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The Best Early Access Games Of 2021

When playing a game in its early stages of development, you never quite know what you're going to get. You could find a buggy mess. You might encounter something bland, boring, and uninspired. In some cases, however, you may just find a gem.

Games can spend many years in the early access stage as they are gradually refined into a hit. Rust, for instance, was available as an early access title for four years before it was released as a finished product, and it quickly became a very popular game.

Offering gamers the chance to play games while they're in development allows devs to receive feedback in real-time. As developers listen to the community, they can fix bugs, implement changes, and refine gameplay mechanics to create a better and more pleasing game. This can be a very beneficial partnership between developers who need play-testers and gamers who can't wait to try out a game.

If you enjoy testing out new games and want to help developers perfect their latest creations, here are some of the best early access games of 2021.

Valheim

The success of Valheim has far surpassed its creators' expectations, as fans and critics are quite impressed by this early access title. Valheim is a survival game where you must craft and fight through Viking purgatory to clear out the most loathsome creatures.

Writing for Polygon, Kazuma Hashimoto expressed that Valheim "offers a clean blend of exploration, RPG elements, and a massive open world that somehow manages to feel organic." Hashimoto was especially moved by the scenery within the game. He praised it for its high detail and for forcing the player to recognize the consequences of their resource gathering. Even though the graphics are not state-of-the-art, Hashimoto found beauty in Valheim's lo-fi aesthetic. Aside from a desire for the game to offer a peaceful cohabitation option, he had nothing but positive remarks. 

Jordan Oloman of TechRadar appreciated Valheim for its unique low-fi look, and also found charm in its imperfect combat system. Oloman did not hesitate to point out some of the game's kinks, but reminded readers that it's "definitely a work in progress." Despite its rough edges, Oloman was able to look past any flaws and enjoy the game immensely.

Dorfromantik

Do you like hexagons? Do you like building cute little towns? Do you enjoy strategy and/or puzzle games? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Dorfromantik might be the early access game for you.

Eurogamer's Christian Donlan called it "an absolute delight," naming it his favorite title to emerge from the Steam Game Festival. He especially enjoyed how Dorfromantik urges the player to build practical worlds that also look pleasing to the eye. Overall, he had a great time playing and expressed his excitement for the full product to release.

Jordan Forward of PCGamesN also highlighted Dorfromantik as the best of the Steam Game Festival, calling it "a chill city-building strategy game with tabletop charm." He compared the title to the board game Carcassonne and the city-building video game ISLANDERS. Forward appreciated that Dorfromantik allows you to move at your own pace, as well as the game's variety and its soothing nature. Overall, Forward saw Dorfromantik as a comforting game that he could turn to in times of distress, noting its highly addictive nature.

Dyson Sphere Program

While Bit-Tech writer Rick Lane was hesitant to review a game in its early access state, he found that Dyson Sphere Program felt like a finished product. Lane defined a Dyson Sphere as "a theoretical megastructure that would, if it was possible to build, harvest the entire energy output of a star." With that said, your purpose in this game is to construct one of these massive structures.

He positively compared Dyson Sphere Program to Factorio, explaining that the former game goes beyond the latter with its space travel and exploration. While he praised DSP for possessing an "impressively complete management experience," he did occasionally feel a bit stifled in his progression. Despite feeling that the game needed a few minor improvements, he threw it in as a potential candidate for Game of the Year.

Christopher Livingston of PC Gamer also thought Dyson Sphere Program was an impressive achievement for an early access game. Like Lane, Livingston recommended that fans of Factorio take this one for a spin. Even though he admitted that the game is pretty complex, he gave it points for having "a decent tutorial." Ultimately, Livingston enjoyed the satisfying sense of technological progression he experienced when he played Dyson Sphere Program.

Everspace 2

Roguelike space shooter Everspace 2 is already off to a strong start. Even though it's a sequel, it's not quite the same as its predecessor. New RPG elements are added to Everspace 2, in which you play as the clone pilot from the first Everspace in a continued adventure through the cosmos.

IGN writer Dan Stapleton found the game to have a combat system that was unique from other titles in its genre. Stapleton compared its controls to those found in character-driven shooters, rather than typical space shooters. He also appreciated the versatile puzzles, the weaponry, gear upgrades, and its visual and auditory presentation. Stapleton did have a few minor complaints, including its length and some clunky transitions, but all in all, he enjoyed his time with the game.

GameSkinny's Justin Michael was a big fan of the first Everspace, and he was not disappointed by its sequel. It exceeded his expectations, with excellent graphics, gameplay, and an enormous playfield. He described the world as feeling "alive and lived in," furthering his sense of immersion. In the end, he had little criticism of this title.

30XX

If you are a fan of traditional platformers like Mega Man with a modern twist, 30XX is just what you're looking for. This early access title throws in some procedural generation to offer players a unique roguelike platforming game.

Writing for GameSpot, David Wildgoose found himself driven to keep on trucking, despite 30XX's high level of difficulty. He referred to the game as "an accomplished title, worthy of comparison to its 8- and 16-bit forerunners." He loved the vibe, the challenge, the multiple game modes, the differences between its two playable heroes, and its inclusion of both a level editor and co-op. His only real complaint was the mocking messages he received whenever he died.

GameSkinny's Luke Shaw enjoyed 30XX as well, though he sometimes found it "a little too stiff." He was impressed at how the game was able to make roguelike elements work in the platforming genre. Shaw also enjoyed the variety and the basic gameplay mechanics, noting that boss battles were a bit uneven, yet "inventive." He pointed out the game's level editor feature as a robust addition and cited the visual style as one of the title's biggest achievements. With a few minor complaints, including its difficulty level and available upgrades, Shaw nevertheless gave 30XX a 7 out of 10.