The persistent rise of the gaming industry and the subsequent influx of money being poured into it has allowed game studios to create enormous, dense open-worlds that players can spend over 100 hours in without even scratching the surface of all the content available. The value-for-money amount of content, variety, and immersion provided in top-quality open-world games have made them one of the gaming industry’s most popular subgenres.
One of the most beneficial standpoints about open-world games from AAA publishers’ perspective is that they can stand out from indie companies by funding enormous open-worlds that the vast majority of indie companies simply don’t have the money to do. However, numerous indie studios have managed to stretch their smaller budgets to create some of the gaming industry’s best open-world titles. The ten games on this list may not have started with the budgets of games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Red Dead Redemption 2, but their quality can certainly give such titles a run for their money.
10 Cat Quest
The idea of a game that takes the gameplay of classic action-RPGs like Chrono Trigger and swaps the human characters for cute cats may sound like a gimmick, but the game’s development team, The Gentlebros, did a great job of ensuring that it never feels like one.
Cat Quest is a thoroughly enjoyable top-down RPG ideal for someone looking to get started in the genre. It’s unlikely to pose a challenge for more experienced players. However, it may still be worth checking out for how wholesome it is to play, along with the charismatic cast of characters and well-crafted gameplay.
Although it may not seem like it on paper, Eastshade has numerous similarities to the aforementioned Cat Quest. Both games begin with a boat crash, both games consist of non-human characters, and both games are great for casual players.
Eastshade allows players to take a meditative journey around the island where they land and paint the beautiful visuals around them. The game also lets players interact and even complete quests for the characters who inhabit the island; these are usually just fetch quests, but the simplicity ties into the game’s laid-back pace.
8 Cat Quest II
Much like its predecessor, Cat Quest II has an All Reviews mark of Overwhelmingly Positive on Steam, exemplifying that the games aren’t just a fun take on action-RPGs, but are, in fact, among the best to hit stores over the last few years.
Cat Quest II manages to improve upon its predecessor in a handful of ways. As well as implementing an enjoyable co-op mode into the game, Cat Quest II improves upon the storytelling and dungeon design of the original.
7 The Forest
The Forest is yet another game on this list that starts with the player being stranded following a crash. This time it’s a plane rather than a boat that crashes, and the player also loses their son in the process — locating them is the game’s overarching quest. However, finding Timmy is entirely optional, and there are no other set missions, with most of the game consisting of players trying to build a home, craft items, and simply stay alive.
The Forest is a survival horror game, though it’s a classic case of a horror game that is scary to experience alone but hilarious with friends.
6 Don’t Starve
Don’t Starve is one of many indie games that offer players a randomly generated world. Both randomly generated and procedurally generated worlds are an ingenious way for indie developers to ensure that their levels and game-worlds remain fresh and interesting, despite not having the budget of a game like Skyrim, which remains interesting for its sheer size.
As the title suggests, Don’t Starve is a survival game. However, eating isn’t the only thing that players will need to do to stay alive, as they also need to stay mentally stable, scavenge, and defend themselves against Tim Burton-inspired enemies.
5 A Short Hike
A Short Hike was created by Adam Robinson-Yu and has turned heads with its impressive Metascores of 80 on PC and 88 on Nintendo Switch. It also won the Independent Games Festival Awards’ Seumas McNally Grand Prize — an accolade that has also been awarded to iconic indie titles like Fez and Minecraft.
The game has a simple main objective: players need to reach the map’s peak by collecting golden feathers to increase their climbing ability. There are also numerous side activities to indulge in, such as treasure hunting, fishing, and playing the unique minigame “beachstickball.”
Subnautica may not officially brand itself as a horror game, but it’s considered one of the scariest games to release in the last decade. The game taps into a primitive fear that people naturally have: being stranded in the middle of an ocean with mysterious creatures lurking in the depths below.
Players will soon need to get over this fear, as they must dive into the alien planet’s ocean to scavenge materials that will help them construct a rocket to leave the planet. Two things will soon become apparent as players submerge deeper into Subnautica‘s, the resources become more valuable, but the creatures become more deadly.
2D adventure game Terraria is approaching its tenth birthday this year, but it still has a very active player-base today. The game is often compared to (spoiler alert) the most universally recognized indie game of all time, Minecraft. The games’ main similarities are their mining, crafting, and survival mechanics, along with the non-linearity.
To compensate for the game’s inherent lack of story due to its non-linearity, Terraria treats its hardcore fans to well-constructed lore about the game-world that players can optionally indulge in.
2 The Witness
Puzzle games used to be one of the gaming industry’s dominant genres during the pre-internet era of gaming, but the introduction of online guides and walkthroughs has seen it fall in relevancy as many gamers today simply don’t enjoy getting stuck.
However, games like Portal 2 and Fez have shown that the modern gaming industry does, in fact, have a place for the genre. Game designer Jonathan Blow was particularly instrumental in both the rise of indie games and the return of the puzzle genre with Braid in 2008. Blow returned with The Witness in 2016, which received heaps of critical acclaim, and is now included in IGN’s Top 100 Video Games of All Time list at the 53 spot. The Witness puts players on a beautiful Myst-inspired island and challenges them with solving tricky line-puzzles, some of which are randomly generated to prevent players from cheating.
No prizes for guessing that Minecraft would feature on this list. It could be argued that games such as The Witness and Subnautica are more well-designed and have superior moment-to-moment gameplay. Still, it’s Minecraft that tops this list, predominantly for its influence on the gaming industry since it was first released.
The game provides the ultimate non-linear experience with its incredible procedurally-generated 3D worlds that have been fundamental in making Minecraft one of the best-selling and most played games of all time. Although releases like the aforementioned Braid had already shown that indie games could be of excellent quality, Minecraft showed that they could also compete commercially. Since Microsoft Studio’s purchase, the game has lost its indie title, though the game still would have topped this list before Microsoft’s involvement and the subsequent changes that followed.