Space exploration has always been a subject of fascination for humans. The vast universe, the mysteries that lie beyond our planet, and the potential for discovery have inspired countless stories, movies, and games. With technological advancements and our growing understanding of the cosmos, space exploration games have become increasingly popular in recent years.
These games offer players a unique and immersive experience, from building and managing space stations to exploring distant planets and galaxies. This article aims to provide insights into the nine most popular space exploration games you must try in 2023. There’s something here for everyone, from strategy gamers to fans of action-packed adventures. It’s time to buckle up for a trip to the galaxy like no other.
What Are Space Exploration Games?
Video games in the “space exploration” genre allow players to do just that: explore and interact with space regions that exist only in immersive computer simulations. These games offer a unique opportunity to experience the thrill of space travel and exploration, allowing players to embark on interstellar adventures, build and manage space stations, and even colonize distant planets.
Space exploration games can be found in various genres, including strategy, simulation, action, first-person shooter, and role-playing games, providing players with diverse gameplay experience.
The ‘strategy’ genre is considered to be the most popular in space exploration games. Players are entrusted with constructing and administering their space station or colony in these games. They must gather resources, construct facilities, and manage their crew’s needs while defending against attacks from hostile forces. Examples of popular strategy games in this genre include Surviving Mars and Stellaris.
Another popular type of space exploration game is ‘simulation’ game. These games allow players to experience the challenges of piloting spacecraft, including docking, landing, and navigating through asteroid fields. These games often require significant skill and precision, making them particularly challenging and rewarding for players who enjoy a more realistic gameplay experience. Kerbal Space Program and Elite Dangerous are two examples of excellent games of this type.
Action and adventure games are another popular type of space exploration games. These games include intense battles against aliens or other foes and have fast-paced action scenes. Players must navigate dangerous environments and engage in battles while completing missions and objectives. Examples of popular action and adventure games in this genre include No Man’s Sky and Mass Effect.
Finally, role-playing games (RPGs) allow players to create and customize their characters, often with unique abilities and attributes. In these games, players embark on quests and missions, interacting with other characters, making decisions that affect the game’s story and outcome. Examples of popular RPGs include Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and The Outer Worlds.
9 Most Popular Space Exploration Games
What are the nine most popular space exploration games? What unique features and gameplay mechanics do they possess? Prepare to embark on an intergalactic adventure as we look at the best space games for pc available today.
No Man’s Sky
Developed and published by Hello Games, No Man’s Sky was first made available to the public in 2016 for PlayStation 4 and PC. Further releases included Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. While No Man’s Sky takes place in an unbounded world, players can discover its many planets, star systems, and galaxies.
No Man’s Sky’s gameplay centers around exploration, survival, and trading. Players can travel between planets and star systems using a spacecraft, discover new worlds, and mine resources to upgrade their equipment and spacecraft.
The game features a day-night cycle, different weather conditions, a variety of unique and exotic creatures and plants to discover and study. No Man’s Sky is also known for its multiplayer features, allowing players to interact and collaborate in various ways. Players can join to form a civilization, share resources, compete in races, and engage in space battles. The game also features a shared universe, meaning that all players can exist in the same universe and potentially cross paths with each other.
Using complex algorithms to develop infinite planets, star systems, and galaxies, No Man’s Sky ensures no two players have the same experience. The game’s developers have also released several significant updates since its initial release adding new features, improving gameplay mechanics, and expanding the universe.
Outer Wilds is a space exploration game released on May 28, 2019, for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One. It was later released for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Developed by Mobius Digital and published by Annapurna Interactive, the game has received excellent reviews for its unique gameplay, compelling story, and stunning visuals.
The game’s story revolves around a time loop, where the player character wakes up at the beginning of the loop every time they die. Gamers only have 22 minutes before the universe ends, and the time loop resets, meaning they must make the most of each run to uncover new clues and progress through the story.
The goal is to explore a miniature solar system, uncover the secrets of an ancient alien race, and ultimately find a way to prevent the universe from ending. Players must navigate treacherous terrain, deal with hazardous environments, and manage their resources to survive.
Outer Wilds has a Metacritic score of 85 for PC and 87 for Xbox One, with many reviewers calling it one of the best games of all time. It has also received positive feedback from players, with an overall user rating of 10/10 on Steam based on over 40,000 reviews.
