I’ve created this category last year because Early Access is a trend to stay despite the problems, complaints and deceit that surrounds this controversial games launching and funding system. This year has seen successful and well made games like Layers of Fear and Killing Floor 2 leaving Early Access, while quite a few notable titles joined in.
The year kicked off with Factorio, the base building and resource management wonder. The kickstarted Hack & Slash Umbra changed its name into Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem on its way to Steam’s Early Access and has taken inspiration from Path of Exile’s skill tree to add more depth to the progression system. The Bioshock looking game set in a drug-fuelled retrofuturistic city, We Happy Few, has brought its survival mode to Early Access. EVERSPACE is trying to take advantage of the space hysteria with the quite unique concept of roguelite with spaceships. The Chris Avellone pumped story of Divinity: Original Sin 2 shows great promise improving over its predecessor in every aspect. Stunlock Champions returns with Battlerite to right the wrongs of Bloodline Champions. SEGA has bought AMPLITUDE Studios, but Endless Space 2 looks as promising as ever. And last but not least, the voxel driven planet exploratory with base building and survival elements, Astroneer, joins Early Access to put No Man’s Sky to shame.
It was quite a fierce year, with most of the genres being represented by games with great potential and launching dates in the foreseeable future, but for me the battle was between two games: Battlerite vs Endless Space 2.
Battlerite is an arena based PvP game with no progression system to hinder the 2v2 and 3v3 battles of wits and skill. It’s a game built on the backbones of Bloodline Champions following the same concepts in gameplay and champions’ design. Each champion has a set of unique abilities which can combo quite well and use a skill based targeting system to give a learning curve and skill ceiling worthy of a competitive game. Battlerite is PvP in the most pristine form, the kind you usually see in MMORPGs, but without having to grind your characters up to a playable point to enjoy what the game has to offer. I’ve spent 100 hours in this Early Access and I see myself spending 100 more before its full release.
On the other side stands the sequel to one of my beloved but flawed 4X strategies. Endless Space 2 is a continuation of the futuristic Endless universe with new lore and so many gameplay improvements that make it a wonderful strategic experience despite being incomplete. Compared to most of the 4X strategies out there, Endless Space 2 takes notes from Grand Strategies, putting a focus on real and meaningful decisions that are worthy of a galactic leader, leaving micromanagement for RTS games and the likes. Powered by beautiful graphics, an artistic direction hard to match, a minimalistic UI design that’s absolutely brilliant and soul soothing music, Endless Space 2 is set on giving the players a spatial strategic experience that we probably haven’t seen since Galactic Civilizations II. Features like quests and minor factions were borrowed from Endless Legend to give the gameplay even more depth while carefully expanding the universe’s lore. A neat politics system has been incorporated and the playable races are more different than ever before while every other major aspect has been more or less revamped, including the combat, to better fit into the complex yet somewhat streamlined gameplay.
As always, AMPLITUDE has been listening to the fans changing what’s necessary to improve the game without destroying its identity. Endless Space 2 is the most promising strategy game of 2017 and implicitly my choice for the most promising Early Access game of this year.