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Opening the Sandbox

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"I have escaped both my execution and a dragon attack at Helgen. I now have my freedom to do as I see fit in Skyrim."
Quest log for Unbound, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The point in a video game, especially a metroidvania or (electronic) RPG, where you're finally able to do all the sidequests, go anywhere on the map, and so on. Usually coincides with getting the Global Airship, in games that have that. May still be this even if you technically can't go everywhere; there are many games where the beginning of the Very Definitely Final Dungeon is also the Point of No Return.


Usually a very good time to get the Infinity +1 Sword or go for 100% Completion. If the entire RPG is like this, it could be a Quicksand Box. This point also comes shortly before the Point of No Return, or after if the game has certain forms of New Game+.

MMORPGs are a special case. Though most do not have a true 'end', they end up becoming more top heavy over time as new content additions target veterans who have seen and done most of the things in the game. This effect is particularly severe if several consecutive updates do not increase the Cap but give already capped players new options, and is the reason that established players tend to perceive more freedom in a game than newbies despite being more aware of its limitations.

These points are sometimes near the ending, so SPOILERS.



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     Action Adventure  

  • The Legend of Zelda series tends to do this multiple times each game. In most games, after the introductory village and dungeon, most of the world map opens up, though in the first game the world could be explored right away (though getting a sword, which is in a cave on the first screen, is a good idea). And then, once you've completed about half of the dungeons, a large chunk of the map that was hidden or inaccessible is revealed, usually through some specialized game mechanic like Dual-World Gameplay.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past lets you explore Hyrule freely once you rescue Princess Zelda from the catacombs. Once you complete four dungeons and defeat Agahnim for the first time, the entrance to Hyrule Castle becomes a gate to the Dark World (which holds eight more dungeons). In fact, if you already know where to go, completing the first dungeon isn't even necessary: once you have the Magic Hammer from it, the sandbox is busted wide open. You can even leave King Helmasaur for until you've gotten everything else in the game short of the Red Mail and a single Heart Container.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: After you leave Kokiri Forest (which can only be done after completing the first dungeon), all of Hyrule Field is open to you. When you get the Master Sword, you then gain full access to most of the areas you visited previously, even if you're still missing some key pieces of gear.
    • When you finally break the Skull Kid's curse in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. As a human, you finally have a decent melee weapon and can leave town. The town itself also has various activities for Hylian Link.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games opens up three times, each time when you gain a new method of time travel, or a new season to summon.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Your boat won't let you leave a small linear path at first. After you complete the second dungeon, you're free to sail wherever you want and explore the whole map. Most people wait until they get the Ballad of Gales, though, because otherwise you'd have to sail all that distance by yourself.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess lets you out into Hyrule Field once you've freed Ordon and Faron Province from the Twilight curse and completed the first dungeon. However, true to form, the game doesn't truly open the sandbox until you drive back all the Twilight and later get the Master Sword.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword the sandbox is opened after you open all three portals, getting the Clawshot also opens up a couple more opportunities.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, the sandbox is opened when you enter Lorule. You need to go through seven dungeons, but you can do each of them in any order you please (with one exception: you can't reach the Desert Palace without going through the Thieves' Hideout first).
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while the Great Plateau is a sandbox itself, the rest of Hyrule is opened up when you get the Paraglider, including the final dungeon and final boss.
  • In Ōkami, you can go back and get most of the missing collectibles once you've bought the Double Jump and unlocked Kabegami's brush technique, allowing you to climb walls, but it's a lot less traveling to wait until you've gotten the Mist Warp technique (available after completing the fourth dungeon, Imperial Palace) so you can teleport between certain sacred mirrors.
  • In Go Vacation, once you get twenty Stamps (i.e., once you've played around half of the available minigames), you'll have the entire game open to you: All four Resorts, every minigame, and the Villa.
  • In Hollow Knight, for the first handful of hours, the game lightly leads players through the Forgotten Crossroads, Greenpath, and the Fungal Wastes through subtle context clues and following the trail of Hornet. Once you obtain the Mothwing Cloak and Mantis Claw allowing you to dash and climb walls respectively, you're free to go in several directions, though this is less apparent for first-time players. Shortly thereafter you'll meet Hornet at the Hollow Knight memorial in the City of Tears, giving you a goal, and marking the point where the game kicks the crutch from under your feet and opening up almost all of Hallownest to explore. A second instance is obtaining the Dream Nail from your first visit in the Resting Grounds, where you're now free to challenge Dream Bosses, open up new areas, and the location of the three Dreamers get added to your map.

