Sorting out the best sandbox games on PC can be tricky business due to how many different kinds of sandbox games there are.
While open world sandbox games encourage you to explore environments and help other characters, sandbox builder games are more focused on using resources to construct homes, bases, and vehicles.
However, one thing that every fun sandbox game has in common is unbridled player freedom, allowing you to go anywhere and do anything, sometimes from the very start of the game.
If you feel like we overlooked one of the top sandbox games, let us know in the comments. And lastly, make sure to check back as we continue to update this list with new games in the future.
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To kick things off, we have the most popular and recognizable sandbox game, Minecraft. By now, most will be familiar with the formula: you break blocks for resources and use them to construct various tools, weapons, furniture, etc.
What makes Minecraft such a good sandbox game is the limitless potential of its crafting system. Whether you’re trying to build a massive castle fortress where you’ll rule as a magical wizard or a makeshift rollercoaster that all your friends can ride, there’s usually a recipe for anything you can imagine.
And when you run out of ideas in the vanilla version, you can always start experimenting with some of the best mods for Minecraft. These allow you to visit new worlds, customize blocks, and craft all sorts of ridiculous items, including a jetpack.
Grand Theft Auto V
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
The Grand Theft Auto series is one giant power fantasy fueled by fast cars, guns, and money. Each installment sees you playing as a different work-for-hire criminal who’s more than willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty for various mob bosses, street gangs, and sometimes just for the sake of anarchy.
GTAV presents the biggest and boldest experience to date, introducing three new playable characters in its single-player story as well as the ability to create your own avatar in GTA Online. The game’s sprawling open-world sandbox is comprised of two regions: Los Santos and Blaine County, with both offering an exhaustive amount of side activities.
Whether you’re looking to flip stolen cars, participate in street races, or clean out every bank vault, there’s a near-endless number of ways to get into trouble, earn cash, and increase your street rep. The online version of the game is well-supported with post-launch content and benefits from a host of community-made servers, mini-games, and more.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Developer: Rockstar Studios
Publisher: Rockstar Games
If there’s one thing Rockstar excels at, it’s crafting gorgeous and immersive sandboxes for players to get lost in. Red Dead Redemption 2 revisits the Western motif of the original Red Dead but from the perspective of bandit gang lieutenant Arthur Morgan.
Arthur and the rest of the Van der Linde posse go around robbing stagecoaches and evading the law, but there’s a lot more to see and do throughout the game’s 29 sq. mi open world spanning five fictitious US states.
You can take your horse for a ride around the countryside, head up to the mountains to hunt exotic animals, get into bar fights, or just take a nice long bubble bath before hitting the hay. If you ever grow tired of messing with NPCs, you can always switch to Red Dead Online to team up with other cowboys or start an all-out war.
No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
No Man’s Sky has come a long way since its controversial 2016 release, which saw the game panned for “less than honest” marketing on the part of Hello Games Lead Director Sean Murray.
However, the developer has spent the last four years adding player-requested features ranging from base-building to multiplayer and mod support, resulting in a resurgence of popularity. It also helps that the NMS engine has been redesigned and upgraded over the years, ensuring it runs buttery-smooth on just about any machine.
Other refinements such as better procedural generation and broader mission selection have resulted in a much more engaging and varied experience for players. If you were a fan of the original concept but felt short-changed, this may be the perfect time to revisit NMS and see how its sprawling sandbox holds up in 2021.
Developer: Tuxedo Labs
Publisher: Tuxedo Labs
One of our favorite parts of playing a sandbox game is pushing its systems’ limits to see how the world responds. A great game to do that in is Teardown, an Early Access Steam title that offers a fully destructible, voxel-based world.
In it, you play as the owner of a construction company that’s fallen on hard times. In order to keep your business afloat, you start taking on increasingly sketchy jobs ranging from stealing a car to demolishing an entire building.
