What are some good "sandbox" video games where there's no point but fun?
August 27, 2015 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I like playing video games but as I have gotten older I have less time to spend and less patience when I get stuck somewhere. I have found that my favorite parts of games are just driving around or exploring the world or doing side tasks (like fishing or shooting a bow-and-arrow in Zelda). Are there games these days where you can do just that kind of stuff, without some broader need to solve a puzzle or shoot a guy?

I have an Xbox 360 and a Wii, so those platforms are preferred. But I am interested in whatever is out there.
posted by AgentRocket to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (41 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Minecraft in Creative Mode (no monsters, you can fly, you have unlimited blocks of every material).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:29 AM on August 27, 2015

Animal Crossing games are kind of the quintessential example.
posted by blue t-shirt at 7:30 AM on August 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

Goat Simulator!
posted by flabdablet at 7:31 AM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

GTA 4 in the multiplayer "Free Mode" (basically unlocks most areas, vehicles, weapons).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:32 AM on August 27, 2015

Noby Noby Boy for the PS3 and iOS (if you have an idevice) is pretty much just open world exploration. It's by the same guy as Katamari Damacy, after he clearly decided that Katamari wasn't quiiiiite weird enough.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:33 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Kerbal Space Program in sandbox mode? Admittedly it's pretty easy to get stuck, or more likely to blow up, but it's very fun. Computer-only, though.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:40 AM on August 27, 2015

Viva PiƱata is old but awesome.
posted by swift at 7:43 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, GTA V also has a multiplayer free mode, and pretty early into the story you can access all of the world. Same goes for the Saints Row games, though it takes a little while to open up all of the terrain.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:43 AM on August 27, 2015

Endless Ocean for Wii.
posted by Diskeater at 7:45 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Saint's Row III is pretty open world. There have been times where I've spent several hours with a tank wreaking cathartic havoc because tank.
posted by plinth at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Walking simulators have become popular during the last couple of years.

I have only played Proteus, which was pretty good although a bit short. It is a very simple game where all you can do is walk around and look at stuff.

It does not seem to be available for any of the platforms you mention though.
posted by symmsaur at 7:49 AM on August 27, 2015

The Harvest Moon games are pretty open-ended. You don't need to do anything, though you can make friends, make your house bigger, go fishing or mining, go on spirit-given quests, or just walk into stranger's homes. (I have Tree of Tranquility on Wii and it's very cute.) I can't think of anything that has bad ramifications.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:59 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

From stuff I've played:

Saints Row III has regular missions, but you can just drive around (doing ten-minute mini-missions if you want) and I think the whole map is unblocked from the start. Just Cause I and II also are very open-ended.

Burnout Paradise and Test Drive Unlimited are both open-world driving games. Of course, to get cars you need to do some races, but you can just cruise around if you want to.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:03 AM on August 27, 2015

Cities: Skylines is pretty open-ended, although you have to respond somewhat to the demands of your citizens. I find it super relaxing to play.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:06 AM on August 27, 2015

Elite Dangerous is where I'm currently spending most of my time. There are things to do but you don't have to do any of them. I'm in the middle of smuggling some questionable cargo into a space station right now.
posted by itsjustanalias at 8:14 AM on August 27, 2015

Lots of games have a cheat or god mode where you can just horse around. Civilization, for example, so you can just perfect your cities. Or in olden times, Doom.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:16 AM on August 27, 2015

You can do this for quite a few hours in Skyrim. Finish the initial escape from Helgen, then just pick a direction and go. I sort of RPed a hunter/trapper for a while before I finally got sucked into some missions. Granted this was enhanced on the PC because I was able to add some mods.
posted by selfnoise at 8:46 AM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Just Cause 2 is probably the open-world game I've had the best time with, mostly because its just ridiculously fun to move around in since it gives you free unlimited grappling hooks and parachutes so everything just becomes a giant playground. There are missions to do, but you can really just ignore them and roam around doing all sorts of crazy stuff. Here is a good article on exploring the game world.
posted by parallellines at 8:48 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Possibly The Long Dark. It's a survival game where the only enemies are the elements and wolves/ bears that see you as a meal. You can turn off the hostile critters (they'll run from you instead of attacking) if you're not interested in fending off attacks.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:50 AM on August 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

> Kerbal Space Program in sandbox mode? ... Computer-only, though.

