[Top 10] Sandbox Games With Good Story

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The best recipe for fun is freedom and a storyline.

You don't have to choose; these games offer both.

The charm of the sandbox genre is in its limitlessness but, when paired with a good story, that freedom tastes even sweeter. If you're someone who craves the best of both worlds, this list is for you! Whether you’re looking for an introduction or a trip down memory lane, take a look at these 10 sandbox games that we think have killer storylines.

10. Raft

Raft Launch Trailer

Raft was a smash hit of 2018, and for good reason. Though it’s still in early access, it’s an incredibly successful title in both the survival and sandbox genres. 

You begin your journey stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean with no recollection of who you are or where you came from. Gameplay involves exploring deserted islands, crafting tools, and upgrading your raft in an open world.

Unlike other entries in the list, Raft’s storyline has to be unlocked. You do so by crafting a two-way radio with materials scavenged on the various islands you find. Unraveling the plot isn't a linear ordeal and can be a bit confusing but if you’re into those kinds of storylines, then you’ll love it.

Raft started out as a free download on itch.io; you can still find it there!


9. Fallout 4

Fallout 4 Gameplay

The year is 2287 and you are the sole survivor of a cryogenesis experiment, having been frozen for 200 years. You had a family who were once frozen alongside you and, now, you must search the vast wasteland of “The Commonwealth” (AKA post-apocalyptic Boston) for your missing son.

Released in 2015 by the powerhouse Bethesda studios, Fallout 4 is an amazing blend of shooter, RPG, and sandbox elements. Though it is a direct sequel to Fallout 3, you can enjoy it even if you’ve never played its predecessor.

Fallout 4 features a plot that is at times wacky and at other times solemn and bleak. Along with its fully-developed storyline, this game offers an open world, character customization, and an intricate crafting system, as well the ability to form and manage settlements.

Animals lovers rejoice: the dog doesn't die! Fallout 4's furry friend is essentially immortal.


8. Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 Launch Trailer

Despite its name, RDR2 is the third installment of the Red Dead series, and is a prequel to Red Dead Redemption. Widely marketed and highly anticipated, RDR2 has become one of the best-selling video games in history since its release in 2018.

Set in Western and Southern USA in 1899, Red Dead Redemption 2 follows a story of an outlaw struggling against the government, rival gangs, and the slow death of the Wild West. Heists, hunts, and shootouts ensue as you explore this fictional world. In the epilogue, you play as the protagonist of the first Red Dead Redemption, John Marston.

If you like the way Grand Theft Auto’s wanted system works, you’ll enjoy RDR2’s take on it: a bounty system. Also, if you love co-op. you’ll be happy to know that there’s an online multiplayer mode!

Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most expensive video games to ever be made.


7. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Launch Trailer

Wild Hunt is the third and final entry in the The Witcher series and it definitely goes out with a bang. It’s got an overwhelmingly positive rating on Steam and has received a crazy amount of "game of the year" awards.

Wild Hunt is an immersive and story-driven RPG rooted in Slavic mythology. You play as the monster slayer Geralt of Rivia, AKA The Witcher, on a quest to search for his daughter. Complete quests, explore the world, interact with NPCs, and experience one of three story endings depending on your actions in-game.

Wild Hunt’s plot is engaging while still managing to give you an open world and plenty of choice. Side quests don’t feel boring or tedious and are instead well-developed and add greatly to the storyline.

CD Projekt’s in-house game engine, REDengine 3, is what lets The Witcher run smoothly.


6. Mafia II (Classic)

Mafia II Trailer

There are two versions to choose from when buying Mafia II: Classic and Definitive Edition. I’ll be honest — I wholeheartedly recommend the Classic version. It maintains a much better rating on Steam, as well as being more favored in the game’s community. Though Definitive Edition (a 2020 remaster of the original 2010 game) has better visuals, it also has worse physics, as well as bugs that aren’t even in the Classic version.

In Mafia II, you play in the fictional Empire Bay, a city divided by race, industrialization, and the mafia in the 1940s and 50s. You play as an Italian immigrant to the United States, in his escapades with and against the various mafia organizations of Empire Bay. 

Mafia II is very story-driven and does its best to remain true to its setting, while still giving the player the ability to decide how to do things themselves!

