Hi everyone, here’s the final post of my Space Game recommendations:

  • Top-5 Small and/or Indie Space Games

  • Honorable Mentions

  • Space-adjacent Games, Small

  • Hopefuls (games in development now, that I hope will grow into their own in the future.

  • Disappointments (ones that imo didn’t turn out good in the end)

Small and Indie games make up the bulk of any genre, but for Space Games this is particularly pronounced in my opinion, due to a long period of industry trends/bandwagons which publishers jumped on which tended to exclude space-themed games from wider production, thus leaving a lot more space for Indies to fill. One of those trends was the “PC gaming is dead” console push of the 2000-2010s, and the other the concomitant dearth of RTS and other Strategy games, which previously represented a sizable chunk of Space Games.

Because of this larger pool of small games, I’m also including a “Hopefuls” and “Disappointments” section here, with more games to be aware of and check out.

Without further ado:

Top-5 Small and/or Indie Space Games

5. Duskers

Right off the line with an unusual and interesting one, Duskers is a top-down, realtime investigation roguelike, where you are a human ship captain, using remote-controlled drones to explore derelict ships, in order both to gather resources, and to figure out what happened to all the other humans. It’s claustrophobic, it’s alien, it’s conveys loneliness very well, but also heart-pounding action when you need to… run from things. If you want a smaller-scale story, and more laid-back, Duskers is a gem.

4. Endless Sky [Steam link]

Endless Sky is a FREE and Open Source game, created entirely by community contributors! It is a top-down fleet-command game, in which you can trade, transport, fight, negotiate, and more, across a decently-sized galaxy. It has a lot of neat hidden content, alien factions, and cool ships to find. It also supports mods. Since it was made by a bunch of FOSS Linux nerds, you can install it on just about anything (phones included).

3. Avorion

It’s procedural (galaxies, ships, modules, etc)! It’s co-op! It’s got lots of mods, lots and LOTS of star systems, and lots of bespoke content as well. It has a really cool mix of RTS and third-person ship combat, where you can swap into a top-down view to issue orders to your fleet, and then pop back out into just your ship’s 3p view. You can build space stations, or take over systems, or just run missions if you want. For me it really feels like what I want Eve Online or Astrox Imperium to be.

2. FTL: Faster Than Light

Another Kickstarter success story, FTL is a top-down ship crew-simulation game, where you control crew members as well as the ship, through a procedural series of sectors in order to reach and then defeat a giant enemy boss ship, all while being pursued by their fleet. You can recruit different species who have different abilities, fly different ships, change out weapons, or drones, or defensive robots to attack borders, or equip stealth cloaking devices, and on and on. It is NOT infinite, and an infinite mode that was promised at one point never materialized, but mods have attempted to rectify this grave injustice.

1. Starsector

Starsector is truly a special game. It is a top-down fleet command game, in a universe full of aliens, warring factions, mysterious artifacts, unexplained mysteries, pirates, bounties, rogue AI fleets, and a now-defunct mass effect relay portal ring network. It is still in development, and has an active and extensive community of modders. I truly can’t rave about this game enough, if you are a fan of open-world space sandbox games. Take a look at the game’s media page to see screenshots of what the games looks like, as well as the kinds of stuff you can do- or check out the trailer.

And don’t worry, if you’re like me, and you suck at the Ur-Quan Masters-style ship combat… you can have the game handle it for you (while you watch and intervene as you like).

Honorable Mentions

Starbound

This game would have been in the top-5 for me if I was only considering the game itself, but there is controversy about its development: in short, the developer signed on around 12 fans/ community members (including minors), who volunteered to produce art assets unpaid. Supposedly, none of those made it into the final game, but the project lead (who is also the head of Chucklefish games) is also- according to many previous employees- a massive asshole, manipulator, and creep.

I personally reject the premise of Death of the Author (either good or bad), and doubly-so when that person stands to benefit from sales; my view is to support good people, and not support bad people. If you agree, or where that line lies for you, and whether you’re interested in looking at this game, is up to you.