     Platform Game  

  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • In contrast to its extremely linear predecessor, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is far more open. After finishing the tutorial level, the six zones containing the titular coins have no set order to do them in, and players are free to, for example, complete part of one zone and then work on another, leaving the rest of the previous one for later.
    • Super Mario Sunshine opens completely after Shadow Mario starts trying to steal FLUDD accesories and a Yoshi egg. When those are retrieved, every Shine Sprite from Delfino Plaza will be ready to be collected and any level yet to be unlocked will be accessible with the help of those powerups. In fact, by that point the only thing needed to unlock the final mission is defeating Shadow Mario in every level at least once each.
  • Metroid:
    • In most of side-scrolling games, getting the High Jump boots is the point when suddenly you can go (plot allowing) practically anywhere.
    • Metroid: You start off with just a meager blaster, and getting the Morph Ball allows you to get past the first few rooms. Getting the missiles and the morph ball bombs basically let you explore anywhere you want—the rest of the items are needed so you can have a fighting chance of survival while you explore, although the Hi Jump Boots and Ice Beam are needed to access certain areas.
    • In Metroid II: Return of Samus and by extension its remake (Metroid: Samus Returns), the big "I'm free!" moment is getting the Spider Ball upgrade which allows you to cling to crawl walls in Morph Ball form. The Space Jump takes it Up to Eleven by being the point where you can go literally anywhere in the game.
    • As shown in this video analysis by Game Maker's Toolkit, Super Metroid holds your hand a bit longer, as the game railroads you down a pretty linear path until you get the Ice Beam and Power Bombs and work your way back to your starting ship, essentially making a giant loop. From this point, not only can you revisit every area you've been previously, whole swathes of the map are now open to you to explore freely.
  • Jak and Daxter:
    • Jak II: Renegade starts off with the linear Prison level and drops Jak in the sprawling Haven City after escaping it. However he only has access to the Slums; periodically through the game he can pick up coloured passes that let him access new parts of the city, including the Port, the Markets, the Stadium and the Palace Grounds, each with their own linear levels connected to them.
    • Jak 3 starts in the metaphorical sandpit of Spargus before giving you the literal desert of the Wasteland. Eventually you return to Haven City as well, although it is much more linear than in the previous game due to the war.
    • Both Jak II and 3 feature this for the linear levels as well; after picking up a new gadget/ability and/or reaching a certain point in the story, you revisit an earlier level and get to explore new areas of it. For example, the second visit to the Strip Mine in II lets you use the JetBoard to explore the upper areas.
  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night follows a linear progression through Dracula's castle. Once you get to the Inverted Castle, you have enough mobility that you can do the bosses and get the Plot Coupons needed to unlock the Final Bosses in any order you want.
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps has a linear story up until the end of the first act, after which you can tackle the middle three dungeons in any order, in addition to performing countless sidequests.

     Real Time Strategy  

  • The first two Pikmin games after you get Blue Pikmin, as that will allow you to explore the aquatic portions of each area (they're not a problem for Olimar or any of the other playable captains, but they are for the Pikmin of the other colors except Pink). To a lesser extent, this also applies to Pikmin 3 once you get the Yellow Pikmin and rescue Charlie, since the game up to that point has been extremely linear and requires you to visit the first three areas in a specific order.


