Depending on who you ask, early access games are either the bright future of the gaming world or a frustrating fad spreading across Steam. It makes sense why the general feedback for the topic is so polarizing; it can be hard to know if any given early access game is worth playing now. Early access promises that players get to participate in the process of providing feedback while watching that feedback shape the experience throughout the project’s development. However, positive the initial idea, abandoned projects, predatory pricing schemes, and poor messaging have all contributed to their mixed reception.
But fear not gamer! This list will point you to three of the most feature-rich, complete feeling early access titles available now on Steam. These titles stand out from the crowd as being a blast to play but also feature clear roadmaps and frequent updates to reach their final goal. In no particular order, here are three early access titles worth playing today.
Hades – Battle out of Hell
Hades is the 4th game from Supergiant Games. They’re created legendary indie games, Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. Hades is a fast-paced, hack-and-slash, rouge-like set in the world of Greek mythology. Players who start Hades will find themselves playing as Zagreus, the son of Hades himself, trying to escape the underworld. Each run, the player picks one of five available weapons, each with various modes and attacks. The leading gameplay hook hits when players start clearing rooms and gaining rewards.
The main way players gain strength in Hades is through blessings from the Olympian gods, who offer a random choice of three blessings from their collection. Supergiant’s re-imagining of the Greek pantheon is creative and full of life. Harry Thompson wrote a cool piece about the need for such a re-imagining of these heroes you can check out here.
Gaining the favor of Aphrodite (the goddess of love) will grant attacks or passive abilities related to weakening, or charming enemies. Zeus will grant chain damage effects, area-of-effect lightning strikes, and other offensive skills. Dionysus imbues weapons with poison, grants slowing attacks, and keeps the party going longer with HP modifiers. The god of wine also offers bonuses for finding Nectar, the currency for narrative progress. With so many ability mods, and with the mix and match nature of the upgrade system, Hades is infinitely repayable. Getting better at this game is as much about reaction time, as it’s about creating a smart build.
The graphics are fantastic, the combat is punchy and tight, but perhaps the best thing about Hades is its incredible balance between the fighting/gameplay elements and the more artistic side of the game. Supergiant’s games in the past have always shone so bright because of their steadfast dedication to narrative, art, and music. Hades splits the player’s time between the two, and while combat does take priority in the currently available build, incredible art, music, and a compelling story are woven between everything.
Hades is worth playing now because it’s already compelling, challenging, repayable, and super charming. It’s also a game that is unusually open about its development process, even for a game in early access. They even let NoClip do an ongoing documentary about its development that releases in episodes following several of the more substantial updates. Updates are relatively robust, and the next one is just around the corner, scheduled to release January 22nd. Hades is currently available for PC.
Risk of Rain 2 – Chaos and Luck Combined
If you are an indie gamer, you’ve likely heard of Risk of Rain. The side-scrolling 2D platformer was famous for its chaotic layering of effects and items. This classic by Hopoo Games has heavy rough-like and RPG elements, with mostly set level progression. Players can also continue their run if they beat the game. Since difficulty grows with total run time, you can play literally as long as you can survive. The player could end up in a run for hours with pickups stacking to 50+ items. Risk of Rain 2 is incredibly similar to its predecessor in every way but one; To everyone’s surprise, the sequel is 3D.
This is an excellent game for early access because the focus is combat, not the story, so the compelling content is already there. Players can (and should) battle huge waves of enemies with up to 2 friends in online co-op. All items have a single instance, so players will have to divide the spoils (or race to get them first). No matter what character you play, the screen will eventually be bombarded with enemies and colorful ability effects. The crazy unrestricted item system is just as effective as it was in RoR1, but playing in 3D adds even more options for strategic builds.
One frustration some people have with the combat is that at high difficulty levels, players can be killed in a single hit, sometimes in confusing situations. By the end of a run, there are so many things happening at any given second, and it can be hard to tell where damage is coming from, which can be a bit frustrating. Defense and dodge abilities are the key to combating this annoyance, and skilled players will learn when to keep their distance. Risk of Rain 2 is available for PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
Deep Rock Galactic – Hours of Dwarven Teamwork
Deep Rock Galactic is an incredible early access gem from developer Ghost Ship Games. This is another one that is relatively close to 1.0 release and is scheduled to leave early access this year. Deep Rock has players pick one of four classes of dwarves and head deep into an alien-infested planet to do what dwarves do best: MINE FOR GEMS! This game is loaded with charm. Everything has style, from the many grumpy dwarf voice lines to the beer brewing system. Mission types are varied and consist of regular mining missions, as well as other variables like egg hunts, selvage/repair expeditions, and boss encounters.
Deep Rock is best enjoyed with a team of 2-4 players. Teamwork is your most powerful tool, as many classes are complementary to one another. Need gems, but they are on the ceiling? Have an engineer fire a platform gun for the scout to grapple to. Tunnels too crowded with enemies? Have the driller dig alternate paths in emergencies for the team.
The low-poly art style is well done, and huge swarms of insectoid aliens explode into gratifying bits when shot. There are eight different environments to explore and several unique enemies and hazards in each. Caves are procedurally generated, so you never know what you will find! Resource and time management are crucial as your team has limited ammo… and unlimited enemies. Navigation can be as tricky as combat, and players will have to consult their 3D maps often. Keep in mind; all players also need to trek back to the ship at mission end.
Deep Rock Galactic has a little story in place currently, but with tons of weapons, upgrades, mods, skins, and beers to unlock, players will not run out of things to do any time soon. It’s worth noting that the game is a bit of a grind. It’s a long road to the end game and the top tier upgrades that come with it. The grind is made a bit more bearable with frequent upgrades and weapon mods, though it’s still a slow drip.
Deep Rock Galactic is probably the most frequently updated early access game I’ve played. Ghost Ship Games updates their roadmap several times a year, and releases updates sometimes multiple times a month (very frequently for early access). I’ve been playing Deep Rock for over a year now, and it is still one of my favorite multiplayer titles. There is almost always something interesting, new, or challenging to do. Deep Rock Galactic is available for PC and Xbox One.
If you have a different favorite early access game, let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear about it! For more news on games in development, check out The Nerd Stash early access page. And as always, happy gaming friends!
Games Writer, Indie Enthusiast, Futurist, Global Citizen, Art Lover, Northwest Kid, and Renaissance Man. I live in Portland, OR with my beautiful wife and our small bunny. I’ve been playing video games since I could walk and I’m not stopping now. When I’m not writing you can find me playing obscure art house indie games or talking about sociology/philosophy with friends.