Upcoming open-world games that will blow you away

First, there were levels: an 8-bit sprite-character would jump and shoot his way from the start point until the end, briefly celebrate his victory, and then begin again in a new level. Then came non-linear campaigns: the player could choose which missions to go on, and in what order. But at last, a revolution in game design emerged that did away with starts and ends altogether, that broke the medium out of the influence of traditional, linear media and into its own new style. This design could use the unique elements of video gaming to generate a brand-new experience, something other art forms had never been able to accomplish: to let the player travel to an exotic land, and explore wherever they wanted, however they wanted.

Such games are referred to as "open-world," where the character is simply placed in the middle of some enormous space and is free to roam at will. First tested in simple text adventure games, they have now grown to be some of the biggest and best-selling titles in the entire industry. Multiplayer open-world games like World of Warcraft rank among the highest-grossing entertainment products in history. Meanwhile, a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim can remain relevant years after its initial release, as it's ported from one system to another. What are the next massive megahits you have to know about? Here are upcoming open-world games that will blow you away.

Ride into the West with Red Dead Redemption 2

When Red Dead Revolver released in 2004, it didn't make a huge splash. An unfocused, linear revenge story set in the Wild West, it did not live up to the reputation set by its publisher, Rockstar, famous for its Grand Theft Auto series. But its sequel, Red Dead Redemption, flipped the script by becoming one of the biggest, richest, and most complete open-world experiences ever made. Suddenly, the Wild West sprang to life in a way that had simply never been possible since, well, the Wild West. Whether you wanted shootouts, saloon brawls, or a friendly game of poker, all of it was at your fingertips.

So it's no surprise that Red Dead Redemption 2 is already one of the most-anticipated games of any kind for 2018. While little is known about the specifics, the trailers show that this time around, players will take the role of an outlaw tearing his way through the West. Critically, the game appears to be leaving the classic dust-and-tumbleweeds look behind: instead, the player will visit geographies as diverse as snowy mountain peaks to alligator-infested swamps.

There will be an online component as well, but here, too, details are scant. One rumor suggests that it will involve a battle royale mode, in which a large group of players must battle each other until only one is left standing. With such a diversity of environments to choose from, this could potentially be a very exciting addition to Rockstar's already stellar multiplayer record.

See America in a whole new way in Far Cry 5

For years now, the Far Cry franchise has been one of the defining open-world series. Renowned for their zany, over-the-top premises and inventive mechanical flourishes, the games have consistently challenged conventions and stolen the spotlight from their erstwhile competitors. The next entry will be Far Cry 5, and it's already making waves. Far Cry games have always gone to distant, dangerous locations, but the fifth title will be set somewhere a little bit more familiar: America. Players will be trapped in a rural area overrun by hard-right fanatics, in a story unafraid to tackle the current political climate.

The state of Montana lends itself nicely to the open-world format. Featuring mountains, forests, open plains, small cities, and even smaller towns, Big Sky Country gives developer Ubisoft Montreal a lot to play with. Ubisoft also wants to make this world feel more organic than game-y: there will be no towers to climb that miraculously give you information this time around. Rather, players will have to talk with local citizens and glean information the old-fashioned way, which is a new-fashioned idea for the open-world experience.

That's not to say the series' trademark kookiness won't be there. And if you need any help in that regard, the game will feature a co-op mode, so that you and a friend can wreak unholy havoc on just about everything. Plus, there will be a character creator, too, which opens up the potential for some player-made wackiness. Far Cry 5 can be serious, provocative, fascinating, or downright silly: it's all up to you. As an open-world game should be.

Don't let your ship get stolen on the Sea of Thieves

Many open-world games are deadly serious affairs: brooding post-apocalyptic cities, demon-infested hellscapes, or run-down cyberpunk dystopias. Then there's Sea of Thieves, which weaves joy and wonder into every single corner of its brightly-lit world. Based on the simple notion that pirates are fun, Sea of Thieves is a lighthearted adventure game intended to let you and your friends feel like you're exploring the high seas and the uncharted islands within it. Is there danger? Sure! The kind that will make you laugh.

In the role of a pirate, you'll go through the actual procedures of sailing a ship: trimming the sails, turning the wheel, and navigating by the map. And of course, you can fire off the cannons, too. But no one can do this alone: the game is fully intended to be a multiplayer experience. You can play solo, but you'll be dealing with all of the boat with none of the crew. Still, even alone you can traverse the high seas and discover new islands. Just make sure nobody steals your ship while you're ashore!

Developer Rare has always been one of the industry's most innovative shops, creating everything from the classic GoldenEye to the lovable Banjo-Kazooie. Sea of Thieves promises that same level of creativity and plain old fun, whether with or without friends logged in. Besides: who doesn't want to be a pirate?

Sling around Manhattan as Spider-Man

As one of Marvel's most iconic characters, Spider-Man has always deserved to have a great game built around him. With his trademark agility and web-slinging prowess, he's also a natural fit for an open-world environment. And while most open-world games are concerned with exploring vast wildernesses, the man-made canyons of New York City are more than capable of providing players with an endless variety of locations to visit. So it was with great joy that Sony announced that Insomniac Games was making a new Spider-Man game for the PlayStation 4.

Details about the game are being kept under tight wraps, but development is proceeding well and the game is expected in 2018. It's been confirmed that the game is not connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nor any specific comic version of the character. It will star the original hero, Peter Parker, although the trailer indicates that newer Spider-Man Miles Morales may also have some role to play. Story-wise, the game will supposedly focus on struggling photographer Mr. Parker as much as it does crimefighting Spider-Man, although whether or not this will translate into any kind of gameplay is unknown.

Insomniac has produced a range of quality titles throughout its existence, from the very first Spyro the Dragon children's platformer to the gritty Resistance shooter games. With that much experience and versatility under their belt, the team ought to knock a Spider-Man game out of the park.

The jungle welcomes you to Anthem

Anthem will be a change in direction for developer BioWare: a multiplayer-focused, persistent world that's meant to keep players engaged for months, even years. On the surface, the veteran studio seems to be aiming at rival Bungie's Destiny series, in that both games feature power-armored heroes in an isolated city venturing out into a dangerous wilderness to defeat enemies and gain loot. But Destiny always kept its attention strictly on the gameplay, whereas BioWare promises to deliver the same deep and involving narrative and characters for which they've become famous.

The open world itself appears to be an almost hypernatural rainforest, with towering trees, dazzling colors, and a range of vicious creatures. Compared to the desolate wastelands of many post-apocalyptic games, Anthem seems to showcase a world where nature actually thrived after humanity's apparent collapse. In a way, despite its futuristic technology, the game more closely resembles a caveman story: mere humans must venture forth into an untamed landscape where much larger and more powerful beings rule.

The nature of the story remains largely unknown. BioWare games typically cast the player in the role of the singular hero who can save the world/galaxy, but in this multiplayer game, that cannot be the case for everyone. In this way, too, the Edmonton studio is branching off into new territory. The game has more or less swallowed up the entire company at this point, but putting all-hands on deck at one of the world's great studios doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, it might just be a great thing.

The apocalypse couldn't stop Darksiders III

The Darksiders franchise was assumed to be dead after the collapse of its publisher, THQ. A slick third-person action series set in a world where the apocalypse really did come with the Four Horsemen, it gained a devoted following before following THQ into oblivion.

But in 2013, a new company called Nordic Games revealed that they had bought the rights to the series, along with a few other franchises and even the THQ brand itself. Renaming themselves THQ Nordic, in 2017 they finally debuted footage of the result of their purchase: Darksiders III. Picking up right where the series left off, the new game will put players in the high-heeled shoes of Fury, who wields a retractable, serrated whip. Once again, gamers will visit the destroyed ruins of our society, attempting to solve a mystery at the heart of what happened, while exploring what the husk of our civilization looks like when the world has fallen down.

If Darksiders III almost looks as if the original team never left, that's because they basically didn't. THQ Nordic's development studio, Gunfire Games, is largely composed of former Darksiders staff. This is, in other words, exactly the sequel that was always intended: it's just coming a few years late. The franchise really did survive its publisher's apocalypse.

Surf & turf in Skull & Bones

Few publishers have focused so much on the open-world genre as Ubisoft has. Their flagship series, Assassin's Creed, rewrote the rulebook for the genre, and continues to be in its forefront to this day. Far Cry, which is also on this list, has also led the pack with its own open-world exploits. But it's been a little while since Ubisoft opened up the open-world to a new franchise. Enter Skull & Bones.

A spiritual successor to Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Skull & Bones utilizes and expands upon that game's ship traversal and combat systems. Critically, Ubisoft wants to double-down on the idea of the ship itself as a character. There will be different classes to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses in the fast-paced naval battles. From the trailer, it also appears that players will be able to customize the aesthetics of their ship, such as the sails. The official description also promises to let players customize their characters and build their own vessels.

