There’s something special about a game where your imagination is the only limitation on what you can do and where you can go. Open world games provide a certain level of freedom, but there is still a critical path and a defined end point. A true sandbox, on the other hand, offers endless options without restrictions. You can play, create and destroy in as many ways as you can conceive, and the only ending is the one you choose. The games on this list are some of the best sandbox games currently available on PC, providing thousands of hours of unbridled fun. They are presented in alphabetical order.
Garry’s Mod, one of the progenitors of the modern sandbox, gives you access to nearly every asset in Valve’s library and the tools to make them do anything and everything you can conceive of. You are in control of their models, their poses and their weapons. You can load any map from a Source Engine game and fill it with whatever you want and whoever you want. There are so many options it can be overwhelming, but master even a few of them, and there’s no limit to what you can do.
There are other block-based sandbox games out there, but none have reached the heights of popularity that Minecraft enjoys. This success is due in part to people showing working computers, scale models of the Earth and other huge objects, and full orchestral pieces using only the game’s tools. Whatever the other reasons, there’s no denying that in Minecraft, if you can dream it, you can build it. The only limitations are time, imagination and know-how.
no man’s sky
The No Man’s Sky released in 2016 would never make a list like this, but it has become so much more than its initial status in the years since. The procedural universe is as big as you want to make it. If you wish, you can stay in your starting solar system, farm the few available planets, and claim your right to the system with a vast, multi-layered base of operations. You can also spend hundreds of hours exploring the effectively limitless cosmos, stopping only to stock up on materials. That the game offers a story campaign, multiplayer slots, and additional incentives to participate is just icing on a delicious cake.
Although it is geared towards kids and teens, Roblox is a great game for anyone to enjoy if they want to build something of their own within their Lego-inspired world. Better yet, while you’re free to enjoy the game as it is, or browse other people’s worlds and creations, one of the biggest draws is creating your own game with the simple tools that Roblox provides. The variety and creativity already on display can inspire your own creations that you can share with your friends or the world.
There is a story and a critical path to Stardew Valley, but at its core it is a sandbox title. How you build your house and farm is totally up to you. Who you fall in love with, the trajectory of your life, how much or how little you explore the world, it’s all completely up to you. Add in the laid-back soundtrack and simple pleasures of a good day at work without breaking your back, and it makes for one of the most satisfying experiences in gaming today.
A mix of Minecraft and Stardew Valley, Stonehearth tasks you with building and managing a village, making sure your settlers are happy, healthy, and prosperous. How you are going to achieve that is completely up to you. Do you want to make a farming town, a mining colony, or some other way to make a living? Your calls will determine the success of your city, and thanks to a well-constructed procedurally generated terrain system and random encounters, no match is the same.
As with Stonehearth, Teardown has a story that you can follow, but moment-by-moment gameplay is completely free. Everything in each level is made up of small individual blocks with their own physics. Equipped with various equipment and construction machines, it’s your job to destroy everything in any way you see fit. The levels get bigger and more complex as you progress, offering new and varied places and things to destroy in as many ways as you can. “Finishing” the story is just the beginning because you are free to go back and see if you can do it all over again in a new way.
Building your home by digging up the Earth’s treasures is an activity as old as civilization itself, and Terraria gives you all the tools, literal and figurative, to plumb the depths and build a home from the riches you find. There are beasts and other threats to contend with, of course, but the challenge in Terraria is thinking about what you’ll build on the surface or at the bottom of an abyss, not what you’ll face in the spaces in between. There are nearly endless materials and options available to you as soon as you load into a new world, but the more you create, the more you can do. It is the best kind of cycle.