That said, Starbound is an amazing game. It was created to be Terraria In Space (said asshole also worked on Terraria), and it succeeds at that in spades. It can be played alone or in co-op, is massively moddable, and is all-around an astounding game. There are tons of different types of planets, all proc-gen, and populated with various factions, cities, storylines, and missions.

The Frackin’ Universe mod is considered a must-have expansion by many in the community, for the sheer amount of content it adds (many mod authors in the community pooled their work together).

Astrox Imperium

Eve Online, but singleplayer. Really. It’s Eve.

This is the 2019 sequel to the 2015 Astrox: Hostile Space Excavation, which was more focused and small-scale. Astrox Imperium massively expands on the original, to create a game where you can mine, manufacture, research, train, fight, trade, build (stations, ships), etc. Its biggest limitation (to me) is its restrictiveness around fleets, but it’s still in development, and the devs have said they’re working on that. If you just want to mine in peace, give this a go.

Dyson Sphere Program

Factorio, but you go to a bunch of planets, and use the resources to build Dyson Spheres, and fight enemies.

Reassembly

A faster-paced twin-stick shooter and fleet command game, with a big emphasis on using the parts you loot from enemies to build up your own ships.

Nebulous: Fleet Command

A tactical fleet command sim. This ‘game’ is all about tactics. Controlling range. Controlling information. Controlling visibility. EWAR and positioning are major factors in this game. If you want to play a game that feels like what combat in The Expanse would be like, it’s this. It’s very cinematic, watching a PDS try to screen incoming missiles, or railgun rounds punch through ships. Hardcore, but satisfying.

Battlevoid: Harbinger

Battlevoid: Harbinger is a hard sci-fi space exploration game blending roguelike, turn-based, star map strategy, and real-time space battles. You are a young commander venturing out into enemy territories, to unknown galaxies, never knowing what you will face as you jump out from hyperspace.

Space-adjacent Games, Small:

  • Startopia (this is a must-have classic, if you enjoy management games)
  • Rimworld
  • Kenshi don’t @ me
  • Factorio
  • Planet Explorers now Free, but was originally paid, and was Kickstarted. This is a real love-it-or-hate-it gem. I love it. Also, Pathea Games is the studio that made My Time At Portia and My Time at Sandrock.
  • Heat Signature
  • Shadowgrounds
  • STASIS Point-and-click HORROR that is ACTUALLY scary
  • Starship Titanic by Douglas Adams- oh yeah, did you know he made a video game?

Hopefuls:

  • The Last Starship
  • Stardeus
  • Starmancer
  • Ostranauts
  • Star Valor
  • Star Traders: Frontiers
  • Space Reign
  • Celestial Command
  • Space Haven

Disappointments:

Note: The disappointments are only here because I saw something promising in them, so just because I didn’t like them in the end doesn’t mean you won’t. Not every space game is for me!

  • Star Command: Galaxies
  • Void Destroyer
  • Starship EVO
  • Star Ruler
  • Spacebourne
  • Rodina
  • Shortest Trip to Earth
  • Kinetic Void
  • Fractured Space
  • Dust Fleet
  • Approaching Infinity
  • Halcyon 6
  • comicallycluttered@beehaw.org
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    1 month ago

    I’m really surprised that neither of the 2019 “Outer” games with similar names showed up in any of your posts: The Outer Worlds and Outer Wilds.

    Worlds because if we’re talking about Starfield, it’s something to consider as a smaller, more compact alternative (although I recently finished a playthrough and there’s actually very few comparisons to be made between the two), and Wilds because… well, it’s just straight up space archaeology that makes heavy use of travel and planet exploration. Also because it’s probably one of the most critically well-received space games.

    Something else I wanna throw out there: Heaven’s Vault. Nice little narrative game which takes place in space and has quite a calming (even if completely unrealistic) method of space travel.

    • t3rmit3@beehaw.orgOP
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      1 month ago

      I actually enjoyed Outer Worlds a decent bit, but I would consider it much less of a space game than Starfield. For all that people rag on Starfield about the ships just being loading screens, you got to manually assemble spaceships, and then walk around inside of them. Outer Worlds was really just spaceships as loading screens.

      I don’t really go in for Annapurna games, for a number of reasons.

