Open-world! Sandbox! These two terms are nearly ubiquitous in modern game advertising, and developers seem to be falling all over themselves to prove that their new game is the sandboxest and the open…nest of all. Cool. No problem with that. The thing with open world is that it’s essentially meaningless if there’s nothing do to there and doesn’t amount to much of anything.

That said, there are some game that make it world very well, and they are the ones we’re going to focus on here. But first things first.

Basic terminology

For clarity we should briefly explain the difference between “open world” and “sandbox”, because contrary to popular understanding they are not the same.

Open worldopen world games have just that. An open world. It isn’t a gameplay concept as much as a world structure. If your game has a huge overall map and allows for largely uninhibited travel it’s open world. Not much to say about it.
Sandbox – can be coupled with open world, but really doesn’t have to. Sandbox games give you tools and let you run wild with them. The gameplay is open-ended, you are encouraged to make your own fun, instead of experiencing what the game has prepared.

Having set the terms, we can move on to giving a brief list of subjectively best sandbox games.

GameReleasedGenreDeveloperTrailerSale
Valheim 2021-02-02 RPG, fighting, adventure Iron Gate AB - Read more
Crusader Kings III 2020-09-01 Strategy Paradox Development Studio -61% Read more
Red Dead Redemption 2 2019-11-05 Action & Adventure Rockstar Games -45% Read more
The Sims 4 (Origin) 2014-09-04 Simulation Maxis -80% Read more
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 2011-11-11 Adventure Bethesda Game Studios -79% Read more
Divinity: Original Sin II 2017-09-14 Adventure Larian Studios -50% Read more
HITMAN: Goty 2017-11-07 Stealth IO Interactive -93% Read more
HITMAN 2 2018-11-13 Action IO Interactive -82% Read more
HITMAN 3 2021-01-20 Stealth IO Interactive - Read more
Arma 3 2013-09-12 Action & Shooter Bohemia Interactive -27% Read more
No Mans Sky 2016-08-12 Adventure Hello Games -75% Read more
Elite Dangerous 2014-12-16 Strategy Frontier Developments plc -67% Read more
Just Cause 3 2015-11-30 Adventure Avalanche Studios -85% Read more
ARK: Survival Evolved 2015-06-02 Adventure Efecto Studios - Read more
Surviving Mars 2018-03-15 Simulation Haemimont Games -90% Read more
Oxygen Not Included 2017-05-18 Action & Shooter Klei Entertainment -0% Read more
Metro Exodus 2020-02-14 Adventure 4A GAMES -84% Read more
Astroneer 2016-12-15 Adventure System Era Softworks -25% Read more
Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar) 2015-04-14 Adventure Rockstar North -69% Read more
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) 2017-03-03 Action-adventure Nintendo EPD - Read more
Dishonored 2012-10-12 Adventure Arkane Studios -67% Read more
Dishonored 2 2016-11-11 Action Arkane Studios -84% Read more
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord 2020-03-31 RPG TaleWorlds Entertainment -41% Read more
Mount and Blade: Warband 2010-03-31 Adventure TaleWorlds Entertainment -90% Read more
Factorio 2016-02-25 Indie Wube Software LTD. - Read more
Saints Row IV 2014-07-15 Adventure Deep Silver Volition -73% Read more
Kerbal Space Program 2015-04-27 Adventure Squad -88% Read more
Kerbal Space Program 2 2021 Space flight simulation Intercept Games - Read more
Conan Exiles 2017-01-30 Adventure Funcom -73% Read more
Terraria 2011-05-16 Adventure Re-Logic -25% Read more
Minecraft 2015-07-29 Adventure Mojang -26% Read more

Valheim

Release: 2021-02-02
Genre: Survival, Adventure
Developer Iron Gate AB

A surprising hit of 2021, Valheim takes you on a trip to a Norse afterlife. Not the big one, a supplementary one, because Odin has some problems to take care of and you’re the solution. Valheim falls neatly into the survival game type of sandbox, with food that needs to be cooked, monsters that need to be kept away from your crops, and shelter that need being built.

