quests and resources. It’s not just one of the best open-world Switch games. It’s one of the best open-world games period. If you couldn’t get behind the Switch version’s fuzziness, there’s an update that lets you tweak the graphics options too.
L.A. Noire’s open world is a bit different from others. Unlike in Skyrim and Breath of the Wild, it doesn’t take center stage. Instead, L.A.’s seedy underbelly is a constant presence, the backdrop of the main murder you investigate. It also throws up a number of side quests along the way. These are usually minor crimes you can choose to follow up on. They might not add tremendously to the world-building or narrative like The Witcher’s side quests do, but there’s no better way to hammer home the fact that you’re a lone detective in a big city stuffed with crime.
That makes L.A. Noire stand out as a mystery game even more. Mystery games are usually linear, as L.A. Noire also is. But just exploring the city, seeing the state of society, and realizing the world (and crime) carries on regardless of your specific investigation is something of a novelty. Your quest is important, sure. But unlike in most games, you’re just one piece of a bigger puzzle — a big, gritty, crime-ridden puzzle you’ll never fully have all the pieces to.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen launched last year as an overlooked open-world Switch game. It is a fantasy-driven game with less overwhelming plot than The Witcher, less gray than Skyrim, and more accessibility than Divinity: Original Sin II.
You’ll take control of your character and get to grips with the unique Pawn system in combat, where you create and direct your party members because that’s why they exist. Like most high fantasy worlds, the world of Dragon’s Dogma revolves around a handful of bustling cities. You’ll get all your necessities in these hubs of life and take on any number of quests. From there, it’s off to explore the massive open world. There’s plenty to uncover, more than enough to hit the 100-hour mark.
The magic of open-world games is you can spend however long you want doing whatever you want. Whether you play every game on the list or spend 200 hours delving into the mysteries of just one game, this selection of the best open-world Switch games has plenty to keep you busy for a long, long time. Will you be checking out any of these fantasy worlds, or have we made a grievous omission in our list? Let us know in the comments!