      • comicallycluttered@beehaw.org
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        1 month ago

        I did mention it as a smaller, compact alternative, but I maybe wasn’t specific enough with regard to the scope of gameplay.

        Probably should have specified that I meant Outer Worlds as an alternative to Starfield mainly for people interested in a game set in space with the familiar approach to worldbuilding that Bethesda and Obsidian seem to share a bit, and also because it’s not uncommon to hear either of them referred to (maybe a bit unfairly) as “Fallout, but in space”.

        Then again, most people interested in that would probably already have played it by now (although lots of new Fallout fans this year, so maybe not).

  • stargazingpenguin@lemmy.zip
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    1 month ago

    Endless Sky has sucked up large chunks of time from me over the years! Definitely recommend it if anyone hasn’t tried it yet. I’ve worked on several mods for it over the years, and that’s lots of fun as well.

  • FarceOfWill@infosec.pub
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    1 month ago

    Star ruler as an disappointment is fair, but have you tried the totally different and now open sourced StarRuler2?

    It’s a much better game, much tighter with a definite progress path for colonies shipping things to each other (later used by slipstream which is more pure management and might not fit your list)

    It’s free, it’s worth a try I promise it’s very different to SR

  • Sordid@beehaw.org
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    1 month ago

    I can’t agree with your recommendations of Starbound and Starsector. I spent a lot of time with these games trying to figure out why I wasn’t having a good time, and I think in both cases it boils down to the fact their development didn’t fulfill the expectations that the early versions created.

    Starbound has beautiful graphics and music and a charming atmosphere, but the gameplay is incredibly dull, the combat is awkward and clunky, your movement abilities are pathetic, etc., etc. For some reason the devs decided to implement a story, and it’s literally the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard. And even though this is a building game like Minecraft or Terraria, you can’t build your ship or any of the boss arenas, all bosses are fought in special levels that are protected from your mining/building tool with a magic forcefield. It’s like the devs didn’t even know what kind of game they were making.

    Starsector has the opposite problem, the dev knows exactly how he wants his game to play and implements mechanics specifically to prohibit other playstyles. You want to spend all your skill points on buffs for your piloted ship and play this like a space shooter? Too bad, your single ship will run out of combat readiness and explode. You want to sit back and just command your fleet without getting directly engaged? Too bad, every command you issue consumes a command point, and once you run out, you can’t give any more orders. Unfortunately the playstyle the dev enforces results in the player’s role diminishing as the game progresses and their fleet grows, until eventually the game mostly plays itself. The game is overengineered, bloated, and the development drags on. I’ve lost count of how many skill system reworks there have been in the last decade. The dev is just fiddling at this point, and a lot of the systems he’s been trying to balance for years could just be removed entirely without anything of value being lost (ECM, capture points & command points, combat readiness, etc.).

    • t3rmit3@beehaw.orgOP
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      1 month ago

      Thanks for the detailed breakdown!

      Starbound is I think very much reliant on you wanting to play it as a sandbox. It definitely has a lot of shortcomings. It sounds like you didn’t play it with mods, or at least with Frackin’ Universe, because FU solves most of the QoL pain points from the vanilla game (like movement being slow). The boss arenas actually used to allow you to build in them, but it completely ruined the difficulty; you could go into any boss room, build a box around yourself, and just whittle them down imperviously. While that might be someone’s preference, I don’t fault the devs for not wanting that, and that’s pretty standard for games to remove ‘cheesing’ exploits for bosses.

      Starsector is really interesting to me, because I don’t feel that way about it at all.

      I almost never end up running out of command points, if only because I only need to re-task ships if something is going wrong. Usually if I’m running low on them, it’s because I’m trying to kill off incoming DPS by focusing fire on one ship at a time, and at that point I should probably be retreating anyways. I can’t speak to the skill tree changes in detail, because honestly I mostly rely on them for the larger fleet bonuses, or tech unlocks (e.g. AI). They never struck me as being impactful enough to make my ship into a ‘hero unit’, so I never tried to see if they could.

      The combat is definitely (imho) about fleet composition rather than fleet control.

      But really, combat is only one small part of the game to me. Exploration, missions, building up colonies, looting ruins, etc etc. That’s what I really love about Starsector, and what sets it apart to me.

