Many strategy genre developers are increasingly using Early Access, both on Steam and the Epic Games Store, to take the time to flesh their games out with the help of player feedback. Strategy games, in particular, benefit from this approach as many of these types of games can be dense and complex with many moving parts that need testing over long periods of time to get the balancing just right.
Oftentimes, though, Early Access games are too incomplete to really enjoy them, but there are definitely a few gems out there that are absolutely worth checking out. So here’s a list of the 10 best Early Access strategy games you can play right now.
10. Nebulous: Fleet Command
Developer: Eridanus Industries Publisher: Eridanus Industries, Hooded Horse Platform(s): PC
Tactical space combat games are unfortunately quite the rarity in strategy gaming. As such, any developer that takes a stab at making their own engaging space combat simulator immediately gets extra points.
Nebulous: Fleet Command is shaping up to be an exceptional space combat tactics game due to its realistic modeling of physics-based combat that’s almost straight out of space opera like The Expanse. Aside from the complexity of maneuvering in 3D space with full 360 degree movement, Nebulous sports a deep ship customization system with a great assortment of weapons, hulls, ship classes, and modules to make the space fleet of your dreams.
It definitely takes some time getting used to, as the UI is still in a rough spot and may make the already mind-bending gameplay all the more challenging to get into, but the devs at Eridanus Industries aim to ease players in with a planned campaign mode, which will tell its own epic sci-fi tale. If you’re clamoring for some methodical and unique tactical gameplay, then look no further than Nebulous: Fleet Command.
Developer: Eugen Systems Publisher: Eugen Systems Platform(s): PC
From space dreadnaughts to the hypothetical battlefields of Cold War-era Germany, WARNO is the latest strategy game from Eugen Systems which serves as the meeting point between the Wargame and Steel Division series. Of the Early Access games on this list, WARNO has the furthest to go with fleshing out its content, but even so it shows plenty of promise with a solid foundation of real-time tactical gameplay that only keeps getting better.
Just like space combat, the Cold War is a veritable untapped gold mine of strategy development potential, especially since the setting is more relevant than ever in this day and age. The devs at Eugen have done an incredible job of adapting the intricacies of Cold War-era combined arms warfare due to the use of jet aircraft, helicopters, rocket artillery, infantry fighting vehicles, and anti-tank guided missiles that all make WARNO’s tactical gameplay deep and satisfying.
Along with adding new nations and military formations to flesh out the already expansive unit roster further, players can look forward to an evolution of Steel Division’s strategic Army General campaign system that’ll add even more strategic decision-making opportunities to the solid tactical layer. WARNO can definitely be the future of real-time strategy gaming and right now it has all the building blocks that lay out the path to its success.
8. Age of Darkness: Final Stand
Developer: PlaySide Publisher: Team17 Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
With Numantian Games’ They Are Billions almost single-handedly kickstarting the strategy survival subset of games, many developers have tried to replicate its success. However, no other game looks as poised to snatch the crown as PlaySide’s Age of Darkness: Final Stand.
Age of Darkness already has all the hallmarks of a solid survival strategy game: base building, resource gathering, a terrifying horde-like enemy, and tense, desperate last stand-style battles. PlaySide does add a few elements to spice up the formula, such as heroes, distinct factions with unique gameplay effects, and a greater variety of enemy types requiring a greater repertoire of tactics to counter.
The impressive scale and the ghoulishly dark setting alone give Age of Darkness a distinct identity, but it’ll get better with extra modes that explore the ins and outs of this devastated world. At its core, Age of Darkness is currently a perfectly solid and enticing strategy survival experience and is one of the best Early Access strategy games on the market.
7. Dyson Sphere Program
Developer: Youthcat Studio Publisher: Gamera Games Platform(s): PC
Perhaps the most exciting development in the strategy gaming genre is the improvement in scale, especially in management games. There’s really no other game quite like Dyson Sphere Program which truly understands the meaning of interstellar logistics and strategy.
In Dyson Sphere Program, players are tasked with establishing interplanetary resource extraction and production queues to ultimately build the eponymous Dyson Sphere of truly epic proportions. The gameplay remains understandable even when you transition from intercontinental to interplanetary operations, even though the sheer volume of resources, vast distances, and complex logistics chains grows exponentially. This makes Dyson Sphere an excellent learning experience for new players to take basic concepts and apply them to larger and larger projects.
Though the game currently lacks a bit of challenge to put your logistics management skills to the test, the developers have already indicated that they’ll be adding threats of various kinds to push your planning abilities to the limit. However, just to experience the insane scale at which the game runs, Dyson Sphere Program is truly a management game to behold.
Developer: Shiro Games Publisher: Shiro Unlimited Platform(s): PC
Mercenary management games are becoming increasingly common in turn-based tactics and role-playing games, thanks to the influence of the Mount and Blade series, XCOM, and Battle Brothers. With Shiro Games’ Wartales, it certainly seems that many still want to try themselves out as mercenary captains and lead profitable lives.
