by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 18th January, 2019
Video games market became richer with indie games after Steam introduced its Early Access program. Gamers got a chance to test, give feedback and actively participate in development and at the same time play those games as they evolve, which was unimaginable before.
Developers could finally get a simple way to communicate with players during the development of a video game while receiving much-needed funding. And these two pieces of the puzzle are extremely important because before Early Access many developers couldn't finish their dream games because they simply couldn't find enough funds and fan feedback was possible only after launch.
All changed with Early Access and today you can play dozens if not hundreds of titles that simply wouldn't see the light of day if not for Steam Early Access.
While the program allowed countless game developers to make their dreams true, it also attracted many individuals who used Early Access for quick cash grabs and as training grounds for their game development skills. They would release an interesting concept, add a couple of new features and then basically abandon their game or release a fun concept and then never fulfill on their promise because of lack of experience, giving Steam Early Access a bad name.
But luckily the market is filled with stories of success such as Subnautica, Rust, The Forest, Kerbal Space Program, Don't Starve, Darkest Dungeon, The Long Dark, and many more; these games showed that Steam Early Access can be an excellent way for indie developers to work on and release games.
And while Steam Early Access is filled with successful graduates of its unique course, there are always new Early Access games worth your money and free time.
There are games that graduated the program with flying colors and are ready for a full release like My Time With Portia and Slay the Spire (a marvelous game that will be talked about after it leaves Steam Early Access at the end of January); also, there are many titles in active development and without a clear release date that already justify their price. Read on and find out the best Early Access games to play right now (January 2019).
If you like Slay the Spire you should definitely check out Neoverse, another take on the surprisingly complex mixture between rogue-lite and deck building game. First of all, Neoverse looks much better than Slay the Spire, with fully 3D environments and characters.
Everything looks pretty, shiny, and colorful, and is way more advanced than visuals featured in its main source of inspiration. Despite the game launching in Early Access just a few weeks ago it already offers three completely fleshed out characters and more than 300 cards. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses and there are plenty of strategies to plan on depending on cards you receive during each run.
The combat is challenging and there are dozens of different enemies to stumble upon. UI could be a bit more on the simple side but once you complete a few funs you get used to it. When it comes to content we would like to see more cards, better combos and more intricate synergies between different cards. Also, we would like to see better balance and even more enemies. On the upside, the game is almost completely cleared of bugs and it is extremely fun to play. A definite recommendation for all Slay the Spire fans.
Hades is the first Early Access game found on the newly founded Epic Games Store and it is one of the best early exclusives on the store. Made by the team responsible for Bastion and Transistor, Hades uses Greek mythology and its world of the dead as a backdrop for one of the best rogue-lite games ever. Hades is stunning despite the fact the game still is in its early stages.
The game's meta progression system is spot on, making every playthrough a bit easier while not removing focus from the need to be better each time. Combat is fast paced and more akin to some action adventure game than rogue-lite. Reflexes are extremely important because one perfect dodge can be the difference between unlocking a room you never reached before and going back to your father's castle where he eagerly awaits to deride you and your quest yet again.
Visuals are beautiful in every way. Artists captured ancient Greek lore excellently and created a world that looks like some yet unreleased take on Greek mythology by Neil Gaiman while at the same time creating a world that looks beautiful on a purely technical level, which isn't something that can be seen every day.
And despite the fact the game is still in early development stage, it contains enough content for players to immerse in it for a couple of dozens of hours and then return occasionally after the game receives major updates, which is a perfect way to experience an ever-evolving Early Access title.
Cute and extremely fun to play crafting and survival game, Astoneer is a proper story of how to succeed on Steam Early Access. It entered the program in 2016 and over the course of two and a half years the game received a ton of new content and a plethora of updates which made it extremely polished and stable.
The focus is on crafting and building and Astroneer has one of the best building systems we've seen in any survival game. You can prepare and level the ground in an instant and then the possibilities are limitless. And they truly are because the game doesn't feature pre-fab elements; everything you build is unique and never seen before, giving Astroneer incredible depth when building your next base.
