Steam Early Access games you should get back into

By Kris Goorhuis, Tuesday, 22 December 2015 08:05 GMT

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Early Access games you should get back into

There’s a certain type of game that heartily thrives in Steam’s Early Access environment. Widespread community testing and feedback serves the potential for long-play, non-narratively driven titles to refine and augment themselves in all the right ways. Not just experiencing but contributing to this development can be rewarding.

Let’s take a look at a few that have had time to fruit and mature since their initial appearance, a selection that may pique your interest anew regardless of whether you’ve tried them before.

1 - Starbound (Copy)

Starbound

With a bit more of a “citizen of the world” vibe than its counterpart in Terarria, this side-facing game of exploration and construction thrives in its peaceful moments. The creatures and machines dispersed across the heavens adhere to their own shared culture, aesthetic sense, and history, their scattered settlements representing each in minor. You can feel as though you’re contributing to a broader interstellar community.

Starbound is on the elderly end of the prerelease spectrum, with public beta play stretching back to 2013. Its procession of updates has brought the barebones progression, combat, and building substantially forward. Weapons feature more unique actions, monsters vary in personality and approach, and a tide of new decorative objects, block types, and people forge the colony system into lovely motivation to continue creating handsome things. The introduction of quests and ease of teleportation and destination bookmarking, as well as a sort of universal hub, pull you forward through its pieces.

2 - The Long Dark (Copy)

The Long Dark

If enduring the penetrating cold hasn’t become a bit more welcoming, it’s at least more elaborate. This thoughtful excursion into the frozen wastes is very much of the desperate and miserable variety of survival game, focusing more on the maintenance of corporeal needs than rationing magnum rounds. The things eager to use you as delicious calories, though, have certainly seen adjustment and improvement, along with revised ways for your health, shelter, and gear to deteriorate. At least the bears will stop attacking when lake ice shatters beneath you.

On the helpful side, The Long Dark has gathered some new tools with which to fight back death. The palette now spans rope climbing and rabbit snares, frightening torchlight, and hunting bows, as well as the ability to stitch insulating clothing from the corpses of those damned wolves. Most notable of the enhancements is the far grander scope of available landscape to trudge through. Entirely new regions have rolled out in lumps, expanding the potentially constricting initial space to several times its original size. The dubiously named Pleasant Valley, fresh mountains, and highways contribute new space to explore exhaustively rejiggered numbers and mechanics.

3 - Killing Floor 2 (Copy)

Killing Floor 2

The nit and grit of blasting not-zombies is rather unchanged relative to the alterations fellows on this list have endured. Basic functions of surviving waves of enemies seem to have been largely intact the moment Killing Floor 2 hit Steam, unusually detailed firearm animations, elaborate body dismemberment, and intermittent slow-mo in tow. The rest is in the process of expanding, and quite quickly at that.

Its small pool of levels to wade through has been remedied with indelibly appropriate locales like the abandoned farmhouse and catacombs. Have at them with new characters, perks, and guns, and consider how best to deal with a new boss as you’re feeling out the other additions. The Patriarch has come home, delivering references, silly jokes, and puns with aplomb. There’s an oddly enormous helping of goofy on display for a title sporting some genuinely unsettling designs. And, for the vain amongst us, cosmetic-only microtransactions have already found their way in! Weird, but benign.

4 - RimWorld (Copy)

RimWorld

“Domestic Firefly meets a Dwarf Fortress-addled Prison Architect” may not be far off. The dusty shores of distant planets harbor a little bit of Western leathers and revolvers, as well as an intricate simulation of labor, subsisting, personalities, and combat. Uniquely generated worlds hold scores of resources with which to supply the colony under your management: resources your people will need to fend off aggressors and the whims of an event-defining AI storyteller. It’s not concerned about helping you win, but creating a compelling story – even if that means the tragic destruction of everything you’ve built.

RimWorld isn’t actually in capital E-A Early Access, but is charting a similar course outside Steam. Since early 2014, adopters have enjoyed not just a glut of individual things like raider types, objects, and disasters, but new aspects of colony management, personnel requirements, and world function. The game has come a long way yet is still broadening its range of play activities and behaviors.

5 - Rust (Copy)

Rust

This building game has been a rocky experience for many people. Your first moments in the multiplayer wild may have involved sizing up potentially hostile strangers or being unceremoniously executed by player bandits. Or they may have been spent utterly frustrated with the state of the software.

General consensus seems to be that this one was set loose before it was ready. The project has since been scrapped, begun anew, spent some time being unplayable, and crawled into the sunshine. The “new” Rust garners much more approval, and while it may not be progressing as quickly as folks would like, it’s more enjoyable now than it’s ever been. Performance optimizations, new content, and balance adjustments abound – enough so to warrant another peek. Just try to find a nice non-official server, for the sake of your sanity.

6 - Space Engineers (Copy)

Space Engineers

Something about drifting through the void, designing and fusing together bodies of immense weight, is hauntingly peaceful. There’s a mystique. One that spoils somewhat as astronauts fabricate celestial Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots and discotheques, but forging your own designs and seeing them float, whether you’re bristling them with guns to bear down on other engineers or just painting something beautiful in the sky, is deeply gratifying.

Space Engineers began as a starkly simple space sandbox of metal and dust. Over the past two years, a steady trickle of features has slowly ballooned the project into something far more rotund. The suite of objects has enveloped machines like pistons and conveyor belts, mechanical functions like the impact of inventory tonnage on flight characteristics have been introduced, and environments have upgraded to include procedural asteroid fields and planets. It’s expanding in every direction, including tutorialization.

7 - Darkest Dungeon (Copy)

Darkest Dungeon

Enough fun to keep you engaged, but ruthless and abusive all the same, it can sometimes feel as though Darkest Dungeon is doing its best to devour the player’s mind. For this dank and dreary party-based crawl, the primary thrusts of progress have been twofold. First is a wealth of new content. The roster of mercenaries has bloomed and bolstering the catalogue of regions and monsters has seen steady effort.

Second, the team has taken the time to slice, tear, tweak, and remold the body of gameplay to the end of creating not just a worthwhile game, but a dismal undertaking. The ways your crew can suffer have been expanded upon. Safety nets like repeated “Death’s Door” visits now come with significant penalties. You’ll need to crawl over the corpses of the dead to reach further enemies, and excessive stress can lead to a poor soul’s heart irrevocably seizing. Life just keep getting worse. Or better, depending on your vantage.

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