Highlights Steam’s Early Access program has been controversial due to abandoned and unfinished games, but it has also allowed developers to improve their games with community feedback. Games like Kerbal Space Program, Slay The Spire, and Darkest Dungeon have successfully utilized Early Access to create rewarding experiences with high replay value. Vampire Survivors, Streets Of Rogue, RimWorld, and Baldur’s Gate 3 are other notable games that have benefited from the Early Access format, offering unique gameplay and immersive worlds.
Ever since its initial launch in 2013, Steam’s Early Access release format has been a source of contention and controversy, primarily caused by abandoned games, as well as games being released in states that are too unfinished to justify their price tag. However, Steam’s Early Access program has allowed many games that might not have been finished otherwise to be developed and improved upon through community feedback.
While the skepticism that many gamers have around Early Access isn’t unjustified, many developers work hard to finish their games and carry them to 1.0, and a lot of the time this is done to great success.10 Kerbal Space Program Early Access Release: 2013 Official Release: 2015
Since its original release in 2013, Kerbal Space Program has come a long way, even garnering enough success to justify a largely disappointing sequel. Kerbal Space Program gives players an immense amount of freedom to construct various spacecraft out of a broad variety of components.
Kerbal Space Program simulates aerodynamic and orbital physics, among other things, to make crafting a working rocket, vehicle, or spaceship a difficult task for the average gamer, at least at first. Once players get to grips with the game’s systems, Kerbal can be an extremely rewarding simulation game with a lot of replay value.9 Slay The Spire Early Access Release: 2017 Official Release: 2019
This wildly popular rogue-like deck-builder arguably helped to popularize deck-building as a mechanic in modern video games, featuring a tight core gameplay loop in which players battle through a variety of enemy encounters, choosing one of three cards to add to their deck after each one and attempting to create synergies.
Slay The Spire features four characters with their own unique card sets, a variety of difficulty modes (“ascension”), and a variety of challenging bosses to encounter over the game’s multiple Acts. The game also contains an array of run-changing “relics” that grant the player passive abilities and offer unique ways to play.8 Darkest Dungeon Early Access Release: 2015 Official Release: 2016
This gothic-fantasy-themed rogue-like RPG is a hauntingly beautiful, challenging game that features tactical turn-based combat and a unique party system made up of over fifteen classes. Darkest Dungeon has a unique blend of mechanics, including its “Affliction System” that afflicts characters with positive and negative quirks. This is all tied together by the game’s stress mechanics, which players have to manage alongside the health of their characters.
Darkest Dungeon is renowned for its difficulty, a byproduct of the game’s harsh enemy encounters and permanent character deaths. The game also has high replay value, combining CRPG elements with a rogue-like structure and hand-drawn art style to create a unique experience.7 Prison Architect Early Access Release: 2013 Official Release: 2015
As one of the first Early Access games to be released on Steam, Prison Architect is a great example of Early Access done right. Prison Architect is fairly self-explanatory: it tasks players with planning and constructing their own private prison through business/management simulation mechanics.
In the game, players will have to manage their finances, staff, and inmates successfully to prevent escapes, riots, and bankruptcy as they design and develop their prison for financial gain. Prison Architect also contains an “Escape Mode” that allows players to take control of a prisoner and try to escape their own prison.6 Subnautica Early Access Release: 2014 Official Release: 2018
This expansive open-world survival-adventure game focuses on underwater exploration and allows players to craft, base-build, and pilot submarine vehicles in an attempt to explore the various biomes of an alien ocean.
Subnautica is a deep and atmospheric experience with a mysterious narrative for players to unfold and plenty of sea creatures to encounter amid a day/night cycle that can turn otherwise safe locations treacherous. Subnautica remained popular after its release, even getting a sequel in the form of Subnautica: Below Zero.5 Kenshi Early Access Release: 2013 Official Release: 2018
Kenshi’s looks can be deceiving. It’s not the prettiest game on Steam, by far, but it provides one of the most expansive, detailed, and reactive open worlds for players to explore. Gameplay-wise, Kenshi is a squad-based RPG that gives players complete freedom to set their own goals and choose who they want to be, which can be anything from a sneaky thief to a brutal warlord.
Kenshi’s freedom, however, can be a double-edged sword. The game can be extremely difficult and fairly inaccessible, but for players who are willing to take the time to learn the game’s systems, Kenshi is a rewarding sandbox experience that’s not to be missed.4 Vampire Survivors Early Access Release: 2021 Official Release: 2022
Shortly after its Early Access Steam release, Vampire Survivors quickly became an indie game sensation, inspiring a plethora of clones, such as the popular 20 Minutes Till Dawn.
For the uninitiated, Vampire Survivors is a casual arcade rogue-like where the player character attacks automatically, and player agency is instead placed on moving to avoid large hordes of enemies, as well as collecting gems that they drop to level up and upgrade their character. Since its 1.0 release, Vampire Survivors has had two DLCs released: Legacy Of The Moonspell, and Tides Of The Foscari.3 Streets Of Rogue Early Access Release: 2017 Official Release: 2019
This immersive-sim rogue-lite combines elements from games such as Nuclear Throne, Dues Ex, and GTA to create a unique, chaotic, and highly replayable experience. The game features a chunky pixel art aesthetic, plenty of playable characters (each with a unique quest to complete), and a wide variety of character traits that can change the game in various ways.
Streets Of Rogue takes place in a procedurally generated city packed with AI characters going about their day. The game’s AI, city, and gameplay systems combine to facilitate emergent gameplay that forces players to think on their feet. Furthermore, the game can also be played in both local and online co-op.2 RimWorld Early Access Release: 2013 Official Release: 2018
This sci-fi colony-simulation game was an ambitious Early Access title that remained in Early Access for a good while as it was developed and expanded upon to a great degree, fixing bugs and fleshing out the game’s many interlocking systems.
RimWorld markets itself as a story generator, which generates “stories” in the form of random events including everything from bad weather to overwhelming raids that force players to react. These generated events are controlled by one of the game’s various “AI Storytellers” who each provide a different experience. RimWorld can be a complex and challenging experience, but its easy-to-learn/hard-to-master gameplay and the broad spectrum of difficulty settings make it easy for players to get started.1 Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access Release: 2020 Official Release: 2023
This much-anticipated entry in the already notorious Baldur’s Gate franchise is a party-based CRPG set in the universe of Dungeons & Dragons. Baldur’s Gate 3 focuses on a complex and branching narrative packed with interesting and unique characters in a dynamic and reactive open world.
The game features tactical turn-based combat, as well as a deep character creation system featuring twelve classes and eleven races. Furthermore, the game’s immense amount of player choice and attention to detail make each playthrough completely different, promoting different styles of play and adding a lot of replay value to the game.