6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Aren’t Grand Theft Auto

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Do you remember the way you felt when you first started playing Grand Theft Auto 3? It was as if, suddenly, any insane fantasy you ever had about how a game could play out was suddenly coming true. Suddenly, I didn’t HAVE to go in any direction I didn’t want to. Suddenly, I wasn’t forced, as a gamer, to make the game play out the way the programmers MADE ME with other games. For the first time, I was free to play a game ANY WAY I wanted to.

If I liked the linearity of some games, I could very well play through any Grand Theft Auto by doing all the missions, one after the other. If I HATED missions like that, I could spend countless hours just running over pedestrians and trying to get hookers into my car. That was what was so beautiful about how the GTA series opened up gaming. Gone were the stagnant, still worlds where you could only go in one or two given directions, and had to follow a strict set of rules. And in its place? A blank canvas of a virtual sandbox, that you could play any way you wanted to.

And with GTA3 came the revelation, among other developers, that the sandbox vibe of an open world game is something they could create, too. And while the first batch of GTA clones was pretty weak, the further we have gotten into the genre, as well as this gaming generation, the more proof we have that there are other developers who can ALMOST do it just as well as Rockstar. And some do it SO differently that you almost lose sight that GTA‘s gameplay and world influenced it in every way at one time.

The reality is, we now have a handful of open world games that play out very differently than the Grand Theft Auto series, but still owe a great deal of debt to Rockstar and GTA for having the balls to bust open the doors and do it first.

So, with that in mind, here are six games that do the open world sandbox thing just as good (and sometimes, better) than the GTA series does.

Oh, and commenters who want to come on the thread and tell me that RPGs did open worlds first, comparing an RPG to a GTA is apples and oranges. But yes, I know many RPGs did open worlds first. That being said, there are no RPG games on this list, so feel free to scuttle off back to your dungeons now. Good news, though, our interaction just now granted you a +1 to your mercantile and persuasion skills.

Comments (31)

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  1. Joel Powesays:

    i like your list… some of these games i haven’t played but if you included Arkham City, ur good in my book

  2. Graham Ian Mann Gogssays:

    Your Skyrim glitching thing has never happened to me and ive racked up over 400 hours. Poorly set up list if you were playing versions that were not the true vision.

    1. Mohammad Imtianul Haque Dimiksays:

      me 2

  3. Dave Wsays:

    You mentioned a game that hasn’t even been released yet but no Sleeping Dog?

  4. Smith1234says:

    No room for either Prototype game?

    1. Chadsays:

      I can see why people like the first Prototype a lot, because it allows for a lot of over-the-top action. However, I found that its missions were very repetitive, and somewhat basic, to the point of being boring at times. It was OK.

      (I’ve yet to play #2)

  5. MutinyofSensesays:

    It’s a good list, the only title I would have added is Kingdoms of Amalur. But it never seems to make any list I think it should be on

    1. Chadsays:

      Great pick. If I made my own list, it’d be on there.

      It’s not a perfect game, and gets repetitive as I noted in my review, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing through it twice.

      Also, Go Leafs Go!

  6. Ericsays:

    borderlands only an honorable mention? fallout has a better story, but borderlands is way more fun, not to mention still putting out new content more then a year after it drops

    1. Chadsays:

      Borderlands is a fantastic game, but so is Fallout 3. Both are personal favourites above almost every other game out there. However, I’d probably take Fallout 3 over Borderlands – just by a bit, though.

  7. hesoyamdonMonstersays:

    where is
    Red Dead Redemption

  8. linkoblivionsays:

    no mention of inFamous??

  9. Christian Gibbonssays:

    Think I might be the only one here who dislikes GTA… Can’t speak for the story or anything since I haven’t played it, but I’ve played some and seen a lot more gameplay, and it just isn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps I’m being too much of a moralist, but the sandbox-style gameplay in that context just wasn’t appealing.
    My personal favorites are The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Borderlands’ story sucked and however fun the gameplay was at first, it got repetitive sooner rather than later.

  10. grenadehsays:

    Burnout P shouldn’t be included because you literally can’t do anything in the game except drive, crash, and race. Not very sandbox.

  11. Jay Fostersays:

    I would put Fallout 3 at the top of this list, though I admit that I haven’t played many of them, including Far Cry or Batman, and I probably never will.