Each scenario can be tackled in many ways depending on your tools of choice; however, some are more likely to draw attention from patrolling AI police units. There’s also a dedicated sandbox mode for those that want to play around with unlimited resources and vehicles without worrying about enemies.
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive
Hitman 2 builds upon the success of the previous game in a lot of ways, most notably in the size and scope of its sandbox environments. You play as Agent 47, a talented and, most importantly, bald assassin who puts on different disguises to reach his targets.
The sequel pushes the Glacier 2 engine to its full potential, allowing for more detailed environments ranging from a crowded racing event in Miami to a shady mining operation in the Colombian rainforest. In true sandbox nature, each level is brimming with opportunities to cause mayhem as you close in on your target.
Whether that means dressing up as a flamingo mascot or a birthday clown, Agent 47 is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Additional side challenges and multiplayer content encourage you to replay levels and sleuth out any disguises, weapons, or secrets you may have missed.
Kerbal Space Program
Publisher: Private Division
Best described as a space flight sim, Kerbal Space Program sees you building and piloting an array of aircraft, rockets, rovers, and more with help from little green aliens known as Kerbals. Anything you build can be test driven in the game’s open sandbox, which extends past Earth and into outer space.
However, a bulk of the fun comes from simply trying to get these highly complex vehicles to work how they were intended. Since the goal is to get the Kerbals into space, you’ll find yourself taking to the skies over and over again only to run out of fuel or make a wrong turn that results in a fiery crash.
Since the KSP engine can replicate real-life orbital maneuvers, you can even use it to train yourself to be a NASA pilot…or just chain together as many rockets as you can. Like many space flight sandboxes, the game doesn’t follow a linear structure and encourages you to carve out your own path.
Developer: Wube Software LTD
Publisher: Wube Software LTD
Factorio is a resource management game that sees you converting untapped sandboxes into production paradises. At first, you’ll have to manually chop trees, mine ores, and craft parts for your machines. However, once you’ve conducted enough research to achieve automation, things quickly ramp up.
You’ll continue expanding your factories, and in the process, encounter new obstacles you had never considered, including the local wildlife that isn’t too keen on you stripping away their homes. They can attack your machines and leave your factories crippled without any defenses or weapons in place.
One of our favorite aspects of Factorio is its progression system, which offers a seemingly infinite number of upgrades to unlock. While many of them are geared towards improving efficiency and maximizing production output, they also explore things like solar power, oil refining, and artificial intelligence for your machines.
Developer: Coffee Stain Studios
Publisher: Coffee Stain Publishing
Satisfactory is another resource management game like Factorio but places a much bigger emphasis on combat and exploration. In it, you’re tasked with surviving an alien planet by building a self-sustaining network of machines to gather and refine materials for you.
Things start off small until you’re eventually drowning in conveyor belts and assembly lines. It’s easy to get consumed by the never-ending quest for 100% efficiency to the point you forget you can actually make stuff with all the resources you’ve gathered.
From weapons and tools to buildings and vehicles, there are lots of ways to put your refined materials to good use. Doing so will also allow you to access new areas in the open-world, revealing more creatures, resource types, and opportunities to explore.
Developer: System Era Softworks
Publisher: System Era Softworks
Space is the final frontier as far as human exploration is concerned. Traveling to new worlds, setting up civilization, trying not to die from oxygen deprivation, the usual stuff. The only downside to it all (aside from the possibility of dying) is how bland and drab most planets look in-person.
Compare our world to that of Astroneer, where everything is bright and colorful yet still dangerous enough to kill you. The game offers a vibrant sandbox set on an alien planet you’ve been sent to colonize for the good of mankind.
In it, up to four players can work together to mine resources and craft various tools and vehicles, including a spaceship that will let you explore the heavens. Since Astroneer doesn’t follow a scripted story, you and your buddies are free to do whatever you want, just remember to bring some extra O2.
Developer: Axolot Games
Publisher: Axolot Games
Similar to Astroneer, Scrap Mechanic sees you crash landing on a “far-away” planet, only this one’s occupied by menacing Farmbots that have gone rogue. In order to survive the harsh landscape, you’ll have to flex your creative muscles by building a base, some defenses, and a vehicle or two.