The game itself will consist of multiplayer ship battles, raiding and looting merchant ships, and traversing around the Indian Ocean. A story is promised, but it does not appear to be a separate campaign, but an integrated part of the overall experience. But even with Sea of Thieves from Rare on the way, there isn't anything quite like Skull & Bones coming out. A realistic, action-packed adventure on the high seas, the title has the potential to be a new breakout franchise for one of the world's biggest publishers.

Stay alive in Conan Exiles

The survival subgenre of open-world games is quickly becoming the hottest new direction in the industry. Beyond just fighting enemies and collecting loot, players must juggle the constant demands of hunger, thirst, the need for shelter, and a host of other elements. Mismanage your resources, and your character will die outright. Learn to thrive in the harsh terrain, however, and you can eventually build a towering fortress that commands the landscape.

If that sounds like a perfect fit for the Conan the Barbarian intellectual property, then developer Funcom agrees. Conan Exiles will combine the gritty, bloody world of the Cimmerian savage with the brutal demands of a survival game. Far from beginning as a mighty hero, your character will start the adventure nailed to a cross. Which is…intense.

From there, you'll have to scrape together just enough food and water to get by. As your character progresses, however, eventually you'll be able to build a base, and even an epic castle. And the many enemy characters out there can be captured and turned into thralls for you, so once you're powerful enough, it will be the world trying to survive you.

Funcom also made the online open-world Conan game Age of Conan, so they know that world and its lore as well as anyone. Capable of being played solo or in groups, with a variety of both human and supernatural enemies to fight, Conan Exiles promises dozens of hours of content at the least. If you can survive that long, that is.

Do go to Days Gone

The zombie apocalypse has always been a favorite of the open-world genre, and Days Gone is looking to continue that tradition with a vibe all its own. For one thing, its main character looks more like a member of a biker gang than the typical everyman hero of other zombie games. For another, Days Gone eschews the typical small-group enemy encounters in favor of massive hordes of the undead. This is a game aware of what has come before it, and intentionally taking a different path.

Beyond that, as a wholly-owned Sony studio, developer Bend is looking to push the PlayStation 4 system as far as it can. From the trailer, this appears to translate not just as graphical fidelity, but also a large number of AI actors operating at once. Part of the reason zombies normally don't swarm is that older systems couldn't handle that much decision-making at once; Days Gone hopes to display crowd attacks like never before. In addition, the game's design allows not just for freeform exploration, but problem-solving, too. Need to deal with human bad guys? You could try to take them on yourself, or just blow up their wall so the zombies can get in and deal with them for you.

As a survival horror game, there should also be elements of resource management, too. Plus, lots of quiet moments as you bike your way through a beautiful landscape that is now unnaturally quiet. Days Gone isn't meant to just be an action thrill-ride: it's meant to make you think, too.

Join up with The Crew 2

Open-world games are all about letting you traverse the environment however you want. But in most games, that boils down to letting you go where you want. But The Crew 2 really does want to concentrate on the how: whether by car, boat, monster truck, or airplane, you're going to be able to go places the way that's the most fun for you.

And fun really is the key word here. While technically a racing game as well, this is not an ultrarealistic simulation. Rather, this is the kind of game where you can start on the ground, and then go leaping up onto the rooftops of skyscrapers, because why not? Rather than get bogged down by the laws of nature, The Crew 2 just wants players to have a good time. The racing itself ought to be fun, but is really just an excuse to get players to start getting around these open environments in the most creative ways possible.

The open-world itself is no less than the United States of America. While the digital version of the U.S. has obviously been scoped down, you can nevertheless go from Los Angeles to New York in one trip, uninterrupted, if you want. And on the way, you can switch from off-road races in the desert to airplane shenanigans in the sky. The Crew 2 is about having a blast, whichever direction you want to go.

Finally get to play Shenmue III

An epic saga of revenge and betrayal, the Shenmue series is one of the legends of gaming. The first game was one of the most expensive productions in the industry's history, but eventually became a cult sensation. Though the franchise has been defunct for years, a recent Kickstarter campaign brought a third game to life, and the result will be releasing soon. This campaign once again saw the series breaking records, as it hit the highest total amount raised for a video game in the site's history.

The game itself promises to take players to a variety of locations, from rural areas to major cities in both Japan and China. The story picks up directly from where Shenmue II left off, letting long-term fans finally finish out this epic tale. Even new players should enjoy this latest installment, since the world promises to be as intricate and detailed as the series has ever been, which are the very qualities that attracted its fanbase in the first place. This is a labor of love, funded by those who love it.