Beautiful. Massive. Diverse. Those are the words that stuck with me most from one of Grand Theft Auto 5’s trailers when they had a voice over lady explaining the game… For the partially sighted I guess. Now, six years on, those are the measures I judge all video game sandbox maps by to determine how great they are. Here are my top 5 games that I think best reflect these values – And no, GTA 5 didn’t make the list.

Assassins Creed: Odyssey (2018)

I’ve just passed 100 hours on this game, and I haven’t even touched any of the DLC yet! The game is stunning to look at, from the peaks of its mountains to the loot packed depths of the Aegean Sea, postcard perfect scenery just makes butchering Spartan and Athenian soldiers so much more fun and an intense spectacle to experience. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t spent about an hour slowly wandering around Athens just looking at stuff (and slicing up guards because I’m sadistic and can).

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

I couldn’t leave out Skyrim. Though it is true that most of it can be crudely described as ‘just snowy and bleak’, the swamps outside of Riften and the vast plains surrounding Whiterun lend a true beauty to the map that most gamers will comfortably have sunk over a hundred hours into (around 300 for me). Every cave and town are rich in detail, typical of a Bethesda game, and the depths of the ancient and mysterious Dwemer ruins are clear highlights for me. Though having said that, my favourite part of the map is definitely Blackreach, and I defy you to name a prettier location in that game. I DEFY YOU!

Colour me incredibly excited for Elder Scrolls 6, wherever / whenever that happens!

Special shout out to Markarth for making a city built into a mountain look so much cooler than that already sounds.

Forza Horizon 3 (2016)

The best open world racing game in existence, don’t @ me, I’ll fight you. Australia is the perfect setting for a game of this genre. Following the series excursions through the countryside of France and Italy, and the varied and often rugged terrain of Colorado, Aus lends a welcome change of track (Hurr I’m so clever) to throw the world’s best super cars around. I don’t even need to mention the brilliance of the Hot Wheels expansion, even though I just did.

Side note: Setting Forza Horizon 4 in the United Kingdom was a shite idea, and the map sucks. Again, don’t @ me.

Just Cause 2 (2010)

Playing this game for the first time is one of my fondest video game memories. The map of Panau, especially back in the grey and brown shooter dark age of 2010, was absolutely jaw dropping. Ranging from the frozen lake, sun-baked desert, various archipelagos scattered around and even a collection of picturesque cities, every frame of Just Cause 2 is just gorgeous and I would 100% live there if I could. To be fair, I don’t think I spend much of my time grounded in reality anyway.

Horizon Zero Dawn (2017)

It could be nothing else, this is truly the magnum opus of game design. Crunchy snow. Dense, thick rainforest with sunlight blinking through the canopy of lush green trees. The driest deserts featuring a whole spectrum of colour just in its shades of sand. This masterpiece of a game isn’t only a joy to play, it’s a joy to just stop and look at. To just behold the epic landscape crafted by Guerilla Games, best experienced on Playstation 4 Pro of course.

From the carcass of a felled mighty Thunderjaw or colossal Stormbird, to the flakes of snow drifting down and settling on Aloy’s armour, Horizon Zero Dawn breathes beauty and life into every square inch of its phenomenal map. This is one of the many, many reasons that this game sits comfortably in my top five favourite video games of All. Damn. Time.

Honourable mentions go to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Nier: Automata and Final Fantasy XV.

So there you go, the five games with the best sandbox maps in existence, contained in games you definitely must play. Let me know what great game maps you were most impressed by on Twitter @MaliceVER and follow @RespawningUK if you don’t already.

You should also check out my channel on YouTube, Void Euphoric Records, for all the South-West UK based rap music you could ever need!

Thanks for reading. Peace *gang signs*.

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