The game leans heavily into its building component, allowing you to dream up complex structures and vehicles via a flexible crafting system. Additionally, you can carve out a piece of land to grow various fruits and vegetables to manage your character’s health and thirst meters.
Scrap Mechanic recently received a Survival Mode update that introduces new enemies, character customization, gardening tools, and more. These are all welcome additions considering how limited activities were before, especially for solo players.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord
Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment
Publisher: TaleWorlds Entertainment
Up until now, most of the sandbox games we’ve discussed have been survival and action games. To keep things balanced, we’re including some sandbox RPGs. Currently in Early Access on Steam, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is the long-awaited sequel to the 2008’s Mount & Blade.
Like the original, Bannerlord is centered on a systems-driven medieval sandbox that lets you role-play as various character classes. Whether you’re interested in becoming a famous jouster, rich tradesman, sword-for-hire, thief, or more, there are numerous paths to explore.
The game also features a party system and management component that sees you leading armies of hundreds or more into battle. It’s an overall more polished experience that improves upon the first game in just about every way.
Developer: Facepunch Studios
Publisher: Facepunch Studios
Rust presents a brutal online survival sandbox where everyone starts off as vulnerable “nakeds,” spawning on a beach with nothing but a single rock in their inventory. From that point on, it’s up to them to scavenge for supplies, kill wild animals, and build a base.
Maps are procedurally-generated and range from humble islands to diverse ecosystems with multiple biomes. Depending on the environment, you may have to deal with hazards like heat, freezing cold, or radiation. However, by far the biggest threats you’ll face in Rust are other humans.
While some players are amicable and will offer to team up or donate supplies, most will kill on sight with no remorse. This is a big part of Rust’s allure and what makes it so exciting to play. Even if you die repeatedly, you can always come back with a bit more wisdom and knowledge of how to survive next time around.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt
When CD Projekt Red sets out to make an open-world game, they pull out all the stops. At least, that’s the impression we get any time we boot up The Witcher 3 and start cruising around The Continent’s war-ravaged swamps, dense forests, and treacherous caves.
While they may not be the biggest or most interesting sandbox to poke around in, The Witcher 3’s environments have all been lovingly crafted by hand and therefore possess a lot more personality than your average open-world game.
Sure, most people come to RPGs for the story. And although Geralt’s journey is engaging and interesting to follow, we can’t help but get distracted by all the mini-games and sidequests that pop up along the way. From playing Gwent in taverns to hunting legendary monsters, there’s plenty of fun to be had off the beaten path.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
The latest installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise sees you exploring 9th century Britain from the perspective of Eivor, a Viking raider in search of a new home for his/her people. Their quest eventually leads them to become entangled in the ongoing battle between the Templars and the Brotherhood.
Although Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is mainly structured around completing story missions and sidequests throughout the open-world, you can always run-off and do some unscripted exploring. Your fellow Vikings will sometimes have intel regarding secret locations that can yield powerful rewards or new allies.
The game also revisits and expands upon the settlement system of previous Assassin’s Creed games to provide a new layer of interaction with its sandbox. You have direct control over the construction of different buildings and can fund projects by raiding enemy settlements for resources with your fellow Vikings.
Watch Dogs: Legion
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Watch Dogs: Legion is another Ubisoft title that features a massive sandbox to poke around under the guise of liberating London. In it, you go around recruiting NPCs to DedSec, a hacker group fighting against digital oppression.
Just about any NPC you encounter can be recruited, and each one possesses a special set of skills and flaws. As fun as it is to go around convincing random construction workers and doctors to join the good fight, we had a blast simply causing chaos in the open world.
While the series has always tried to downplay the use of lethal weapons, you’re free to bear arms and blow stuff up throughout the city. There are also tons of hacking tools you can take advantage of to scare pedestrians, distract cops, and sneak into restricted areas.