Below you’ll find our list of the 10 best sandbox games for you to make little castles and destroy them with a bazooka.
All of us remember the sandbox somewhere in our childhood. It represented anything you could make with our imagination and a bit of moistened granules. The point of the sandbox was that we could do whatever we wanted, create whatever we wanted. It was a wonderful world for us to play in. Video games have latched onto this concept and provided us with some incredible worlds for us to wander, create, and play in.
A great sandbox game gives you the tools to do anything while still immersing you in the setting of the game. They let you make your own way through the game and play however you like. Sandbox games are freedom. Here are our picks for the 10 best sandbox games for you to play around in.
Even if the creators of Grand Theft Auto had done a whole lot of drugs while making their games, they still wouldn’t be nearly as crazy as Saint’s Row: The Third. If you’ve played the first two in the series, you have all the freedom to run around without any clothes on and shoot people out of a carnival cannon. There is a huge city to explore and tons of missions, but why would you bother when there are so many outfits to kit out your character with a baby shark hat and steal a military helicopter. If you’re feeling particularly cyberpunk, why not dress up as Neo and wander the streets to take out your enemies with a laser gun. Saint’s Row: The Third serves up the absurd side of the sandbox spectrum. It is a funhouse game where you can complete the whole gangland story dressed as a clown, and for that, we love it.
The Assassin’s Creed series has always been among the best sandbox games, but the second one shines as a beacon for the series. Even after two subsequent sequels, it still remains a beloved game on our shelf. The whole expanse of Italy is laid out before you in loving detail right down to the style of stone used on the streets. The story is almost as engaging as the time period. This game is as close as you’re going to get to living during the Renaissance, but amongst all the history, you’re free to choose the missions you like and wreak havoc out in the streets of Venice or Florence. If you choose to color within the lines, you can enjoy a story that is slowly getting more bonkers.
What could be more fun than a destabilized oil flush fictional island nation in Southeast Asia? Well, not much really. Just Cause 2 lets you live out all your macho Rambo tendencies by plopping you onto an island perfect for filming any crazy action movie. It has everything from planes to jeeps. You can do whatever you like to crank up the chaos on the island. What other game lets you base jump of a mountain into parasailing behind some cars, fly by grenade some military watch towers, then grapple up to a helicopter, pull out the pilot, then proceed to involve yourself in aerial dogfights. Did we mention you can leap out of said helicopter then midair grapple it to another helicopter to create a midair collision so explosive that Schwarzenegger would be disappointed that he couldn't walk away from it.
Bombing around a reimagined New Orleans on the eve of a horrible beast attack is a joy. InFamous 2 is a taught and refined version of the original. You become part of the story of Cole's story while you zip around the lively city of New Marais. The city is alive with all sorts of places to explore, and unlike many of the sandbox games featured here, the city changes as you progress through the game. With your superpowers, you get to leap, climb, and glide to whichever part of the city you pretty much please. Plus, with the moral choice system, you can bomb ‘round the city helping citizens or throwing cars at their faces.
There is really only one game that captures the old west with such completeness that every spaghetti western pales in comparison -- Red Dead Redemption is a symphony in brown. From the high crescendos of the mountains to the deep basins by the river, the old west never seemed so vast and romantic. You can live out your dreams of being Clint Eastwood and challenge little bar fighting miscreants to a shootout in the streets. There’s wagon heists, bandits, and, of course, cowboys. Red Dead Redemption gives you the ultimate realization of the nostalgic old west and lets you explore to your heart’s content. Don’t feel like redeeming John Marson? Fine, go rob the bank and start a fist fight. Why not rope and break some wild horses? We just know you’ll be whistling to yourself as you listen to the click of your boot spurs.
Bethesda knows how to make a great sandbox game. From the beginning of Fallout 3, you’re trained to survive the wastes of DC. The game preps you for survival amongst the hoards of supermutants and rad-roaches. But, after you’ve finished growing up in the womb of the Vault, you’re thrust wide-eyed into the bright and burnt world to explore. It is a game made for wandering. There are unmapped ruins filled with loot and hundreds of characters to help or hinder as they try to live out their irradiated lives. It is a game that provides you with a life after a nuclear holocaust and for that, it earns a spot on our list of the 10 best sandbox games.
The Grand Theft Auto games have always been a favorite for a session of digital messing around. With huge urban landscapes filled with squishy little gang-banger bodies to mutilate, Grand Theft Auto IV brings us an unmitigated exercise in enjoyable mayhem. Sure you can endlessly ferry your cousin around or bring your girlfriend flowers, but who wants to do that? We’d rather ramp a minivan off a bridge and into a police helicopter. What about serpentining through traffic on the highway before launching headlong over a park and into a nearby pool? Grand Theft Auto IV is all fun and games until Nico goes flying through a windshield.
The Elder Scrolls games have set the standard for the sandbox fantasy adventure. With Skyrim, they’ve raised the bar to almost unattainable levels. After the requisite prisoner sequence and character creation, you’re allowed to wander the land of Skyrim all on your own. You have to battle the diverse wildlife as you take on quests that have you exploring the highest mountains and deepest dungeons. You have a main quest to follow, but who cares about that? Why not build a house or get married? You can become a vampire and start stealing people from neighboring villages to slake your thirst. You can hunt down the endlessly respawning dragons that dot the landscape. There is so much to do that your life in Skyrim might even overtake your real life. Then you’ll find yourself in line at 7-11 muttering FUS RO DAH in an effort to get the line moving.
Some internet blurbs have called Farcry 3 “Skyrim with guns.” While it might seem like that on the surface, Farcry 3 is a far different and wholly unique experience. The interweaving of the open sandbox world with a tightly wrought plot deftly integrates two aspects of gaming that were once thought to be mutually exclusive. Your choices matter not in a moral choice system, but in more of a survival system. Your plan of attack on pirate outposts is completely up to you. Go in guns blazing and you better have enough ammo, but the same post could also be taken by some clever sneaking and well placed explosives. Also, the island in Farcry 3 is absolutely huge, lush, and filled with anything and everything you’d expect from a tropical jungle. Plus, this is the only game on our list of the 10 Best Sandbox Games where you can punch a shark in the face!
Could there be any other ultimate sandbox game? Minecraft provides you with some tools and resources and what happens in the rest of the game is up to you. It is the purest form of the sandbox game and it can be some of the most engrossing and satisfying time you’ll spend in a digital world. Whatever your imagination can conceive, you can build it out of little blocks of earth and stone. The world of Minecraft is your sandbox. Yours to do with what you will. There are no distracting side-quests, just the occasional creeper attack at night, to distract you from the sheer joy of creation. Add a tightly bound community of brilliant players that share their creations and you have yourself the perfect sandbox game and friends to play along with you. No sand or scooper necessary.
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