Linear experiences in video games can be enjoyable but sometimes, you want the freedom to cut loose. As games have grown more complex over the years, the sheer amount of ways to play has grown exponentially. It’s not just the immersive sim genre either, which still has some absolute classics. More games are simply embracing sandbox elements, emergent gameplay and open-ended goals. Let’s take a look at 15 games you can play in multiple different ways.

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain

While some story elements didn’t quite go over well, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain does a great job presenting a large stealth sandbox with emergent gameplay. Missions can be tackled at different times, presenting varying challenges but the Revenge system ensured that enemies reacted to your tactics and took appropriate counter-measures. You could sneak through bases using cardboard boxes and tranqs, but on the other hand, rocket punches. Coordinate with companions to efficiently wipe out camps, or just FULTON anything and everything back to Mother Base.

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Minecraft has come a long way since its initial release in 2011, presenting players with procedural worlds to craft and build to their heart’s content. As you built a base and slowly explored your surroundings, surviving all manner of terrors like Skeletons and Creepers, the world opened up with various biomes, materials, and gear. You could spend time creating insanely detailed buildings and architecture, diving into user-made custom maps or indulging in survival games. Fish all day, build a mine cart running through the world, hunt for the elusive blue Axolotl, go slay the Ender Dragon and much more – there’s simply no limit to the creativity and range of content.

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Terraria - 10th anniversary

Re-Logic’s Terraria has sold over 44 million copies in its lifetime and remains one of the most acclaimed games ever. As a sandbox title, it was often compared to Minecraft but presented a unique brand of survival, crafting, mining, building and adventure. After generating a world, players roam about, mining materials, building up their base, creating better equipment, inviting other NPCs, and surviving various raids. They’ll grow crops, farm enemies, fish, pick up mounts and pets, and maybe fight that monstrous entity on the Moon (after dozens of other foes, that is).

System Shock 2

The System Shock series highly influenced first-person shooter design with its combination of FPS, RPG and immersive sim elements. It starts with choosing a Career, each with different skills and bonuses. Weapon-users favored the Marine while psionics would become OSA Agents and hackers enlisted in the Navy. Throughout the game, you’re presented with several potential solutions to problems, whether it’s being sneaky or hacking machines. Various Cyber Modules and researching enemies to improve damage against them (while also unlocking certain weapons) also go a long way as you garner audio logs and learn more about the world.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Speaking of immersive sims, Ion Storm’s Deus Ex series is another hallmark franchise, offering various play styles and routes for completing its missions. Human Revolution is the best entry with more contemporary gunplay and a larger scale. There are numerous little stories and side missions to investigate, all of which can be tackled in different lethal and non-lethal ways. It’s a lot of fun, especially as you invest in different augmentations and weapons.



Even if it’s somewhat familiar at first for Dishonored players, Prey mixes survival horror with its own unique immersive sim gameplay. As Morgan Yu, players explore Talos 1, which is crawling with Mimics, ultimately looking for a way to escape. Melee combat and the GLOO Cannon gave way to adapting the Mimics’ ability to shape-shift, and helping the various NPCs could lead to different events along with influencing the ending.

Dishonored 2

Of course, Arkane’s crowning glory in the immersive sim genre is Dishonored with Dishonored 2 easily being the best. You start with either Emily or Corvo, each having unique abilities, and can tackle missions through stealth, assassinations or pure violence. Environments are fairly sand-boxy, presenting several different choices, like killing foes all at once with powers like Domino or manipulating plague rats, along with side quests, puzzles and Relics. Depending on how brutal you were, the ending can change significantly so some caution is advised but that just fuels the creativity even more.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild

By now, you’ve heard of all the various ways that one can play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You could follow the normal path, venturing across Hyrule to become stronger. Even that presents numerous ways to tackle challenges, from sneaking and manipulating the environment to buffing one’s self with meals. Take pictures of various wildlife and enemies, explore Shrines, climb everything, and much more. Or simply beeline to Hyrule Castle and take on Ganon with three hearts. The choice is yours.

Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2 Commander Lilith & The Fight For Sanctuary_06

Despite all the demands for Borderlands 3, Borderlands 2 remains the most beloved title in the franchise. Aside from the enjoyable story and characters, it also comes down to the sheer amount of ways to play, from the classes and Skill Trees to the range of loot available. And though the endgame is pretty lackluster, there is a pretty hefty campaign with two New Game Plus modes, tons of DLC with new bosses and unique mechanics, and raid bosses for those seeking the ultimate challenge.

Nioh 2

The weapon and build variety in Nioh 2 was already insane from launch thanks to the sheer number of skills, consumables, Yokai abilities, and loot that could be accumulated. You could be a Cannoneer who relied on explosive ammo, a shinobi specializing in Poison damage, or just a good ol’ fashioned samurai, slicing foes up with a katana. Throw in all of the post-launch updates and DLC which provided even more powerful loot and bonuses, and there are almost an endless number of ways to play.

Pathologic 2

On the surface, Pathologic 2 seems like a survival horror title. But it offers so much more, serving as a remake/reboot of the original while clashing with the player’s perception of reality. You control Artemy Burakh who attempts to save the Town from a mysterious plague. Unfortunately, this quickly breaks down into choosing who should live and die. In the midst of it all, you’ll traipse about different districts with day/night schedules, interact with NPCs and barter for items, and so on. You could heal others and obtain vital clues to stop the plague…or go into organ harvesting, burglary, and violence to get what you want.

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Cruelty Squad

Cruelty Squad

In terms of immersive sims, Cruelty Squad is easily the most surreal and grotesque. You play as a hitman in a gonzo world where intestines can be used to grapple; fish and organs are used for playing the stock market; and levels are extremely large, teeming with numerous secrets to discover. It’s terrifying, hilarious, kind of depressing, and offers plenty of reasons to return, from discovering new weapons to earning cash for body modifications.

Watch Dogs Legion

Say what you will about Watch Dogs Legion, it did offer a variety of ways to tackle its various missions. Being able to recruit just about anyone in London, each with their specialities and perks made for some really interesting scenarios. Whether it’s a Professional taking down foes, John Wick-style; a Drone Handler that skillfully swoops in; or a Brawler that squares up against all foes, the amount of variety is pretty cool.

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate

monster hunter generations ultimate

It’s hard to top Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate in terms of sheer content. It has 93 Large Monsters, ranging from Fatalis and Rajang to Agnaktor and Lagiacrus; numerous Hunter Arts, which are essentially different moves for each weapon; and Hunting Styles, which fundamentally change how you play. That’s not taking into account the amount of weapons and gear to grind for, the new Prowler mode which lets you control a Felyne in combat, or the range of Deviant Monsters for end-game challenges.

Horizon Forbidden West

horizon forbidden west

Thanks to its expanded skill trees, weapon variety, and sheer range of activities, Horizon Forbidden West presents a multitude of ways to experience Aloy’s journey. You could venture across the land, collecting Black Boxes and learning more about the pre-apocalyptic days. Take on side quests, meet different characters and become closer to settlements. Hunt Machines and upgrade your gear, or cut your teeth in the Arena and various Hunting Grounds. Invest in fighting with mounted machines or long-range sniping with Legendary armor sets, or just play the board game Machine Strike. There’s a lot to do when you’re not busy saving the world.