This year in Early Access Games

This year in Early Access Games

As a rule, I don’t include early access games in my games of the year list. If I did, Hardspace: Shipbreaker might have been my game of 2020, 2021, and 2022, and there’s a good chance Baldur’s Gate 3 would have ended up on four lists in a row. I love following the development of a game and watching it evolve over time, but as a critic I will only judge the game once the developer has completed their vision and delivered a final product.


That said, it feels weird not to acknowledge early access at all. Development games took up a lot of my free time in 2022, and I didn’t want to give them a spotlight here at the end of the year when we spend a lot of time spotlighting things. This isn’t a formal ranked list, but if I were you, I’d keep an eye on these games in 2023.

TODAY’S GAMER VIDEO

Moonbreaker

sticthy mcpatchy zaax ad all the units in moonbreaker

Moonbreaker is the video game version of skirmish-style war games. Think Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team or Marvel Crisis Protocol, but set in a light-hearted sci-fi universe created by Mistborn’s Brandon Sanderson. Moonbreaker has gone through some major changes in the few months since its launch, and it still has a long way to go, but it shows a ton of promise. This is my favorite PvP turn based strategy game right now and now I’m thinking of becoming a miniatures man. Check out my preview here.

Terraformers

terraformer settlement

This is also a turn-based game, but that’s the only thing it has in common with Moonbreaker. Terraformers is a miniature version of Civilization – a non-grand strategy game, if you will – but instead of competing against other factions for territory and resources, you’re competing against the disillusionment of your citizens. Colonizing Mars is a difficult and deadly endeavor, and as your modest empire expands, your small society is constantly on the brink of rebellion. Like Civ, Terraformers has plenty of gameplay variety and different objectives to keep each playthrough fresh and surprising. For an early access game, this feels particularly robust. Here is my preview.

Gloomwood

Gloomwood Featured Image

New Blood Inetractive’s take on the classic immersive sim is incredibly successful, even in its relatively short runtime. Thief fans will feel right at home with the sneaky first-person gameplay, but what really did it for me was the joy of exploring the complex, interconnected world. As a huge fan of Arkane’s Arx Fatalis and all the great ImSims it inspired, Gloomwood definitely scratched my clever level design itch. Check out Andrew King’s thoughtful preview.

The Planet Crafter

Planet Crafter building near a few cliffs

I have a condition I call number-go-up-itis, and the only treatment is to watch big numbers get even bigger. Anyone who’s delved deep into idle games knows what I mean, and while I’ve managed to avoid the siren song of clicker games for years, The Planet Crafter managed to sneak up on me where I least expected it – a survival/crafting game. This is basically Cookie Clicker meets Subnautica. You explore a dangerous alien world, build bases and create machines that terraform the environment. Each machine increases pressure, heat and oxygen at a constant rate, and the more machines you build, the faster it increases. I thought this game might have been made especially for me, but 16,000 overwhelmingly positive Steam reviews suggest otherwise. Check out my preview of the free version, The Planet Crafter: Prologue.

V Rising

An illustration of a vampire jumping on another vampire both with swords drawn with moonlight shining through a window

If you’ve heard of anything on this list, it’s probably V Rising. This survival/crafting and action-RPG hybrid was a huge phenomenon for about two weeks when it launched back in May, and while the buzz has died down, development has continued at a steady pace. I find there isn’t enough to do yet to hold my attention for more than a weekend, but overtime I can see V Rising becoming a massive MMO. Check out my preview.

Craftopia

Craftopia Logo Art

The last survival/crafting game worth mentioning this year is the one that surprised me the most. Craftopia is one of those games that seems overly promising in terms of scope, and while I’m still not convinced that it will end up being the ultimate farming, exploration, factory building, survival, hack-and- slash, Breath of the Wild experience it purports to be, I’ve already had a lot of fun with it and I’m excited to see how much bigger it gets.

Against the storm

against the storm

I’ve only spent a few hours with Against the Storm, but that’s all it takes to know it’s something special. This traditional strategy city builder sees you micromanage every facet of a city by gathering resources, building buildings and leading your villagers (and beavers and lizards) to reclaim the wilderness, but the catch is that no matter what you do, eventually the storm will come for you and destroy everything you have built. This is a roguelike city builder that teaches you to learn from your mistakes and make the most of the opportunities in front of you. I’m almost afraid to go deeper into this one because I know I’ll never be able to put it down.

Darker and darker

Extract Portal Dark And Darker

This is a bit of an unconventional Early Access game because the developers run semi-frequent playtests, then take it offline for long periods of time. Still, the sooner you can get your hands on Dark and Darker, the better, because it’s a fascinating game. Part dungeon crawler, part battle royale and part Escape from Tarkov, Dark and Darker is a genre-bender that feels greater than the sum of its parts. The premise is simple: you and your party explore a dungeon, fight other parties and try to escape before the circle joins you. It’s strategic, tense and often funny. A great game for fans of classics like Ultima or Legends of Grimrock with a modern Battle Royale twist.

Next: Dark And Darker proves there’s still room for inventive Battle Royales

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