It's that time of year again where I talk loads about my favourite (and least favourite) games of the last twelve months. In this first episode, I cover five of my ten favourite Early Access games from 2022!
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Another year has gone by! Welcome to my GOTY series. Last year was a big event, and 2022 will be my most extensive and ambitious series yet. Seven articles are planned this year, with a guaranteed six. The seventh is a funny awards thing on my mind because I think it’ll be amusing, but I’ll see my schedule in December before I commit to it.
2021 for gaming wasn’t particularly strong, but this year has been insane. I’ve played a record 88 games that launched in 2022. Hopefully, this series will get the point across to the people who’ve said this year was terrible for games because that cannot be further from the truth. So yes, we’ve seen many games due for launch this year pushed back. Almost as if we still have an ongoing global pandemic, amongst other significant events screwing everything up, huh? So yes, we’ve seen plenty of flops, but I’ve also played many great games this year.
Today, I’ll discuss the Early Access scene. It’s still controversial for many, but many of the greatest games would never exist without the model. Sure, playing a complete game is always something I prefer, but I enjoy seeing a game’s development. Unfortunately, people tend to use an early access game’s failure as a stick to beat every other game. Still, I’d put my faith in them overall and occasionally be disappointed rather than lose my faith altogether. By doing that, I would have missed out on so much!
I’m also doing things differently this time around. In the past, I’ve allowed a maximum of three Early Access games to be part of my overall Top 10 list. That was hard enough to work out last year but in 2022? No chance. So this year, I’m making a separate list of my ten favourite games released in Early Access from the year. That was difficult enough a challenge: I’ve played 44 Early Access games released in 2022, and I had 17 on the shortlist. Don’t worry: I’ll announce my favourite Early Access title of 2022 before the end of December.
This will be part one. So grab some snacks and drinks: this is a long read! I’ve previously covered most of these games in Indie Corner and impressions episodes, so I’ll post links when I get to them.
Starting off, we’ve got this charming Early Access RPG that launched during the summer. The work of one guy, it took me by the reins from the start and still impresses me every time I play it. You can read my early thoughts on Dread Delusion and check out my interview with the developer by clicking on these links below.
We all enjoy big RPGs like the Elder Scrolls series, no matter how much we complain about them. Yes, I’m talking about you too. Especially you in the back. We rarely see these large, non-linear RPGs in the indie scene, mainly because of the substantial resources and time necessary to make them. There’s a fascinating one called Ardenfall I’ve been enjoying: there’s an extensive demo available for people to playtest, and it shouldn’t be long until we get a release date. The open-world genre is gigantic, which is probably why some feel the AAA average game is stale. We’ve rarely come across extensive, innovative, and hand-crafted worlds in these games, more of a giant checklist.
Dread Delusion gives me Morrowind vibes, only with a modern interface, control systems, and quality-of-life features abound. It’s seen several chunky updates since the Early Access launch, including fixing various issues, adding more content and quests, and improving the mechanics. It’s a joy to play, and Dread Delusion has stayed comfortably in my Top 10 favourite Early Access list.
What drew me to this game was the stunning visual design. Despite the retro graphics and the low poly models, Dread Delusion’s world is unique and remarkable. It focuses on player choice and exploration, and despite the incomplete nature of Early Access, it has a treasure trove of things to discover. There’s so much eye candy! Weird, devilish plants, strange creatures, giant mushrooms, and airships sailing the blood-red sky, it’s a hellscape that I love visiting.
It has the basic mechanics: sneak, decent movement, magic, and crafting. Combat still feels messy to experience, but enemies can be beaten with careful agility. I’ve completed several main and side quests, and they’ve all been entertaining; the writing and dialogue are solid for this kind of game, and the world has a rich amount of lore. I’ve worked as a narrative designer in the industry and always appreciate great worldbuilding. Dread Delusion’s world is a delight.
It has a long way to go, but the developer’s made excellent progress this year. Major issues regarding stamina are primarily fixed, there’s been a healthy boost in content, and I’m excited about how it will go in 2023. I’m honoured to play it.
The Planet Crafter
Sometimes, a game will just fade from your memory. After I wrote my impressions review on Planet Crafter, I almost forgot about it for a few months while I worked on other things. But, with an impressive demo before its Q1 launch, Planet Crafter drew me in from the onset. You can read up on that by clicking on the link above: it’s the same episode where I cover Dread Delusion. No, it’s not a coincidence! Episode 13 just got lucky.
After I wrote that review, I took some time away from the terraforming project. Survival sandbox games are everywhere, and it’s easy to suffer burnout playing them. It didn’t help me that I was dragged back into playing Satisfactory, Factorio, and Valheim during late spring, so it took me a while to return to the Planet Crafter. It’s had a stellar debut year, however. Frequent updates have continued to flesh out the game, adding more biomes, lore, and many fixes. It launched in a solid state but is in a fantastic position. I mentioned in my Early Access review back in the spring that Planet Crafter is a perfect example of how to do survival games. It almost reminded me of Valheim from 2021 with its solid launch, although the massive slowdown of Valehim’s development has soured the experience for me. Planet Crafter’s kept up the updates throughout 2022.
While Planet Crafter doesn’t differ much from the better survival games, it does everything well. The survival mechanics, while important aren’t brutal: crafting water and oxygen supplies require minimal effort, and upgrading the suit makes exploration a lot easier. I love the setting and the lore behind it: sentencing convicts to a lifeless planet and forcing them to turn it into a garden? That’s a creative method of punishment. While it’s a long, grindy experience, I enjoy the gameplay loop of Planet Crafter more than most of its rivals, and it’s rocketed up my favourite list.
