April 12, 2024
6 min read

What is a Sandbox game?

What is a Sandbox game?

What is a Sandbox game and How Does It Work? 

Sandbox, in real life, is an area with sand for kids to play in. 

The idea is that kids can have fun on their own with whatever they’ve got available in that place, like building sand castles and the like. Sandbox games are something like that. Well, kinda? Time for some specifics!

What is a sandbox game? 

The term is very loose and tends to be associated with open world games. 

Basically imagine being put into a game without any real objectives, you have a freedom to pursue anything you want within the game world from the start. 

The game itself often offers interesting mechanics and tools to allow you to gradually discover the fun parts by yourself. 

Tutorials are usually very basic and only explain core game mechanics, relying on players' ability to test things out by themselves, which sparks their creativity. Hence the association with real world sandbox. 

You make your own fun!

Sandbox vs open world games

Not so tough when facing an actual threat, are you Royal Griffin?
Source: Witcher 3 by CD Projekt Red

This one is a bit tricky. Games like GTA and Skyrim are open world games. But at the same time they definitely have a feeling of a sandbox game. Especially Skyrim with its modability potential. 

Open world games offer a vast world for players to explore and interact with, while still having a “main objective” hanging over them. Following the main objective or story usually unlocks new areas, abilities and game mechanics. 

Sandbox games, in turn, do not require you to complete any arbitrary mission to have full access to everything contained inside the game. Not to say that it’s given to you from the start, you still have to work for it of course!

To summarise, open world games tend to lock content behind a story/missions, while sandbox games let you do as you please from start to finish.

Sandbox vs linear games

There are some major differences between these two types of games. Linear games offer a storyline which players follow, which in turn has challenges based on your progress within it. It’s often tailored to allow a loop of growth, overcoming more difficult opponents and tasks and finally completing the story. 

Sandbox gives you free reign over every aspect by sacrificing the story and narrative. You may have some “goal” to complete but it’s only purpose is to give a general objective and not a necessity. Since the end goal of a sandbox game isn’t to complete the game but to have as much fun as possible within the environment.

How do sandbox games work?

As a player you might be used to following a mission or objective and discovering the game mechanics and lore as you do. 

Sandbox focuses on the freedom to explore and interact with the world at your leisure. Quite often you get some “tools” to completely reshape the world around you. Either by creating structures or destroying terrain, it’s all dependable on games' individual game mechanics. 

That’s possibly the core of sandbox games, the only limitation comes from the tools that the developers left to the players. 

What if the game allows the player to mod the game then? Then it opens some amazing possibilities and virtually infinite content to explore once you get your fill of the “vanilla” game. 

Skyrim and Roblox are excellent examples of this. Through mods and conversions you can achieve some really impressive (or horrifying) results.

Types of sandbox games 

To give you a few examples of sandbox games, we’ve picked the most recognizable ones. It would be somewhat impressive if you’ve not heard of any of these.

Minecraft

Steve going on an enthusiastic walk... Pray for whoever stands in his way.
Source: Minecraft by Mojang Studios

Possibly the most well known one and for a good reason. It is the very definition of a sandbox game. 

It has a huge degree of modability but even the vanilla version offers an impressive amount of game mechanics to indulge yourself in. 

While the survival mode puts a certain pressure on the way a player should play the game, it still offers a great degree of freedom as to how you can tackle these challenges. Alternatively you can use creative mode, giving you limitless resources and invulnerability to do anything you want, fully embracing the freedom sandbox games offer. 

And if at any point you’ve had your fill with the basic version, there are also mods and multiplayer to increase your options even further. 

A pinnacle of sandbox games indeed.

Terraria

Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho it's home from work work we go!
Source: Terraria by Re-Logic

For those who enjoy their 2D sprite games, Terraria is a great choice for a sandbox game. 

It is often compared to Minecraft, due to the amount of options available to affect the world you’re in and the procedurally generated environments. 

It’s a lot more action oriented than Minecraft, with plenty of gear to choose from and enemies to fight. 

Game itself focuses a lot on exploration, finding resources to build your base and expanding it, combat etc. 

You are free to go anywhere you want, as long as you can take on the challenge that each new area offers, that is.

If at any point you’ve seen everything the game can offer, there’s a very wide array of mods that can completely change the game, and also a multiplayer mode, adding greatly to its longevity. 

Skyrim (Modded)

Ask not a man what mods he has installed and he won't ask for yours...
Source: Skyrim by Bethesda Game Studios

It is very important to note that vanilla Skyrim is not, in fact, a sandbox game. Certain important game mechanics, like shout, are locked behind the main mission and require you to follow the story to a certain point. 

The level of customization that the Elder Scrolls series offers, though, can completely change that. 

One might say that the true sandbox experience comes from modding the game itself.

Your sandbox would be exactly that, turning the game into whatever you want it to be. 

Want to play as a dragon? You can. Run around with guns? Already been done, multiple times. Make combat more intense? “Souls-like” mods exist.

Change the setting? If someone is willing to spend enough time on it, you could probably even create a Star Wars setting or Lord of the Rings! 

Haha, just kidding… Cause it’s already been done too!

There’s an insane amount of work already put into turning Skyrim into whatever the players wanted it to be. 

You can be both the player enjoying the mods and their creator. Just the type of freedom a sandbox game can offer!

Interested in a more narrative focused genre?

Our company Dreams Quest is currently developing an ARPG mobile game called “Origins: The Fall of Azoria” which will contain a fantastical world, intricate lore, intense combat and fun puzzles.

Check out our social media links to Twitter(x), Youtube , Discord and more at the bottom for all relevant info on its development!

FAQs about sandbox games

Is Elden Ring a sandbox game?

Maidenless, tarnished? Guess it's time to git gud...
Source: Elden Ring by FromSoftware

Elden Ring is an open world game but not a sandbox. 

You have the freedom to explore the world within it, but like in the Dark Souls series, there are parts that have to be completed first before you unlock other areas of the game. 

After defeating all the boss enemies, they no longer respawn in a single playthrough and you must either start fresh or carry over to a new game+. 

Is Dark Souls a sandbox game?

The Dark Souls series have a very curious design. Everything is connected with each other. Once you complete an area and defeat the boss, you can physically walk back to previous areas, with some very small exceptions, making it feel like an open world game. 

It does require you to first follow a certain path and find a way to unlock each location, though. Also, completing the main storyline ends the game, requiring you to restart as a new game+ to continue. Thus making it not suitable for the sandbox genre.

Is Halo a sandbox game?

The newest game in the franchise is an open world game but not a sandbox. The player has a freedom to roam the map but the main focus is on completing objectives around the map. There aren’t enough game mechanics or creative tools for players to “create fun” for themselves to make it a sandbox game.

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