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Sliding Scale of Linearity vs. Openness

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Some Video Games are linear, forcing you to follow one set path throughout the whole game. Other games are more open, allowing you to choose how you progress to your goal. Some games are are even more open than that, giving you a wide open world to explore at your leisure. Most Action/Adventure/Action-Adventure/Platform games fall somewhere in this spectrum of linearity and openness; this scale exists to catalog exactly where they fall.

The Sliding Scale of Linearity vs. Openness comprises six categories for ranking how linear or open a game is. The lower on the scale a game is, the more No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom it is; the higher on the scale a game is, the more Wide-Open Sandbox it is. Platform Games will usually rank low on the scale (by design), while Role Playing Games will usually rank high on the scale (by convention).

The most important factor in determining where a game lies on this scale is the game world itself. A game that limits you to one path will rank lower on the scale than a game that presents an open world and lets you decide how you are going to get to your objective. The objectives themselves are also important in determining a game's place on the scale. A game with a set story progression and one goal or a linear series of goals that get you from the beginning to the end will rank lower than a game with many Side Quests or a game with multiple ways to progress through the main story. A game can still rank relatively high on the scale with few side quests if it presents you with many missions that are required to complete the main story line and lets you decide how/in what order you will accomplish them. The way the story is set up, however, will usually be influenced by how linear or open the game is, not the other way around.


  1. Purely linear. The game follows a linear narrative, as well as a largely linear pattern with how you move between levels and/or within the levels themselves. Any attempts at exploration will be inconsequential if not outright fruitless. There might be secret warps to later stages, but any bonus stages will be entered automatically. Rail Shooters are this level taken to the most extreme. Auto Scrolling Levels may be present. Games that fall into this category have become more and more rare with the passage of time. The majority of cinematic shooters fall into this category though.
  2. Roughly linear. Though games at this level will still be largely linear in their design, you will have some choice in how you progress. You may be given a choice between two paths that take to you to the end of the level, or you may find a bonus level on the side that gives some reward before plopping you back on the main progression path. Exploration may result in some interesting discoveries. Many old-school first-person shooters fall into this category.
  3. Minor interconnectivity. Overall progression becomes less linear at this level. While levels themselves will still have a "get from point A to point B" feel, you will have many options in how you get from point A to point B. Backtracking will now be allowed, even if only to allow you to replay levels that you liked; whether the levels change from your initial trip through will vary from game to game. There is still a central narrative, of course, and these games are still on the more linear side of things, but they will not be constrictingly linear. Sidequests may be present, but will not feature prominently.
  4. Major interconnectivity. We now get to the more Metroidvania type of games. These games will likely allow you to explore and do sidequests, but they will still want you to put the storyline first. Exploration will be encouraged, but controlled, with more of the game world opening up to you as you play. Games at this level will frequently play out such that you won't be able to explore the world or deviate from the main storyline at all in the beginning, but the whole world will be open to you by the end. Games can also fall into this level if the whole world is open to you from early on, but there's little reason to explore it other than to see the sights, and thus the main storyline will still be your primary concern.
  5. Free-roam. Open-world Role Playing Games. Games at this level will have plenty sidequests and a very open world. (Some will still open up more of the world as you progress along the main storyline, but from the beginning, you will feel like you have a wide world to explore.) The main storyline may still be emphasized over the side quests, but it's not unheard of for games at this level to emphasize both equally. The central narrative itself may branch off into multiple paths, usually accompanied by Multiple Endings.
  6. Free-form. Wide-Open Sandbox games will be very de-emphasized and, if there even is a main storyline or central goal, it'll likely only comprise a very small part of the whole experience. You are free to do whatever you want in these games, and those at the highest end of the spectrum will have no limits on what you can do. There may be a plethora of Side Quests to keep you busy, or you may just need to make your own fun. Most MMORPG games fall into this category. Beware of sinking into the Quicksand Box.

See also the Sliding Scale of Content Density vs. Width. Although there is a noticeable correlation between the openness of the game world (linearity of exploration) and the degree of Story Branching in a game (linearity of plot), these are two separate scales.


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     Level 1  

  • Most railshooters, although some provide branching paths that make them level two instead.
  • Radiant Silvergun, except in arcade version where it is level 2.
  • Wonderboy / Adventure Island 1: You go from left to right and there's no exploration except an occasional bonus stage.
  • Tank Force. Enemies appear, kill enemies, repeat 35 more times, victory.
  • Toki, a platformer taking place linearly in 6 stages.
  • BIT.TRIP RUNNER where you move right and only jump, slide and block and kick on certain intervals.
  • Though the style of gameplay in the Battletoads games tends to vary from level to level, the linearity in level design is very consistent.
  • Battlefield 3 single player campaign where the levels are getting from point A to B while regularly stopping to fight or have a cutscene.
  • Cryostasis. The game follows a linear narrative and usually only a single path is available to take.
  • Homefront single player. You are hand-held throughout the entire game and have to do what must be done.
  • Killer7 is railroaded, as even the paths of the player are predefined (you press A to run, and B to turn back; the control stick is used to aim with the weapon in first-person). There are several branches and forks through the chapters, but almost none of them are optional since the player will ultimately have to visit all possible areas to collect the right amount of Soul Shells to challenge the bosses and proceed through the game.
  • Modern Warfare series single player campaigns also go to category 1 as there are are numerous setpieces and to make the game feel more dramatic, like a movie.
  • Kinetic Novels are an extreme example of Visual Novels which have no choices, no interactivity and only one ending. They're essentially little more than ordinary novels, except with pictures and sound; all you do is click through text.