Another unique feature is the game’s emphasis on exploration and discovery. The game world is open and nonlinear, with many secrets and hidden areas to uncover. Players must use their skills and intuition to find the mysteries of the game’s universe.
Master of Orion 1 & 2
Master of Orion 1 and 2 are classic turn-based strategy games released in 1993 and 1996, respectively, by MicroProse. Those space games for pc are set in a futuristic sci-fi universe where the player takes on the role of a leader of a galactic empire, tasked with expanding their influence, managing resources, and engaging in diplomacy and warfare with other civilizations.
Both games in the Master of Orion series received much praise upon their first releases, cementing their reputation as one of the finest strategy games ever. Master of Orion 2, in particular, was praised for its improved graphics and gameplay mechanics, building upon the already successful formula of the original game. The game’s mechanics involve managing resources, building colonies, researching new technologies, and engaging in diplomacy and combat.
Players must balance their economy, maintain their military forces, and negotiate with other civilizations to ensure their survival and dominance in the galaxy. One of the unique features of the Master of Orion games is their deep and intricate tech tree, which allows players to research new technologies and upgrades for their empire, including new ship designs and weapons. The games also offer various customization options, allowing players to create custom races and playstyles.
Another notable feature of the games is their focus on diplomacy and player choice. Players can engage in diplomacy with other civilizations, negotiating trade agreements, alliances, and treaties. However, if necessary, players must also be prepared to engage in combat, as other civilizations may become hostile or threaten the player’s territory and resources.
Kerbal Space Program (Space Flight Simulator)
An independent game developer, Squad, released their space flight simulator, Kerbal Space Program, in 2011, while Kerbal Space Program 2 was released recently. The game allows players to design, build and fly their spacecraft as well as explore and colonize different planets and moons in a fictional solar system.
Kerbal Space Program has received critical acclaim for its engaging gameplay, educational value and stunning graphics. The game has been praised for its realistic physics engine, which accurately simulates the effects of gravity, air resistance, and other physical forces.
Players can design and build spacecraft from various parts such as engines, fuel tanks, and structural components. They must then pilot their spacecraft through different missions, such as launching satellites, docking with space stations, and landing on other planets and moons.
One of the unique features of the Kerbal Space Program is its emphasis on realism and education. The game allows players to learn about the science and physics of spaceflight along with the challenges and risks of space exploration.
The game’s modding community is also noteworthy: an active and vibrant community with thousands of different mods available that add new parts, features, and gameplay mechanics to the game.
Mech Arena (Multiplayer Space Pilot Game)
Mech Arena is a mobile multiplayer game first released in 2020 by Plarium Global Ltd. It allows players to pilot giant mechs (mechanized robots) in fast-paced, action-packed battles against other mechs players worldwide.
Positive reviews have been written about Mech Arena’s exciting gameplay, beautiful visuals, and user-friendly interface. There is a wide variety of mechs, each with different skills and advantages. Players can pilot these through various maps and game modes, including team deathmatch, capturing the flag, and domination. Players must use their mechs’ weapons and abilities to outmaneuver and outgun their opponents while using terrain and cover to their advantage.
Mech Arena’s upgrading system is a standout feature. Players can upgrade their mechs with new weapons, armor, and other equipment, allowing for customization to suit their playstyle and strategy.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is a remastered collection of the original Mass Effect trilogy, developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts. In May 2021, the game came out on PC, PS4, and XB1, with backward compatibility, PS5, and X/S consoles.
This version also includes updates from earlier releases, such as Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3, featuring improved graphics, performance, and gameplay mechanics. The game also has all downloadable content released for the original games as well as various quality-of-life improvements and tweaks.
The Mass Effect trilogy is one of the finest video game series ever. Bringing the franchise to life for a new generation of players is one of the many reasons the Legendary Edition has been so well received. The game’s storyline follows the journey of Commander Shepard, a human soldier embroiled in a galactic conflict between several alien species.
The game’s mechanics involve role-playing, exploration, and third-person shooter gameplay. Players can customize their version of Commander Shepard and recruit a diverse cast of characters to join their crew and aid them in battle. The game also features branching dialogue trees and decisions that can have significant consequences for the storyline and its characters.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion (Space Strategy Game)
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is a real-time strategy game created by Ironclad Games, published by Stardock. The extension to the original game was published in 2012. It has a vast and immersive galaxy for players to explore, where they may fight in epic space wars while constructing their empires.
