Ask an inexperienced person what they consider a sandbox game and you are bound to be greeted by a variety of different answers. This is because sandbox games span an impressive number of sub-genres and the best sandbox games can be classified as plenty of things. As a matter of fact, Skyrim is just as much of a sandbox game as Minecraft! Although some of them focus on strategy, some on survival, and some on epic dragon quests, what they all have in common is the freedom they provide to the player.
Sandbox games are, in a sense, open world games. There are some variations, though, just like in the case of some games which don’t really have a wide space to explore but give players the freedom to build their own environment. The key word here is freedom. And, luckily, with this genre being so vast and varied, there is a sandbox game for everyone.
#1 Grand Theft Auto
Photo Courtesy of Rockstar North
It’s pretty difficult for many of us to place GTA in one particular category. We all know that it’s hugely open in terms of world exploration. We also know that you can steal cars, beat up people, and do generally horrible and illegal things, but is there a genre for it? As long as there’s freedom involved, it counts among the best sandbox games of all time for sure.
Minecraft is a solid representation for the other major type of sandbox games. Surely, it doesn’t have any excellent graphics and this instantly means that realism and immersion aren’t the points that this game is attempting to sell. But it does have a cheeky unique particularity which reels you in and keeps you stranded to your computer for hours until you remember you’d forgotten to feed your pet goldfish.
#3 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Photo Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks
Whether you call this a stretch or not, there’s no denying that one of the main elements that made Skyrim so popular was the openness of the world. That and the dragons, of course. If you’re one of those people seeking to get involved in a gameplay that never ends, this is your place to go. The main quest is fairly short, but this is wholly made up for curtsy of the dozens and dozens of other things you can do.
#4 Just Cause 3
Imagine Goat Simulator if it took itself slightly more seriously. That’s not to say that Just Cause thinks super highly of itself, it doesn’t, but it certainly knows how to maintain an interesting balance. Attach a grapple hook to various things and watch as chaos gets unleashed upon the beautifully animated island of Medici.
#5 Garry’s Mod
Photo Courtesy of Facepunch Studios
It’s difficult to define sandbox games, but it’s even more difficult to describe Garry’s Mod. Judging by the name alone, it should be pretty obvious that the focus here doesn’t exactly fall on an intricate plot and character development. There is some sort of development involved, though – world development, to be precise. Garry’s Mod gameplay which allows players to create their own paths, maps, and worlds spawned some incredibly creative things, such as the famously hilarious Prop Hunt.
#6 Kerbal Space Program
Is there someone who wouldn’t like being able to toy around with asteroids and mess around with space objects? Kerbal Space Program ambitiously aspires to be more than just a game that propels players in the heart of outer space and it does so by creating an environment in which legit knowledge of physics and mathematics actually matter. You build rockets to send in space, but what you actually do there and how you do it is all up to you.
#7 Don’t Starve
Photo Courtesy of Klei Entertainment
Don’t Starve is what a survival game would look like if it met Tim Burton… and we love it. At the start of the game, you are pretty much just hurled in the middle of the forest and prompted to survive. That’s it, no further directions or instructions are given. But the style is incredibly charming, the world creative, and this is a game that managed to give a refreshing twist to sandbox and survival games alike.
#8 The Sims
It’s funny to think that anyone could ever put The Sims, Minecraft, and The Elder Scrolls in the same category – the best sandbox games category that is. But, yes, all things considered, The Sims is about as much of a sandbox game as it gets. Not only are you given the freedom and the possibility to build your own house and design your own characters, but since there’s no plot, the direction and the things you choose to do are still completely up to you.