     Level 2  

  • Visual Novels, if you consider them games, don't normally have more than different narratives depending on your selection. Ace Attorney is an example. Some (called kinetic novels) are level 1, though.
  • Battlefield: Bad Company contains a campaign that could be described as an adaptation of the series' large multiplayer maps for single player. Combined with the destructible environments that allowed you to could holes in walls you could move through, the game allowed the player to move freely and choose their plan of attack with a whole plethora of weapons, gadgets and vehicles to choose from. It's sequel was bitten with a "Call of Duty Competition" bug and narrowed the maps and limited the weapons and vehicles from whatever they give you at the time, but still kept an emphasis on destructible environments. Overall, the first game is at the top of the Level 2 scale while the second game is at the bottom of it.
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. There is one way to solve each puzzle and backtracking is impossible, but there are some optional side-quests and side-gags that otherwise have no effect on the ending.
  • Bug. There is only one end to a level, however, there is usually more than one path that Bug could take to get there. Bonus levels are also scattered around the area too.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day, unlike most Rare platform games, follows a linear design and storyline, with very few collectibles (namely money and items that are specific to the chapters' objectives). However, during the first half of the game, it's still possible to leave a chapter's area and start another (indeed, Windy, Barn Boys, Bats Tower and Sloprano can be played this way, the only condition is that all of them have to be eventually completed). During the second half, which is set in nightime, the linearity dominates the progression completely, and the last three chapters (Spooky, It's War and Heist) have to be played in that order to finish the game (and once the very last one starts, it won't be possible to turn back).
  • Dishonored: there are two main ways to complete any of the 9 missions (just murder the target or a Fate Worse than Death) which creates one of three endings and a handful of small tasks which grant you runes or open up new ways to neutralize the target, along with dozens of different ways to reach the target (rooftops, waterways, posses ion of animals, possessing people, sabotage or just simply murdering everyone) but each area can only be visited once and can lead to many a Guide Dang It! moment if you missed a blue print for an upgrade or any of the dozens of collectables.
  • The original Donkey Kong Country trilogy. The progression in the worlds is linear, but the specific levels have secret bonuses that contribute to 100% Completion. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze lean closer to a 3, as their worlds' maps include unlockable, alternative paths.
  • Doom. You're supposed to collect keys and get to the exit, but there are also quite a few side areas which you can explore to find items, enemies to fight, or just out of curiosity what's there; several times you don't even need to explore every inch of the level to be able to leave, such as Doom II's "Tricks and Traps" (which starts you off in a hub leading to eight distinct areas, but you only absolutely need to go through three to unlock the exit). Also, sometimes you have two or more ways of getting to the exit, and generally you can freely backtrack to early areas of the level. Custom maps often are less linear, sometimes qualifying as a 3.
  • Eternal Sonata: most attempts at exploration are thwarted by the characters.
  • Eversion also falls to this category. It's rather linear, but levels often require lots of backtracking.
  • Far Cry. There are often many ways to tackle the level with a lot of paths to the goals.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy X goes here, prior to getting the Global Airship. Afterwards, it shifts to Level 4 as you prepare to take on the Final Boss.
    • Final Fantasy XIII, whose linearity was a great source of controversy and complaints from players. Once you get to Pulse; however, the game opens up to level 4.
  • Flower. You go from point A to B, but you'll likely explore on your way.
  • The progression in Geist falls into this category, since the story will require that the player (as a ghost) possesses the required hosts to succesfully explore the Volks Corporation and (near the end of the game) eventually retrieve the main character's original body. There are a few optional rooms and corridor for special collectibles, though, and on certain occasions the player can choose different hosts (or control them in a different order) to clear the chapters.
  • Glider PRO houses, on average. Bonus rooms and branching paths are common, but backtracking is often unrewarding or impossible. The mechanics of the game don't really allow for side quests.
  • Half-Life (justified in-story from the second game onwards as behind-the-scenes manipulation).
  • Halo is linear overall, but it adds some wrinkles here and there. For one, there tends to have a lot of Easter Eggs that often require you to go well out of your way to get. Additionally, a number of levels (Halo: Combat Evolved's "Halo", Halo 3: ODST's "Mombasa Streets") give you a surprising amount of freedom in choosing how to get to the next objective.
  • Iji has linear progression between levels, and the levels themselves have varying degrees of freedom (usually in the form of "door guarded by a remote trigger", but always rewarding exploration off the beaten path with lore and loot). The bigger levels are like miniature Metroidvanias.
  • Journey (2012). Although it follows a linear narrative, the areas are often very large and exploration is often encouraged and rewarded.
  • Medal of Honor: Vanguard starts every Operation except Neptune with a parachute jump, allowing players to decide what location they land in, these parachute sections are fairly open. Although the rest of the game is fairly linear outside of this, it does have the occasional open area and sidepaths outside of parachute jumping sections.
  • Metro Exodus:
    • Some levels (e.g. Taiga and Novosibirsk) are effectively long corridors with wide spots which allow some exploration. You go in at one end and work your way through to the other. A long, twisty, scenic corridor, but still a corridor.
    • Other levels (e.g. Volga and Caspian) are much more open, allowing exploration from the start. However, you can only leave the area after completing the story missions, and these come in a set order.
  • The Monkey Island series, you can complete The Three Trials and its variations in any order.
  • Mother 3 is the most linear game in the series, having a chapter-based progression system, multiple limited-time areas, a Point of No Return with a good chunk of gameplay left, most chapters restricting you to specific areas, and overall more linear level design save for a handful of dungeons. Chapter 7 raises it to level 3, as it opens nearly the entire game up to this point and allows you to complete all but the first and last main objectives in any order, before it falls back here for the final chapter.
