8 best open world indie games to play right now
Unlike games with fixed levels and linear paths, open world games let players roam freely in the virtual world. At the core of open world indie games is the idea of creative exploration. Gamers have the agency to choose how and when to approach objectives, creating a more immersive and unique experience for players.
But which open world indie games are worth getting lost in? We asked our students from Indie Game Development (Online) to give us their top recommendations and tell us how these open world titles have inspired them to study the subject.
Elliot Handley, Indie Game Development student and IT Support Specialist
"For me, Terraria, the open-world action-adventure game, is the perfect example of how to manage your product as an Indie Developer. As a fan, I have been enjoying Terraria since its release in 2011. It's almost 1000 hours of play time and well-honed building, crafting and exploration systems, combined with excellent combat and boss fights, have always kept me coming back for more. But since starting on the Indie Games Development course, I have gained a new and deeper appreciation for the way in which Re-Logic has managed the game. The way it has nurtured a loyal community, through consistent free content updates and bug patches, is something I aspire to emulate when I consider my own future in the industry and the prospect of releasing my own games."
"As a big fan of management simulation games, Factorio appealed to me straight away with its focus on efficiency and creative solutions when building your factory empire, as well as the underlying themes revolving around climate change and human effects on the environment, a subject close to my heart. I love the freedom the game gives players to go about completing the end goal, allowing you to choose what path you take, what technology you prioritise and encouraging you to explore your playstyle, something that I wish to build into all my future games."
Sarah Masters, Indie Game Development student and Freelance Creative
"Heaven's Vault is one of those games that subtly mixes elements together so successfully, including stunning 2D illustrations and a 3D world. You explore the love of linguistics, ancient history, and nature through a beautiful free roaming world. The mysteries of this fictional ancient world are reminiscent of topical modern issues in deciphering our own past and protecting our own planet. The true delight as you try to explain the mysteries of the open world of Heaven's Vault, is that you will start to understand and translate a whole ancient language."
"Spiritfarer begins as a lovely management game and quickly becomes steeped in depth and emotion. I found myself hesitant to drop off even the most demanding spirits at the Everdoor. Another incredibly clever and modern twist on ancient Greek myths, the game does not shy away from the difficult themes of regret, grief, and death. You navigate your own ship, gathering seeds, materials, and treasures to comfort your guests at the end of their journey. While there is a carefully laid out level design, the open world in this indie game gives you a little bit of control in the face of the certainty of the end.
Both games inspire my practice as an indie game developer because they have small indie loveliness, beautiful artwork and sophisticated open world freedom that competes with the bigger budget games."
Matt Ruszala, Indie Game Development student and Concept Artist
Hyper Light Drifter
"While not strictly from the open world games family, Hyper Light Drifter offers a lot of exploration options right from the beginning of the game. The world is built beautifully and every part of it feels unique. Each environment tells a story but none of it is explained, a lot is left to players interpretation. Whenever I can choose how I want to interact with the world, even on a small scale, I feel like the experience I'm having is more genuine. I can influence the flow of the game. The developers trust me to make my own decisions and learn about the game's world through my own experiences."
"Minecraft is a phenomenon of a game. The premise and presentation look so simplistic on the outside, but Minecraft, just like an onion, is a multi-layered experience. You start by interacting and exploring the world around you and you end up reshaping it completely. For me, the biggest selling point of the game is the idea that each player will have an experience that is uniquely theirs. You can choose the way you want to engage with the world and as soon as you learn how to influence it that opens the door to a whole new level of creative exploration. There are whole communities that live and breathe this game: sharing content, organising exhibitions and creating YouTube content and speedruns. And all of it is sparked by players' creativity and the need for self-expression. I find that pretty cool."
Juan Uys, Indie Game Development student and Researcher & Developer
"Firewatch introduces us to the protagonist, Henry, and his dying wife. Henry eventually takes a job as a fire lookout, presumably to run away from his problems. The player spends a lot of time talking (over walkie-talkie) to another fire lookout called Delilah, not just about the day-to-day in the beautiful open world of the park, but also about their thoughts and feelings. You build up quite a bond, and some way through the game you feel yourself hoping that the two characters finally meet in person.
I find this game inspiring and I also want to make a game that lets the player feel that great sense of longing and loss."
A Short Hike
"A Short Hike is a game that you can pick up at any time, and just dive in. The open game world is pleasant, and there are various challenging, yet kid-friendly tasks to complete. In a word, it's cosy.
And those are exactly the two things that I liked most about the game. Firstly, just being able to dip in and out of it, without having to remember or relearn key-bindings. It has an elegant core loop: you flap your wings or climb to go up, and you glide on the way down, circling around the mountain to take in the scenery.
Sometimes I'm tired, or feel a bit vulnerable, and playing something chilled is just what I need. It has inspired me to one day make a game which respects your time as well as your soul."
Learn how to produce original and creatively distinguished games based on your own intellectual property with Falmouth's online MA in Indie Game Development. Study part-time from anywhere in the world.