The Best Early Access Strategy Games22 Sep 2020 2
Steam Early Access often gets a bad rap for the dire mire it can sometimes be, and it still hasn't comfortably addressed the issue of offering unfinished products as something people can buy. Just today we were discussing DayZ, that game that launched a thousand early-access survival titles, and how that STILL hasn't released despite all this time.
Still, we wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't keep finger on the pulse of strategy games available currently in pre-release form - despite its image problem, there are some real gems going through an 'Early Access Beta' before gearing up for the full launch, and we've rounded up the best of them for your consideration.
Early Access Strategy Games
- Secret Government
- Industries of Titan
- Axis & Allies 1942 Online
- Surviving: The Aftermath
- Empires in Ruins
- Rebel Inc: Escalation
- Empire in Ruins
- Empires of the Undergrowth
Publisher/Developer: 1C Entertainment / GameTrek
Secret Government is a new grand-strategy game that attempts to offer a twist to the usual set-up of empire management and conquest. It starts in the 17th century but has ambitions of going all the way through to the present day - you are in charge of a secret society that's been ruling the world in the shadows for centuries. You do not direct influence over any one nation - but whoever you need to in order to achieve your organisation's goals.
You have to use agents as a way of indirect influence, as well as manipulate key figures who are in positions of power. Mechanics exist to prevent you from going all-in too quickly in any one nation, lest they become aware of your existence. There is also talk of rival societies as well looking to challenge your domination.
It's only been in EA for a bout a month at the time of writing, but their goal is to have the final game out in November 2020, so their Early Access development is going to be pretty pacey.
Industries of Titan
Publisher/Developer: Brace Yourself Games
We've been waiting for sci-fi city-builder Industries of Titan for a while. Like Surviving The Aftermath below, this newest early access title come via Epic Games again (the full release on Steam isn't due until 2021), but as Sean wrote in his preview it was very interesting to finally get a glimpse of this new dystopian alternative to Surviving Mars. Your are the new Corporate Overseer of a struggling colony on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Like all good city/colony builder your job is to expand and exploit, and the landscape of Titan is waiting for you to bulldoze over it to make room for more housing.
Industries features some subtle twists on similar games with the addition of 'internal spaces' in buildings, which add in another layer of customisation to your growing colony. There's also many sources of tension - pirates, and other corporations all represent obstacles you need to overcome. It's still early days for this game, but it already sports some interesting ideas and a really great tutorial, so make sure you check it out for yourself if you've got the money to spare.
Axis & Allies 1942 Online
Digital ports of popular board game brands have become a new 'thing' over the past couple of years, so it was only matter of time before someone decided to tackle the iconic "Risk-but-its-a-wargame" series Axis & Allies. We weren't expecting Beamdog to be that company, mind, considering they're best known for tactical RPGs. Still, despite a slightly shaky start they seem to have done a great job with their adaptation so far.
Axis & Allies 1942 Online adapts the 2nd Edition of the Axis & Allies: 1942 variant. The game can accommodate 1 -5 players (with non-played nations being run by an AI) with multiplayer taking place online or via local hot-seat. The playable nations are naturally divided between the 'Axis' and the 'Allied' team, and the goal is to try and conquer the required number of Victory Points to achieve victory. Turn-to-turn you can then invest in more industry and more units.
Surviving: The Aftermath
Publisher/Developer: Paradox Interactive
Have you ever watched a show, such as The Walking Dead, and thought, “Wow, these people are terrible at building and sustaining a post-apocalyptic colony, I bet I could do better!” If so, wow, very specific thought, but you’re in luck! Surviving: The Aftermath has got you covered. Players begin as the omnipotent overseer of a colony of survivors of an apocalyptic event, and must scavenge what they can from the real-time map, slowly turning their temporary colony to a full, self-sustaining town.
An interesting wrinkle to the city-building formula is that there’s also a quasi-turn based layer, where you can send your colonists to go explore the greater countryside outside of your smaller map (think Frostpunk). They can run into other colonies and strike up relations with them, scavenge materials from run-down factories, or get into scraps with marauding, post-apocalyptic sorts. Paradox is continuing to add more features to StA fairly frequently, including vehicles and outposts, so if you want to flex your apocalyptic city-building muscle, look no further. It's worth noting that the only way of playing this game is via the Epic Games Store.
Empires in Ruins
Publisher/Developer: Hammer & Ravens
What do you get if you combine 4X strategy and Tower Defence in an unholy union? Turn-Based Strategy game Empires in Ruins, apparently. We've known about this one for a while, but it's finally taken the leap and released to the big wide world of Steam Early Access. This is a game of two-halves - there is a turn-based strategy layer where you engage in much of the black humour-tinged plot and do lots of realm management and 4X-y type things.