  • Mainline Pokémon games from the third generation (Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire) onwards have the player traverse whatever region they find themselves in a pretty linear manner, though there may occasionally be some zig-zagging and an optional area or two involved.
    • Generations I and II and their remakes edge into Level 3 territory, as while they also share the requirement of the player having to collect all eight Gym Badges before fighting the Elite Four, there's some flexibility in how to do this (though they both still have a very obvious recommended order). To wit, in Kanto, there is nothing stopping you from temporarily skipping Lt. Surge in favor of doing Erika, Koga, and Sabrina in any order after completing the S.S. Anne.note  Meanwhile, after getting the fourth gym badge over in Johto, you can fight Chuck, Jasmine, and Pryce in any order before the game allows you to take on Claire; and the post-game is completely open, allowing you to get the Kanto badges in any order you wish, though you'll still require every badge to unlock Mt. Silver and the True Final Boss.
    • Pokémon Legends: Arceus is Level 4. Overall progression is still linear, with the world being broken up into large regions that unlock based on story progress, but each region allows for a fare amount of exploration as you search for new Pokémon, and abilities gained in later regions allows for further exploration in prior locations. In addition, there are now dozens of sidequests to do in addition to the main story, which includes all the research tasks required to complete each Mon's entry in the Pokédex.
    • Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is Level 4 as part of a transition to a more open-world format. You're free to explore Paldea as you wish after you visit the Naranja/Uva Academy for the first time, with your only limits being your Koraidon/Miraidon's traversal abilities (which are unlocked by clearing through one of the main storylines) and the strength of the wild Pokémon and trainers in the area. The game gives you three storylines to follow and marks the objectives on the map for you, but you're free to tackle them in whatever order you wish. You can just ignore the story objectives and just run arround, explore Paldea, catch Pokémon and battle trainers, but you're highly incentivized to tackle the storylines (Victory Road gives you gym badges so that the high level Pokémon you catch will actually listen to you, Path of Legends unlocks new traversal abilities, and Starfall Street unlocks new T Ms to craft). Completing all three storylines unlocks the final storyline, and Area Zero.
  • Portal, insofar as many of the puzzles have multiple solutions and the player is often free to muck about for awhile.
  • Professor Layton: The majority of games in the series follow a tight order of events, but the vast number of optional puzzles and collectible treasures (plus the availability of minigames whose stages unlock one by one upon progression) provide a robust extra content for completionists. The exceptions are Azran Legacy (sixth game) and Millionaires' Conspiracy (seventh game), which are Level 4. The former switches to a major nonlinear progression at one point due to several new places being available at the same time, while the latter offers multiple cases during the second act that can be solved in any order.
  • Resident Evil 4 is one of the longest Resident Evil games to date, spanning three major overworld settings, but it follows a mostly linear structure; gameplay is more straightforward and backtracking is minimal compared to other installments, but there are still various optional rooms and caches for treasure (particularly in the Castle area). The 2023 remake, however, is more closer to Level 3 in that each settings are a lot more backtrack friendly.
  • Resident Evil 5 is a little more open but follows a linear structure similar to its predecessor. The overworld settings are bigger compared to 4, allowing for more exploration, but the gameplay still has to be completed in a set order.
  • Resident Evil: Gun Survivor features some branching paths early on in the game. The first series merely takes you from the outskirts of Sheena Island to an alleyway with a payphone in one of three manners, but the second trio of branches actually changes minor elements of the story, namely which character becomes your direct antagonist.
  • Serious Sam series. Layout is usually very linear, but there are secrets to discover. Serious Sam II has the most linear paths, 3 has the least of them.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • The majority of Sonic games tend to have to linear stages, with levels ranging from one primary route that features some shortcuts, to two or three routes that converge back into one by the end. Certain Sonic games, such Sonic CD, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and Sonic Mania, put more emphasis on exploration than others; featuring not only multiple routes in the same stage, but also having important objects needed to achieve the Good/Best Endings the player has to search for, such as robot generators and hidden Giant Rings that lead to Special Stages.
    • Most Sonic games are designed with with strict level-by-level game progression in mind, a set route that the player couldn't deviate from. (This could be slightly averted by a player entering Special Stages or Chao Gardens after a level was completed, depending on the game in question.) World maps were eventually introduced to the games from the 2000s onwards, but players are still required to unlock/play levels in a specific order in most cases. One notable exception is Chaotix, which allows players to pick one out of the game's five zones to enter from its hubworld; although completing the levels within the zones themselves is still sequential.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels and Super Mario Land just barely made it to this level with their hidden bonus areas. The restricted freedom is due to the Ratchet Scrolling, which prevents players from going back in levels.
    • Super Mario Bros. 2: In comparison to its predecessors, the game has a more open design in many levels; they not only allow backtracking but usually also have alternate routes and shortcuts.
    • Super Mario Bros. 3: The game marks the introduction of world maps, which allow the introduction of dedicated icons for minigames, item-gathering zones, and fights against Hammer Bros. or variants thereof. Occasionally, the maps give the option of skipping certain levels (or choosing between two to proceed).
    • Super Mario Maker: The worlds in the Super Mario Challenge mode always have linear maps, but the levels you play in them are guaranteed to vary when the mode is played online, which in turn guarantees a near-unlimited replay value.
  • Super Mario 3D Land: The game is within this category among the 3D Super Mario entries, as all world maps arrange their levels into a straight order, but most levels have hidden areas with Star Medals.
  • The MechWarrior series traditionally has a linear mission path, but missions often have optional secondary objectives or alternate ways to complete the primary objectives. The Mercenaries Expansion Pack for Mechwarrior 2 and Mechwarrior 4 bring the games to Level 3, with entirely optional missions, a largely non-linear campaign, and the ability to take sides in conflicts.

