Some Assembly Required: Your guide to MMO sandboxes in 2013 and beyond

Some Assembly Required - Massively's guide to sandboxes
Welcome to Massively's guide to MMO sandboxes in 2013 and beyond. I've collected the essential details on all the major sandbox titles releasing this year and in the near future in one easy-to-reference article. If you're wondering whether ArcheAge forces you to PvP, or if you can't tell The Repopulation from Origins of Malu, this is your post.

I'll be updating it as game features are added, removed, or revealed, so be sure to use the comments to let me know if I've overlooked a particularly noteworthy item. Finally, I want to point out that this isn't an exhaustive list because of the sheer number of sandbox projects ongoing. For now, I'm choosing to focus on the ones that will be playable in 2013/2014 as well as the projects that have a big-name developer attached.

Footprint in the sand
First, let's start with five titles that are either released or in public testing. These games are playable in some form or fashion right now, and you'll likely see them launch in North America prior to 2014. Yes, even Darkfall.

Age of Wushu
Age of Wushu launched on April 10th, and it's free-to-play, so there's really no good reason not to jump in and see it for yourself. If you want to know what we think, check out our closed beta editorials. And don't forget that our resident AoW expert Patrick Mackey takes you inside the mechanics and metagame every two weeks in his Art of Wushu column.
  • Setting: Historical fantasy, Wuxia, Ming Dynasty China
  • Progression: Skill-based
  • Races: Human
  • World: Primarily seamless with occasional instancing
  • Transportation: Mounts, carriages
  • Crafting and economy: Life skills, gathering, production, personal auction stalls
  • PvE: Questing, dungeons, raids, story content
  • PvP: Open-world PvP throughout, spy and counter-spy missions, guild warfare, territory control
  • Non-combat gameplay: Dating/marriage system, dice games
  • Payment model: F2P
ArcheAge
It's not a stretch to say that some sandbox fans are pinning their hopes for the future of the genre on ArcheAge, and while that's quite a bit of expectation, the game's feature list would seem to support it. ArcheAge's non-combat gameplay options dwarf those of most other MMOs put together, and the game's attempt to marry themepark-style questing with sandbox-style character progression and extensive trading and piracy systems make it one to watch.
  • Setting: High-fantasy
  • Progression: Skill-based, 120 possible "class" combinations
  • Races: Nuian, Elf, Hariharan, Ferre
  • World: Seamless, three continents, extensive underwater environments
  • Transportation: Two-player mounts, player-made ships, gliders
  • Crafting and economy: Gathering, production, auction house
  • PvE: Questing, dungeons, raids, story content
  • PvP: Open-world PvP in certain areas, battlegrounds, piracy, sieges, territory control
  • Non-combat gameplay: Housing, farming, court system, casinos, treasure-hunting, pet system, music system with peripheral instrument support
  • Payment model: Subscription in Korea, undetermined in North America
Darkfall Unholy Wars
Is this Darkfall 2? Is it actually going to launch next week? Only Tasos Flambouras knows for sure. What I can tell you is that Aventurine's long-in-development reboot is in beta right now. I've purposefully steered clear of the game's testing phases, but I will be bringing you some post-launch impressions after the live client is released. For now, what I know about the title is collected below.
  • Setting: High fantasy
  • Progression: Skill-based with class-like roles and prowess points
  • Races: Human, Dwarf, Alfar, Mahirim, Ork, Mirdain
  • World: Primarily seamless with some instancing
  • Transportation: Mounts, player-made ships
  • Crafting and economy: Gathering, production, person-to-person trading
  • PvE: Questing, dungeons, world bosses
  • PvP: Open-world PvP, corpse-looting, starter safe zones
  • Non-combat gameplay: City building, player housing
  • Payment model: Subscription
The Repopulation
Like ArcheAge, indie sandbox The Repopulation has a feature list that's a mile long. It's also drawn a number of comparisons to Star Wars Galaxies due to various factors like its sci-fi setting, deep crafting, player housing, city building systems, and an entertainer skill set.
  • Setting: Sci-fi
  • Progression: Skill-based, 75 unique skills, 14 tiers per skill line
  • Races: Human
  • World: Seamless
  • Transportation: Multiplayer vehicles, mounts
  • Crafting and economy: Gathering, production, auction house
  • PvE: Questing, dungeons
  • PvP: Open-world PvP in certain areas, optional/self-flagging otherwise, city sieges
  • Non-combat gameplay: Extensive nation/city building and management, player housing, pets and pet engineering, diplomatic missions, entertainer skills
  • Payment model: TBD
Origins of Malu
Another indie sandbox worth watching is Origins of Malu. The title is currently accepting beta signups, and it seeks to combine traditional sandbox gameplay with both story elements and bells and whistles that include player-created factions, growing plants, and a world that changes based on player action.
  • Setting: Sci-fi, fantasy
  • Progression: Skill-based
  • Races: Jolah, Qulinta, Toljon
  • World: Seamless
  • Transportation: None as of beta
  • Crafting and economy: Gathering, production, player vendors/shops
  • PvE: Questing, dungeons
  • PvP: Open-world factional PvP, safe zones in your faction locales, territory control, optional permadeath duels
  • Non-combat gameplay: Player housing, player-created factions
  • Payment model: TBD
Einstein's theory of non-sucky MMOs
Next up we have a group of games that are almost entirely theoretical. I say "almost" because there is gameplay footage available for a couple of these projects, but for the most part they're either shrouded in secrecy or very early in their development process. That said, they are mostly funded and coming to a computer near you eventually.

