Best Sandbox Games

Only the biggest and best sandox games the market has to offer

GTA V
Last Updated:

Our understanding of what a sandbox game is has changed over the years. From games with huge sprawling, open-ended maps, to games that are completely open-ended from start to finish, there are lots of different kinds of games that fall under the sandbox umbrella. With so many games falling into the same category, there are a lot of options for gamers looking for that open-ended experience.

To help you out in your search for the best sandbox, we’ve compiled this list of the best open-ended maps and experiences that you’ll find anywhere.

Minecraft

minecraft

It’s almost impossible to talk about sandbox games without mentioning Minecraft. While it doesn’t have the same sort of sandbox you’ll find in action games like GTA or Saint’s Row, it does feature an open world that allows the player to build anything that they want with very few restrictions. There is also a challenge present as well, thanks to the hostile mobs and the need to eat food that you find in the survival mode.

Minecraft is effectively a platform more than a game. In the base version, you can choose from either Survival or Creative modes. In survival, you have to build a shelter and accrue resources to try and survive against the numerous different hazards you face, such as natural disasters like lava or fire, or monsters like skeletons and creepers. In creative, you’re safe from harm, and can basically just construct anything you want from your infinite resources.

The real reason that Minecraft has done so well and stayed so popular for such a long time is the community support. Players create mods, special levels, survival challenges, even entire story-driven YouTube serials using Minecraft. Even if you were to play the game every day for years and years you wouldn’t run out of new stuff to try. Whether that means new skins and resource packs to change cosmetics or literal new game modes players have programmed in.

Minecraft is in the purest sense a sandbox game. A giant toy chest filled with different things for you to play around with, as well as almost infinite ways to play around with them. You can just build if you want, you can take on a hardcore survival challenge, or you can just play through other people’s adventure maps and story modules. The endless number of possibilities is the real strength of Mojang’s masterpiece.

GTA V/GTA Online

GTA V

From one sort of sandbox to another, GTA V is easily one of the best sandbox games ever made. The series is a big part of the reason why city-based sandboxes became a hot ticket item a few years back, and the no-consequence violent fun is something that millions of people the world over have enjoyed. GTA V also offers a huge advantage over previous incarnations in the form of GTA Online, an online version of the sandbox city that has become so huge that it’s actually sort of scary at times.

The base game of GTA V encapsulates what makes the series so great. You get a huge city to run around and explore, as well as a really interesting plot that follows the exploits of three different crooks as they try their hardest to make a buttload of money while avoiding a prison sentence or a coffin. The great thing here is that if you want a story you’ve got one, but if you just want to pull out an assault rifle and go nuts, that’s also a legitimate option for a good time.

The GTA Online half of GTA V is even bigger than the base game. You’ve got the same city sandbox that you’ll find in the story mode, but you also have an almost infinite number of different player-created special stages to try out, you can go on heists, and you can run around the city causing mayhem with your friends. It’s like the main game but with a more social aspect, which is either a positive or negative depending on the type of person that you are. Either way, you’ll find something about GTA V to enjoy.

Saint’s Row The Fourth

Saints Row The Fourth

Although the series initially started out as a GTA clone in many ways, Saint’s Row eventually came into its own and by the end of the series was an enormously successful and popular title. Saint’s Row the Fourth is the pinnacle of the series, giving you the same huge city playground offered by other sandbox titles like GTA, but with the added benefit of being completely insane and giving the player access to a whole bunch of wacky super powers. If you thought you could go nuts in Grand Theft Auto, wait to see what you can do in Saint’s Row the Fourth.

Almost from the get-go, you’ll find you’re able to run extremely fast, jump up buildings, and shoot fireballs out of your hands. There is an in-universe explanation for this, but at this stage, it doesn’t really matter all that much. The important point is you can get a giant dildo bat, run up a building, and body slam a nearby pensioner before braining her hapless nephew with your comically oversized sex toy. It takes the idea of a consequence-free sandbox to its logical extreme and is an enormous amount of fun as a result.

That’s not to say that messing around is the only thing the game has going for it. You also get a slew of different interesting missions to complete, some fun characters to hang out with, and even a slew of different DLC campaigns to enjoy if you get your hands on the definitive edition. The more classic parts of a typical city sandbox are here as well, with plenty of building for you to buy and territory for you to control if that’s what you’re into, but the game is also more than happy for you to grab a shark gun and just have a good time.