Valheim (PC) - Steam Gift - EUROPE

While you do have bosses to kill and new areas to discover, the game isn’t really going to hold your hand. You absolutely can spend fifty hours building a cool house on a cliff or exploring your current area looking for trouble, experience, and resources. Eventually the ways you can interact with the environment turn out to be limited, but you aren’t forced into linear gameplay at any point.

Key Features
  • A Norse-themed open world survival game
  • Procedurally generated world
  • Obviously there’s a strong element of sailing between islands for plunder
  • Robust base-building

Crusader Kings III

Release: 2020-09-01
Genre: Strategy
Developer Paradox Development Studio

Crusader Kings 3 isn’t the kind of game you’d think of when you hear the word “sandbox”, but consider this: the game just… lets you loose on the map of Europe, free to do whatever. If you want to form a new religion, you can. Run a spy network? Sure. Get twenty children and marry them off to different kingdoms to set them up for claiming the throne? Nobody is ever going to stop you.

Crusader Kings III (PC) - Steam Key - GLOBAL

It might be an exaggeration, but only a minor one. Like its predecessors, CK3 is very complex, and doesn’t have much graphical flair, but the degree of simulation, the scope of the experience, and very few hard goals plant it firmly into the sandbox drawer of playstyles. On top of all the features that are already built in, Crusader Kings 3 is also quite mod-friendly, letting you add even more stuff!

Key Features
  • A complex mix of grand strategy and a role-playing game
  • Detailed ruler creation
  • Large playground, many tools, few hard rules
  • Built-in mod support

Red Dead Redemption 2

Release: 2019-11-05
Genre: Action, Adventure
Developer Rockstar

The sequel to 2013’s RDR, Red Dead Redemption 2 turned out to be one of the most detailed, immersive games of its generation and, possibly, ever. RDR2 is set during the fading glory days of a notorious bandit gang led by Dutch van der Linde and puts you in the shoes of his right hand, Arthur Morgan. You get to play through great heists, and the fall, setting up the previous game’s story.

Red Dead Redemption 2

As usual in Rockstar Games’ releases, there is a solid, engaging storyline you are free to follow, but…you don’t really have to. There’s so much in the world to do without touching the story. There is wildlife to hunt and document, tons of sidequests to go on, including extended storylines, or you could just go exploring, looking for secrets or talking to NPCs using a smooth, intuitive system.

Key Features
  • A massive, detailed open world
  • A fascinating story set in the Old West
  • Very realistic wildlife
  • Exciting gunfights

The Sims 4

Release: 2014-09-04
Genre: Simulation
Developer Maxis

The Sims 4, just like previous games in the series, is in many ways an ideal sandbox game. Your freedom to is almost unimpeded. You’re free to design and build exactly the kind of house you want to stare at for hours and hours, and the creation of family members is engaging and results in competent simulations of simple humans, complete with motivations, preferences, and personalities.

The Sims 4

Once you’ve got the designs in place…do whatever. No, really. Especially with the expansions in the extent of things you can make your Sims do is staggering. Dozens of different detailed jobs, multitude of hobbies, travelling to different “Worlds”. While you don’t directly PLAY in the sandbox, you CREATE the sandbox, and help your Sims play in it for your enjoyment. Hundreds of hours of fun await.

Key Features
  • Plenty of expansions adding new toys to the sandbox
  • Tonnes of stuff to make your Sims do
  • Very flexible Sim and house creation
  • Very moddable

EVE Online

PC
Release: 2018-01-30
Genre: RPG
Developer CCP

Eve Online’s known to wider audience mostly by the stories about stuff that happens in-game. Hostile takeovers, betrayals, giant battles, ruined economies etc. But the important thing to remember is that…none of that was devised by developers as some kind of major event shaking up the meta or something. Almost everything going in Eve is player-driven, developers just provide the tools.