     Level 3  

  • Most closed-circuit racing games tend to rank here. While the main focus is to win races, they usually give you the choice on how to do it. Some games such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport also have bonus races that act like sidequests in most RPGs, as they're entirely optional and do not influence the completion of the main career. Other games, such as Project CARS, take it a bit further by having full-fledged career modes where you take control of your racing career, all the way down to team contracts.
  • Adventure Island IV. There are plenty of side routes although most of the level layout itself goes fairly linearly.
  • Afraid of Monsters, at least in its "Director's Cut" Updated Re-release. Backtracking is allowed up to a point, enough so that one of the Multiple Endings is unlocked by grabbing a key found in one path then turning around and going down the other path to find the door that key unlocks, though there are several points of no return which lock you into whatever path you've chosen or otherwise prevent you from going back.
  • In Blaster Master series, levels are opened in order, but there is a lot of backtracking to do and plenty of side areas.
  • Cave Story feels like a Metroidvania game, but is more linear than usual. The progression through the levels is limited by the plot and many levels are linear in design, but backtracking is rarely difficult and there are a bunch of rewarding side quests.
  • Most Final Fantasy games. You have a handful of sidequests and might be able to visit a few places early, but it's all about the story. Though their non-linear last acts tend to be closer to level 4.
  • Golden Sun, especially The Lost Age.
    • No matter which direction you prefer to do the Osenia loop, you can make a very good case for it being the "correct" onenote , and once you get the Lemurian Ship, you gain access to roughly half a dozen areas, all of which have to be completed in order to assemble the pieces of a necessary Plot Coupon and most of which can be completed prior to completing any of the others.
    • Golden Sun is the most linear of the three, but still has nothing indicating which way to go from Bilibin. The intended next destination is Kolima, at which point you'll be sent to Imil after beating the boss of the forest, but there's nothing to stop you from going to Imil first and it'll make Kolima Forest easier as you pick up a new party member in Imil.
    • Dark Dawn has a similar structure to Lost Age—fairly linear up until a point (though even heavier on the sidequests that require you to double back to locations you've already been to, often with a very small window of opportunity) and then a second half in which a bunch of objectives need to be completed in no particular order to unlock the next bit of storyline progression.
  • Hexen straddles Level 2 and 3. Compared to Doom, instead of a linear series of maps it is made up of level hubs. Within the confines of a single hub, you can freely travel from level to level and backtrack to previous maps, but can't return to a previous hub. The gameplay still requires you to locate switches and keys to open the way forward; sometimes you have several tasks you can approach in any order, though other times there's a linear sequence you need to stick to. Like in Doom, there's also quite a lot of secret areas to explore if you so wish. The game overall feels a bit more open than Doom.
  • Unlike the other Medal of Honor titles, Medal of Honor: Airborne gives players the option of where to start, and which objectives to accomplish first. While the levels do end in a linear fashion, the game gives freedom for the players on how to progress through the semi-open world portions. Doing so may reveal hidden weapons, skill drops, and ammo resupply stations.
  • The Last Story is divided into chapters, and as such has expectantly a more linear progression than other RPGs, but some chapters are optional, and both Lazulis City and the castle are explorable extensively for sidequests (including the aforementioned optional chapters).
  • Messiah. The game is overall linear, but there's a couple of side areas to find and the levels often let you run around more or less freely; there's also some backtracking. There also tend to be at least two paths to finish a task, even if the choice is usually between "get past stealthily" and "kill everyone".
  • The Metal Gear series, though close to a 2, makes it into this level. There aren't any side quests (except in Peace Walker), but exploring can lead to weapons, ammo, and supplies that can make your experience easier, and there are plenty of ways to navigate each room/area. In Metal Gear Solid 3 there are what you might call sidequests in the form of destroying weapon and food supplies to reduce the effectiveness of guards in surrounding areas, also a few things like destroying the helicopter so it can't harass you later on or killing The End early on.
  • EarthBound (1994), while linear overall and having some rather blatant cases of Railroading, gives each individual area a wide-open feel and lets you choose to do certain objectives immediately or later on, especially after reaching Summers. The dungeons leading to the "Your Sanctuary" Plot Coupons can be completed in practically any order, though some are unlocked much later than others.
  • Pandora's Tower starts in a linear fashion as you clear the towers one by one, but after the first five are conquered you're invited to complete the following five in any order; this allows you to get certain collectible items earlier to upgrade more often your weapons and tools, as well as bring gifts to Elena to increase the affection status between her and Aeron. When they're all cleared, two more towers open and require to be beaten simultaneously, but the ability to warp between them means that the order of going through the rooms is up to the player. After that, the final level is unlocked.
  • Radiant Historia. The storyline is very linear and you can't reach anywhere the story doesn't specifically send you, but there are a downright ridiculous number of sidequests and backtracking (via Time Travel) is half the point of the game.
  • The Resident Evil games frequently switch levels, note  but most are close to this level. Despite having rather Metroidvania style of gameplay, especially the earlier entries, each game still requires players to proceed in a manner so that plot-progressing areas are blocked off until completing specific objectives in a set order (e.g. doors will be locked until obtaining the necessary key item to unlock it, and there's a likely chance that that newly unlocked room will either have another key item for something else or led to an entirely new area that must be progressed through). You're still allowed to explore the settings for anything useful like new weapons or (depending on the game) treasure, but there's a good chance these items will be inaccessible until past a certain point, so some backtracking will be required.
  • Super Mario World is still mostly linear, but does offer some options as to the routes you take. Many levels have two different exits which set you off on different paths along the map. Though all the road splits either eventually meet up again or lead to the bonus areas, you do have some choices how you progress through the map if you're not trying to find everything to get 100% Completion. The most open-ended area is the Forest of Illusion, since its primary theme is having a maze-like map that can only be fully unveiled by finding all secret exits. This trend is kept for the New Super Mario Bros. subseries and the 3D installments Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario 3D World.
  • The Tomb Raider series in general; levels throughout the series might only have one exit, but are frequently quite open beyond that. Some of the games approach level 2, and others verge on Level 4.
  • Wonder Boy series: Some games in the series have a general metroidvania layout (Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap as an early example and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom as a modern one) but only one major area/dungeon gets unlocked at a time; getting a new ability will usually allow access to a few minor secrets but as far as the main quest goes your new ability will only unlock the next dungeon.