Coming soon to Xbox One (ytl) and Wii U, which may not help OP, but is good to know anyway. I can't imagine how it'll be played, but UI designers for console games seem to be pretty good at imagining such things. I've no idea if Sandbox mode will survive the porting process.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:51 AM on August 27, 2015

This is exactly how I play Minecraft.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:07 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't Starve! There are things you have to kill, but once you figure that outings really fun.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:14 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you'd asked this question three years ago, I would've said Glitch, even though it's desktop browser-based. There are at least two groups out there working on reimplementing the game that I know of (Children of Ur and Eleven Giants), since Tiny Speck was awesome enough to make the vast majority of the assets public domain after they shut down.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 9:20 AM on August 27, 2015

Enviro-Bear 2000 (and updates)
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:21 AM on August 27, 2015

This is exactly how a ton of people play Minecraft, and probably why its so insanely popular.

Terraria might also fit the bill, but I'm not sure there is a way to turn the hostile mobs off.
posted by anastasiav at 9:22 AM on August 27, 2015

Buy "Go Vacation" for your Wii. It's great. You are basically on this resort island. You choose which part of the resort to hang out in (beach, mountains, city). There are tons of small games you can play in the resorts, but you can also choose a villa and decorate it, or just ride around on horseback/ ATV/ jetski. You can take a plane or train tour. You can just explore the place and never have to do anything. Or enter competitions. My kids and I play it all the time, and it never gets old.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:29 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Unreal World has optional quests, low-fi graphics, and you can spend time just growing fields, trading, and fishing/trapping. The occasional bear or wolf may liven things up, but fences and traps deter them.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:39 AM on August 27, 2015

It's not coming out for 360 or Wii but No Man's Sky is an upcoming space exploration game for PS4 and PC. Discover new planets and species, craft stuff, get involved with space battles (or not), etc. Looks pretty great.
posted by Diskeater at 9:42 AM on August 27, 2015

Euro Truck Simulator 2. It's for PC and not 360 or Wii, but it is very relaxing, straightforward, large, and a lot of driving around at reasonable speeds. Seriously, it's fantastic.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:45 AM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

SimCity and an awful lot of other Sim games. Some versions, like SimCity 4, even have options (that I basically never use) for driving around in acar or flying a helicopter. You do need your city to work well enough to not die (go bankrupt), but that's about it.
posted by Michele in California at 10:02 AM on August 27, 2015

Sims 3 is available for Xbox.
posted by Kriesa at 11:02 AM on August 27, 2015

Lord of the rings online, while a classic mmo, has a huge world you can explore. There is fishing. End exploration can give you rewards. Free to play for PC. Many a time after a stressful day I jump on a horse and go riding. Lots of hunting. Access to higher level areas would require some questing but you can get most of the way just hunting.
posted by Mitheral at 12:40 PM on August 27, 2015

Oh yeah, Skyrim also has lots of exploring for you, and with a little early gameplay you can wander about pretty much unmolested.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:25 PM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sleeping Dogs is a fantastic rendition of Hong Kong and there's not much that will make you stop driving round it. Cheap as chips on Steam too.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:45 PM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Any Grand Theft Auto game lets you just drive around, explore and do random things, like operate a taxi, put out fires, or you know, kill people. It's very much just an open world to explore and you don't have to kill anyone if you don't want to. Just use a cheat code to unlock money and stuff. It's a bit violent, but it is fun.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:37 PM on August 27, 2015

IIRC, Saints Row 4 is almost entirely open world and goes in a totally different direction than its GTA-style prequels. I barely played any of the "go shoot a guy" missions; I just roamed around the city using random superpowers, climbing skyscrapers, and playing a surprising amount of non-violent mini-games.

However, Saints Row 2 is my favorite open-world game; there's a lot to explore (including secret locations) in an impressively intuitive, detailed, and diversified city, but the game is more in the style of GTA.
posted by coast99 at 6:16 PM on August 27, 2015

Katamari Damacy and the rest of the series is pretty much that, with the added quirk of being able to roll the entire world into an explosively large ball. Killer music and humor too!
posted by yueliang at 8:56 PM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by ellerhodes at 9:26 PM on August 27, 2015

Red Dead Redemption. You have to do some early quests just to get to where you have a horse, but after that you can just ride around and explore if you want. Pick flowers, rope horses, play poker at the saloon, etc. Just watch out for cougars!
posted by gemmy at 10:51 PM on August 27, 2015

Not sure whether this fits your criteria, but The Stanley Parable (PC only) is very focused on exploration (and playing with/deconstructing video game tropes). It's short, only about 2-3 hours max, but a very fun experience. It also has a demo that should give you a feel for whether the game is one you'd enjoy.
posted by Aleyn at 9:37 AM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Elder Scrolls and Just Cause games give you this kind of freedom, to an extent. They will certainly end up in violence because they are designed that way, but you can go without it for long swathes of time. The Crackdown and Prototype games are also really cool for free-form jumping about and "doing stuff" (mostly collecting orbs), but they require a fair bit of murder for you to get your character to a level where you can jump high enough/glide far enough etc.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:45 PM on September 2, 2015

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