     Role-Playing Game — Eastern  

  • After beating down Dalton the second time in Chrono Trigger.
  • Most Dragon Quest
    • Most games once you obtain a ship.
    • Dragon Quest II is the first game to include sailing. Your party obtain their ship when they reach Rippleport, whereupon you can finally explore the whole world rather than just the central landmass whatever you please.
    • Starting with Dragon Quest III, flight is possible and getting the ability to fly opens up the world further.
    • However, Dragon Quest IX doesn't give the player the ability to fly until after completing the main story, so the ship is the main mode of travel until then.
  • EarthBound Beginnings starts off fairly linear for the first few areas. Once you complete Duncan's Factory, you're given free reign to go anywhere you want provided you can make it through the battles, the only caveat being you can't fight the Final Boss until you sing the Eight Melodies to Queen Mary.
  • The Final Fantasy series:
    • Final Fantasy unusually has this at the halfway point (or if you're like most players, slightly before), when you get the Global Airship. Not that the sandbox in this game is so crowded...
    • Final Fantasy VI notably opens, then closes, then re-opens the sandbox a couple of times as your airship breaks down and is repaired. It finally re-opens for good after you get the second airship in the World of Ruin.
    • Final Fantasy VII: Disc 3. Also near the end of Disc 1 when you get the Tiny Bronco.
    • Final Fantasy VIII: Once the Missile Base, MD Level, killing NORG, and all that bullshit in Fisherman's Horizon are said and done with, you are free to pilot the Garden around. You can go everywhere except Esthar and the Bonus Dungeon in the ocean. In disc 3, you are given a proper airship and can truly go anywhere you please.
    • Final Fantasy IX: You can explore the ocean when you receive the Blue Narciss (ship) on Disc Two, then the whole world when you gain control of the Hilda Garde II (Global Airship). You upgrade your airship to the Invincible when you return from Terra at the start of Disc Four, but it does nothing that the Hilda Garde didn't.
    • Final Fantasy X: The game opens up a bit when you get to the Calm Lands, but really this happens when you get the airship permanently.
    • Final Fantasy XIII has No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom up to the point where Lightning's party reaches Pulse... in chapter 11 (out of 13). There's a living but utterly inaccessible cityscape around the straight path, which is the main reason most people accuse the game of being too linear (though the linearity is justified by the story).
    • Inverted in Final Fantasy XV, where the game starts as a sandbox and stays that way for 9 out of 15 chapters, but once you begin Chapter 10 the remainder of the game is entirely linear, and the world and characters have changed so irreversibly that the only way to get back to the sandbox part of the game is via time travel.
  • The Legend of Dragoon: There is a point near the end of the game where the party acquires a strange manta-ray creature called Coolan, who can fly them to any destination (although if you plan to go too far back through the game, have the relevant disc ready).
  • In Persona 5, while your Player Character arrives in Tokyo on 4/9, the game proceeds on a linear path for the first 9 days. On 4/18, you are allowed to explore daytime Tokyo, do Confidants, and go to the Palace. Sojiro allows you to explore nighttime Yongen-Jaya on 4/25 and cuts you loose on nighttime Tokyo on 5/6, and you unlock Mementos the next day.
  • Octopath Traveler: After completing the first chapter of your chosen hero, you are free to explore the game's entire world, limited only by your ability to fight enemies.
  • Pokémon:
    • In most games, the sandbox opens to some extent when you can use Surf and Fly outside of battle. If you can use all the HMs, you've definitely reached this point. The Gen IV games make you see (not catch, thankfully) all of the Pokémon in the Sinnoh Pokédex before opening everything up, though.
    • Pokémon Gold and Silver are a notable example. The game is divided into two parts or quests: Johto and Kanto. The first quest is mostly linear, but by the time you reach the second one, you have all HMs, and roadblocks are almost nonexistent, giving you access to almost all of Kanto as soon as you set foot on it. To emphasize this, the Johto gyms are beaten mostly in a set order (at least the first five or so), while the Kanto gyms can be beaten in any order. The remakes emphasized the difference between the two quests even more by making the second half of Johto more linear than before, while keeping Kanto about the same (with the exception that one of its gyms can only be beaten last now).
    • Pokémon Sword and Shield is a Zig-Zagged example. The main quest of the game is linear, with the justification that you can't enter certain cities until you have a prerequisite number of badges. This restriction is lifted in the postgame. At the same time, however, players get access to the Wild Zone, a sandbox area, fairly early in the game.
  • In Romancing SaGa, the world starts opening up once you finish your main character's Prologue; as you visit different places for the first time, they're marked on your map and become more easily accessible.
  • In Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana, gaining access to Flammie allows the party to travel through the air, providing access to previously unseen locations.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: After the End. Which is relatively early in the game.
  • Shadow Hearts likes to open all the side quests when the Very Definitely Final Dungeon appears.
    • First game: After the Float rises. You can't go back to China, however.
    • Covenant: Pretty much anytime, really, but the sandbox truly opens once the Stone Circle activates.
    • From The New World: Once you step into the Gate.
  • Steambot Chronicles stops railroading you around when you finish the tournament. You could do some sidequests before, but were forced to remain in the same city or surrounding area until this point.
  • The point at which everything is available in Tales of Symphonia comes VERY late in the game. Specifically, you need to enter the final room but not use the warp that leads to the final boss. At that point you can leave and do all the quests.
  • Most of the Bonus Bosses (And your final member) in Wild ARMs: Alter Code F require you to go halfway into the final dungeon, grab a specific item and leave.
  • Most Ys games start out linearly, gradually opening up the rest of the world, and usually providing you with a warp item to quick-travel to previous areas. Usually, there's at least one Point of No Return just before or at the beginning of the Final Dungeon.

