Some Assembly Required:  Virtual world roundup for 2014 and beyond
Just over two years ago there was a great disturbance, as if millions (or so) of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Yes, something terrible had happened: a beloved virtual world was destroyed. And that left a number of sandbox refugees looking for a new place to call home. At that time, Some Assembly Required offered a roundup of the then available virtual worlds that could possibly offer accommodation, depending on what qualities players most desired in their games.

But as things are wont to, they changed; a lot can happen in the MMOverse in 24 months, from additional features in existing games to new games to the loss of more worlds. So it's time to update this list of virtual worlds to reflect 2014 and beyond. Take a look and see what titles or titles-to-be have the sandbox features that best make a game a home for you.

As before, there is no possible way to list every possible sandbox feature here, but we do hit some of the major topics. Perhaps next time we can include a section for dynamic weather systems, politics, and seamless worlds; sadly, those sections would be far too sparse right now.

One difference with this year's roundup, however, is the inclusion of various games in development. With the explosion of crowdfunding, there are many more sandboxes on the way than ever before, and some are even in testing phases. All games that are not yet released but are in development currently are indicated by an asterisk (*), along with an expected release date (if known).

Housing
This time around, I am putting my favorite sandbox feature first, not because I can but because nothing makes the world feel more like a home than... a home! And from the looks of the newest games being developed, housing is a more integral feature now instead of just a fringe benefit. Need a place to hang your hat/helm/hood? Check these games out.

Personal houses:
  • A Tale in the Desert
  • Albion Online*
  • Aion -- Free apartments for all characters level 20 and higher, larger homes cost (sometimes significant) upkeep.
  • Anarchy Online
  • Black Desert*
  • Camelot Unchained*
  • Champions Online -- Hideouts!
  • Dark Age of Camelot -- Structures can be personal or guild houses and are placed in housing zones.
  • Darkfall -- Very difficult and expensive to get; built out in the world.
  • DC Universe Online -- Hideouts (for all players) and bases with earned free-form furniture placement; can have PvP battles in your base!
  • Dragon's Prophet -- Located on housing islands (where the PvP is); includes both open world and cheaper instanced versions.
  • Eden Eternal -- Guilds can create personal towns.
  • EverQuest -- Houses are placed on plots in instanced neighborhoods accessed through a gateway in the guild lobby.
  • EQII housingEverQuest II -- Instanced houses of various sizes in each city and a large number of rent-free prestige houses that mirror game zones; items can be sold directly to other players from the house (players can own 10 houses per character).
  • EverQuest Next*
  • EverQuest Next Landmark* (January 2014) -- The ultimate in build-it-yourself system from the ground up (including the ground!).
  • Final Fantasy XI -- Invited friends can enter.
  • FlyFF -- Furniture pieces are purchased and last for only 30 days.
  • Fantasy Realm Online -- Housing only available to premium accounts.
  • Free Realms
  • King of Kings 3 -- Furniture can provide characters with special bonus effects.
  • Lord of the Rings Online -- Four different racially styled homesteads (including Hobbit holes) in instanced neighborhoods with communal landscaping.
  • Mabinogi
  • Mortal Online -- Houses built out in the world by adding resources; can be done passively or actively.
  • Pathfinder Online
  • RIFT -- Instanced dimensions allow for complete free-form decorating.
  • RuneScape -- Instanced housing; exterior can be redecorated for a fee.
  • Ryzom -- Can own an apartment in one of the four capital cities.
  • Second Life -- Tremendous variety of types of housing, decorations, themes.
  • Shroud of the Avatar* (in alpha)
  • Star Citizen* -- A hanger you can move around in (includes some decorations besides your ships) as well as commercial shops; the extent of decoration possibilities is unknown.
  • The Repopulation* (in alpha) -- Includes safe housing in cities, but houses in contested lands can be lost; free-form decorating.
  • Ultima Online -- Houses placed out in the world; players customize the architecture and decor tile by tile.
  • Uncharted Waters Online -- Apartments in main cities.
  • Vanguard -- Along with guild halls, personal houses can be placed on specific plots on designated housing islands on each of the three different continents: Kojan, Qalia, and Thestra.
  • War of the Immortals
  • WildStar* (2014) -- Can place mines, farms, other resource modes on your property.
  • Wizard 101 -- Three levels of housing; players can own three houses at any particular time.
  • World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor* (2014) -- Will include personal garrisons to build up.
  • Wurm -- Find location, prepare plot, and build the house.
City building/guild housing only:
  • Age of Conan -- Guild and resource requirements are so high this option isn't viable for small guilds; city and buildings must be placed in specific places.
  • Final Fantasy XIV -- Free company housing (extremely expensive).
  • Guild Wars -- Acquired when guild formed; customizable and upgradeable; guild vs. guild battles inside.
  • Runes of Magic -- Castles allow entry into Siege War, which is the PvP environment.
  • Xsyon -- Players can create a personal homestead, but space is very limited; the more people in the tribe (guild), the more land that is available to build on; interiors can be decorated.
Skill-based
Another key element in a sandbox is the ability to be unique and to things the way that they make sense for you. And that's where skill-based games shine: Players can develop their own build and custom tailor their abilities to fit them. Skill-based progression is often synonymous with sandbox. Sadly, not as many titles make it a main system for truly unique character builds, but there are games out there that do.
Player-run economy
Another aspect of a vibrant virtual word is an economy that is dictated not by the developers but by the community. This feature can be a must for some players, especially crafters. These are systems where fellow players are required to meet the needs of other players. Yes, interdependency folks -- it is a good thing! Unfortunately, even after two years this list really hasn't grown much.
Tools for player-generated content
What else can help make a world feel like your own? Making your mark on the world by creating actual content for you and others to enjoy. And the frosting on the sandbox cake is when developers give players some actual tools for making that happen! In fact, this is where non-sandbox games can shine even if they are lacking other typical features of the genre. These games do just just that -- give players a set of tooks in a toolbox and let them have at it.
  • EverQuest II -- The Dungeon Maker allows players to create, decorate, and populate dungeons for all fellow players to run through (which give tokens that can purchase special rewards); however, to create dungeons, players must purchase the ability.
  • EQN Landmark* (alpha in January 2014) -- Minecraft-esque building tools, control of AI systems, scenario builders, and all dev systems put in EQN.
  • Neverwinter -- The Foundry offers players a specialized tool set to create custom missions to enjoy and share.
  • Star Trek Online -- The Foundry offers players a specialized tool set to create custom missions (or an entire series of episodes) to enjoy and share; missions can be either in space or on the ground.
  • Ryzom -- Ryzom has a guild mission creator (you must be in a guild to create and do missions).
Alternatives to combat
Combat: For some people, it makes the game. For others, it's merely one aspect of a full gaming experience. There are even those who can do without it all together! So if all combat all the time isn't your thing, there needs to be other activities to engage in or there is no point in being in the game. These titles all have various other pastimes to lose yourself in. Disclaimer: As including all the games with crafting and harvesting here would stretch this article out until tomorrow, the focus is mainly on other endeavors.
  • A Tale in the Desert -- Crafting, sculpting, gardening, trade.
  • Age of Wushu: Running merchant stalls, get married, dice games.
  • Darkfall: Crafting, fishing, sailing a boat.
  • EQII -- In-depth crafting including furniture making.
  • EVE Online: Mining, trade, political dealings.
  • Fantasy Realm Online -- Apprentice under shopkeepers. farming.
  • LotRO -- An unparalleled music system, fishing, farming.
  • Mortal Online -- Taming, fishing, thieving.
  • Pathfinder Online* -- Farming.
  • RuneScape -- Cooking, fire-making, fishing.
  • Shroud of the Avatar* (in alpha) -- Music system.
  • STO -- Diplomatic missions.
  • TSW -- Although smatterings of combat might be necessary, the unique nature of the investigation missions (which require solving riddles and clues to complete) deserve a mention.
  • Ultima Online -- Thievery, treasure hunting, fishing, basket-weaving, gardening.
  • Uncharted Waters Online -- Private farms.
  • Vanguard -- The diplomacy system; very in-depth crafting including furniture making.
  • WildStar -- Mining and gathering on your own property!
  • World of Warcraft -- Farming, pet battles.
  • Xsyon -- Lumberjack, basket-weaving, architect.
Appearance customization
While far from a make-or-break feature for most gamers, the ability to make a unique character in a game is still a significant component of feeling immersed in a world as opposed to just playing the game. Here are a few that have notable customization option in either character looks, apparel, or both.

Character creation: Clothing:
  • Age of Conan
  • Aion -- Skin appearance items or precious gear to weapons, armor, or wings (destroyed the item that becomes the skin).
  • APB Reloaded
  • DC Universe Online -- You can select whatever gear you want to show as long as you have collected it previously.
  • EQII -- Appearance slots included for armor, weapons, and mounts.
  • LotRO -- Multiple appearance outfit slots.
  • RIFT
  • TSW -- All clothing is fully cosmetic, stats are only on weapons and talismans.
  • Vanguard
  • World of Warcraft -- Transmogrification system for gear.
As you can see, this list is long even though it isn't all-inclusive. There are certainly other sandboxes out there that are not mentioned; truly, there are many options for those who want to enjoy sandbox-y features, even if the full game isn't a sandbox. What other games have those features that you would add to this list? Share your choices in the comments below.

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of 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.