Eve Online

There are many different jobs for the players to do on their own…or they could work for one of the many player-run corporations. The universe of Eve is also massive, with hundreds of star systems represented in-game. It is also a very complex game which requires a lot of determination to get into, but once you do, there’s no other MMO that’s as player-driven as EVE Online has been since 2003.

Key Features
  • Very rewarding once you conquer its complex systems
  • Almost entirely player-driven
  • A ridiculous number of things you can do
  • Players can even run in-game companies hiring hundreds of other players

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Release: 2011-11-11
Genre: Adventure
Developer Bethesda Game Studios

Despite being explicitly about killing dragons and taking part in the civil war, two aspects of the game we’re introduced to almost immediately, Skyrim is a really good sandbox RPG as well. There ARE these two storylines… but you don’t have to care about any of that. You can go to unrelated cities and complete quests, pursue a career in one of the guilds, or commit to a life of craft… or crime.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC) - Steam Key - GLOBAL

When you’re not in combat you can look for ore deposits to mine resources for your blacksmithing hobby, or chase butterflies and collect flowers for alchemy. You could sneak around and be a thief, or spend some time building and decorating a house. It’s a huge world, with internal physics and logic which can lead to creative solutions, like the famous case of blinding a shopkeeper with a bucket.

Key Features
  • One of the most popular action RPGs of its time
  • Many different supported playstyles
  • You can ignore the main storyline as much as you want
  • Progression based on things you’re actively doing

Divinity: Original Sin II

Release: 2017-09-14
Genre: Adventure
Developer Larian Studios

A sandbox-oriented gameplay is one of the most important features of Divinity: Original Sin 2. Usually you’re presented with a goal to accomplish…and that’s it. What you do to accomplish your goals is limited only by your creativity and by the, rather permissive, logic of the game. You can move objects around to change the environment in your favour, and exploit interactions between abilities.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 (PC) - Steam Gift - GLOBAL

Every skill line features abiltiies which can drastically change how you’re going to approach any given challenge. Teleportation, creating elemental surfaces, stealth… You can get creative, or be as straightforward as it gets, your choice. Each act also features a large map full of unique locations you’re free to explore in any order. No wonder DOS2 is considered one of the best cRPGs of recent years.

Key Features
  • Flexible progression – no fixed classes
  • Interactive environment
  • Memorable characters
  • Great local/online co-op and Game Master modes

Hitman (World of Assassination trilogy)

Release: 2016-03-11
Genre: Stealth game, Action-adventure
Developer IO Interactive, Feral Interactive

The Hitman series has always been about finding your own way to a stealthy elimination of your target, but the World of Assassination trilogy running between 2016 and 2021 really went all in on that idea. Each or the three games features multiple large maps, and all of them offer many different approaches to any given assassination objective. And you can create some of your own, too.

Hitman (World of Assassination trilogy)

If you want to cause convenient accidents and never be remembered by anyone, you can. If you like a personal touch of a garrote, you’ll find a way to use it. You can hit people with a homing briefcase and set up explosives under a toilet seat. You can even shoot someone with a pistol while wearing a ridiculous outfit. The world of assassination is a sandbox, and you have all the best toys.

Key Features
  • Three games with many extremely replayable maps
  • You can get creative with your assassinations
  • Agent 47’s methods of blending in can be quite interesting
  • Your missions take you on a journey around ther world

Arma 3

Release: 2013-09-12
Genre: Action & Shooter
Developer Bohemia Interactive

The third incarnation of possibly the most complex military simulator out there is undoubtedly detailed, expansive, and flexible enough to allow a lot of freedom to its players. This time everything takes place in the near future of 2030s, around the Aegean Sea and South Pacific. It is your playground, and while Arma 3 is demanding and complex, it also doesn’t limit you too much.