EverQuest Next
In spite of the considerable buzz surrounding any mention of EverQuest Next, the unfortunate reality is that we know next to nothing about it. SOE's John Smedley has stated on multiple occasions that the game is unequivocally a sandbox, and if the firm stays true to form, the newest Norrathian excursion will be sufficiently different from its predecessors to attract a dedicated playerbase without putting the older games out of business. In any event, we'll know for sure after SOE Live in August.
  • Setting: High fantasy
  • Progression: TBD
  • Races: TBD
  • World: TBD
  • Transportation: TBD
  • Crafting and economy: TBD
  • PvE: TBD
  • PvP: TBD
  • Non-combat gameplay: TBD
  • Payment model: TBD
Pathfinder Online
Pathfinder is another in-development sandbox about which we have no information other than a handful of dev diaries and theoretical back-of-the-napkin design notes. To be fair, what the devs have been talking about thus far sounds pretty awesome, even if it also sounds pretty far from being playable.
  • Setting: High fantasy
  • Progression: No classes, level- and role-based
  • Races: TBD, based on Pathfinder tabletop game
  • World: TBD
  • Transportation: TBD
  • Crafting and economy: Gathering, production, player shops, manual goods transport/trading
  • PvE: TBD
  • PvP: Meaningful alignment, bounty system, griefing is a bannable offense
  • Non-combat gameplay: Player housing, taverns, farms, and cities
  • Payment model: TBD
Camelot Unchained
Mark Jacobs made a big splash with his return to realm-vs.-realm fantasy MMOs, but as with Pathfinder and EQNext, we don't know exactly what the game looks like as of yet. With the recent release of Camelot Unchained's Kickstarter project, though, we were treated to some concept art and additional dev diaries.
  • Setting: High fantasy
  • Progression: Class- and level-based, holy trinity, rock/paper/scissors
  • Races: TBD, at least three for each of the three realms
  • World: TBD
  • Transportation: TBD
  • Crafting and economy: Pure crafter class with unique leveling track
  • PvE: none
  • PvP: Three-faction open-world
  • Non-combat gameplay: Housing, everything from huts and mines to castles
  • Payment model: Subscription
Shroud of the Avatar
Richard Garriott's ultimate RPG may not be an official Ultima title, but it's got a certain Ultima Online flavor about it. Shroud of the Avatar is a "selective multiplayer game" instead of a right and proper MMO, which means that you can play it with some co-op friends or offline all by your lonesome. Either way, you'll interact with the game's persistent sandbox world while consuming over 40 hours of story-driven content.
  • Setting: High fantasy
  • Progression: Skill-based
  • Races: TBD
  • World: Persistent, zoned, offline solo or online co-op/solo play
  • Transportation: TBD
  • Crafting and economy: Gathering, production
  • PvE: Questing, dungeons, story content
  • PvP: Consensual, guild-vs.-guild, PvP quests, maps, and events
  • Non-combat gameplay: Housing, pets, music system
  • Payment model: B2P
Elite Dangerous
Elite Dangerous is another sandbox in the mold of EQNext and Pathfinder, meaning that we really don't know much about it other than a few key details. It certainly has the sandbox pedigree down pat, as it's the latest in the long-running Elite series that has influenced sci-fi games ranging from EVE Online to the X series and beyond.
  • Setting: Sci-fi
  • Progression: TBD, trade, fight, and explore
  • Races: Human
  • World: Seamless, procedurally generated
  • Transportation: Spaceships, duh
  • Crafting and economy: TBD
  • PvE: TBD
  • PvP: TBD
  • Non-combat gameplay: TBD
  • Payment model: TBD
Star Citizen
Other than EQNext, Star Citizen is probably the furthest along the development curve on our theoretical sandbox list. Unlike SOE, though, Cloud Imperium is actually being quite open about the game's production, and you'll be able to keep tabs on it via Massively's game-specific Stick and Rudder column.
  • Setting: Sci-fi
  • Progression: Player skill/twitch combat, ship equipment progression
  • Races: Human
  • World: Persistent world server with 100-player zones connected by jump gates, private servers available
  • Transportation: Again, spaceships
  • Crafting and economy: Ship mods, overclocking, factory and production management, trading
  • PvE: Single-player/co-op Squadron 42 campaign, persistent world questing
  • PvP: Open-world PvP in some sectors, boarding actions
  • Non-combat gameplay: Ship interiors
  • Payment model: B2P
This is a wolf/dog hybrid that I would name Nymeria
Finally, it's worth mentioning a couple of sandpark hybrids to close this column, both because they're bringing some interesting new wrinkles to the table and because the definitions of sandbox, sandpark, and hybrid are completely subjective. Massively doesn't consider these games sandboxes, per se, but it's hard to label them straight-up themeparks, either.

