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 some level of freedom, but there’s still a critical path and a definite endpoint. A true sandbox, by contrast, offers endless choice without constraint. You can play, create, and destroy in as many ways as you can conceive, and the only ending is the one you choose for yourself. 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.
One of the progenitors of the modern sandbox, Garry’s Mod gives you access to almost every asset in Valve’s library and the tools to make them do anything and everything you can conceive of. You have control of their models, their poses, and their weapons. You can load any map from a Source Engine game and fill it with whatever and whoever you’d like. 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 ever reached the heights of popularity Minecraft enjoys. This success is partly due to people showing off functioning computers, scale models of the Earth and other huge objects, and entire orchestral pieces using only the tools in the game. Whatever other reasons there are, 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 it onto a list like this, but it’s become so much more than its initial state in the years since. The procedural universe is as big as you want to make it. You can, if you choose, stay in your starting solar system, farming the few planets available and staking your claim on the system with a vast, multilayered 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 spaces, and additional incentives to engage is icing on a delectable cake.
Though aimed at kids and teenagers, Roblox is a great game for anyone to enjoy if they want to build something of their own within its Lego-inspired world. Better still, while you are free to enjoy the game as it is, or search through other people’s worlds and creations, one of the biggest draws is making your own game with the simple tools Roblox provides. The variety and creativity already on display can serve as inspiration for your own creations that you can share either with your friends or the world.
There is a story and critical path to Stardew Valley, but it is at its core a sandbox title. How you build your home and farmstead is entirely up to you. Who you romance, the trajectory of your life, how much or how little you explore the world — all of it is entirely up to you. Add in the chilled-out soundtrack and the simple pleasures of a good day’s work without breaking your actual back make for one of the most satisfying experiences in gaming today.
A mix of Minecraft and Stardew Valley, Stonehearth tasks you with building and running a village, ensuring your colonists are happy, healthy, and prosperous. How you go about accomplishing that is entirely up to you. Do you want to make a farming village, a mining colony, or some other means of earning your keep? Your calls will determine your city’s success, and thanks to a well-built procedurally generated terrain system and random encounters, no playthrough is ever the same.
As with Stonehearth, Teardown has a story you can follow, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is entirely freeform. Everything in every level is made up of small, individual blocks with their own physics. Equipped with various construction equipment and machines, it’s your job to destroy it all in whatever way you see fit. The levels get larger and more complex the farther you progress, offering new and varied places and things to destroy in as many ways as you can come up with. “Finishing” the story is only the beginning because you’re free to go back and see if you can do it all again in a new way.
Building your home by dredging up the treasures of the Earth is a pursuit as old as civilization itself, and Terraria gives you all the tools — literal and figurative — to plumb the depths and make a home from the riches you find. There are beasts and other threats to deal with, of course, but the challenge in Terraria is thinking up what you’ll build on the surface or at the bottom of a chasm, not what you’ll face in the spaces between. There are almost endless materials and options available to you as soon as you load into a fresh world, but the more you create, the more you can do. It’s the best kind of cycle.