The game supports co-op multiplayer and building with friends is as fun as it can possibly be because of the game's free form building mechanics. And once you get bored with your current planet you can craft a spaceship and set for the stars in search of a new world to build and craft on. At the moment the game doesn't have enemies but it should get them before it exits Steam Early Access and officially launches, which should happen on February 6th.
While the game is in Early Access for three years already it can be said that Besiege is an extremely fun game to play despite the fact that it is far from being finished. And while the game isn't finished it certainly is polished. This is an example of how Early Access title should look like. You see, Besiege is filled with content - which is expected after being in development for three years - but even in its earliest stages, Besiege was fun to play because developers made sure that everything worked before stuffing their game with new game modes and missions.
This is the right way to develop an Early Access game. First make it stable and fun to play, without gazillions of nasty bugs, lousy optimization, instability, and unintuitive UI and only after you sharpen the controls and make the game stable and fun to play start adding content. This made Besiege one of the best physics game out there and today it is a premier sandbox experience that incorporates amazing physics along with plenty of engaging content.
And the best thing is that developers are now focused on making the experience of playing Besiege even more pleasant experience by ironing out glitches (if there are any), by supporting new languages, and by constantly delivering updates that make the game better. If you want to learn about engineering and if you love physics-based puzzle games where you build machines capable of destroying castles check this one out.
They Are Billions is another Early Access success story, which never stopped evolving after it launched more than a year ago. It revolves around building impenetrable fortresses and then fending off millions of brain-devouring zombies who will decimate your base in case they break through walls. And the reason why this game gained such a large following is the fact it didn't enter Early Access as some proof-of-concept-work-in-progress-that-could-someday-become-good.
No, They Are Billions was a complete package from the day it launched and over the course of the last year it only got better and richer in content.
We got new game modes that made us spend even more time in this amazing mix between an RTS and a city management game, and all of them were and will be completely free.
That is true for the game's campaign mode, which should bring more than 40 hours of zombie slaying content. We also got a game that is perfectly polished one year after its release and that features incredibly fun survival mode which received numerous updates in the last 12 months. And we got regular updates from developers that kept everyone informed on the development of the game, which is amazing.
They Are Billions is the ultimate RTS survival game. It can push you to your limits and will make you die aplenty before discovering the perfect formula for fending off zombies.
And then you'll die again and will probably start another game in order to become even better. All that fun is packed inside tasty visuals that give the game warmth and make its bleak world lifelike and colorful, and it all just works and plays perfectly because the game's UI is polished to the max. Another Early Access game more polished than most AAA games released during the past 12 months.
When Raft was announced many thought it would be just another plain old survival game with the only point of diversification being that this one is, well, set on a raft. But soon after it launched into Early Access, Raft became one of the Early Access best sellers and one of the most original survival games.
The reasons for success are many but the most important one is probably the fact that developers listen to the community and are always trying to implement new features and bring new content asked by fans. The second reason for success is the fact that the game, while being pretty slim on content, was released mostly bug free, making it fun from the start.
And in its less than a year in active development Raft received numerous updates which Introduced new tools and weapons to craft; a multiplayer game mode where you really have to cooperate with friends in order to survive; new gameplay elements such as the ability to dive and to land on various islands dotting the game world, and countless fixes that made the game even more enjoyable.
The game is fun to play and it expands upon tried and true survival formula by limiting the player to a small safe area that is their raft and by creating a different survival experience that doesn't focus on exploration as most other survival games. Raft also features a rudimentary story and we are certain the game will receive loads of new content in the future because developers are focused on making Raft the best experience possible.
A rare Early Access game developed for VR headsets, Blade and Sorcery is a perfect example that story isn't needed in order to have fun. This RPG-like sandbox is filled with fun activities and it features the best combat we've seen in a VR game. Blade and Sorcery incorporates detailed physics and then utilizes its detailed mechanics to create a unique sandbox experience where you use motion controls to perform various fight moves.
There are many different melee weapons with melee fighting being an extremely immersive experience. Every swing, thrust, or armor deflection is felt in real time and with its robust physics options, you can tailor the experience to completely suits your taste.
The game also introduces ranged combat allowing players to be rangers and wizards, not just melee warriors. And these too work like a charm. Pulling a bowstring feels realistic, natural, and immensely satisfying.