     Level 4  

  • 1000 Amps. Eventually you'll get to the main branching hub and you'll start to can start beating each branch of the world from there.
  • Assassin's Creed. The story is divided into Sequences, but almost none of them keeps players away from the playable overworld, in which a vast array of optional activities and secrets can be found.
  • Astral Chain: The game's story progresses chapter-by-chapter, and the majority of action sequences are played one by one in a linear pattern (justified due to the setting's ongoing crisis caused by the conflict between humans and chimeras). However, prior to the moment in the current chapter when things go south, the player is free to explore leisurely the part of the Ark where their police investigation begins; this allows them to perform several sidequests to help characters and complete challenges and minigames. Thus, the game swings between exploration and linear action in almost every chapter, attaining a balance.
  • The Banjo-Kazooie series. The worlds are unlocked one by one as Jiggies are collected, but the Fractional Winning Condition allows players to go through them their own way.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum. You work your way through a single linear storyline with only one sidequest (solving the 240 Riddler riddles, which is a borderline example of a sidequest) but you are free to travel anywhere on the island and use newer gadgets in older levels to discover new secrets. The actual story takes you back through at least four previously explored locations. A Metroid Vania title.
  • Borderlands and its sequel. While fairly linear in progression of story missions, there are plenty of side quests to be completed whenever (as soon as available or even after you've beaten the main quest). And if DLCs are available, you can start their story quests immediately, even before finishing the main game!
  • Calico is divided into six areas, with players starting in the center area, and requiring them to do certain quests to unlock the ability to enter each area. Once all areas are unlocked, their full connectedness means that players can now go anywhere. They even earn the ability to fly for even more freedom of travel.
  • Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross feature (multiple) worlds that you can easily explore and open up fairly quickly, with numerous optional sidequests and incentives to revisit old areas. In Chrono Trigger, you can fight the final boss at any time starting less than halfway through the game; in Chrono Cross, you can make numerous important decisions that affect which areas you will need to navigate, which characters join your party, and how various subplots are resolved. Both games feature Multiple Endings, though without using New Game Plus, they are implausible in Trigger and impossible in Cross.
  • Dark Souls takes a very Metroidvania-like approach to its levels: once you leave the Tutorial Level, you have a pretty obvious "correct" story path before you and a couple less obvious paths to much later areas, barred by Beef Gates or literal locked gates (which you can bypass early with the Master Key). As you clear available areas, you unlock passages to more areas, as well as shortcuts back to the ones you know, so while every large level has its own self-contained ecosystem, they all remain interconnected.
  • Deus Ex: The "acts" are self-contained, and until you complete the task you can't advance to the next area, but within those acts you can explore and use stealth, hacking or shoot-em-up to complete your tasks. However, many of the more linear sections (especially later in the game) come closer to level 3.
  • Donkey Kong 64, at first, limits the player to the events and places tailored for the eponymous character, then it adds the content meant for Diddy Kong once he is freed from his captivity, and so on with Tiny, Lanky and finally Chunky. By that point, every subsequent world unlocked has a copious amount of stuff to offer from the get-go now that all characters are available.
  • Dragon Age: Origins: You're locked into your beginning (one of six), the main storyline is always the most crucial thing, and while you can explore side quests concurrently with the main plot, certain areas of the game remain locked until certain points of the main story (often with a Beef Gate).
  • Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan has plenty of Caves, only a few of which are required to progress through the campaign. The Mazes are the only explicitly-mandatory destinations, but their large size and scope allows the customized party to explore them extensively at their own pace. The other games rely on a floor-by-floor progression (there is no overworld in them except for The Drowned City), but even those have various secret areas and passageways that are optional.
  • Final Fantasy V. Lots of sidequests and exploration, solid main plot.
  • Final Fantasy XII, verging on Level 5. There's probably more gameplay in the optional material than the main story, but you don't have to do any of it.
  • Final Fantasy XIV is rather straightforward for an MMORPG, and while there's a lot of side quests and the like to go through, going through the Main Scenario questline is very important for unlocking new content and features, and each expansion needs to be followed by the previous.
  • The first two games in the Gothic series. You can explore most of the expansive game world from the beginning, though a lot of the areas are inhabited by powerful enemies and some plot-critical areas are locked until later in the game. There's also a healthy amount of optional areas to explore.
  • GreedFall starts with one area and gradually opens up as the player explores and furthers the main quest. While there are side quests, they are not in any great number and the focus is put on the main plot lines.
  • Jet Force Gemini is linear at first, as each of the three characters has a predetermined route consisting of three worlds (specifically, two planets and one enemy vessel) plus a visit to Mizar's Palace, the Disc-One Final Dungeon. Once all three meet there and Mizar is defeated for the first time, every character can freely access to any level available, allowing them to access places that were originally only available for the first visitor.
  • The original King's Bounty was either a very high five or a low six. There is a time-limited quest that drives the game, and, in theory, the way to complete the quest is to go fight the enemy bosses, which you are encouraged to do in order, since they get tougher as you go. But you don't have to fight the bosses in order, or at all: a Pacifist Run is possible. There are some other limitations, mind you. You start out in the first continent and cannot travel to any of the others until you find the maps, but once you find the maps to open up each continent, you can sail back and forth at will. Also, you have access to a limited number of warrants at a time, so if you go after a later boss before catching at least some of the earlier bosses, you'll have to let him go, since you won't have the legal authority to arrest him. Within those limitations, however, you have a lot of freedom to explore and do what you feel like.
  • KUNAI lands pretty squarely in this territory. The game's set up Metroidvania-style, with progress primarily driven by finding new areas and the weapons within to further the plot. For those willing to seek them out, the game also includes pickups for main character Tabby's health and different headwear for your ninja robot.
  • Most The Legend of Zelda games have a fixed order to complete the dungeons, but allow the player to explore the overworld to do sidequests and play minigames, and new areas become available for this purpose as the dungeons are cleared. Some games, like A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, do allow the player to complete dungeons in a different order after the Master Sword was collected. Exceptions to the Level 4 family include The Legend of Zelda (at Level 5 for having an overall nonlinear progression), Spirit Tracks (at Level 3 during most of the playthrough due to the need to travel through the overworld via train) and Breath of the Wild (at level 6 for being fully open-ended to the point of allowing the player to defeat the Final Boss while bypassing almost everything else).
