Open-world games are among the most popular, allowing players to roam freely at their own pace and choose their own adventure. However, sometimes when even the biggest open-world maps are littered with place markers, exploring can feel forced, as though players are systematically ticking off a list of objectives.

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This list, however, comprises open-world games that got free roaming just right, where exploration feels natural and rewarding for the players. One way this has been done is by having a blank mini-map, but the physical world itself has to be fleshed out with unique adventures and rewards potentially waiting around every corner. These are the best open-world games with the most rewarding exploration.

5 Subnautica


Subnautica is one of the few open-world games to take place underwater, which instantly makes the exploration unique and fresh for new players. Having crashed on an alien planet, players must try and survive in the eerie depths while managing their oxygen levels and avoiding Subnautica's scariest creatures.

Unlike other games on this list, players will want to plan out their explorations a little more, as things can get quite dangerous. However, successful explorers will feel extremely satisfied with the secrets they find lurking below. One of the best rewards for exploring is the knowledge that players accumulate naturally and then can apply to other dives.

4 Valheim

Valheim Wolf Armor Viking

Valheim is by nature a game all about exploration and the fact that the world is randomly generated at the start means that even veteran players can enjoy playing on new map seeds. When players are dropped into midgard, they will have a completely blank map that can only be revealed by running or sailing around, or by building a Cartography Table which allows players to share their own map explorations with friends.

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Other than the lack of map markers, apart than those which players set themselves, the main thing that makes exploration rewarding is finding the various biomes within Valheim that each present their own challenges and subsequent rewards. There is nothing like setting sail with friends and stumbling upon the perfect location for a base with all the important biomes of sufficient size nearby. Similarly, each new resource players find will open up new crafting options, and playing blind makes this exploration even more rewarding. The game's charming art style also helps make exploration feel great in Valheim​​​​​.

3 Outer Wilds

outer wilds scout launcher

Outer Wilds is a lighthearted open-world game that players should try and head into blind, as exploring naturally and discovering all the game's secrets is a reward in and of itself. Players will find themselves in a strange and ever-changing solar system that is trapped in a seemingly endless time loop. The worlds and their physics are nothing like those that are familiar with and solving the mysteries requires players to think outside the box.

The exploration and wonder at the unknown is so good in Outer Wilds that many players wish they could erase their memory and start all over again. The game is incredibly thought-provoking and has an ethereal beauty about it.

2 The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is widely considered to be a masterpiece in game design, and it set the standard for how natural exploration should work in open-world games. The exploration is so good in Breath of the Wild that it is one of the open-world games that can switch any brain off while playing.

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Other than the beauty of Hyrule, which is filled with plateaus and interesting mountains to scale, the rewards of exploring in Breath of the Wild are the joy of being able to do whatever players want and stumbling upon the rewards when least expected. Many players would even argue that getting lost in the mountains was one of their best experiences with the game.

1 Elden Ring

Elden Ring Na'vi

Game of the Year winner Elden Ring is without a doubt the epitome of natural and rewarding exploration. It achieves this in many ways which work together to create one of the best experiences in gaming. First, the map in Elden Ring is hidden until players find map fragments, however even with these, players will not get markers for anything until they find it. Despite the lack of map markers or general objectives, players looking to get back on course can be guided by the Golden Path which follows a series of Sites of Grace in the direction of the main bosses. This helps exploration strike a healthy balance.

Another way in which Elden Ring exploration feels rewarding, is how just by seeing that there is some glowing loot up above, players know there must be a way up, even if they currently have no idea. However, Elden Ring's greatest asset when it comes to exploration is the way in which the world is laid out, with surprises lurking everywhere, even if they aren't noticed from certain angles. Elden Ring also manages to avoid instilling a fear of missing out in players, as there is just too much and players can always return in New Game+.

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