WildStar
It's hard to pin down exactly what WildStar is, since Carbine's marketing arm is wisely avoiding labels and is doling out information on a slow but steady basis. The first real indication that WildStar isn't your average themepark came courtesy of the PAX East housing reveal, and while we know little about WildStar's progression, crafting, or economy, the extensive housing mechanics alone mean that it's already stretched beyond the boundaries of many post-2004 AAA MMOs.
  • Setting: Sci-fi, fantasy
  • Progression: Classed-based
  • Races: Human, Cassian, Granok, Draken, Aurin, Mechari, more
  • World: TBD
  • Transportation: TBD
  • Crafting and economy: TBD
  • PvE: Questing, dungeons
  • PvP: Arenas
  • Non-combat gameplay: Housing
  • Payment model: TBD
Neverwinter
I know, I know, Neverwinter is as themepark as themepark gets, and what the heck is it doing on this list, amirite? Well, consider the Foundry, which is currently the industry standard for player-generated content tools and integrating said tools into a typical MMO framework. Also consider that the Foundry is robust enough to allow continuous content creation that players can consume in addition to or in place of the game's dev-generated content.
  • Setting: High fantasy
  • Progression: Class-based
  • Races: Human, Elf, Half-elf, Dwarf, Tiefling, Drow
  • World: Zones
  • Transportation: Mounts
  • Crafting and economy: Gathering, production, auction house
  • PvE: Questing, dungeons, raids
  • PvP: TBD
  • Non-combat gameplay: Foundry player-generated content toolset
  • Payment model: F2P
And that's a wrap on Massively's list of sandbox and pseudo-sandbox projects that you're likely to see over the next year. As I mentioned in the intro, we'll update this post as more information becomes available, so be sure to bookmark it. You can also leave us feedback in the comments.

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of sandboxes and player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!

This article was originally published on Massively.