     Role-Playing Game — Western 

  • In Baldur's Gate, the main opening happened immediately after Gorion was killed, with new maps unlocked as the chapters progress (it takes a fair while until you actually get to the eponymous city, for example). In the sequel, the moment you step out of Irenicus' dungeon (with a second opening after you step out of the Underdark).
  • Cyberpunk 2077 features the two-tiered variation of this trope: the sandbox is opened to you partially at the end of the (largely on-rails) Prologue, but you can only access about a quarter of Night City due to the police cordoning your native Watson district off from the rest of the city until the end of Act I. The rest of the sandbox is fully opened up at the beginning of Act II.
  • Diablo III puts you on a linear path during the Campaign mode, but once you complete it, Adventure mode is unlocked and you can go wherever you want on the game map, with sidequests and Bounties as incentives to explore Sanctuary. Several areas exclusive to Adventure mode open up, as well.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins: After you leave Lothering, you're free to go to each of the four armies you need to recruit in any order you wish, as well as visit any other location on the world map.
    • Dragon Age II: The world isn't as open as that in Origins, but after meeting Varric in the very first cutscene of Act I, you're finally allowed to visit any of the locations within Kirkwall or its outskirts, whereas in the Prologue you were confined to linear progression.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition, for all its trying to be more sandbox-ey than the previous installments, doesn't quite open up until you make yourself at home in Skyhold, about 15 hours in. It does let you out into the Hinterlands—the biggest open area in the entire game—early on (right after the tutorial and Haven), but higher-level locations don't appear on the Point-and-Click Map until Skyhold.
  • Throughout The Elder Scrolls series, this happens very early on compared to most other series. In most of the games, this happens right after character creation and escaping the Noob Cave tutorial level, which can be mere minutes into the game. Morrowind takes this to an extreme, releasing you into the world immediately after character creation. At that point, Beef Gates are the only thing preventing you from accessing absolutely everything.
  • Fallout:
    • Fallout 3 confines you to an underground vault, which serves as a tutorial level to teach you about combat and using your Pip-Boy, in the early part of the game. You eventually escape after the Vault falls into chaos, gaining access to the rest of the world.
    • Fallout: New Vegas employs a downplayed version:
      • The game attempts to confine you to find the man who tried to kill you in the early parts of the game with Beef Gates. But the game also leaves options open for more perceptive players to device a way to sneak past the Deathclaws at Quarry Junction or evade the Cazadors and Giant Radscorpions north of Goodsprings to get directly to Vegas. The game even has special dialogue from various NPCs if the player opts for this option.
      • The 188 Trading Post north of Novac is the point where the entirety of the map is within reach of the player, where previously Beef Gates and terrain obstacles kept you confined.
    • Fallout 4 starts you off in the year 2077, mere minutes from when the bombs start dropping, to create your character and assign your SPECIAL points. After awakening from cryostasis, your fight to leave the abandoned Vault serves as a combat tutorial. Once you're out of the Vault, the Commonwealth opens up to you.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, once you get off Dantooine, you can go to whichever planet you want any time you want. Except, you know, Taris.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect hands you your ship and turns you loose after a couple hours of gameplay. Some people feel slightly intimidated by this. However, you still can't access all the star systems until you complete missions that unlock them, and there's no point at which you can freely go to any of the available planets; when you unlock the Very Definitely Final Dungeon, you lose the ability to go back to the Citadel.
    • Mass Effect 2 lets you loose once you finish Freedom's Progress and receive the Normandy SR-2, but you can't explore all of the galaxy until after Horizon, about a third of the way through the game.
    • Mass Effect 3 opens up the sandbox after escaping from Mars, but more and more the star systems are gradually unlocked after each Priority mission.
  • Might and Magic VI to IX had a gradual opening of sidequests and (to a somewhat lesser degree) locations over the course of the game, as well as an early moment when you can start crossing maps (VI arguably isn't an example, since that moment is when the game starts, but the other three have at least some degree of quest-finishing before that point).