  • The Metroid series, though both Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption often lean towards a 3. Metroid: Other M is a 3 and leans towards a 2.
  • Monster Hunter: Progression in all games is regulated by the player's current Hunter Rank, but in each chapter only a few quests are required to raise it, thus leaving the (many) others for optional grinding, exploration, and overall leisure. And near the end the HR can be raised without any constraints by simply accumulating rank points.
  • No More Heroes has a wide open world, but there is little reason to explore it. Aside from key locations where side jobs, shops and other places can be found, the main reason for Santa Destroy's large space is to collect various collectibles (buried underground or otherwise). No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle does away with this (the levels, shops, minigames and such are all selectable through a menu accessed as soon as Travis exits his hotel room), and thus dials back to a 3. No More Heroes III goes back to a 4, featuring multiple explorable cities, each with their own activities and collectibles.
  • Ōkami has some parts in which the player is locked by urgent events and cannot roam freely, but otherwise is very expansive and open-ended.
  • The Pathless is divided into several very large, very explorable and open areas, but each must be earned in order, before the next one can be unlocked. As players progress and open more of the areas, more of the overall world is connected and explorable.
  • Pikmin: Each installment of the series limits your progress at first. You start with only Red Pikmin in a single area, and discover more Pikmin types and areas one at a time. Pikmin 3 presents further limitations with the captains, as you start with only one of them playable, when some obstacles require more to overcome. But by the time all Pikmin (and captains) are unlocked, the restrictions come loose and you can complete each area in almost any order. Pikmin 2 in particular allows you to fight the Final Boss long before triggering the Golden Ending, which requires 100% Completion.
  • Rabi-Ribi is this on the surface, being a Metroidvania game where you have some freedom in which to explore areas and tackle bosses in the order of your preference, but many areas are inaccessible if you don't have the necessary mobility upgrades. However, there are secret techniques that elevate the game to level 5 on the scale, allowing you to fight a large number of bosses early or even outright skip some of them, and if you choose to do a Minimalist Run, the game will alter some areas to accomodate your lack of any upgrades whatsoever, effectively breaking the sandbox wide open, though some areas still remain non-accessible until later chapters. Many of these atypical ways to play even have their own achievements.
  • The Ratchet & Clank games can reach this level depending on the game. The first and second games in the series would often open up multiple planets at once for you to explore, each with several branching paths and multiple objectives to complete, with even more routes opening up as you obtain more gadgets. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal by comparison is far more straightforward and linear and is more akin to a Level 3, as there's still a few side quests and secrets encouraging revisiting and exploring levels, but the main story doesn't emphasize it.
  • SaGa Frontier: Most of the character's stories fall into this category; Blue, Coon/Riki, Red, Emelia, and T260G have linear questlines but exist in an open world with a massive amount of sidequests and explorable areas. Red has a bit of a storyline to follow before Opening the Sandbox, though, and Blue is a unique case as his questline is composed of what would be sidequests for everyone else.
  • Seiklus. There is a main objective but you can start doing this from any end. There are few sidequests though.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • A few of the 3D entries, such as Sonic Adventure, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), and Sonic Unleashed, contain multiple hubworlds that serve as an access point to action stages, and contain a few side quests for the player to do. These games in particular also feature levels that require the player to explore levels to collect items in order to complete the level; instead of getting to the goal as in most Sonic stages. (Sonic Adventure 2 also features these levels, despite having a linear level progression.) Unlocking these hubworlds (and the levels/sidequests they contain) is of a sequential nature, though.
    • Once Splash Hill Zone Act 1 was completed, the mobile and beta/Partnernet versions of Sonic 4: Episode I allowed for every Act in every Zone to be playable from its level select menu. All Acts in a Zone had to be completed before the player could fight the Boss levels, however; and the Chaos Emeralds are still required to unlock E.G.G. Station Zone. The PC and console versions meanwhile lacked this oddity, instead having the traditional setup of unlocking zones/stages in a set order.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is unique among the 2D Mario games in that it allows the player to tackle the six main Zones in any order. The only requirement is that all of them have to be completed eventually in order to unlock the final, single-level world (Wario's Castle).
    • Super Mario 64: Being the first 3D installment in the Mario franchise, it is a lot more open-ended than the 2D games. It remains a 4 throughout and verge on 5 when enough of the Hub Level (Princess Peach's Castle) is opened up.
    • Super Mario Sunshine: The game's worlds have a linear episodic progression due to how each mission alters the conditions and events of the current world. However, since all worlds have their access located in Delfino Plaza, which is an outdoors Hub Level, the gameplay is still very open and reminiscent of sandbox games (the only Event Flag necessary to unlock the last level is to defeat Shadow Mario in every other level).
    • Super Mario Galaxy: The game is a level 4 in terms of progress and the freedom to skip (or get ahead into) levels if the current number of Stars allow it, but most levels themselves are either Level 2 (Good Egg Galaxy, Battlerock Galaxy, etc.) or 3 (Beach Bowl Galaxy, Gold Leaf Galaxy, etc.) depending on the case. It opens further when Prankster Comets are unlocked and Luigi is rescued.
    • Super Mario Odyssey: The game builds upon the open-ended style of the earlier 3D Mario games and further streamlines the exploration by allowing the player to continue exploring the levels after collecting each Power Moon without taking them back outside.
    • Super Mario Maker 2: The Story Mode progresses by way of the rebuild of Princess Peach Castle, which is funded by the money Mario earns by completing the levels offered to him. As a result, and because the levels aren't sorted by Worlds, it's up to the player to choose which levels to complete in order to complete the repair process. There are also additional levels besides the 90 numbered ones tied to extra activities, increasing the total to 120.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • While there are plenty of quests to give your character something to do, there is no overarching motivation or plot for your character beyond the eternal pursuit of loot.
    • Cataclysm brings it down a notch - now there is a defined quest path through each specific zone and skipping parts of the zone is mostly impossible. But it still stays open in choosing the zone - this is only limited by character's level.
  • Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania in which some areas are locked until you have certain spells, artefacts or charms. Most areas of the game have more than one way in, enabling Plot Coupons to be tackled in any order. You can defeat the final boss without exploring the entire game, the Hive specially.