The plot of the game takes place in the far future, as three groups – the Trader Emergency Coalition, the Advent, and the Vasari – compete for dominance of the galaxy. Gamers may lead their troops to victory by traveling the universe, acquiring resources, and fighting in tactical battles as one of these factions.
This game combines real-time strategy with 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) gaming principles in an innovative way. To produce cash, players may construct and customize their ships, research new technologies, and develop trade routes. In addition, the game has a dynamic economic system that influences the player’s capacity to construct and expand their empire.
The focus on tactical combat in space is one of the game’s distinguishing qualities. Gamers may fight in large-scale battles with hundreds of ships on-screen simultaneously, utilizing a range of weaponry and strategies to gain advantage. The game also has a “phase leap” engine that lets players instantaneously transfer their fleets through the galaxy, making it simple to conduct surprise assaults and defend against invasions.
Astroneer (Space Exploration and Survival Game)
Astroneer is a famous space exploration and survival game developed and published by System Era Softworks. The game was initially released in 2016 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One and later for PlayStation 4.
In Astroneer, players take on the role of an astronaut tasked with exploring a vast, procedurally generated universe to gather resources to sustain life and build new structures and equipment. The gameplay of Astroneer centers around exploration and resource management. Players must traverse a variety of unique and challenging planets, each with its terrain, climate, and environmental hazards.
As they explore, gamers can mine resources such as iron, aluminum, and copper to create new equipment and structures as well as gathering oxygen and other materials to keep their astronauts alive.
One of the critical features of Astroneer is its emphasis on creativity and customization. Players can design and build their bases and vehicles, using various modular parts and pieces to create unique and functional structures. They can also use their cars to explore the terrain, including underground caverns and other hidden areas, in search of new resources and treasures.
Astroneer also features multiplayer support, allowing players to collaborate with friends to explore the universe. The game’s multiplayer mode also includes unique challenges and objectives, such as finding and repairing ancient alien artifacts and battling against hostile creatures and environmental threats.
X4: Foundations (Space Simulation)
Egosoft’s X4: Foundations is a space simulation game for Microsoft Windows launched in 2018. The game takes place in a vast and dynamic world, with players taking on the role of a space pilot traveling across numerous sectors, developing their empire, and partaking in commerce, mining, and fighting.
In X4: Foundations, players may pilot several spacecraft with unique strengths and disadvantages. They may also employ and manage a crew and train and assign them to various roles like combat, engineering, and logistics. The game has a robust trade system as well, allowing players to buy and sell numerous commodities across multiple sectors and groups.
The game’s open-ended nature is a central selling point since it allows players to realize their goals and dreams. Users may create trade routes, stations, and industries or even form groups. The game’s economy is dynamic, with prices fluctuating in response to fluctuations in supply and demand.
X4: Foundations also has a complex combat system that allows players to participate in space conflicts with other ships and factions. Gamers may equip their spacecraft with different weaponry and equipment to join in small-scale fights or large-scale fleet warfare.
The deep realistic world of X4: Foundations is another distinguishing aspect. The game has a rich and dynamic world with several factions and sub-factions, each with its ambitions and ties. Players may engage with these groups by accepting missions and contracts changing the universe’s power balance.
Best Space Exploration Game Goes To: “No Man’s Sky”
There are several reasons why No Man’s Sky has gained a dedicated following and is considered by many to be a top space game.
Firstly, No Man’s Sky offers a massive open universe that players can explore endlessly. With billions of planets to visit, each with unique features and resources, players can spend countless hours discovering new worlds and experiencing different environments.
Secondly, No Man’s Sky allows many players freedom and choice. Gamers can choose their paths whether exploring, trading, mining, or fighting, and customize their ships, weapons, and tools to suit their playstyle. The game also offers various modes, including survival, creativity, and multiplayer, to cater to player preferences.
Finally, No Man’s Sky has also become a symbol of redemption and resilience, as it overcame a rocky launch and criticism only to become a highly-regarded game. Developers’ and the community’s dedication and passion have turned No Man’s Sky into a story of triumph and inspiration.
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Space exploration games offer a thrilling and immersive experience that allows players to explore the wonders of space, build their space empires, and embark on epic intergalactic adventures. The games listed here represent some of the best and most famous examples of the genre, each offering unique gameplay mechanics, captivating storylines, and stunning graphics that transport players to the furthest reaches of the universe.
by Danial Ibrahim
Featured image: ResourceLab. Credit: No Man’s Sky