My Time at Sandrock
I remember enjoying My Time at Portia on release, although it suffered from significant issues regarding performance and player grind. Nevertheless, it made my shortlist in 2018. Panthea Games learned plenty of lessons from their debut game, taking the time to work on a sequel. So far, it’s proving to be a worthy sequel to Portia, and while I haven’t put as much time into Sandrock as I would otherwise like, it’s a game to remember. I wrote up my early thoughts on Sandrock in Indie Corner Episode 14, which you can check out down below:
While it launched in May, I didn’t get to play it until the summer sales. Throughout the rest of this year, Sandrock continued to surprise me, and I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I had. It takes an exceptional experience to convince me to play a crafting game, but I was impressed with Sandrock from the onset. Boasting a vibrant, hand-crafted desert world to explore, strong worldbuilding and solid voice acting made a stronger early impression than Portia ever. Unfortunately, the village of Sandrock has fallen on hard times with problems from nearby wildlife and bandits, economic issues, and all sorts, and it’s up to the player to fix that. With your rival and friend Mi-An and all the diverse characters to support you on your journey, these building jobs come fast as you start up small with a building company. There’s a real sense of progression and a treasure trove of things to do.
It’s rare to play a survival/crafting game that also boasts a good story, so Sandrock ended up impressing me more than I thought it would. I didn’t know it would be a lousy game; after my average experience with Portia, I didn’t expect Sandrock to be as gripping to play as it is. While it’s an incomplete game with long loading times and mediocre combat, Sandrock might be the most surprising game on my list. With its expansive world, a large amount of content, solid characters, and plenty of cool minigames to break up the crafting loop, it’s worth that Early Access price.
Cult of the Lamb
Every year, Devolver Digital publishes several cool games that buck the trends many in the industry set. It must be pretty cool working there, and they’re one of my favorite publishers. This year was no exception. Among their strongest published titles was Cult of the Lamb, a massive hit by Massive Monster, and it’s one of the most fantastic indie games I’ve played in 2022.
I wrote an impressions review for this quirky, charming classic for Episode 20 of my Indie Corner series, which you can read here. Cult of the Lamb has seen several updates since the launch into Early Access, and while it has a long way to go, it’s already proved itself to me.
I won’t go into too much detail here as I did during the impressions review, but I was drawn to Cult of the Lamb through the fantastic art design and the design elements it brings. While it makes a solid action-RPG roguelike game in its own right, the colony simulator mechanic sets Cult apart from other roguelikes on the market. Slowly building up a cult of cursed animals to take the fight back to the evil gods, it’s up to the player to cultivate and recruit a tribe, see to their needs, build up resources and exert dominance. There’s a lot to do and unlock, and actions have consequences. It can become a challenge to juggle all the different ways the tribe can ruin the player, and keeping their faith high is essential.
Like what Hades did for me in 2020, Cult of the Lamb blew me away with its visual design. The environments felt alive, and all the different cult animals were cute and enjoyable to collect and nurture. The bastards made me feel something when they got sick and died! Even when I had to sacrifice them for the greater good, it made me feel something. Combining the colony sim mechanics with the dungeon crawler mode that offered me solid gameplay makes Cult of the Lamb a no-brainer choice for my list this year. Sure, the game is too easy sometimes, and I wish the colony simulator mechanics were more in-depth. Despite these minor niggles, my first year’s experience with Cult of the Lamb is highly positive, and it deserves a spot on this list.
The final game I’m covering today is the juggernaut of complexity, a game that makes some Paradox games look like Ubisoft titles in comparison. Of course, I’m talking about Terra Invicta, one of the most ambitious games I have played in years. You can read my early impressions of the game by clicking on the link here!
This one is a head-scratcher because I’ve not yet worked out anything about the game. It’s got so much to it that even now, I don’t know what to do with it. It’s complex to the mind-boggling, and the game’s rough interface and the unsatisfactory tutorial don’t make that easier. It’s hard to recommend Terra Invicta to people for these reasons, but something incredible about it grabs me. It’s as if someone looked at The Expanse, Three-Body Problem, and scenarios about the Illuminati and thought: “This looks like a fantastic game.” And they would be right. If you like science fiction, both book series are excellent.
Almost everything in the Solar System can be manipulated, and Terra Invicta tosses so many different mechanics the player’s way that it takes a long time to learn. As a result, it’s a plodding game. I’m 12 hours into my recent playthrough, and I still haven’t even got a spaceship yet. Even speeding up the game to the maximum will take a long time to get going. Space colonization and shadowy plans take time, you know!
It has a long way to go. Even though I have 30 hours into Terra Invicta, it feels like I’ve hardly played it at times. I dislike the game’s interface, and the text is tiny, especially for my eyes, but the sheer ambition Terra Invicta brings to the table eclipses most things I’ve seen. There’s so much to do, even if it takes ages. It has the potential to become the definitive grand strategy game. The developers were behind the Long War, and they’ll make Terra Invicta unforgettable.
That’s it for today’s episode! You have no idea how difficult it’s been to narrow this list to a curated ‘top 10’.
Just looking at all the Early Access titles that have missed my top cut, it’s astonishing. Cantata, Slime Rancher 2, Dinkum, Clanfolk, and Nebulous Fleet Command are all games I’ve enjoyed playing this year, and if you had asked me a few months ago if they would make that Top 10 list, I would have said yes. In the following article, I’ll discuss some of these games that slipped away.
Join me next time, where we’ll discuss more of the best Early Access offers as I try to reduce the Early Access stigma one step at a time. Be safe!