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The 7 Absolute Best Xbox One Sandbox Games of All Time

Sandbox beach toys

The 7 Absolute Best Xbox One Sandbox Games of All Time

The Xbox One might not have won the eighth generation of console gaming against the PlayStation 4, but that’s not to say that it didn’t have some excellent games. Released in November 2013, the Xbox One was the successor to the Xbox 360 and represented Microsoft’s third home console. The original and release version of the Xbox One model would be replaced by the Xbox One S in 2016, which offered a smaller form factor and included HDR10 video plus support for 4K video playback. 

Later on, the Xbox One X would be released in November 2017 and rendered games at 4K resolution providing some of the best console graphics ever released at home. With all of this power, the Xbox One needed games that could show off its graphical power.

Sandbox games were ready to meet this challenge and were responsible for some of the most popular releases on the console.

Without further ado, below are some of the best sandbox games to release on the Xbox One X. 

What is a Sandbox Game? 

The definition of a sandbox game is somewhat open-ended and has led to some disagreements in the video gaming world.

For some, a sandbox game is more of a Minecraft-like game where there are virtually zero character limitations placed on gameplay and you are able to change your virtual world at will. This would involve lots of roaming around the world that offers you complete access from the very beginning of the game, rather than opening new areas of gameplay as you progress. 

However, there is a second line of thinking for sandbox games, which lends more toward the open-world definition. For this group, sandbox games will include multiple storylines, mini-games, or side missions that don’t require linear progression to complete. Unlike open-world games which enable a player to explore a world albeit with a time restriction, sandbox games let you do everything an open-world title does, but at your own pace. This leads to games like GTA V and R2D2 being more in the sandbox realm and this has become the more popular way of thinking about sandbox titles in the modern gaming era. 

Is the Xbox One Known for Sandbox Games? 

If you take the more modern definition of sandbox games to include games like Grand Theft Auto, SimCity, and No Man’s Sky, then yes, the Xbox One is known for this type of gameplay. The same is also true if you consider the outdated line of thinking for sandbox games as the Xbox One is home to Minecraft, thanks to Microsoft’s ownership of the game. Between both of these definitions, sandbox game fans will find lots to play and love on the Xbox One console. 

#7: Sea of Thieves 

Once labeled “sandbox gaming at its purest” by Eurogamer, Sea of Thieves is a pirate adventure filled with sailing, exploring, plundering, riddle solving, treasure hunting, and fighting. Did you mean there’s a treasure? Arrrr (that means yes). Filling the sandbox role perfectly, you have complete freedom on how you approach the game leaving the door wide open to visiting mysterious islands and finding lost artifacts. 

Want to try your hand at hunting or fishing? You can absolutely do that plus any of the more than 50 different side quests the developers have laid out before you. And should you find yourself face to face with other pirates, ship-to-ship battles are among the best you have ever seen on a home console release.

What’s disappointing is that the Metacritic score is decidedly mixed, with a critic score of 69 and a user review score of 5.3 out of 10. There’s a strong balance between those who either passionately love this title or those who abstain from playing it completely with no middle ground. 

Sea of Thieves game
Live out your pirate dreams with Sea of Thieves!

#6: Just Cause 3

There are games you can cause an obscene amount of property damage in, and then there is Just Cause 3. Taking place across a 400-mile square foot map (in the game), there’s a strong balance of open-world and sandbox-style gameplay that just works so well together. Your character is Rico Rodriguez, and he wants to help free his home country from an evil dictator. To do that, he has to go full-on Rambo and pretty much blow up everything in his way. 

What really helps Just Cause 3 stand out as a sandbox title is that you can do anything and everything you want from air, land, or sea. Grapple, parachute or drive into the dozens and dozens of available missions, none of which you need to do in any particular order. In fact, Just Cause 3 even has a sandbox mode that is unlocked as soon as you complete the last mission if you choose to play the game in a truly linear fashion. Critics gave Just Cause 3 a score of 71 on Metacritic with users dropping a 6.9 out of 10. 

#5: No Man’s Sky

Even before it was released, predictions had No Man’s Sky built up as one of the best space sandbox exploration games of all time. Suffice it to say, those are tough expectations and the game was unable to live up to the hype, but that’s not to say it was a total flop either.

With a Metacritic score of 77 and a user review score of 7.5 out of 10, even without a perfect score, there are plenty of moments to enjoy. No Man’s Sky takes you on a journey around the galaxy where you’ll face enemies of unknown origin all while upgrading your ship to deal with these ever-increasing threats. 

Exploring the galaxy is almost limitless, which speaks to its sandbox origins, thanks to a procedurally generated universe, so no playthrough is the same. Every star you discover will be orbited by more planets and different life forms you may be discovering for the first time. What goes without saying is that those who gave up on the game originally left before receiving any of the 17 major updates that have come through since its release. 

No Man's Sky video game logo
No Man’s Sky takes you on a journey through the galaxy.

