The Best Early Access Strategy Games05 Feb 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.
The Best Early Access Strategy Games
- Surviving: The Aftermath
- Empires in Ruins
- Rebel Inc: Escalation
- Empire in Ruins
- Shellshock Live
- Empires of the Undergrowth
- Void Destroyer 2
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 I’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.
Publisher/Developer: kChamp Games
Shellshock Live is a testament to the idea that old game concepts still matter. Scorched Earth was played by all in whatever form -- the base game, Gorillas, even Worms -- and Shellshock Live shamelessly copies it beat for beat. Or shell for shell. But that's fine. Upwards of two players, heaving artillery at each other, is still as fresh and enjoyable as it ever was.
Shellshock Live, however, adds its own wrinkles with an arsenal of weaponry that runs into the hundreds. Sure, some overlap and there are redundancies here and there, but this neon tank crusher roulettes the smorgasbord of ordnance through each game, making it potluck without the Worms-like pickups. There are also black holes, wormholes and laser fences that appear for a turn, then shift or disappear, adding to the chaos of the round. All of this is nested into a huge player progression tree, where there's all sorts of customisation.
Despite being in Early Access since 2015, you could pick up Shellshock Live and be excused for thinking it was the final release. However, it gets frequent updates and love from the developer, so I suppose there's no harm in it sitting comfortably in Early Access. This is the Neon Nerds version of self-styled Mother of All Games, without the risk of diabetes.
Publisher/Developer: Gridsage Games
Roguelikes -- like, the real McCoy roguelikes -- enjoy a peripheral existence in gaming, despite being a large part of its modern thematic and mechanical baseline. So when it comes time for gamers to trade the lite for like, there's really only one answer. The snap, crackle and pop of Cogmind.
Cogmind trades fantasy for a cybernetic dungeon run, where the player must salvage parts inside a dungeon and escape. The austere visuals work marvellously to sell the idea that you're a junky clutch of circuits and waldos, parsing your way around a network of tunnels and subterranean factories amid a seething tide of ambivalent worker drones and easily-tripped and unrelenting security bots.
Your machine can equip and use all sorts of material, interface with networks, hack for data, as well as a suitable kinetic combat system. The latter is certainly one to comfort the roguelike-shy or tip the scales for the roguelike-curious. This is not some mild blippy-bloppy bump-fest. Cogmind's combat is electrifying, with all sorts of crunchy synthetic sound design to bolster exploding ordnance and destruction of enemies. Cogmind features the depth of the genre, with a sense of impact is often missing in action. And in this state, it feels incredibly feature-complete. Johnny Five-stars.
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.
Void Destroyer 2
Publisher/Developer: Iteration 11
The original Void Destroyer was a fine little blend of Homeworld meets Freespace, gently spritzed with light Independence War-style newtonian physics and a twist of Borderlands comic shading. But now is Void Destroyer 2's time. Bigger and bolder.
The game deployed in Early Access in 2016, and having enjoyed active and indefatigable updates until now, is set to go gold sometime before the end of the year. A one-man vision, the premise of the original Void Destroyer is ratcheted up to 11 in this sequel. An open-world action-strategy, where players start small and aim big, the aim is to command and control an ever-growing fleet to capture and expand territory in a sprawling galaxy.
Play it like an RTS, delegating positions and targets, then switch to direct-control to tear it up across any of the classes and vessels in the player fleet. There's a lot to learn, and it is very much a PC gamer's game, with all sorts of systems and subsystems at the player's disposal. With an even more striking, almost Model 2 arcade board aesthetic and palette, Void Destroyer 2 is deep, dense and delicious.
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:
- End State (Turn-Based Tactics) (Not out yet)
- Incident Commander (Sim/Management)
- Axis & Allies 1942 Online (Board/War Game Port)
- Foundation (Medieval City Builder)
Released Early Access Projects
Nothing stays in Early Access forever (unless you're DayZ, I guess) so we'll keep track of anything that goes on this list that then gets released into Version 1.0.
- 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!