    The only GTA that I cared for was San Andreas. They put out too much unplayable stupid shit between San Andreas and V that I’m not even going to LOOK at V. Saints Row, any Saints Row, is better than anything GTA has ever put out, and that’s saying lot, considering the story in III and the gameplay in IV.

    What’s up with saying that 150 hours is a full year of gaming? What do you do, a half-hour a night? How DARE you write a gaming column with such a lack of involvement!

  12. Brad Torvillesays:

    Watch_Dogs? Really? Never, ever put a game on a “Best Anything” list until it’s ACTUALLY released. Haven’t we been burned by overhype enough in the past with other games?

  13. Chase Webersays:

    Bethesda actually didn’t do Fallout: New Vegas, 2K Games did. Which is why it wasn’t as good. Why do you write about video games when you didn’t even know something as simple as that.

    1. BazerkaBazerkasays:

      Obsidian made FNV,Bethesda published it. How can you not know something as simple as that?

  14. Tsuikasays:

    Seriously, these are either open world rpgs, fps, or 3ps. These are not sandbox games. Stop calling them that. You do not create structures, you do not warp the land or do anything that would be considered a sandbox in any of these. They are great titles, but are NOT, i repeat, NOT SANDBOX games.

    Quick Edit, It is a little sad that everyone thinks these are sandbox games. I do not understand. Open world and freedom of choice does not make a sandbox game. It makes a open world game.

    1. JetFiresays:

      I think Sandbox does mean freedom to roam and explore whicjh ultimately leads to Sandbox and these games are open world

  15. DillC66says:

    I agree that skyrim is very glitchy, but it is still better than alot of games I’ve played simply because of the story and the ability to go your own way in the game. And yes I would say yes that Burnout: Paradise is an (amazing) open world game. Open world means you have free roam to a map.

  16. DillC66says:

    The open world games I liked were : infamous series, TES, GTA, The Warriors (ps2), and the Assasins creed series (cant believe that wasnt mentioned). I didnt care for prototype or borderlands.

    1. JetFiresays:

      Yes they didnt mention AC series—seems weird cause its one mainatream series

  17. The_Silent_Shadowsays:

    Heheh. Only 150 hours? The most hours I’ve put into a game was in Oblivion, my favourite game of all time, which I’ve put at least ten times as much time into. Though I am an Elder Scrolls obsess.

  18. Picky Eatersays:

    My god. How many more articles am I going to have to sift through of people confusing sandbox with open world? Sandbox games are ones where you shape/create the world around you. Open world is freedom of choice coupled with free roaming.

    They are not the same thing nor were any of this games actually anything close to being a sandbox game. An example of a sandbox game is Minecraft or Terraria.

  19. Fred Belsays:

    Is there a sandbox game out there that can be played offline?
    you have a nice list of open-world games, even though I feel that should I start playing any of these I’d get bored real quick because all these open-world games utilize the same tricks as GTA, Skyrim… Once you’ve played one you’ve played them all. There seems to be confusion, among gamers, between “open-world” and “sandbox”, and even Wikipedia sends you to an Open-world page when you look for Sandbox.

    I was looking for a real sandbox game, where you build houses, dig tunnels and mines, craft items out of wood or metal, mine for iron or silver, build forges, farm…. not an open-world game mistakenly called “sandbox”. Wurm is sandbox (online) and Mortal is too but also online.

    There are two new game in the process of being made called “the forest” and “Life is Feudal”. I’m afraid they are online game as well, but they are true sandbox.
    Where are they on your list?

  20. minecraftmania2000says:

    where is minecraft 🙁

  21. JetFiresays:

    Well FC3 was critically acclaimed so how can it be misunderstood and it was a great game and everyone knows that

  22. max choatesays:

    I know this is weird to ask but any good ones that are teen rated for the people who “aren’t allowed” to play mature games.

    1. Jacob Bowensays:

      I can tell you that Mercenaries 2 (And maybe the original) have been okay when it comes to T rated games.
      You can destroy any building in this game, shoot people (But no blood) and very little cuss words.
      You can also obtain a nuclear air-strike and level the main city.

  23. Joey Bearsays:

    These are not even sandbox games….

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