Computer And Video Games has a two-part article up on “The Complete History Of Sandbox Games”. It seems a bit skimpy for a “complete” history, but then there haven’t been many products of that type over the years.

Naturally, the two series that come to mind first are Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto. I can’t say much about GTA, not having played any of them. The ES games I played pretty much like any other RPG.

The idea of the sandbox is to let the player have as much free rein as possible. This sounds fine in theory, but how well does it actually work? I recall the Morrowind player who stepped outside of the main line completely.

He created a lizard character, who spent his time fishing and trading, and never bothered to do any “save the world” stuff. He may have enjoyed doing that, and it may be nice the game allowed it, but what was there to do after that?

Not much that I can see. For that matter, I tried something similar in Oblivion, with my kitty scavenger. He also stepped away from the main line, and spent his time going through the various ruins around the land.

Eventually, that became boring. First, because of the auto-scaling opponents. Second, because all the ruins were pretty much the same. And third, there was no real goal. I suppose he could have just piled up stuff and finally retired. Role-playing of a kind, perhaps, though not especially interesting.

Of course, there are people who enjoy this sort of activity. But I wonder if it’s because they can step outside the plot, or because they need some relief from the usual strictly-linear main line.

It’s something we’ve discussed many times before: the branching story, the world reacting to what we do when we do it (rather than just at the end in some epilogue), the ability to approach a situation in more than one way.

Those features are more important to me than “hey, do your own thing!”, because “doing your own thing” ultimately leads nowhere. On the other hand, a well-crafted story and dynamic world can add enough to playing experience that a sandbox isn’t necessary.

But maybe you have a different viewpoint? Check out the articles and tell me what you think.

Complete History Of Sandbox Games Part 1

Complete History Of Sandbox Games Part 2