Arma 3 (PC) - Steam Key - GLOBAL

It doesn’t really place any specific boundaries on player activity. It has a huge amount of various military equipment ranging from weapons to vehicles, offers plenty of possible mission types, and has an editor for the creative minds to enjoy. If you enjoy military fiction, roaming the islands of Arma 3 is likely to give you the thrill you seek

Key Features
  • Powerful editor enabling the creation of new modes and missions
  • Extensive catalogue of military equipment
  • Massive maps
  • A singleplayer campaign in addition to the multiplayer mode

No Mans Sky

Release: 2016-08-12
Genre: Adventure
Developer Hello Games

Lacklustre release notwithstanding, No Man’s Sky became more feature-complete with every major update, to the point where it is now. Almost all promises that put the game on the radar have been fulfilled, chief among them the long awaited multiplayer. You have an entire galaxy to explore, and when you’re somehow done doing that, the game is happy to throw another one your way

No Man's Sky Steam Key GLOBAL

New unique lifeforms top spot and name, new geography, and challenges. Build a base with your friends, invest in a better spaceship, keep every meter in the green, and map the galaxy. Learn an alien language and reach the centre of the galaxy again. No Man’s Sky has truly become the game everyone was hoping for.

Key Features
  • A ridiculous number of planets to visit
  • Worthwhile base-building
  • A mystery to uncover
  • Mod support

Elite Dangerous

Release: 2014-12-16
Genre: Strategy
Developer Frontier Developments plc

If the somewhat abstract, pastel-coloured vibe of No Man’s Sky isn’t to your liking, but you still want to explore space, Elite Dangerous might be the game for you. It has a definitely more realistic look, and follows in the footsteps of a classic franchise. If frequent long-distance, in-character runs exploring edges of known space are anything to go by, it’s pretty engaging.

Elite: Dangerous Frontier Key GLOBAL

Set in the fourth millennium, it benefits from all the technology we might be able to create by that time. It also features space pirates, space bounty hunters, space miners and many other space jobs that the players are free to take up any time they wish. Or, if no job seems appealing, they can just go exploring, as long as they have the necessary supplies for the trip.

Key Features
  • A lot of systems recreated based on astronomical data
  • Plenty of jobs and activities to busy oneself with
  • Space-age MMO
  • The world changes dynamically through players’ actions

Just Cause 3

Release: 2015-11-30
Genre: Adventure
Developer Avalanche Studios

The Just Cause series is notorious for giving the players a large open world, and a free reign about how they go about liberating it from the forces of some dictator or another unwelcome ruler. In Just Cause 3 Rico Rodriguez has to free his own homeland, a Mediterranean island of Medici.

Just Cause 3 (PC) - Steam Key - GLOBAL

JC3, much like predecessors, is a generator of explosive chaos, capable of escalating to a very satisfying degree. Rico is a true demolition man, and with the help of the game’s physics a creative player can cause a really entertaining mayhem. You can easily use the physics of the game to perform crazy stunts and make enemies look like fools.

Key Features
  • Physics engine supporting your ideas
  • Extremely useful grappling hook with many creative uses
  • A story that provides perfect excuses to engage with the gameplay
  • Ridiculous and spectacular action sequences

ARK: Survival Evolved

Release: 2015-06-02
Genre: Adventure
Developer Efecto Studios

ARK is certainly among the most well-known survival games, and as the genre frequently joins forces with a sandbox approach to gameplay, its appearance on this list was a foregone conclusion. “It’s the one with dinosaurs and dragons” is probably the fastest way to identify ARK: Survival Evolved.Indeed, there are animals, including dinosaurs, to tame and train, there are places to explore, bases to build…

ARK: Survival Evolved (PC) - Steam Gift - GLOBAL

In general the player has a lot of freedom as to how to interact with the world. Just be mindful of your hunger or thirst. It IS a survival game after all. You’re not given many specific tasks, so you’re on your own, buty if you need some direction, here’s one option: create a dino-zoo. Or collect lore scraps. Explore the boundaries of the system and thrive within them.

