Some video game genres still raise doubts in terms of definition. Sometimes because of their inappropriate use, sometimes because of unawareness. But the hardest to distinguish is two of them – sandbox vs open world.

Even developers advertise their products using the open world and sandbox terms as one thing. When purchasing a title, players do not necessarily think about the exact meaning of these words, intuitively sensing what to expect from the game. As it turns out, the difference is massive, as both terms represent something completely different.

Open World and Sandbox games
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Goty Edition 2015-05-18 RPG CD PROJEKT RED 65%
Elden Ring 2022-02-25 Soulslike Bandai Namco 46%
Red Dead Redemption 2 2019-11-05 Adventure Rockstar Games 71%
Grand Theft Auto V 2015-04-14 Adventure Rockstar North 61%
No Mans Sky 2016-08-12 Adventure Hello Games 62%
Fallout 4 Game Of The Year Edition 2017-09-26 RPG Bethesda Game Studios 83%
Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain 2015-09-01 Adventure Konami Digital Entertainment 67%
Days Gone 2021-05-18 Action Bend Studio 74%
Horizon Zero Dawn 2020-08-07 Adventure Guerrilla 78%
Terraria 2011-05-16 Adventure Re-Logic 19%
Horizon Forbidden West 2022-02-18 42%
Minecraft Windows 10 2015-07-29 Adventure Mojang 19%
Death Stranding Directors Cut 2022-03-30 Action Kojima Productions 78%
The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition 2016-10-27 Adventure Bethesda Game Studios 75%
Dying Light 2 2022-02-04 Action Techland 60%
Assassins Creed IV Black Flag Gold Edition 2013-11-19 Adventure Ubisoft Montreal 57%
Fallout New Vegas Ultimate Edition 2010-10-21 Adventure Obsidian Entertainment 68%
Cyberpunk 2077 2020-12-10 Action RPG CD PROJEKT RED 56%
Forza Horizon 4 2018-10-02 Racing Playground Games 70%
Sea Of Thieves 2018-03-20 Adventure Rare 59%
Ghostwire Tokyo 2022-03-25 88%
Saints Row IV Game Of The Century Edition 2014-07-15 Adventure Deep Silver Volition 75%
Garrys Mod 2006-11-29 Indie Facepunch Studios 13%
Stardew Valley 2016-02-26 Adventure ConcernedApe 15%
Kerbal Space Program 2015-04-27 Adventure Squad 84%
Dont Starve 2013-04-19 Adventure Klei Entertainment 68%
Dont Starve Together 2016-04-21 Economy Klei Entertainment 76%
Arma 3 2013-09-12 Action & Shooter Bohemia Interactive 7%
Factorio 2016-02-25 Indie Wube Software LTD.
Hitman Game Of The Year Edition 2016-03-11 Stealth IO Interactive 92%
Valheim 2021-02-02 Sanbox, survival Iron Gate Studio 18%
Rimworld 2016-07-15 Indie Ludeon Studios 4%
Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition 2014-10-08 Adventure Feral Interactive (Mac) 87%
Cities Skylines 2015-03-10 Economy Colossal Order Ltd. 69%
Hitman 2 Gold 2018-11-13 Action IO Interactive 66%
Hitman 3 Deluxe Pack 2022-01-20 Stealth IO Interactive 66%
Assassins Creed Valhalla 2020-11-10 Action RPG Ubisoft 81%
Satisfactory 2020-06-08 Building Coffee Stain Studios 36%

Open world vs. Sandbox games | Differences and explanation

General overview

Sandbox and open world are often mingling genres, adopting some elements from each other. Many video games are hard to classify clearly into one of these concepts because they represent the features of each of them. A good example here is Don’t Starve – a sandbox due to the gameplay freedom but with many elements of the open world. So how to distinguish a sandbox from an open world? Don't Starve

The main differences

The distinction between the two genres is often based on the feel of the gameplay rather than discovering the features that clearly define it. Let’s start from the origins – what is a sandbox? As the name suggests, it is a massive playground where you can play however you want. There is this safe railing, and someone threw a shovel and a bucket inside. But everything else is limited only by your creativity. That’s what sandbox games are! These are huge, often procedurally generated worlds where you are a god. Even if there is a tiny storyline in the background, you are still the one who creates the gameplay. The only stuff the developers provide is a ready-made world and the tools you can use to transform it. There is no game method, structure, or linear plot. As you may have guessed, games like Minecraft, SimCity, Garry’s Mod, or Terraria are the best examples of sandboxes.


So what’s going on with open-world? A classic example of this genre is GTA, The Witcher 3, or Fallout 3. What do they have in common? The freedom to explore and follow your adventure however you like. The open-world is a perfect life simulator set in some particular reality. It can be a fantasy world, a zombie apocalypse situation, or a specific historical period. In this world, you are one of the heroes and can follow the plot or do whatever you want. You can complete quests from the main story or drive all day and admire the views. You can join the thieves’ guild and spend the rest of your days completely ignoring the main plot. In this case, you don’t get the tools to transform the world as you do with a sandbox. Instead, you can enjoy its rich content that lives its own life. But the open world is easy to change into a sandbox! A perfect example is The Elder Scrolls series, which is by definition an open world. However, there are so many mods for each part that using them can transform the gameplay into a typical sandbox experience.

The Elder Scrolls

Which is better – sandbox or the open world?

There is no answer to this question. As a player, you have unlimited access to the perfect examples of each genre and its various hybrids. Your job is to have fun, and the best fun is to keep trying new stuff! Do you want to be the creator of your world and its rules? Choose a sandbox. Fancy the chance of bringing your life to a world of new possibilities and unlimited exploration? Welcome to the open world!