We insignificant humans crave to explore and discover the unknown. Things that are alien to us are just all the more tantalizing to our exploration-centric brings. In short, we are desperate to uncover the mysteries of what lies beyond.
As gamers, space exploration games are the closest we are ever going to get to that dream of discovery. We may be in the comfort of our own homes, but there are some gems out there in gaming land that allow us to reach for the stars without our backside leaving that comfortable recliner.
If you’re after a space faring adventure on your PC, here are the best ones currently on offer.
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Elite has been around longer than some of us have even been alive, but its latest iteration has managed to recapture many wannabe astronauts’ imaginations.
The entirety of the Milky Way galaxy is opened up in Elite: Dangerous, and you are free to explore it at your leisure. Of course, it is impossible for just one person to sail the stars, so one of the many attractive aspects of the title is the satisfaction gained from discovering a star system amongst billions -- and with friends.
Along the way, you will engage in frightful space pirate battles, acquire new ships that will allow you to travel even further into the unknown, and eventually reach the center of the galaxy itself. There is much to be seen and discovered in Elite: Dangerous, and for those of you who are willing to take the time to tackle the game's steep learning curve, a rich experience most definitely awaits.
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HELLION takes a different approach to space simulation and exploration and demands that you focus on survival above all else. As you begin to establish yourself as a space faring adventurer, dangerous hazards such as a decompression, temperature fluctuation, and the harsh vacuum of space will be quick to envelope you.
Many games denote the exploration of space as a constantly exciting and marginally safe affair – not HELLION. Watch your oxygen, keep one eye on your fuel, and look out for any hostile faces that may spare no expense in tossing into that deadly vacuum.
HELLION is also currently in early access, so the game’s developer is regularly engaging with the community for feedback as to where the game can and should go next. Many features are already in place, but plenty more, such as ship-to-ship combat, ship modification, asteroid mining, and gas giant harvesting, are in the works. It’s shaping up to be something interesting indeed.
Price: Free to Play
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EVE isn’t new by any means. As one of the most popular MMOs of all time, EVE Online has garnered a huge fanbase since its initial release -- and it has gained quite the reputation, too.
EVE Online allows players to create their own unique character, play with friends, and head out into a hugely rich universe that is set thousands of years in the future. Five thousand star systems lie in wait for players of the MMO, each with plenty of possibilities. With the choice of many ships at a player’s disposal, natural advancement of skills, and an open, player-driven economy, this is an MMO that has been defined by its players.
However, be sure to be vigilant in the world of EVE Online, as every player essentially dwells within the same version of the world. Battle can commence at any given moment, so epic starship battle fantasies will no longer be well, fantasy. Underprepared players may have to face off against a battalion of vicious dreadnaughts. If you want to sink an abundance of time in a space-filled adventure, this is the game you want to seek.
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Starpoint Gemini 2 manages to meld space exploration and RPG tropes into a game that awards progression and fulfills specific role requirements. Unlike other space exploration titles, this particular game is host to a campaign that follows a specific character, Adrian Faulkner, the son of the hero Gabriel Faulkner from the previous Gemini war. This option provides players a little extra context and purpose for their space travels, but the free-roam option still remains, alongside the campaign.
Versatile careers pander to wide range of player interests, and the focus on capital ships in free roam is a refreshing take on exploration instead of the smaller vessels that many players are used to controlling. The initial class that is picked upon character creation also adds that RPG depth, so similar to the campaign, gamers that satiated by clear progression, Starpoint Gemini 2 is a great starting point when delving into space exploration.
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Space exploration and simulation titles show off a lot of what we can actually do in the stars, but they often leave out how we got there in the first place. Kerbal Space Program works to solve that problem.
Using realistic physics and rocket building techniques, you are tasked with sufficiently leaving the atmosphere of Kerbin, the Kerbal home planet, to then reach the vastness of space. This is much easier said than done, however, as it can be extremely tricky to gain enough thrust to achieve safe orbit. A catastrophic crash landing is very possible, and there is no shame in saying that many of your failed rockets have experienced this.
An exploratory segment of the game is also available once you make it to space. Visiting various moons, setting up your own space station base, and going on the offensive on asteroids are all options -- among many, many others. But the game takes a more minimalist approach in this regard. It’s a game that may look insignificant and almost childish, but behind the facade lies an extremely in-depth and sophisticated title.
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Another early access title, Space Engineers combines a multitude of space faring and adventuring aspects into one game.
After building your own spacecraft, your very own engineer will travel the stars in order to claim spots for outposts of different uses. Getting this far does have its dangers, though, as another facet of the game is survival. The engineer will face many trials and tribulations as they use their trusty jetpack to travel from A to B, but it’s the vessel with which you travel that will be your main means of defence.
Construction and resource gathering are of high importance in Space Engineers so they play a part in your success just as much, if not more than the spaceflight. Exploring space on foot is surprisingly enjoyable, but be careful not to let yourself be subject to an unfortunate death due to lack of oxygen or other fundamental resources. Considering it’s still in early access, the developers appear to be hard at work in adding as much as possible to the full game experience.
Buy it on Steam
Out of all the titles mentioned, this series is more than likely the one everyone has heard of, as well as the odd one out.
Rather than acting as a space simulation game like many of the previous mentions, Mass Effect creates an entire universe and story based on the technology and species that inhabit the galaxy. Exploring space both physically and through the lore in which the series is tied to is fascinating. It is the closest we, in this age, will ever get to experiencing the reality of galactic life, and while it is heavily influenced by the culture and anthropomorphism of the human race, it has enlightened many gamers on what could happen in hundreds or thousands of years.
While exploration itself is limited to roaming tiny pockets of the galaxy, each of these serve a story purpose of some kind, whether it’s major plot points or small portions of dialogue. It’s this story that has caused Mass Effect to gain such a huge following, and if you’re yet to try them out, it is one such series that acts as a great starting point on your intergalactic journey.
Space travel isn't just a dream anymore. It's something we can all experience in the comfort of our own homes. We're rather spoiled for choice, but there's bound to be a title in this list that everyone will enjoy.
Which of the games in this list have you tried out? Are there any that weren't mentioned that you love to play? Let us know in the comments below!