     Level 5  

  • Although many Fighting Fantasy books were only level 1 or 2, some authors (in particular Jonathan Green and Keith Martin) managed to reach level 5 by keeping track of events with a system of codewords, reference modifiers and alphanumeric codes to keep track of events, as well as including a large number of optional encounters that give you various different ways of fighting the endgame. A remarkable example based on the The Lord of the Rings is A Spy in Isengard: You could go anywhere on the map, at your own pace and schedule, and return to locations you had previously visited if you wanted. There was an overarching quest, with a time limit, but if you didn't finish in time, that was merely a suboptimal ending, not a total defeat. Also, you could choose one of three different possible end points, although you did have to choose at the beginning. Some of the other books in the series had similar mechanics, although few would rank as high on the scale, but some, like Treason at Helm's Deep, which would probably constitute a level two, were much more linear. Since your typical gamebook was a level two or three, this was a pretty impressive feat. The first book in the series, Night of the Nazgûl, was also about a five technically, but since a lot of the location passages referred to the same encounter passages, it was like playing in a Wide-Open Sandbox where you could go anywhere, but almost everywhere was identical to at least several other locations.
  • ARMA II. The majority of battles are not scripted, player needs to decide where to go and how to approach objectives etc.
  • Atelier Series:
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition is linear for about an hour and then hands the reins over to the player. The massive open world and less emphasis on the main quest in favor of exploration would end up turning players around to the point many new players are told that yes, they can (and should) leave the Hinterlands.
  • EarthBound Beginnings starts out fairly linear, but once you clear Duncan's Factory in the second town, the entire map save for the cave leading to the Final Boss and a room branching off of it is opened up. While there are only a few sidequests on account of being an NES game, you can visit new towns and gather the remaining Melodies to unlock the final battle in whatever order you wish following this point.
  • The Fallout series is highly open, and you can go anywhere right from the start, to the extent that you can survive where you go. There's a main story in each, but except in the first game (which has a rather strict time limit) you're free to ignore it and run the sidequests for a year's play or so. Fallout 2 is a borderline 6, as you can speedrun the main quest immediately after leaving Arroyo if you're brazen enough and know where to go, or wander the wasteland solving quests in every town, with only a 13-year time limit to constrain you.
  • Fantasy Life. There's a main plot that unlocks new areas bit by bit, but you can forget about it at any point to work on your job skills, gather and craft items, or do some of the hundreds of sidequests available. Also published by Level5.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy II. Once you get the canoe you can go to any location on the planet except for Deist and the Black Mask Island and Palamecia, but be prepared for Beef Gates to curb stomp you back onto the plot.
    • Final Fantasy VI, once you hit the World of Ruin and gain the Falcon, you are able to travel anywhere on the world map, but acquiring most party members is entirely optional.
    • Final Fantasy X-2. Technically most of the game is optional, but you'll need to do most of the side quests to be at a decent level.
    • Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. After the first couple of hours in either game, you can do what you want.
    • In Final Fantasy Tactics A2 literally only 20 of 301 missions (more if you count non-mission encounters with monsters or other clans and Brightmoon Tor) are main-story missions. Completing them all without any of the experience, unlocked classes, or loot (and thus gear) from non-story missions is nearly impossible but even then you can easily make it with only a very small fraction of missions completed if you have a small clan.
  • Freelancer has a storyline which cannot be easily departed from (there are a chain of level caps, all the gear is level-limited, and you can't Open The Sandbox until you complete the earlier quests), but the storyline doesn't take much time, and after that it's a true Wide-Open Sandbox. Of course, it's also not hard to completely max out your ride and have the entire map explored, at which point it becomes hard to set compelling goals.
  • The Grand Theft Auto series, with an added sense of irony (you are supposed to advance through a plot, but the games invite you to do all sorts of activities, including criminal ones).
  • Guild Wars has a main storyline for all three campaigns, but you can freely explore most areas of the world, with the chance to explore high end areas as a low-level character...if you can survive the onslaught of level 20 mobs in between (example: the run from Northen to Southern Shiverpeaks).
  • Guild Wars 2: Both open world exploration and storyline are favored. Sidequests are replaced by Events, sort of what Side Quests would be like if their backstory was actually played out note  and by trait gathering, which is Side Quests without exclamation marks note 
  • Legend of Mana. All of the 60 or so quests are optional but playing through them rewards you with artifacts that you choose where to place on the Overworld Not to Scale to create the Adventure Towns. There are very few cues to determine where to go or who to talk to to progress, leading to long sessions of wandering around the world looking for what to do next. While highly addicting due to its incredible amount of customization options and details, the lack of a strong central narrative to tie the 3 main story arcs together was criticized.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect, there are plenty of sidequests to keep you busy, and you can do the main missions in any order you want. Do enough main missions, and more are unlocked.
    • Mass Effect 2 belongs either here or further down the list. You are provided with an objective and a list of party members you can recruit to help you achieve it, some of them optional; there are also side quests which focus on those party members' Character Development and thus increase the likelihood of them having clear heads and steady hands once things start getting real. Of course, it also starts with a heavy-handed dose of Railroading in which you are forced to work for The Mafia just because they brought you Back from the Dead, so, there's that.
    • Mass Effect 3 is even further down the list than 2, with the hub worlds being reduced to just the Citadel, and a much more compact mission structure (only 2-3 missions per world at most, as opposed to dozens in the previous games).
  • Romancing SaGa and Romancing SaGa 3. Romancing SaGa 2 is closer to a 6 than a 5, but still has that overarching plot.
  • Asellus' story in Sa Ga Frontier. She has a linear opening, but then spends her time Walking the Earth and exploring, while occasionally the plot interjects a boss or dungeon as Orlouge tries to get White Rose back. After the end of that arc, Asellus is free to finish up sidequests before The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
  • Saints Row same reasons as GTA.
  • Steambot Chronicles has a plethora of side-quests to do, as well as various diversions to keep players entertained, such as performing music (both in a band and on street corners), dungeon exploring, arena combat, and billiards.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. In all three games, until a few hours before the end of the game there is literally nothing stopping you from turning around and hiking all the way back to the starting area.
  • System Shock' is broken up into "floors", but each floor is a massive, open map with multiple side-objectives (such as activating Resurrection Chambers) and a number of ways of accomplishing your main task. Example. The sequel is more of a level 3.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, almost all sidequests that are not mercenary contracts (although even the contracts may contain this as well) have a moral decision accopled to them and half the game is spent on sidequests and exploration, though there is a leveling system.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 1 has a multitude of sidequests, vast open worlds and even Non-Combat EXP for completing the overarching Cartography Sidequest, getting achievements and Colony 6 reconstruction, both of which aren't essential to the plot (yet essential for achieving 100% Completion). The 60-hour campaign is just miniscule compared to the immense amount of sidequests, and some of these sidequests even give you smaller-scale stories on the worlds of Bionis and Mechonis.

