While there are plenty of games that qualify as open-world or sandbox titles, there is a far smaller number of really great ones. Those games that reach that distinction get there for a variety of reasons. Maybe their open world is very immersive, or maybe they overwhelm you with the freedom they offer. Whatever the reason, these eight games are some of the most solid examples of the popular genre.
Thank we missed one? Tell us what it is in the comments!
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham Asylum revived Batman as a video game character, but it wasn’t until Arkham City came along that gamers got a chance to really experience life under the cowl. City eschewed the closed-in grounds of the Asylum, opting to toss players into the wide open expanses of Gotham City. You’ll patrol the city, protecting innocents and beating up bad guys, all while the story progresses around you. It’s a great experience, and easily the closest most of us will ever come to being Batman.
Red Faction: Guerrilla
Here’s a short description of Red Faction: Guerrilla: Go blow up Mars. Yeah, that’s it. Guerrilla casts you as Alec Mason, who’s arrived on Mars to find his brother, only to see him killed. You’re then drawn into the Red Faction, where you set out to avenge your dad brother by laying waste to pretty much any structure you run across. You can’t blow up the terrain, but almost everything else is fair game. It’s a great time, and the game rewards you for causing destruction and mayhem, so you know it’s a winner.
Garry’s Mod may be listed a regular game, but what it really is a huge sandbox that leaves the game creation to you. Using the Source engine, gamers have made tons of interesting game modes, including popular ones like Trouble in Terrorist Town and DarkRP. Since the addition of Steam Workshop support, the amount of available items has skyrocketed. Whether you want to play a variety of game modes, or just pose the Heavy from Team Fortress 2 in compromising positions, Garry’s Mod has you covered.
Saints Row IV
As the GTA series has become more serious over the years, Saints Row has gone the other direction. It’s unabashed silliness, sarcasm, and hyperbole. It’s weapons like a gun that forces targets to dance to dubstep, or a giant dildo bat. Saints Row IV makes fun of just about everything, including itself. Nothing is safe: films, other games, and even pop culture are all made fun of here, and it’s glorious. After being elected President and attacked by aliens, you find yourself in a virtual world. Armed with over-the-top superpowers, you must fight your way to freedom. Sure, it’s nonsense – but it’s freaking awesome nonsense.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
A second nuclear disaster has occurred at Chernobyl. Deep within the radioactive wasteland around the site (called “The Zone”), one can find mutants, anomalies, artifacts, and of course, Stalkers. As an amnesiac Stalker, you’ll wander the Zone, encountering all sorts of people and mutants, collecting artifacts, and exploring the area in search of its secrets. Although it did suffer from some technical issues, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was still a great experience, and its world was both bleak and terrifying, making for a very memorable experience.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Our 2015 Game of the Year excels at being an open-world game, primarily because its world is so complete and fleshed out. Sure, you know it’s a video game, but when every side quest feels meaningful, every location feels lived-in, and the NPCs seem to be living lives that don’t involve waiting around for Geralt to arrive, you realize that there’s more to the game than “just another RPG.” Everything feels organic and natural, and that’s a huge accomplishment.
Talk to almost anyone about sandbox games, and the first game they’ll mention is Minecraft. Mojang’s creation took the world by storm, as almost everyone at least tried out the open-world game about collecting resources, building structures, and surviving the monsters that come out after dark. If the base game wasn’t exactly your cup of tea, you’re sure to find something you like the mod community. It may take a while to track it down, but there’s a Minecraft mod for just about everything now. Since its release in 2011, it has gone to become the best-selling PC game of all time, and the third-best-selling game on any platform, with over 70 million copies sold.
Grand Theft Auto 5
The Grand Theft Auto games have always had sprawling worlds with plenty to do in them, but GTA 5 turns that up to 11. Its world is an exaggerated version of both rural and urban America, full of opportunities to make your mark. You can explore almost everything you see, and you can do it as one of three great, over-the-top characters. You can jump between them at will, and the world they inhabit feels great. Add in the heists and all the other sorts of mischief you can get up to, and you’ve got one hell of an open-world good time.