Key Features
  • With DLCs: several diverse worlds to explore and survive in
  • You can tame dinosaurs, ride them, and make them work for you
  • Team up with other players and build a powerful clan base together
  • Work your way up the tech tree, from throwing rocks, to Energy rifles

Surviving Mars

Release: 2018-03-15
Genre: Simulation
Developer Haemimont Games

Surviving Mars allows you to check if you would be any good at establishing a colony on the Red Planet. You have an army of friendly-looking drones to prep the basic infrastructure, various types of domes for you eventual colonists to live and work in, and a bit of science-fiction mystery to deal with every now and then.

Surviving Mars Steam Key GLOBAL

Surving Mars is a very fun game, and once you get to the landing pad doesn’t really care that much about how you establish the colony. As long as it works, it’s fine. Nobody’s stopping you from making a really aesthetically pleasing colony, if you can manage to keep everyone fed and happy at the same time. As long as it works, you do you.

Key Features
  • Mars colony simulator
  • Pleasant aesthetic design
  • Alien mysteries and cataclysms
  • Diverse colonists with randomised traits

Oxygen Not Included

Release: 2017-05-18
Genre: Action & Shooter
Developer Klei Entertainment

Where Surviving Mars is all about setting up a colony on the surface of the planet, Oxygen Not Included is more interested in creating life-sustaining conditions within an asteroid. You have some blueprints for helpful devices, but it’s up to you to figure out how to use them. What you need to understand, however, is that you’re pretty much working with a closed system.

Oxygen Not Included Steam Gift GLOBAL

You need to make arrangements to collect waste, to let harmful gases flow elsewhere, and to manage temperature. ONI is quite good at simulating basic fluid dynamics, and soon you’ll find a way to create a healthy and beneficial cycle using just your wits and the tools the game offers. Even if it takes five stages and twenty repairs along the way.

Key Features
  • Duplicants you give orders to have their own personalities you need to manage
  • Many different asteroid environments changing mission parameters
  • Recognizable cartoon aesthetic typical for Klei Entertainment
  • Well designed fluid physics

Metro Exodus

Release: 2020-02-14
Genre: Adventure
Developer 4A GAMES

This is the third game in the video series adapting the novels of Dmitry Glukhovsky. This time the persistent protagonist Artyom takes his family and friends out of the tunnels and out into the post-apocalyptic surface.

Metro Exodus (PC) - Steam Key - GLOBAL

Exodus features both discrete levels, as well as larger, open areas where Artyom can do as he pleases, which includes scavenging for resources and crafting tools for survival. The story even includes some choices to make, which will influence the ultimate outcome.

Key Features
  • A mobile base of operations: the steam locomotive Aurora
  • Levels alongside large sandbox areas
  • Crafting and resource management
  • Choices and consequences

Astroneer

Release: 2016-12-15
Genre: Adventure
Developer System Era Softworks

Astroneer is a very friendly-looking game with a few cool ideas worth noting. All of it takes place of procedurally generated planets, all of which have an open-world structure. Your player character is the eponymous Astroneer, and one of the coolest tools in their disposal is the deform tool.

ASTRONEER Steam Key GLOBAL

That tool is useful not only for collecting crafting resource, but is also capable of terraforming, letting you reshape the planets you visit. It could be used to build bridge, or create more elaborate structures, if you feel like it. For a creative and industrious player it can be a ton of fun.

Key Features
  • Powerful terraforming
  • Mysterious artefacts to understand
  • Explore the diverse planets
  • Family-friendly aesthetic

Grand Theft Auto 5

Release: 2015-04-14
Genre: Adventure
Developer Rockstar North

The Grand Theft Auto series has a legacy of making its cities feel like places full of things to do, but GTA V is by far the most comprehensive among them. The fictional city of Los Santos as well as the surrounding area is fully open to players, who can follow the story… or play golf, tennis, try themselves at a stock market, or go to a cinema.