Mafia II includes music that is actually from the 1940s and 50s.


5. Assassin’s Creed Origins

Assassin's Creed Origins E3 Gameplay Trailer

Assassin’s Creed Origins was released in 2017 and is the tenth entry of the main Assassin’s Creed franchise. The game is lauded for its plot, historical accuracy, world design, and voice acting. It features an expansive open world and is a well-balanced mix of sandbox, action, and RPG.

Origins features a few scenes in the 21st century but is primarily set in roughly 50–40 BC, in Egypt. The main character you play is Bayek, a Medjay who is tasked with keeping the settlement of Siwa Oasis safe by — you guessed it! — assassinating targets. 

As you might expect from the name, Assassin’s Creed Origins explores the history and organizations that led to the Assassin Brotherhood of the other games in the series. 

The development team worked closely with actual Egyptologists to ensure historical accuracy.


4. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Gameplay Trailer

Even if you’ve never played Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, you probably know the iconic meme that came from it: “Why are we still here? Just to suffer?”

Honestly, the plot of the Metal Gear Solid series is weird and jumps around a lot but remains an enjoyable storyline nonetheless. The Phantom Pain is no exception, with a few unresolved plot points. Despite this, it’s received amazing reviews for its sandbox level of freedom, its emotional story, and well-developed gameplay mechanics.

The Phantom Pain picks up where its prologue, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, left off. You play as a mercenary with the codename “Venom Snake”, as you hunt down whoever’s responsible for destroying a military organization from the previous game.

The Phantom Pain is the ninth major entry in the Metal Gear series.


3. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Gameplay Trailer

Commonly known simply as Skyrim, this game is one of the most iconic titles of the 2010s. You truly get the best of both worlds with Skyrim: a fleshed-out, engaging storyline that you can choose to ignore completely if you want to.

You play in a frosty mountainous land of Norsemen, elves, and monsters. You, yourself, are the Dragonborn, destined to defeat a dragon who will destroy the world. The lore of Skyrim — and The Elder Scrolls franchise as a whole — is incredibly deep and easy to get sucked into.

The best part? Despite its fleshed-out, engaging storyline, you can choose to ignore or postpone it, if you’d rather explore the open world and create your own adventure. Sandbox lovers rejoice!

Skyrim is set 200 years after The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.


2. Hitman 2

Hitman 2 Gameplay Launch Trailer

Hitman 2 is the second installment of the World of Assasination trilogy within the larger Hitman franchise. All three titles follow a story arc but there’s nothing stopping you from playing any one as a standalone. Typical for the series, you play as Agent 47, a genetically-engineered assassin who takes on quests to assassinate targets whilst the story unfolds. 

Your main goal as Agent 47 is to find the elusive “Shadow Client” who is causing panic across the globe. This mission takes you to 6 locations around the world, from Miami to Mumbai. In each location, you get quite considerable free reign to explore, plot, and carry out your mission as you see fit. 

The best part about the Hitman games is being able to choose how to assassinate your targets — whether with subtlety and caution or with wild abandon. I feel obligated to also mention that you can slap a man with a fish if you want, which I think is a hard sell!

Hitman 2 is more playful in tone than its prequel and sequel.


1. Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V First-Person Experience Trailer

When a game is the second best-selling title of all time, you know it’s got to be outstanding. That's Grand Theft Auto V for you, the game that earned $1 billion (yes, $1 billion) in just three days after release. It remains one of the most popular games in the world, and is a monumental addition to the GTA series.

Grand Theft Auto V takes players to the fictional town of Los Santos in San Andreas. The storyline involves three playable main characters: a former bank robber, a drug dealer, and a gangster, as they get into heists. 

These heists are central to the plot, and the protagonists’ lives eventually spin out of control. As you take on the storyline, you get to freely explore the open world of Los Santos and its surrounding areas.

Upon its release, GTA V became the fastest-selling video game in history.


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Near the turn of the century, Rebecca was dropped by a stork onto a tropical island. They spend their free time leveling up their gaming skills, enjoying nature's bounty, and basking in the sunshine.
Gamer Since: 2001
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Hades, Pokémon Legends: Arceus
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