Ah, the glory of the sandbox: The complete freedom to go wherever you wish and build whatever you want, whenever and however you please. Sandbox games are some of the most difficult to create, but the variety spreads far and wide, crossing genre boundaries and usually exceeding expectations. Sandbox games are more immersive and thus often more thrilling than plot-based games simply due to the limitless possibilities — which are not unlike real life. Here are my top seven picks for sandbox games with worlds I just can’t get enough of.
1. “Mount & Blade: Warbound”
The “Mount & Blade” series puts players in a hyper-realistic medieval setting that happens to have a fantastic creature or two, and “Warbound” is hands-down the best of the series. This open-world RPG forces players to take sides in a six-way war — and there is no right answer, which means players must make their own decisions unaided. There are few people who would say “no” to being a medieval knight for a day, and I am certainly not one of them.
2. “Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind”
The most recent in the “Elder Scrolls” saga, “Skyrim,” has achieved perhaps the most fame and glory of late, but it is its elder brother, “Morrowind,” that achieves a much more satisfying sandbox feel. Like “Skyrim,” the third story in “Elder Scrolls” has a main quest — but within an hour or so of playing, I had murdered the key NPC and set off on my own. The land of the dark elves is one of the most surprising and satisfying worlds to play in.
It isn’t often that the most well-known of a genre is also one of the best examples of that genrebut “Minecraft,” the most popular sandbox game of our time, is actually a perfectly pure specimen of what a sandbox should be. With mere grains of sand in the form of raw materials like wood and iron, players can build castles and cathedrals with astounding intricacy. “Minecraft” appeals to all ages with its unsophisticated graphics and interface, and unlike most games on this list, there are “Minecraft multiplayer games, allowing players to work cooperatively (or competitively) on the same servers. I would only be afraid of living inside “Minecraft’s” survival mode — I doubt I could kill zombies with a pickaxe.
For full disclosure, I must admit that “Starbound” has not yet been released in its full version. That said, its early access release offers a richer world and more complete stories than most non-sandbox games do in their final form. Though its graphics may look simplistic, “Starbound” could very well be the culmination of all humankind’s video game building expertise to date: Crafting and constructing is essential to survival and success in the world — but so is having a strong, sturdy weapon for slaughtering monsters. To live as a sentient robot in “Starbound’s” Glitch city would be a dream come true.
5. “Kerbal Space Program”
To get into space, we required a firm grasp of math and physics; to play “Kerbal Space Program,” players need the same. The goal of the game is to build rockets and spaceships, explore the universe, and colonize other planets, but the “how” portion of the game is entirely open-ended. This combination space simulator and sandbox adventure is unlike anything I’ve ever played — plus it is teaching me science I’ve never considered — which makes “Kerbal Space Program” absolutely marvelous.
6. “Dwarf Fortress”
One of those legendary games that everyone talks about but few people play, “Dwarf Fortress” is daunting and deadly in its astounding complexity. Lacking a fully rendered 3D world in favor of ‘90s-esque bits of color, the game focuses primarily on player possibilities — which are utterly endless. In “Dwarf Fortress,” I am free to experiment and explore, building societies and watching history develop, which is why the game is so renowned.
7. “Don’t Starve”
The goal in this sandbox is much like any other — stay alive, but the cartoonish animation mixed with vivid and violent danger makes “Don’t Starve” a real unsung masterpiece. This survival game starts simply enough, with players searching a strange purgatory for sustenance, but slowly and surely, the landscape becomes hostile and terrifying. Yet, players have a surprising amount of power over their destinies; they can build their meager camps into formidable fortresses and convince enemies to become allies. With stunningly unique artwork and unlimited possibilities, “Don’t Starve” would be a wondrous place to live — if I could find enough food, of course.