What exactly is a “sandbox game”? Some would define it simply as an open-world game in which you can go where you like and do as you please. Others would say a sandbox game has to be one where you can exercise creativity in some way, whether that be building things or messing with a physics engine. Either way, the PS4 has more than its fair share of great sandbox experiences, so let’s run down the 15 best PS4 sandbox games you can play right now. Incidentally, we’ll be using both definitions of “sandbox” as outlined above!
It’s hard to imagine a game that better exemplifies the definition of “sandbox” than Minecraft. Its procedurally-generated voxel world gives you the freedom to build whatever you like and do whatever you please. Do you want to build the entirety of Game of Thrones’ Westeros? You can do that. Just want to build a tiny house and watch the world go by while living out a simple existence? That’s entirely within the bounds of possibility as well.
Since Terraria is effectively just a 2D version of Minecraft (although there is more to it than that), it stands to reason that we’d recommend playing it as well, especially if you’re already one of the Minecraft faithful. Terraria is a relaxing, compelling experience, and once again, you can build whatever you like wherever you like, so this is definitely one to check out if you’re looking for a game where you can while away the hours with a personal project.
Do you like Harvest Moon? If so, then you’ll almost certainly love Stardew Valley. It really is that simple; this is one of those games that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more complicated than that. You can build a farm, grow whatever crops you like, look after livestock, and befriend the local townsfolk. There’s also a story going on if you’re interested in following the travails of a small town battling a giant corporation, but you can equally just ignore that if you like.
Over on the open-world side of things, we have Skyrim, which almost needs no introduction, such is its fame. It’s a massive game inspired by Norse mythology and Viking history, so you can explore draugr-filled barrows, battle dragons atop fabled mountains, or just swig some mead in local taverns next to jarls and thanes. Skyrim pretty much has something for everyone, so whatever your preferred flavour of open-world activity may be, you’ll likely find it here.
This is another open-world game with a huge amount of stuff to do. The sheer number of side quests, activities, and other diversions in The Witcher 3’s world is staggering, and even if you don’t want to do any of that, the main story is hugely compelling and involving. If you love Game of Thrones and all of the political backstabbing and intrigue that comes with it, then The Witcher 3 is basically a playable version of that, so what are you waiting for?
Space sandboxes are hard to come by, and Kerbal Space Program is one of the best on PS4 right now. Your goal is to build a rocket that’s spaceworthy, and to do so, you’ll need to utilise your knowledge of physics and construction. Don’t worry, though; messing things up in Kerbal Space Program is just as fun as getting them right. If you master this game’s mechanics, you can become a true master of your very own space program, and if you don’t, it’s a hilarious monument to failure.
Subnautica is that rarest of beasts: a survival sandbox game with a plot. While it’s entirely possible to simply float around underwater, catching fish to eat and building yourself a base, there is also a storyline to follow, and it’s excellent to boot. Rarely has a world felt quite so alive and so hostile as Subnautica’s does; the creature design here is superb, and the world is hand-crafted, so none of procedural generation’s usual issues of repetition rear their ugly heads here.
What kind of sandbox list would be complete without the arguable progenitor of modern open-world gaming? Grand Theft Auto V’s storyline is somewhat lacklustre thanks to its unlikeable protagonists, but its open world is absolutely packed with activities and distractions, including tennis, yoga, and good old-fashioned murder. The online component of the game has grown to become one of the most popular multiplayer gaming experiences out there right now, too.
9. Lego Worlds
If Minecraft is basically playable Lego, then Lego Worlds is literally playable Lego. Ironically, the game is somewhat derivative of Minecraft, but it has Lego aesthetics, so it’s still worth your time even if you feel like you’ve completely rinsed Minecraft. Make no mistake; Lego Worlds won’t hold your hand, so if you’re looking for a beginner-friendly experience, this might not be it. However, once you gain mastery over the game’s mechanics and systems, you’ll find oceans of depth here.
For some, Red Dead Redemption 2 is Rockstar’s magnum opus. For others, it’s a bloated tribute to unnecessary excess, as exemplified by the realistic way in which horses…er…go to the toilet. Either way, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a vast, fascinating journey into the dying days of the Old West, revolving (no pun intended) around the story of Arthur Morgan and his gang as they attempt to find a way to coexist alongside an increasingly vigilant, law-abiding society.
If you only ever play one Ubisoft open-world game, let it be this one. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is arguably the last time the franchise was truly great; Unity was a mess, Syndicate was a paint-by-numbers disappointment, and the subsequent RPG trilogy has hugely divided opinion, but Black Flag is a piratical delight. Sailing on the Caribbean seas and plundering other ships while singing shanties is a delight that simply never gets old.
12. Just Cause 3
There are some who would say that the true purpose of open-world gaming is to exercise reckless abandon in a way you simply can’t in real life. Those people are likely delighted by Just Cause 3, and if you share their ethos, then you will be as well. The aim of Just Cause 3 is simple: blow everything up. When you arrive at one of the game’s many bases, your goal will be to blow everything in that base up, not stopping until it’s a smoking ruin. This core gameplay loop is consistently delightful.
Okay, so Yakuza: Like a Dragon is really more of an open-world JRPG than a true sandbox title, but it has a huge amount of stuff to do, so we’re including it anyway. After Kazuma Kiryu gracefully departed the protagonist role at the conclusion of Yakuza 6, there were worries that the series couldn’t continue without him, but new hero Ichiban Kasuga put a stop to those worries swiftly. His infectious charisma and positive attitude carry him and his group through this huge, sprawling, affecting adventure.
14. Fallout 4
We want to add a very clear disclaimer at the start of our Fallout 4 recommendation: if you love old-school Fallout roleplaying experiences, you aren’t going to find a lot of satisfaction here. This is very much a game for people who like the more modern style of Fallout espoused by Fallout 3, so it’s all about exploring, taking down enemies, and looting them for gear upgrades. You can also build your own settlements and expand them, and you’ll get more mileage out of that than the story.
15. Elite Dangerous
Since the definition of a sandbox game is usually one in which you can go anywhere and do anything, we think Elite Dangerous fits the bill quite nicely. You are the captain of a spacecraft, and you can pretty much do whatever you like within that remit. Will you head off into space in search of bandits to destroy, or will you try to eke out a living as a simple, humble trader? Whatever you choose to do, Elite Dangerous’ vast world and complex controls will keep you immersed for many hours.
As you can see, whatever your personal definition of sandbox gaming might be, the PS4 has plenty of stuff to keep you occupied. There are lots more survival sandboxes, open-world games, and life sims out there, too, and since the PS4’s library is constantly growing, you’re not likely to run out of games anytime soon, even if you manage to work your way through everything on this list (which is already a tall order!). Which sandbox games did we miss out? What’s your favourite PS4 sandbox game, and which ones do you want to see on Sony’s console?