Grand Theft Auto 5

The story follows a trio of criminals, Michael, Trevor, and Franklin, who are strong-armed into completing a number of robberies. There are some choices to make, there is much conflict due to the dynamics between the three, it’s all good crime story stuff. The player isn’t forced into a single character, but can freely switch between them, often catching them in the middle of some unrelated activity.

Key Features
  • Three protagonists with unique skills and abilities
  • Extensive online component
  • Massive city full of activities
  • Freedom to do what you want, when you want

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Release: 2017-03-03
Genre: Action, Adventure
Developer Nintendo

The most recent entry in the history of the Legend of Zelda franchise has a pretty decent amount of sandbox to it. Most importantly, it uses the sandbox to give the world as such a lot of believability. Everything works just as you’d think it would, boulders, fire etc. and the game encourages you to take advantage of it through your exploration. Even better: Link has a number of magical abilities acquired via runes, and nothing really stops him from using them at will everywhere.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

In Breath of the Wild’s case all of this serves to create a world which feels coherent, even if to some extent arbitrary. And it succeeds at doing so with flying colors, we must add. If you happen to have Nintendo Switch Breath of the Wild is a must have for many reasons, and it does make sandbox gameplay feel useful and a worthwhile world-building exercise instead of a gimmick.

Key Features
  • A competent physics engine enables creative solutions
  • Freedom to beat the game in any order you want
  • One of the best first-party games on Nintendo Switch
  • A lot of cooking

Dishonored (franchise)

Release: 2012-10-12
Genre: Adventure
Developer Arkane Studios

Arkane Studios struck gold with Dishonored. They started the search in Arx Fatalis and kept it up in the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, but Dishonored, oh boy. We’ve written about it before, and have called it a goal-oriented playground. Dishonored (1, 2, and Death of the Outsider) lands the spot here, because it does little beyond giving the player a goal to achieve and some fun tools you can use at will anywhere.

Dishonored (franchise)

Essentially DH is a simulation of an arcane assassin. All powers work dynamically within the physics engine rather than being scripted and being given canned animations. You can teleport to any structure in range wide enough to support you, possess NPCs from rats to guards, stop time to interact with bullets and crossbow bolts shot by enemies or yourself…. There are plenty of other videos showing off just how sandboxy the game can feel and how creative you can get. And it’s only open-world within the levels themselves, the game progresses linearly otherwise.

Key Features
  • Play as an assassin’s equipped with magic powers
  • Choices in gameplay have story-bound consequences
  • Plenty of tools to use in creative ways
  • A classic revenge story

Mount & Blade: Warband

Release: 2010-03-31
Genre: Adventure
Developer TaleWorlds Entertainment

Mount&Blade is a simulator of a person trying to make a living in a more or less medieval-like setting. This doesn’t sound particularly interesting, but bear with me for a moment. The character creation makes M&B look like a relatively complex RPG, with some background details for you to define, a huge number of face-customising sliders, a bunch of stats etc. and none of this prepares you for what comes after. When you leave the chargen you’re given a rudimentary combat tutorial and are let loose on the world. You’re free. Do what you want.

Mount & Blade: Warband

Get a small band of warriors to protect you and become a trader or support craftsmen. Get a larger band of warriors and pledge allegiance to a king, get a rundown castle and a a half-dead village. Or fight for yourself, capture a keep or a city, become a new power in Calradia. Be just a roving mercenary or just a guy who makes a living by fighting in tournaments. M&B: Warband is an extremely open-ended game, with many possible outcomes and little overarching plot or goal other than an occasional quest from a lord or another distressed NPC. Otherwise, you are free to do whatever.