In Wartales, you can expect to recruit a band of characters that’ll follow your lead into the wild and faraway towns and complete contracts to find hidden loot, fend off bandits, or even become the bandits yourself and act as a menace to the people of this world. Wartales sports a solid combat system that requires careful positioning to maximize damage, mitigate losses, and use your band of mercenaries in a concerted manner.
The developers are hard at work to flesh out the strategic component of the game with more features adding dynamism and depth, as the world can come across a bit empty and lifeless. Nevertheless, Wartales provides plenty of opportunity to lose yourself in a classic mercenary rags-to-riches story.
Some of the most interesting city builder and management games are those that make terrain, climate, and changing weather critical parts of the ebb-and-flow of gameplay. Timberborn aims not only to do just that, but also give the game its own awesome twist by making the central characters sentient and technologically advanced beavers.
The core dynamic of Timberborn’s gameplay is managing the flow and production of water to avoid droughts and other disasters, be it from rivers, lakes, or other sources to ensure a stably growing and developing population. The developers further enhance the gameplay by adding extra levels of verticality to the construction system, giving you great freedom in laying out your settlement in any way that fits your playstyle and strategy.
Perhaps Timberborn’s only weakness is its lack of unique factions that can uniquely affect the core gameplay loop, though the developers have signaled that that’s something they’re working on. Timberborn is shaping up to be a flavorful and memorable management experience that’s worth looking into even now.
It almost seemed that the magic of strategy-adventure had been lost with the last Heroes of Might and Magic installment that unfortunately ran the franchise into the ground. Luckily, indie developers have taken it upon themselves to recapture that magic and Lavapotion’s Songs of Conquest is looking like the most promising one.
We lauded Songs of Conquest not only for its adherence to nostalgic tropes of games of this type, but also for its ambition to innovate, specifically in the magic system and expanded base building. Unlike most magic systems that have a mana system that heroes themselves generate, mana in Songs of Conquest comes from the troops you recruit into your army, so unit management and army composition becomes an even greater factor in your campaigns and ability to wield magic.
Songs of Conquest does have some technical and performance issues to iron out, but from a gameplay standpoint, Lavapotion looks like they’re going to score a homerun. Songs of Conquest is absolutely one of the best Early Access strategy games you should check out.
3. Dune: Spice Wars
Developer: Shiro Games Publisher: Funcom Platform(s): PC
As Frank Herbert’s Dune almost singlehandedly kickstarted modern sci-fi in literature media, modern real-time strategy gaming also largely owes its existence to Dune. It seems that the genre is going back to its roots but in a new way with Shiro Games’ Dune: Spice Wars.
Dune: Spice Wars immediately stands out as a real-time 4X strategy game, which are themselves quite a rarity, where you’ll vie for control over Dune and its invaluable Spice, the lifeblood of interstellar travel. Shiro Games have done an excellent job capturing the main elements of Dune’s universe with the harsh terrain, the mysterious and ever present sandworms, and unique faction features.
There’s definitely plenty of room to make Spice Wars incorporate even more distinct elements from its source material to really help it stand out from the rest of its kind. Right now though, Dune: Spice Wars has a solid gameplay foundation that’ll easily keep you entertained as it continues to improve in the future.
2. Phantom Brigade
Developer: Brace Yourself Games Publisher: Brace Yourself Games Platform(s): PC
Simultaneous turn strategy games, or WEGO for short, haven’t had as much luck capturing the attention of many strategy gamers as compared to the easily recognizable real-time and turn-based games. Luckily for all of us, Phantom Brigade looks to grab your interest for good.
In Phantom Brigade, you’ll lead a desperate resistance equipped with bleeding edge technology mechs to liberate your land from an oppressive force. The UI is slick, the action exciting, and the decision-making deliberate, which all plays into Phantom Brigade’s hands. The customization system alone will make your headspin, allowing you to make your own personal mechanized force that’ll fit your every tactical need.
Phantom Brigade has a way to go to fully flesh out and develop its world, but its combat works almost flawlessly. Phantom Brigade is definitely worth your attention.
1. Darkest Dungeon 2
Developer: Red Hook Studios Publisher: Red Hook Studios Platform(s): PC
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated strategy game, Darkest Dungeon 2 aims to recapture people’s appetites just like the first one and take you on a new journey that flows perfectly from the original. Unlike the first Darkest Dungeon, which can easily be considered a dungeon crawler war simulator, the second leans more into the role-playing elements and becomes a full roguelike experience.
It’s safe to say that if you were a fan of the original’s Lovecraftian setting and one-of-a-kind art direction, Darkest Dungeon 2 improves this with a slew of new environments, more 3D elements, and a host of horrifying hostile denizens. The character classes are now unique and fleshed out with backstory and exploration, which invests you in your party’s terrifying trek further.
Aside from some balancing bumps and crags to iron out, as well as additional story and character content to complete the narrative, Darkest Dungeon 2 is one of the most gameplay complete and satisfying Early Access strategy games out there. Picking this one up is a must for any fan of strategy, roguelike, and role-playing genres.
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