Elite: Dangerous

Elite Dangerous

If you’re not into your gaming history, it might seem like Elite: Dangerous just sort of sprang up out of nowhere. The truth is that Elite: Dangerous actually has one hell of a pedigree behind it that starts all the way back in the 80s, and each entry in the series has been a pretty insane sandbox. Obviously, Elite: Dangerous has come a long way since then, but it still offers a near-unprecedented amount of freedom to explore the universe and make the game your own.

For the uninitiated, Elite: Dangerous basically gives you a spaceship, some space, and tells you to do whatever you want. It’s effectively a space sim but doesn’t particularly focus on any one given area. You can make your living as a trader, moving from route to route until you’ve earned all the money in the world. Alternatively, you could be a pirate, hunting down traders and stealing their life savings, or even join one of the game’s many factions and vie for control over the stars.

There’s just so much to do in Elite: Dangerous that it’s almost impossible to bring it all up, but it’s certainly a sandbox, and in-universe is probably one of the biggest in the world. A first for the series, and easily one of the most interesting factors, is the inclusion of online play. While you’re journeying around the universe, other players are as well, and depending on what sort of space pilot they’re role-playing as, you may have to be careful when you come across them. If you’re looking for a huge and involving space sim, you’re going to struggle to find something better than Elite: Dangerous.

Terraria

Terraria

If you enjoy the idea of Minecraft but just wished there was slightly more actual video game in your sandbox, then Terraria is basically perfect for you. Sure it removed one of the dimensions that Minecraft offered, but surprisingly that doesn’t take away much from the experience. You still have a huge world to explore, you can still dig really deep for resources and build your dream fortress, but on top of that, you can fight bosses, collect loot, and generally do all the stuff that has been the heart and soul of video games since they were invented.

While the removal of the third dimension does make Terraria visually quite different, it also removes some of the complications from the process. It’s much easier to get started in Terraria, partially because you actually start with some basic equipment for you to upgrade later, rather than the Minecraft approach of starting with nothing. You also don’t have to remember complex recipes to build things, as anything you have the ingredients and equipment for will appear automatically in your crafting menu.

There is an insane amount to do in Terraria, especially considering that the building aspect is a lot less important here. There are 17 different bosses to face, various kinds of biomes and rare materials to collect, and hundreds upon hundreds of different weapons, tools, and armor for you to equip. The best part is, your equipment is tied to your character, rather than to your world or save file. This means that if you get bored of your current world, or just run out of room, then you can start a new one with all your old equipment. Even better, if you like the world but hate your character, you can just create a new one of those instead. Perfection.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2

It almost feels like we’re treading the same ground again that we did with GTA V, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is an excellent sandbox but for very different reasons. Just like GTA V, you do have an open world to explore, and an online mode so you can enjoy the same world but with other people to grief. The real differences here are in the way the story unfolds, and the sort of experience you’re liable to get out of the main game.

Mechanically there are plenty of similarities between RDR2 and GTA V, just swap cars for horses, and guns for much worse guns, and you’re basically there. You’ll only notice the differences once you start getting involved in the storyline. While GTA V had a story and world that was pretty much consequence-free, that’s not true of Red Dead Redemption 2. Your various actions can affect the world around you, your interactions with others, and even your different pieces of equipment.

Rather than a playground, RDR2 is more of an experience. It’s open-ended and free for you to explore, but it’s all about getting into the mindset of a cowboy in the final days of the wild west. You wake up, you drink your coffee, get on your horse and then choose what sort of criminal you want to be that day. It’s really about immersing yourself in the world and playing like you’re really a part of it.

Obviously, the Red Dead Redemption Online part of the package is also important, and it works in much the same way as GTA Online, albeit with no motorbike chases in the sky to get through. It’s still the same sandbox from the main game, but this time there are other players to worry about, and you have to try and build your reputation and funds as well over time. Compared with GTAO, it’s a bit more relaxed, just like the main game, but it’s still one hell of an experience, with a bunch of free extra content for you to enjoy.

Final Word

There you have it, a definitive list of some of the best sandbox games that you’ll find. With a category this broad it would have been impossible to fit all of the worthwhile sandbox experiences into a single list. Are there any sandbox titles that you think we’ve slept on? Let us know your top picks in the comment section below.