Key Features
  • A no-magic fantasy land for you to conquer
  • Hectic, intense battles
  • Tons of diverse equipment: weapons, armour, etc.
  • You can invest in industry and help trading caravans

Factorio

Release: 2016-02-25
Genre: Indie
Developer Wube Software LTD.

Have you ever dreamt of having a massive factory? Factorio allows you to. What is Factorio? Essentially a game about creating the most optimised (or the most convoluted, if that’s your thing) way to produce expected results. Your Factory expands almost as fast as it grows in complexity. Factorio allows for the creation of pretty weird constructions. One player managed to create a Factory playing the music video to Darude’s Sandstorm, of all things. No kidding.

Factorio Steam Key GLOBAL

A further YouTube trip reveals self-replicating factories, and even a rendition of Portal’s ‘Still Alive’ and a couple other songs. If you can imagine something work thanks to a sequence of programmable units, there is good chance it can be done in Factorio and the game won’t mind one bit. The problem is setups like these require some extreme planning and probably engineering skills, and thus have a high skill threshold. Nothing that can’t be overcome, of course.

Key Features
  • Set up elaborate automated production lines
    Skill ceiling limited only by your imagination
    Challenges your engineering aptitude
    Build a rocket and leave the planet you got stranded on

Dwarf Fortress

Release: Aug 8, 2006
Genre: Roguelike, construction and management simulation
Developer Tarn Adams

This is a game that might be largely unknown to many of you. Not surprising, too. It’s not particularly pretty, being fully text-based (although the Steam version will have ‘proper’ graphics), it’s very weird, and gets weirder with every patch, and its skill threshold is through the roof if you want to play for any extended period of time. It is however quite possibly one of the most complex city simulators out there, complete with robust procedural generation of pretty much everything. It also has some of the silliest accidental occurrences anywhere.

dwarf-fortress

The game doesn’t give you any goals other than keeping the settlement alive and, preferably, growing. What you do beyond that is entirely up to you. Notably, Dwarf Fortress was cited to be an inspiration for Minecraft, and was picked to be featured in the Museum of Modern Art. If you have time and patience, you should check it out, it’s freeware.

Key Features
  • One of the most complex games in existence
  • Uses ASCII graphics by default
  • The patch notes can be really funny
  • Easily moddable

Saints Row IV

Release: 2014-07-15
Genre: Adventure
Developer Deep Silver Volition

Saints Row 4 get the spot at the expense of GTA V for the sheer insanity of everything that happens in there. It’s also probably the best superhero game to date, and the least angst-driven, to boot. What is SR4? A simulator of a superpowered unapologetic and oddly cheerful criminal. The playable character over the course of the game gains access to multiple abilities, all of them considered… unnatural. If you’ve played Prototype before you almost know what to expect, but Prototype didn’t have mad doctors with cat heads running amok, ragdoll-based side activities, and the kind of rampage GTA with its more realistic style can’t really provide.

Saints Row IV: Game of the Century Edition Steam Key GLOBAL

Most importantly, The Boss has an outstanding and incredibly entertaining traversal powers, letting you run fast, jump high, and glide far. Then you add several different flavours of blasts, including one turning everything to gold, a couple flavours of telekinesis and a couple more. All of them allow you to have a smashing good fun and ignore the insane narrative whatsoever.

Key Features
  • One of the best supowerpower-based games around
  • Excellent use of licensed music tracks
  • Plenty of creatively bizarre scenarios
  • Excellent character creation

Kerbal Space Program

Release: 2015-04-27
Genre: Adventure
Developer Squad

This is a very smart and very cute game, with a very good physics model. Importantly, unlike most other games on this list, this one can actually teach you something. The idea is that you’re helping a humanoid race known as Kerbals launch their space program. That’s pretty much it, but when coupled with a very complex physics engine we get a game that even NASA and Elon Musk are interested in. Where does the sandbox part comes in, though? In building the various rockets and other interplanetary exploration gear, of course.