And launching powerful magic attacks never felt so mighty and visceral. Blade and Sorcery is a sandbox game that fulfills your fantasies of being an undefeated warrior capable of destroying wave after wave of enemies. And playing the game will also get you in shape so that's a huge bonus. The downside is that we shouldn't expect much new content but maybe, just maybe, the game would get a single player campaign. At the moment Blade and Sorcery is an exciting VR combat simulator and a great way to stay fit without leaving the house.
You should check this one put in case Jurassic World Evolution was a disappointment or if you simply want a colorful and fun to play park management game with dinosaurs. Parkasaurus is one extremely fun park management game where you have to keep your dinos happy while at the same time trying to build a bigger and better park and get more and more visitors walking through park gates.
The game is cute as hell but it isn't a straightforward and sweet experience despite looking like one. The management can get tricky and you always have to keep both your dinosaurs and visitors happy by building new attractions and finding ways to make every visit more exciting than the last one.
The game is slim in content but developers add new stuff on a regular basis and there are active in listening to feedback from players and trying to implement best suggestions ASAP.
There are multiple ways players can send their suggestions and critics and we are certain this game will only get better with time. At the moment Parkasaurus is fully playable but it lacks in some features you expect from a park management game like not having lots of buildings to construct, limited choice on dinosaur species you can keep in your park, various bugs, and the lack of campaign mode.
On the other hand, the game is fun to play and you can actually travel back in time and save dinosaurs that will later be the part of your park. That alone is worth buying this game!
Skater XL looks like a strong foundation for an excellent skating game and we all know that the market desperately needs one. We had Tony Hawk Pro Skater during the glory days of PS One and PS 2 and then EA surprised everyone by releasing Skate games, which are still top notch choice when it comes to this small subgenre.
But in the last decade, the only good skate games have been seen on mobile, this console generation completely skipped games where you can pull 360 inward double heelflip and then instead of landing clean you try to pull 360 flip only to smash ground with full force.
And oh boy, Skater XL is one of those games. For starters, the game entered Early Access just a month ago so there isn't much content to tackle. You get one skate park and that's about it but the game delivers when it comes to important stuff. For starters, the physics engine is great and it makes the game look realistic with each trick feeling real fluid while pulling it.
Next, visuals are also top notch, with real-world-like lighting, superb animations, and extremely detailed skate park. And finally, controls are extremely detailed. You use both analog sticks for controlling your skateboard (one stick for one foot) while triggers are used for steering and leaning, which makes for a control scheme different from other skate games but once you get the hang of it, it becomes quite natural and fluid.
So there you have it. Skater XL isn't rich in content but the game nails the basics and that's what's important for one-month-old game. New content will come in future updates so if you're a fan of Skate games or simply want to play a cool looking skate game with fluid controls you should definitely check this one.
Green Hell took the survival genre and made survival the alpha and omega of the whole experience. This game doesn't have zombies, or mutants, or some other horrific enemies that make every day difficult and filled with challenges. Instead of focusing on enemies, Green Hell focuses on survival in harsh and inhospitable environment embodied in the Amazonian rainforest. Instead of trying to avoid zombies you will try creating a shelter capable of protecting you from the severe rain.
You'll hunt for animals by constructing realistic traps. Of course, Green Hell features classic weapon and tool crafting along with enemies that can kill you in an instant. There are different weapons and tools to be created, and each one asks for certain resources but the gameplay isn't based on boring amassing of resources. The enemies lurking in the jungle aren't horrific zombies or otherworldly nightmares; they are beasts of the wild who stay hidden until they strike and kill you in a matter of seconds.
Green Hell also features various diseases the player can contract, venom snake bites, and other types of maladies; they are here to make the game harder without relying on unrealistic hunger and thirst mechanic or a constant need to gather more resources.
The game has an intriguing story shrouded in mystery (we simply love survival games that come with a nice story) and the fact that the game can be finished (even in this early state) is always welcome. There aren't many bugs, there are plenty of survival game mechanics, graphics are superb, and the game is fun to play. What more do you need, especially from Steam Early Access title that came out in August 2018?