"Player choice and player freedom have been a part of some of the most popular games over this last generation, and for good reason. When we the gamers are given some agency over how the game is played, what we can do, and when we can do it, our gaming experience becomes memorable in a direct way. Player choice, as of late, seems to be mostly concentrated in RPG’s and action adventure games, but the avenues of choice presented in those games were mostly superficial.
Although this gaming generation pummeled us with “choice”, particularly morally, the most rewarding and “free” experiences for gamers this generation came from sandbox strategy games, e.g., Civilization V, Europa Universalis III and IV, Victoria II, and to a lesser extent the Total War series. The Sandbox moniker is perfectly at home when paired with the open ended strategy games; just like playing in the sand, your empire can be built and destroyed without some careful and rational planning.
An interview with Paradox Development Studio lead, Johan Andersson: