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
GameReleaseGenreDeveloperSale
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Goty Edition Gogcom Key Global 2015-05-18 RPG CD PROJEKT RED 67% Read more
Elden Ring (PC) - Steam Key - EUROPE 2022-02-25 Soulslike Bandai Namco 32% Read more
Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar Key Global 2019-11-05 Adventure Rockstar Games 73% Read more
Grand Theft Auto V 2015-04-14 Adventure Rockstar North 66% Read more
No Mans Sky 2016-08-12 Adventure Hello Games 71% Read more
Fallout 4 Game Of The Year Edition 2017-09-26 RPG Bethesda Game Studios 84% Read more
Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain 2015-09-01 Adventure Konami Digital Entertainment 86% Read more
Days Gone 2021-05-18 Action Bend Studio 75% Read more
Horizon Zero Dawn 2020-08-07 Adventure Guerrilla 73% Read more
Terraria 2011-05-16 Adventure Re-Logic 22% Read more
Horizon Forbidden West Ps5 Psn Key Europe 2022-02-18 46% Read more
Minecraft Windows 10 Edition Microsoft Key Global 2015-07-29 Adventure Mojang Read more
Death Stranding Directors Cut 2022-03-30 55% Read more
The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition 2016-10-27 Adventure Bethesda Game Studios 71% Read more
Dying Light 2 2022-02-04 Action Techland 28% Read more
Assassins Creed Iv Black Flag Gold Edition 2013-11-19 Adventure Ubisoft Montreal 52% Read more
Fallout New Vegas Ultimate Edition 2010-10-21 Adventure Obsidian Entertainment 76% Read more
Cyberpunk 2077 Gogcom Key Global 2020-12-10 Action RPG CD PROJEKT RED 48% Read more
Forza Horizon 4 Xbox Live Key Global 2018-10-02 Racing Playground Games 73% Read more
Sea Of Thieves Xbox Live Key Global 2018-03-20 Adventure Rare 55% Read more
Ghostwire Tokyo 2022-03-25 66% Read more
Saints Row Iv Game Of The Century Edition 2014-07-15 Adventure Deep Silver Volition 73% Read more
Garrys Mod 2006-11-29 Indie Facepunch Studios 7% Read more
Stardew Valley 2016-02-26 Adventure ConcernedApe 5% Read more
Kerbal Space Program 2015-04-27 Adventure Squad 86% Read more
Dont Starve Gogcom Key Global 2013-04-19 Adventure Klei Entertainment 62% Read more
Dont Starve Together 2016-04-21 Economy Klei Entertainment 66% Read more
Arma 3 2013-09-12 Action & Shooter Bohemia Interactive 4% Read more
Factorio 2016-02-25 Indie Wube Software LTD. Read more
Hitman Game Of The Year Edition 2016-03-11 Stealth IO Interactive 92% Read more
Valheim 2021-02-02 Sanbox, survival Iron Gate Studio 1% Read more
Rimworld 2016-07-15 Indie Ludeon Studios Read more
Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition 2014-10-08 Adventure Feral Interactive (Mac) 86% Read more
Cities Skylines 2015-03-10 Economy Colossal Order Ltd. 88% Read more
Hitman 2 Gold 2018-11-13 Action IO Interactive 77% Read more
Hitman 3 Deluxe Pack 2022-01-20 Stealth IO Interactive Read more
Assassins Creed Valhalla 2020-11-10 Action RPG Ubisoft 70% Read more
Satisfactory 2020-06-08 Building Coffee Stain Studios 27% Read more

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.

Terraria

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!