Then there is the RTS layer, which styles itself on Tower Defence games, but features everything from RTS style resources management, to tactical unit deployment. And towers, of course - seventeen of them, to be exact. It's an interesting mix of genres, and we're eager to see how it evolves in the early access period. There's a specific road-map for the next few months, but generally speaking (at the time of writing) they expect to hit 1.0 this time next year.
Rebel Inc: Escalation
Publisher/Developer: Ndemic Creations
You may have heard of Plague Inc., the real-time strategy game where you are a virus trying to wipe out humanity. Developers nDemic finally came up with a sequel last year called Rebel Inc. where you are in command of an area in a fictional country that's just been through a major conflict, and you're tasked with helping to rebuild the area and fight any lingering insurgents. It's meant to be an analogue to what's happened in the Middle East following the second Gulf War.
It released on mobile first, but is finally making it's way over to PC and was released into Steam Early Access earlier this month. The game was pretty much perfect as it was on mobile, so I'm not sure what else they're looking to add other some jazzed up graphics (which do look nice), but they're expecting to release into 1.0 next year. It's definitely one you should check out if you're into strategy games with a healthy side of crises management. Check out our mobile review on Pocket Tactics if you want to know more.
Publisher/Developer: Thibaud Michaud
A complex socio-economic simulation wrapped up in a multiplayer 4X city builder, Ymir shrugs off the tropes of the genre for a more challenging approach. As you take your society of pigmen, building your city and settling new tiles with their own resources, animals, and geography, you will have to balance everything. Producing too much of a resource can have as much an impact as having too little.
Ymir is closer to Caesar and Pharaoh than any city builder we’ve seen this side of the century as you have no direct control over your citizens beyond what you build and buy. Your resource purchases puts money directly into the pockets of merchants, increasing their spending power. You have no control over your army except choosing what to send out on invasions which can be a bit frustrating but means every battle is even as you don’t need to be on 24/7 to defend your city.
While it is possible to play Ymir alone, it is by design a multiplayer game with two different modes. A real time mode intended for groups of friends all playing at the same time and an MMO mode where things take longer but the persistent world keeps going even when you’re logged off.
Empires of the Undergrowth
Publisher/Developer: Slug Disco Studios
It should not have taken this long to get a game like Empires of the Undergrowth happening. SimAnt fans are a patient breed. Indeed, the social and biological traits of ants could not be a tighter fit for the RTS genre, and this game is a perfect example of inspiration dovetailing mechanics.
Players channel an entomological Dungeon Keeper of sorts in carving out a colony for their Formidecaean force, resource-gathering and defending their turf as one would expect. Bands of insectoid opponents can invade the homebase or cause havoc on the surface as troops march for food and campaigns of expansion. It's a delightful game to see in action, a microcosmic display of busyness and battling. If you're chasing something very different in theme to your usual Command & Conquering, go small.
We’ve all dreamed of running our own dinosaur zoo and this year we got two! While Jurassic World: Evolution caters to the hardcore dinosaur nerd with realistic (well, more realistic) dinosaurs, Parkasaurus brings the experience to the more fantastical dino fan. With pastel sauropods and dancing scientists, herbivore hats and portals to the past, Parkasaurus revels in the ridiculous premise. The art choice seems a bit strange at first but quickly grows on you and gives the world a tonne of charm. With ragdoll physics and googly eyes, the world has that same satirical silliness that made Theme Park World and Two Point Hospital so appealing.
Already packed with content and with more functionality being added with each updated (including mod support), Parkasaurus scratches the itch that hasn’t been scratched since Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis way back in 2003.
Other Interesting Early Access Projects
There are quite a few other interesting projects in Early Access we haven't managed to look into yet, but here's a list of them:
- Labyrinth: War on Terror (Board Game/Wargame)
- Old World (Civilization/4X) (Epic Games Only)
- Incident Commander (Sim/Management)
- Foundation (Medieval City Builder)
- Cogmind (Roguelike)
- Grand Tactician: The Civil War (Wargame)
Released Early Access Projects
Nothing stays in Early Access forever (unless you're DayZ, I guess) so we'll keep track of anything interesting that goes on this list that then gets released into Version 1.0.
- ShellShock Live
- Void Destroyer 2
- Driftlands: The Magic Revival
- They Are Billions
- Rise to Ruins
- Freeman: Guerrilla Warfare
- AI War 2
Let us know if you spot any other cool early access projects you feel deserve a shout-out - we can add them in a future update!