     Level 6  

  • Animal Crossing: While the game does give you the initial goal of paying off the mortgage on your house, that doesn't last long, and is only the very tip of the iceberg of what there is to do in this game. (You are also in no way forced to ever pay it off.)
  • Dwarf Fortress, true to its nature, has no win condition, only a neverending series of lose conditions, all of which can be suspended indefinitely with relative ease. Adventure mode is even more wide open, but the lack of options that goes alongside the lack of limitations makes it more of a Level 2 in practice.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The series in general falls far on the "Openness" side of the spectrum, mostly at a level 6 with certain sequences of specific games toning it down toward level 5. All the games in the main series have main quests which you are directed toward in the early going, but as soon as the sandbox is opened, you are perfectly free to forgo the main quest entirely to do whatever you want to do instead. This includes exploring the wide open game world, engaging in the Sidequest Sidestories (some of which are nearly as expansive as the main quests of the games), and the Loads and Loads of other side quests offered.
    • In Daggerfall, it's very easy to forgo the main quest, especially since there is a time limit respond to a plot-important NPC's letter. (If you fail to report during the time limit, you literally cannot complete the main quest but can still engage in everything else the game has to offer.) Beyond that, you are on your own to explore and seek out sidequests.
    • Morrowind:
      • Morrowind follows in the same vein. There is a lengthy and detailed main quest, and you are pointed toward it the game's very early going. However, you can skip it entirely and still play the game for hundreds of hours with everything else there is to do.
      • The expansions, Tribunal and Bloodmoon, turn it down a bit to level 5. Each is far more structured and has less non-main-quest content available. Both are still far more open than typical RPGs, however.
    • Oblivion and Skyrim take a step backwards toward level 5 as well. In each game, there are far more locations that inaccessible unless you are taking part in a related quest. Skyrim in particular does a lot of "carrot dangling" to try to get you to do the main story content. For example, while the game opens up immediately after Helgen, you have to keep playing the main quest for a little while if you want access to the powerful dragon shouts, while some of the other quests and expansion material steer you back to the main quest. This is why about a third of those who play Skyrim do end up completing the main quest, which is high for such an open game.
  • Elona: Like Dwarf Fortress's Adventure Mode, except more pretty. You can do the main quest, but you're not forced into it, you can take as long as you like, and you can even turn it off.
  • In The Sims 3, 'story mode' alludes to often dichotomous plotlines for the initial housesholds when you start a new game, in true soap opera fashion, but there's little chance of any of these storylines proceeding without direct player intervention, and player-created families aren't included. There's no 'sandbox mode', but there are options to make the game even more open than the ostensible 'story mode' is. The earlier games are similar, although there are console versions that are somewhat more linear.
  • Creatures
  • Spore's Space Stage. Your homeworld gives you storyline missions, but you're free to ignore all but the introduction before going off to play with your tools in the celestial sandbox. You just have to watch out for your homeworld getting destroyed by aliens, as they never defend themselves.
  • Viva Piñata (at least Trouble in Paradise)
  • Minecraft:
    • The main game lets you do virtually anything whenever, wherever and however you want, with no plot at all. There's only one "climax" in the game, and that's reaching and fighting The Ender Dragon, which takes you to the game's credits, but even this is completely optional.note  However, default Minecraft is not the only way you can play this game:
    • Most custom Adventure maps tend towards 1 or 2 if they have an actual plot. Wool collection maps are usually 3 or 4.
    • There are Survival Maps made which basically follow the basic rules of Minecraft, but add some theme or twist, like being stranded on an island, or being stuck in the sky, or something along those lines. These maps tend to be anywhere from level 3 to 5.
  • In SaGa Frontier, Lute's quest. His entire game is about playing in the sandbox until he finds the main quest, and then he has to complete sidequests until he's buff enough to survive The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. You can go straight from the beginning to the ending if you like getting slaughtered.
  • A Short Hike gives players the goal of reaching the top of a mountain. This can be done so easily that speed runs exist of the game being completed in 5 minutes. But players are able to spend hours exploring, talking to characters, collecting things, going on races, flying, and more.
  • SimCity and its Spiritual Successor Cities: Skylines will let you build anything from a tiny mountain village to a huge metropolis, and from a dystopian wasteland to a paradise. As long as you avoid bankruptcy, the game goes on. Even if you burn the whole city to the ground.
  • Most early simulation games are like that. You just get thrown into the game world with a hinted goal of "get rich". If there is a back story, it's All There in the Manual. This is probably the only genre that tends to go down the scale in sequels.
  • EVE Online has player-run corporations, with all the various positions and routes for advancement that entails, and this economic system also allows for many forms of criminal activity and freelance work.
  • LSD: Dream Emulator has no plot besides the fact that it's supposedly a dream in one constant world (and it's pretty big) that changes the longer you play.
  • Star Control II. It has a main quest. But even finding out what that is has to be done via exploration, let alone completing it. You're given the rather vague goal of "destroy the Ur-Quan", which is a tall order, considering that they have thousands of ships and you have... one. No, wait; two. You have to fly around a galaxy with hundreds of star systems and look for other civilizations who might be convinced to help in the fight against the Ur-Quan.
  • Elite, its sequels, and its Fan Remake Oolite are all prime examples, with the player being able to do almost anything they want to. The former is even the Trope Codifier for the Wide-Open Sandbox genre.
  • No Man's Sky takes the Elite-like formula further. There is a single-player campaign, but that's about it — the entire game was designed to break the Guinness World Records for the most player-explorable worlds in a game, with procedurally-generated worlds that are all completely unique.
  • Garry's Mod. Again, not so much a game as it is a way to mess around with nearly everything ever made by Valve (but mostly Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike and the Half-Life series). Many Machinima are made using this "game".
  • Roblox: Though it's not technically a video game, you can create and/or play any kind of game posible.
  • Egosoft's X-Universe series started as a level 5 (Beyond the Frontier gave you fairly clear indications on what to do next, and trading/building was finalized to doing the final quest), but quickly evolved into a type 6. In the later games, the player is given the choice of starting an entirely plotless game, where mission scripting is completely disabled, just so they can exploit the game's universe to their heart's content.
  • The Russian FPS/RPG hybrids Xenus series (In America/Western Europe, the first game is known as Boiling Point: Road to Hell and the second White Gold: War in Paradise), which feature a rather open Main Quest with different ways to progress plus lots of sidequests for different factions in a large, open world.
  • Yume Nikki technically has player objectives and an ending, but you'd never know it unless you read a walkthrough. Most of the gameplay simply involves aimlessly wandering around the protagonist's Dream Land, and soaking in all the deliciously creepy atmosphere along the way.
  • Terraria. You spawn with some basic tools and a Guide who tells you what you can build with any materials you have on hand and gives you tips on how to survive in the long term. Otherwise, it's up to you. Later patches to the game focus on boss-hunting, which bumps this game down closer to Level 5.
  • Second Life. It's not really even a game. You can design your own objects (even importing designs from sophisticated real world 3D design tools such as Blender and Maya) you can write scripts in an actual scripting language, you can even code your own Viewer for the world. The game's content is mostly generated by the players based on a real economy. But what really puts it at the extreme end of the spectrum is that you can build your own games and/or play games built by other "players." In fact, for the first 6 or 7 years, the only actual games to play were created by users. The only sandbox more extreme than this is Open Sim which is the open source code released by Second Life's creators. It doesn't even feature the Linden's regulations.
  • Burnout Paradise and its Spiritual Successor Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) (both developed by Criterion Games) are among the most nonlinear racing games ever, with multiple cars to drive in to do several events strewn across their open and well-detailed cities (Paradise City and Fairhaven, respectively). They both have a means of progress (Paradise's licenses and the Most Wanted list in the NFS game), but they have several events and collectables that will make you almost forget about them, and they can be completed in any order you please. Their multiplayer modes stretch them even further by having challenges and other unique events thrown into the mix, without taking you away from their locales to put you in waiting lobbies.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X, in comparison to its predecessor, has a massive planet to explore. After Chapter 3, the game allows you to go anywhere you want, the main story won't even progress until you accept the corresponding "story mission". Once players obtain the ability to fly in their skells, the entire world opens up: no place is out of reach.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, allows you to go anywhere you want once you're done with the Great Plateau, you could fight Ganon immediately if you want (which speedrunners actually do), while having only 3-4 hearts, and you can do any Divine Beast in any order. No place is out of reach. Its sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, goes further in letting the player go even more places by expanding the world, and even reaching the game's dungeons before they're intended to be played.
  • Treasures Of The Aegean is an open-world 2D platformer with elements of parkour and puzzle platforming. Players start in randomly chosen locations and can explore freely in any direction. Ultimately, they're required to solve a few specific puzzles to be able to reach the ending, but the rest of the gameplay, including finding the treasures themselves, is totally free-form.

Alternative Title(s): Sliding Scale Of Linearity Versus Openness