You see that mountain on the horizon? You can go there! That old gaming chestnut has been around for a long time now, but for old-school gamers who remember the compartmentalised kingdoms of yore, there’s a special magic still to be derived from being able to trek your way to a distant summit. Video games, eh? Marvellous.
In spite of the console’s diminutive size, Nintendo Switch has accrued a selection of vast kingdoms and open worlds to explore and enjoy since launch, and below we’ve collected our picks of the very best open-world games on Switch.
How do we define an ‘open world’? Well, exploration of a large overworld is fundamental, preferably with as little gating as possible. The ability to go anywhere, anytime, is a key part of the titles below – whether you’ve got the chops to survive or not. If you’re after 2D platformers that gradually reveal a large open map to explore, you should check out our guide to the best Switch Metroidvanias.
So, let’s take a look at a selection–in no particular order–of the best open worlds on Switch.
Publisher: CD Projekt Red / Developer: CD Projekt Red
We begin with one of the most impressive ports on Switch. The fact that CD Projekt Red’s action-RPG runs on Nintendo’s console at all is a minor miracle, but the experience the studio served up in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt holds up incredibly well thanks to the efforts of Saber Interactive. Geralt of Rivia’s epic adventure is a pleasure to play on a handheld, and cross-saves with the PC version of the game is the icing on a tasty little cake.
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What it lacks in epic narrative and lore it makes up for with tight, satisfying combat and the scope of its open world. Dragon’s Dogma might not be perfect, but Capcom’s action-RPG still manages to shine on Switch. This port of the Dark Arisen update won’t convert you if you didn’t get on with the 2012 original, but it still gets a strong recommendation from us.
Thanks to the inclusion of exclusive Star Fox content, Ubisoft’s multiplatform Starlink: Battle for Atlas is best experienced on Switch and is the closest thing to an open-world Star Fox game out there. Comparisons to No Man’s Sky are valid, and while the game didn’t set the charts alight when it released–arguably thanks to its reliance on bulky toys-to-like accessories at a time when most of us were up to our eyeballs in plastic peripherals already–it’s one of the most enjoyable dogfighting/space exploration games money can buy. You can find it for a pittance these days, and we strongly advise you pick it up next time you see it discounted.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
The game that set the standard for the modern open-world experience with its scope and ambition, the appearance of Skyrim on Switch was a welcome surprise when it popped up in the reveal clip for the console back in October 2016. If you’re after seamless, polished perfection, you’ll find Zelda further down this list; if you’re after an epic adventure filled with guts, glory and not a small amount of jank, this remains one of the very best examples out there.
Publisher: Koch Media / Developer: Volition
In the continued absence of the 3D Grand Theft Auto series on Nintendo consoles, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected steps into the frame and delivers a knowingly silly, thoroughly entertaining take on the urban open-world game. It runs far better than its predecessor on Switch, and while its sense of humour won’t gel with everyone, it’s definitely worth investigation if you like open-world games that don’t take themselves too seriously.
Publisher: Abylight Studios / Developer: Heart Machine
Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition is a top-down adventure that wordlessly presents a Legend of Zelda-esque kingdom to explore and puzzle through. It’s an indie classic filled with secrets which performs perfectly on Switch whether you’re playing in handheld or docked mode. If you’ve had this on your ‘to play’ list, we urge you to dive into its gorgeous pixel world as soon as possible.
Switch owners have a couple of options when it comes to Assassin’s Creed games, but there’s a clear correct answer if someone asks you which they should play. Assassin’s Creed: The Rebel Collection contains both Black Flag (number four in the mainline franchise), plus the series spin-off/interquel Assassin’s Creed: Rogue. A feast for the eyes and ears, sailing around the high seas as Edward Kenway feels not dissimilar to the voyages of a young cel-shaded sailor we enjoyed first back on GameCube, and the beauty of the Caribbean waves and pirate settlements is displayed in fine portable form in this excellent port of one of the series’ high points.
And Rogue’s not bad, either.
Publisher: Klei Entertainment / Developer: Klei Entertainment
The procedurally generated open worlds of Don’t Starve give it the feeling of an unforgiving Minecraft, with pleasure coming from confronting and conquering the hardships and challenges of surviving in the wilderness. It might not be for everyone, and it can get a little repetitive, but the Switch version is a great way to experience the game, and once Don’t Starve sinks its teeth in, you’ll find it very difficult to shake.
Publisher: Electronic Arts / Developer: Criterion Games
The open-world approach of Burnout Paradise had a profound influence on the driving genre, although Nintendo platforms haven’t been blessed with an abundance of open-world racers. Criterion’s excellent Need for Speed: Most Wanted came to Wii U, but didn’t make the splash it should have thanks to that console’s disappointing sales. Having this precursor on Switch–and any entry in the beloved Burnout franchise–is a treat sullied only by the substantial price tag it carried at launch.
However, it runs at a lovely 60 fps and despite various elements showing their age a little, it’s still a super slick ride that performs well on Switch. We’d recommend keeping an eye out for a sale with this one.
You know Minecraft, right? The open-world sandbox game where you mine and, indeed, craft materials to survive and shape the world to your liking. Not much else to say really. The Switch version is very solid, and portable to boot. All in all, rather good.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo SPD
Battling Skyrim for the title of ‘Most Painfully Obvious Inclusion’, if you own a Switch and it’s not simply an Animal Crossing portal, you owe it to yourself to get Breath of the Wild. Its version of Hyrule is one of the most cohesive, polished and watertight open worlds on any platform and we’ve lost literal real-life days exploring its hills and dales, peaks and valleys, nooks and crannies. It’s one of the best games Nintendo has ever made; of course it’s here.
Think we’ve missed something? Don’t agree with the selection above? Let us know below and we may massage the list above to include other open-world games.
This article is one of our Switch Essentials guides which cover a wide variety of genres, including the Best Switch FPS Games, the Best Switch RPGs, the Best Switch Games For Kids, the Best Switch Couch Co-Op Games and the Best Switch Fitness and Exercise Games. We can also help out hunting down the Best Switch Horror Games, the Best Switch Racing Games, the Best Switch Action-RPGs, the Best Nintendo Switch Roguelikes, Roguelites and Run-Based Games , the Best Free Switch Games, and even Games to Play After You’ve Finished Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Whatever your favourite genre, we’ve got you covered: Strategy Games, Metroidvanias, Puzzle Games, Party Games, Online Multiplayer Games, Shmups, Fighting Games, Hidden Gems, 2D Platformers, 3D Platformers, Sports Games, Beat ‘Em Ups, Chill Games, Family Games, Retro-Inspired Games, Short Games, and the Best Switch Exclusives, as well as Every Arcade Archives Game, Every ACA Neo Geo Game and Every SEGA AGES Game On Switch.
If you’re looking for the best Switch games regardless of genre, our reader-voted selection of the Best Nintendo Switch Games should help you out, and you can also find the Best Nintendo Switch Games of 2017, 2018, and 2019. And finally, if you’re interested in other Nintendo consoles and retro games, check out the Best Game Boy Games, Best Nintendo DS Games, Best Nintendo 3DS Games, and the Best GameCube Games, as well as Every Nintendo Switch Online NES Game and Every Nintendo Switch Online SNES Game.