Kerbal Space Program Steam Key GLOBAL

KSP boasts a very detailed physics engine, which allows all objects to be reasonably accurately simulated with Newtonian dynamics. Watching your meticulously constructed monster rocket fall apart in a realistic way is extremely satisfying. Although efficiency is strongly favoured, nothing stops you from going wild. You can experiment with a large list of components to create some fairly outlandish machines, of this is your jam. As long as you meet the win condition, you’re good.

Key Features
  • Help the titular Kerbals go to space as safely as possible
  • You don’t have to sacrifice creativity for function if you’re good enough
  • Pretty realistic physics
  • The Kerbals are very amusing to watch

Conan Exiles

Release: 2017-01-30
Genre: Adventure
Developer Funcom

This list would be severely incomplete without some representative of the inexplicably popular more-or-less online survival game genre. Conan Exiles gets the honor due to it being probably the freshest in the early accessed survival genre, and doing its best to capture the atmosphere of Robert E. Howard’s and succeeding to a reasonable degree. What can you do in Conan Exiles? You can survive. That’s pretty much the central idea.

Conan Exiles Steam Key GLOBAL

What you do to survive is another thing. You can devote yourself to hunting animals for resources, mastering the various crafts, becoming a warrior. If you want you can even summon humongous avatars of your chosen god (Mithra, Seth, Yog) to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and wreck their carefully build settlements.

Key Features
  • A sandbox survival set in the world created by Robert E. Howard
  • Very flexible building construction
  • You can summon avatars of your chosen god
  • Big emphasis on crafting

Terraria

Release: 2011-05-16
Genre: Adventure
Developer Re-Logic

Easily one of the finest examples of open-world crafting-centered sandboxes in recent memory. If you are hungry for crafting, dungeon crawling, and some basic survival mechanisms (monsters mostly come out at night, mostly) but don’t want to manage a three-dimensional space, then Terraria is just the game for you. It’s done in a 16-bit style reminiscent of games of old, but boosted by some basic physics engine, making dungeon crawling more dangerous (as it should), because you never know when you can get flooded by lava.

Terraria Steam Key GLOBAL

The players are encouraged to create their elaborate home bases, which can grow to actually impressive sizes and house a number of loyal subjects, provided you tend to their needs. It’s an all-round good fun worth checking out, but, sadly, it can’t quite compare to the king of all sandboxes.

Key Features
  • 2D game about building and dungeon delving
  • Pixel-based artstyle
  • Allows you to build some amazing structures
  • There is a lot of underground dungeoneering to be done

Minecraft

Release: 2015-07-29
Genre: Adventure
Developer Mojang

Here we go. The MVP of sandboxes. The one that despite being now 6 years old remains relevant. The one that pretty much formed a subculture around it. The one that created ample opportunities for people to recreate some of the most incredible feats of human architecture. Minecraft took the world by storm. And it isn’t really hard to see why. It is by far the best at capturing in digital form the joy of putting together crazy Lego builds.

Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition (PC) - Microsoft Key - GLOBAL

If you so choose you can flat out ignore the survival game that inhibits unbridled creation, too. The things which were unthinkable to achieve until somebody came along and did it, over usually weeks of work. If sandboxes are about having fun with the game’s systems, then there’s probably no game that can beat Minecraft.

Key Features
  • The archetypal freeform crafting game
  • You can build virtually anything, especially if you use mods
  • Excellent in multiplayer, as many people can contribute
  • Survival mode provides some structure for those who want it.

Can there be the end?

A specific ending to an article might run counter to the overall theme, but texts have their own laws that need to be obeyed to some extent.

Sandbox is notoriously hard to specifically describe. It may apply to extensive crafting, the general lack of goals and abundance of systems, even the freedom of abusing the abilities and physics engines for fun and profit during missions. It can be found in any genre, really.

Overall, this list isn’t exhaustive of course.