Top Played Games 2023
From bustling New York streets to rolling Hyrule fields, 2023 gave us our fair share of fantastic open worlds to get lost in. With vast maps full of combat, puzzles, and intrigue, everyone steps into a new game world looking for something different, but all searching for escapism like no other genre can provide. This year, they took us to places rooted in the real world and fantasy, as well as our distant past and future. We unlocked the secrets of Hogwarts, slid through the shadows of ancient Baghdad, swung between Manhattan skyscrapers, leaped around the floating islands of Pandora, and dived into the Hyrulian depths. But which of these proved the most fun to spend time in? These are the best open-world games of 2023.
Runner-Up: Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
First up is the most recent open world to bless our consoles in 2023 - Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Massive Entertainment brought to life James Cameron’s moon packed with big blue cat people and seemingly endless species of flowers in a stunning interpretation of the inherently cinematic setting. It takes the film’s explosive action and places you at the center as you tussle with weird and wonderful beasts and mechanical metal monsters.
It’s not just how good it looks to run, shoot, and fly around in – thanks to your loyal flying banshee Ikran – but also how much you’re encouraged to respect and engage with Pandora’s natural world through gameplay. By placing an emphasis on treating wildlife with care and hunting responsibly, such as using a bow and arrow to take them down cleanly rather than messier, bullet-powered methods, it connects itself to the movies through more than just presentation. It’s a thoughtfully designed open world and one of this year’s best.
Runner-Up: Assassin’s Creed Mirage
Seeing as this is the award for the best open-world game, it should come as no surprise to see yet another Ubisoft entry onto this list. From a far-flung future sci-fi to an opportunity to relieve historic fiction in the ancient city of Baghdad, coming in fourth is Assassin’s Creed Mirage. A throwback to the tighter, city street nature of the original AC games, this year’s entry focused on delivering a single location full of fun verticality, social stealth opportunities, and malleable combat arenas.
Admittedly, what Mirage gained in returning to its stealth roots it arguably lost when it comes to an engaging open world. Baghdad is still a fun, gorgeous city to parkour to your heart’s delight in, but a level of discovery and quality of side quests was lost in the transition from the likes of Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla. Side contracts, strongholds, and synchronization points return, but side stories are kept at a real premium with the narrative focused largely on the main questline. That lack of invention is made up for to an extent in the sheer detail of this game world on display. Sacrificing scope for a single-city vision, Mirage’s Baghdad is consistently visually impressive and as close to time travel as you’ll get without the aid of an actual Animus, with its rich culture on display around every street corner.
Runner-Up: Hogwarts Legacy
From the 9th to the 19th century now, as we go from running around Baghdad to pottering around the corridors of pop culture's most famous school of witchcraft and wizardry. Coming in at third is Hogwarts Legacy. Our review said: “The world itself is just packed with nearly everything I wanted in a Potter game and more. You’ll find yourself exploring Hogwarts’ stone-cobbled halls and secret passageways, flying around the Forbidden Forest on a broomstick, and exploring dark caves lit only by the glow of your Lumos spell. The developers at Avalanche have so brilliantly captured the look and feel of the Wizarding World that I was amazed at just being there, no matter what trivial errand they had me wrapped up in.”
Runner-Up: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Moving on to the current day and the modern metropolis of New York City – home to everyone’s favorite webslinger, Spider-Man. Insomniac’s sequel webbed 11.9% of our vote, making it the runner-up this year. It’s another cinematic PlayStation Studios adventure and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 fully takes advantage of its open-world setting by staging exciting stand-out missions that take you across its city, navigating through towering sandstorm boss battles and thrilling chases. Offering a superb sense of spectacle and scale in its mission design, there’s arguably still no better way to get around an open world than swinging around as Peter Parker or Miles Morales, and with the introduction of the sleek new webwings this time, it only got more satisfying.
Although it didn’t revolutionize the open-world formula, Spider-Man 2 delivered consistent fun in its side activities with some of the more involved questlines, such as the mysterious The Flame missions and neighborhood characters in need of assistance, providing memorable highlights. While the blockbuster moments and surprises are reserved for its main story, a plentiful stream of collectibles, combat challenges, and traversal trials help deliver a fantastic open-world superhero fantasy.
Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Our journey through time conveniently ends with our winner of the Best Open-World Game of 2023 starring the Hero of Time himself, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Link’s latest adventure scoops the ultimate prize with a whopping 78% of the IGN vote.
Following up perhaps the greatest open-world game ever was never going to be easy but Nintendo did it and then some. Not content with remixing Breath of the Wild’s vast Hyrule and making it a darker, more hostile place, Tears of the Kingdom adds a series of intricate islands in the sky and an entire underworld called the Depths, to make this the biggest, most detailed Zelda game ever made. But what’s even more impressive than the initial wow factor is how beautifully these different layers work in harmony. The synergy between the three levels is an impeccable example of open-world map design, as you gather Zonai devices, treasure maps, and gloom-resistant consumables from the sky islands, before dropping down to gather Brightbloom seeds from the surface’s many caverns, and then use all of those items to navigate the pitch black Depths.
Tears of the Kingdom is IGN's pick for the Best Open-World Game of 2023. What's yours? The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Marvel's Spider-Man 2 Hogwarts Legacy Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Assassin's Creed Mirage Other (Tell us in the comments.) Answer See Results
The horrors and fierce fights found in the Depths are matched by the majesty of the dragons that roam Hyrule’s skies, which weave between realms and help bind the worlds together. Likewise, its story is intertwined throughout, telling a more compelling tale than its predecessor. That said, Tears of the Kingdom never once forgets to place gameplay front and center, filling its landscape with dozens of new Shrines, each packed with endlessly exciting puzzles and combat challenges.
The modern interpretation of Hyrule that has come with the Switch entries is unparalleled when it comes to discovery, its iconless map littered with points of interest as far as the eye can see. And with new, innovative ways to move around that world too, thanks to Link’s Ultrahand ability which enables him to easily build gliders and cars, not to mention almost unlimited ways to destroy the enemy, Tears of the Kingdom is a true masterpiece of open-world construction, and deservedly IGN’s pick for the Best Open-World Game of 2023.