     Shoot Em Up  

  • The "Diplomatic Relations" mission in Escape Velocity: Override is necessary for unlocking most of the non-human, non-Voinian mission strings.
  • In Galaxy on Fire 3D, you can travel to other star systems after the end of the (short) main storyline. In the sequel, you get access to most systems shortly after the first few missions, although some systems are only unlocked via the storylines (main plus 2 DLCs) or by purchasing the coordinates from certain people. Most systems are connected to the Portal Network, but some require the use of the Khador Drive (including the system you start in).
  • Endless Sky has two related openings: completing a tier 1 storylinenote , and acquiring a jump drive. The tier 1 storyline unlocks the tier 2 storylines and many tier 2 missions, and the jump drive (which is most easily acquired towards the end of a tier 1 storyline, but can be acquired earlier) allows you to go to systems that aren't connected to human space with hyperlinks or wormholes.

     Wide Open Sandbox  

  • The 360 game Crackdown is already a GTA-ish sandbox game to start with. But once you've beaten all three gangs and finished the end-game you can roam freely around the city with all your powerups available and the option of re-starting any of your previous missions in a mode that feels much more like opening the sandbox than just having finished the game and being able to run around. There is also an DLC that adds God Mode, which has an option that also effectively gives you an opening the sandbox mode.
  • Grand Theft Auto games frequently have a form of this, as access to the full map is typically restricted until progressing to specific points in the story.
    • Grand Theft Auto III starts with you restricted to the easternmost island of Liberty City, as the bridge to the rest of the city gets blown up by a bomb in the introduction and the underground tunnel is still under construction. Once you get to the second island by a boat, the bridge is completed and that portion of the tunnel is opened, but access to the final island is still blocked off as its lift bridge is out of commission and that part of the tunnel is sealed off for repairs.
    • At the start of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City you have several questlines to choose from and it's not immediately obvious which one is the "main" quest, giving you a good bit of freedom to play on the half of the map you have open. However, pretty soon you usurp the local mobster, the bridges are reopened to the other half of the city, and the full sandbox opens up with the ability to buy properties and doing missions at your choosing.
    • Played with in San Andres. Just like the previous games, the other areas of the map are blocked off from the one you start in by closed off bridges and water. What's different is CJ doesn't have Super Drowning Skills like his predessesors and can cross the water no problem. The problem is as soon as you get on land you will get an automatic 5-star wanted level you can only remove after you have gone back to the areas you can explore.
      • As for the actual Opening The Sanbox moments, they include San Fierro and the rural counties Whetstone and Flint County to its south after "The Green Sabre" and the Las Venturas and the rural areas Tierra Robada and Bone County to its north and west after "Yay Ka-Boom Boom." In addition, optional Safehouses in certain areas are locked from purchase until certain story quests are done even if you had access to them. These include Red County (the rural areas north and west of Los Santos) after "The Green Sabre," San Fierro until after "Are You Going To San Fierro," and Las Venturas after "Learning To Fly."
    • Grand Theft Auto IV confines you onto one island at first, and you unlock the others as you progress. The island to the north is unlocked when Roman's Car Depot burns and you have to move with him. The next island is unlocked when you meet Playboy X. The last two are unlocked after the bank robbery mission.
    • Grand Theft Auto V is an odd example. From the start, after the very first mission, the whole San Andreas map is open to you, but it's only after you unlock all three characters that you can fully explore and interact the entire world.
  • Just Cause 2 starts you off raiding a military base and then a casino to teach the player the basics, then opens up the entire nation on Panau for you to explore. Many of the early Faction missions are disguised examples of what you can do in the sandbox.
  • In Spore, after passing the first four objective-based levels, you are free to explore and colonize the universe as you see fit.
  • In Endless Ocean: Blue World, once you advance the plot past an area which has some sort of limitation imposed on you (the freezing seas, the abyssal trench, etc.), you are provided with an item which allows you to explore them at your leisure.
  • The tutorial and prologue mission of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon are entirely linear and confine you to the southwest corner of the map. Only afterwards do you get to explore.
  • In Fuel, new Zones are unlocked as you accumulate Career Stars.
  • In Starbound, once your ship's FTL drive is repaired, you're free to go anywhere.
  • Downplayed in the original Saints Row: while you can go anywhere and take on any open-world activity in Stilwater from the moment you gain control of Playa, there are hardly any incentives to leave the eponymous neighborhood until you've completed the first few missions for the gang and secured its hold on the Row. It's only after that is done that you are given story missions that take you to other 'hoods, giving Playa an in-story motivation to explore the entire sandbox.

Alternative Title(s): Open The Sandbox


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