#4: Cities: Skylines

Have you ever wanted to build your own city with complete and total freedom to do what you want and put anything where you want? Cities: Skylines is the sandbox answer to these questions on the Xbox One.

Rest assured this title is not as easy as slapping some roads down and calling it a day. Everything must be planned out so you can attract new residents and make sure you have plenty of public transportation available to move them around town. Remember, you’re the mayor, so the buck stops with you and so do the complaints. 

Critics gravitated to this game thanks to its incredible depth and excellent console controls, rewarding it with a Metacritic score of 81. User reviews were a little tougher, managing a 6.6 out of 10. How user reviews could be so low when you build a dam to protect your city from water only to flood it on the same day is really something that needs to be played again and again. 

Cities: Skylines video game logo
Build the city of your dreams with Cities: Skylines!

#3: Terraria

Terraria is a game that literally puts the world at your fingertips and it’s full of sandbox-style creativity that requires all of your attention.

This 2D title harkens back to the pixel style of old but does so in a way that’s just so much fun. Both critics and users agree with an 84 on the Metacritic scale and an 8.0 out of 10 for users. User reviews gravitated to the notion that Terraria is a fantastic representation of what a survival sandbox game should be, all while adding some action-platformer elements. 

This combination of game styles is so addicting, you’re likely to play for hours on end with every sitdown. No matter if you are looking for awesome loot or defeating a gruesome boss monster, Terraria lets you play however you feel. There is no one path to success and that’s what makes it such a wonderful sandbox-style game. Forget anyone who says this is a wannabe Minecraft clone as these two games can exist in separate worlds and give you two entirely different gameplay goals. 

#2: Minecraft

The textbook definition of a sandbox game, Minecraft is arguably the greatest sandbox game of all time. Hundreds of millions of copies have been sold and downloaded across multiple game platforms, the Xbox One included.

The game itself has a simple style that can get very complex as you build, farm, craft weapons, and create anything you want. Minecraft users have built entire towns stretching for miles in the game or recreated some of the greatest real-world wonders almost to perfection, all in the game. 

The normal game requires you to find the resources to create all of your marvels or jump directly into creative mode and enjoy a true sandbox environment free of resource restrictions. Critics are huge fans of the game and offered an 88 Metacritic score while users only totaled a 7.4 out of 10. User reviews aside, this game has a passionate fanbase that continues to grow as children discover the pure joy of being able to unleash their imaginations. 

mob
Minecraft is a fan-favorite, and for good reason.

#1: Grand Theft Auto V/Red Dead Redemption 2 Online (Tie)

No question there are going to be those who believe both GTA V and RDR2 online belong solely in the open-world category, but the flexible definition of sandbox names says otherwise.

Both of these titles do offer an open-world environment, but it’s what you can do inside of it that brings the sandbox meaning into the light. Want to sit and fish for hours while playing RDR2 while the sun sets and rises repeatedly? You can absolutely do that. You can do this just as easily as you can play GTA V and become a taxi driver for hire without ever picking up the main missions again. While the campaign requires you to follow a set path, there is complete freedom to follow your own path while playing online. 

Both games hit a 97 on the Metacritic score for a tie, where RDR2 found an 8.2 out of 10 for user reviews, while GTA V only managed a 7.9 out of 10. The bottom line is that both of these games can keep you as occupied as Minecraft for years. Grand Theft Auto V has been out for almost a decade and its online servers remain as busy as ever allowing you to play a different game every time you sign on. 

Grand Theft Auto V video game logo
The fifth installment of Grand Theft Auto does not disappoint!

Final Thoughts

When it comes to sandbox games, the argument will continue as to what truly defines this category.

For many, Minecraft is a deserving number one. Others believe that the definition is now broad enough to include a variety of other games that all add sandbox elements like RDR2 and GTA V online.

Either way, there are a ton of fun games on this list that perfectly showcase why sandbox games are among the most popular genres available.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sandbox-style game?

A sandbox-style game is one that features open-world maps and doesn’t require a linear objective. Players should feel free to explore and complete tasks in no particular order. Large maps are expected as are heightened levels of creativity and building.

What is the difference between a sandbox and open-world game?

There’s no question these two types of gameplay often intermingle and borrow elements from each other. Games can be hard to classify and often fit into more than one genre. Open-world offers the freedom to explore however you like, at your own pace, whereas sandbox allows you to play with whatever you want, however you want. 

What is the best sandbox game on the Xbox One?

If you follow the strict definition of Sandbox games, Minecraft is the best game, but if you open up to exploring sandbox games to include multiple genres, GTA V and R2D2, especially their online components, are the best sandbox games available. 

How well do PC-based games like Minecraft and Cities: Skylines translate to home consoles?

Incredibly well. The reviews for both almost never mention difficulties with the control schemes as the developers for both games took painstaking steps to make sure they are as console friendly as two games can get. 

Can you play these games on Microsoft’s next-gen consoles: Xbox Series X and S?

Absolutely! Microsoft has done a fantastic job of porting as many titles as possible from the Xbox One to its next-gen consoles. 

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