      • Sordid@beehaw.org
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        1 month ago

        I’d say that if preventing boss cheese requires turning off the most basic core gameplay mechanic that the game is built around, then the entire design of the boss fight needs to be thrown out and rethought. Boss fights should make use of basic gameplay mechanics, not conflict with them. It’s not like this would’ve been rocket science for the Starbound devs. Terraria does it right, building suitable boss arenas is a major part of that game (the golem being the only exception, and even then only the first time you fight it). They could’ve just copied that like they copied so many other things. The lead dev of Starbound was one half of the original two-man team that created Terraria before founding his own company, so I’m really not sure how he managed to screw this up. He of all people should’ve known better.

        As for Starsector, I remember there was a back-and-forth between the players and the dev with respect to the solo playstyle. Some players liked to take a small, fast ship and just solo entire fleets by kiting them around, so the dev implemented combat readiness to put a stop to that, effectively putting a time limit on battles. Players responded by using larger ships with longer combat readiness and making them fast by stacking both speed-boosting hullmods (Unstable Injector and whatever the other one’s called), so the dev made those hullmods mutually exclusive. Every time players found a way to play the game in a way the dev didn’t like, he made changes to make such playstyles impossible, going so far as to implement entirely new systems and mechanics that serve no other purpose than to prevent playstyles he doens’t like. It’s become clear over the years that he simply doesn’t want players to be effective in the game in either combat or command capacity. He wants the game to be a tedious slog where you lose a chunk of your fleet in every battle without there being a damn thing you can do about it.

        The fact that combat is only a small part of the game and is all about fleet composition rather than fleet control is kinda the problem, that’s what I’m talking about when I say the game didn’t fulfill the expectations that its early versions created. Starfarer (as it was known back then before some copyright dispute) started out as just a list of battle scenarios, with no overworld map at all. It was all about ship and fleet control, fleet composition didn’t play a role at all because you couldn’t adjust it, you had to win each battle with whatever fleet the scenario gave you. Combat is what the game started with, it’s the core that everything else was built around. Unfortunately subsequent development saw basically no improvements to combat. Just about the only change I’d classify as an improvement was the command rework; in early versions you couldn’t even tell your ships where to move. Instead, the dev added more and more padding between battles, diluting the game to the point where combat is now only a small part of it and is mostly decided by fleet composition rather than the player’s piloting and tactics. The game has become the opposite of what it promised ten years ago.

  • Beko Pharm@discuss.tchncs.de
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    1 month ago

    Quite an impressive list (together with the other posts). And here I thought I was a space nutter (thanks Beyond The Frontier!).

    Missing the slug throwers Diaspora: Shattered Armistice and House of the Dying Sun though. The former is an Open Freespace mod in the BSG verse with a great campaign, the latter a rather short but still very nicely done pew pew that shines especially on sound effects (and I guess VR but I didn’t try that). Both do TrackIR though (and I even hacked together an OpenTrack provider for the native Linux version of FSO).

  • solanaceous@beehaw.org
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    1 month ago

    I’m not sure I’d call Rimworld “small”, though I guess it is a relatively indie studio. It’s a popular game with a lot of content.

    For “small” games, I’d recommend also Nova Drift. It’s sort of asteroids + path of exile + a slight roguelite element.

    • t3rmit3@beehaw.orgOP
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      1 month ago

      I’m going by development budgets, not scope.

      I wish people would consider Rimworld and Kenshi AAA, and CoD ‘A’, based on scope or hours of playtime offered. :)

  • localhost@beehaw.org
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    1 month ago

    Have you tried Cosmoteer? It’s a pretty satisfying shipbuilder with resource and crew management, trading, and quests. Similar vibe to Reassembly.

  • zipzoopaboop@lemmynsfw.com
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    1 month ago

    Some significant other games I don’t see listed:

    • X series
    • mass effect trilogy
    • freelancer
    • Homeworld

    Sort of fits but:

    • XCOM series

    And then there’s star wars games. Stand out ones to me imo:

    -Galactic battlegrounds -Kotor 1+2 -rogue squadron series