In the mood for some outer space shenanigans, but don’t want to load up another overhyped, underwhelming AAA video game (looking at you, Mass Effect: Andromeda)? Well, perhaps you should look into a few other space-themed open world games.
Today we bring to you a list filled with variety — from spiritual successors to mind-bending originals, from tales of redemption to creative sandboxes — and the only common strand is planetary merrymaking. Well, that, and repairing spaceships.
The Outer Worlds
The Outer Worlds does not just share its DNA with the acclaimed Fallout series, but encapsulates the charm, quirks and do-what-you-please gameplay of the early Fallout titles. Before Bethesda turned it into a settlement saving simulator, that is. With titles such as Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Pillars of Eternity to their name, developers Obsidian had a legacy to live up to, and they came through with a potential new franchise.
You will go planet-trotting in a lively solar system with a list of memorable side characters. Fallout’s shooting aid VATS are gone, but a limited slow-motion skill called Tactical Time Dilation fills the gap nicely. You will inherit a junk-bucket of a spaceship aptly called The Unreliable and aboard you will form relationships with companions including the chatty A.I. called the Autonomous Digital Astrogator, or ADA.
Fallout’s earth engulfed by nuclear-age paranoia has been swapped with a space saga critiquing colonialism and capitalism. The gameplay is enjoyable — you can still shoot, sneak or sweet-talk your way out of skirmishes — but it is the sharp writing that sets The Outer Worlds apart. The contextual banter between your two followers will always make you want to revisit areas with a different combination.
Though it is far more polished performance-wise, visually The Outer Worlds is… serviceable, much like its predecessors. The main storyline, too, is par for the course. But when the course is this colourful, and companions as riveting, a journey is always a blast.
Confused? Don’t be. Like The Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds is a first-person sandbox set in space. But that is where the similarities end. Outer Wilds is an indie experience, which means while the scale of your space-adventure is smaller, the game trumps its almost-namesake with its sheer originality.
The cutesy art style can be disarming, but beware, Outer Wilds is a disorienting, weird, cosmic trip that lets you play as a first-time astronaut stuck in a 22 minute-long time loop. Every loop sees you hop from planet to planet, trying to learn a bit more about the world you are in. At the end of the run, you respawn but armed with the knowledge from your previous runs. Keep at it and you will unravel new mysteries, find other life forms and piece together the puzzle.
The twist is that much like yourself, the living, breathing world doesn’t stay still during a loop either. Planets rotate, revolve, align and die in predetermined ways and it’s your job to follow the paths. Specific things happen at specific times, revealing secrets for you to uncover.
Yes, this sounds vague but it is precisely the experience Outer Wilds wants for its players. Knowledge is valuable, and it is delivered drip-by-drip through journals and documents but more importantly, through your own experiences and mistakes as well. While on a run, you will be taking notes and charting paths for the next one, all while rushing and trying not to crash your wooden ship. It can be obtuse. It can be scary (Groundhog Day horror in space). But the discoveries and surprises are worth it.
No Man’s Sky
Perhaps the biggest redemption story in all of video gaming, No Man’s Sky is a case study that should be studied in game design and business schools. Upon its release in 2016, the game was seemingly crushed under the weight of lofty expectations, broken promises, and performance issues. Instead of rolling over in the face of criticism, the small Hello Games Studio kept slogging away. The result is a solid open world, nay, an ‘open-universe’ game.
You wake up as an astronaut trying to get a damaged ship working to get off the inviting, but hazardous, starting planet. Thus begins the cycle of resource gathering, finding outposts, and dealing with wildlife. It’s when you get the motor running and shoot into the stars that the world opens up. Such is the magnitude of the procedurally-generated world that you can play No Man’s Sky for a lifetime and still not see everything there is.
It was last year’s formative update titled No Man’s Sky: Beyond that essentially completed the game. Features such as multiplayer, intricate base-building and seamless exploration will have you sinking in hours. Seriously, the thrill of going from outer space to a new planet never gets old. Before you lose yourself in the game, make sure you’ve top up on your PSN Cards for a smooth and immersive gameplay!
Be warned, it is still rough around the edges. The early game — though considerably streamlined now — can be a little too long and on-the-rails. Bugs and glitches often shatter the illusion as well. Recent updates are alleviating said issues though, and if its history is anything to go by, sticking with No Man’s Sky rewards the patient.
And now for something completely different.
It’s difficult to box Rimworld — a 2D game, aesthetically a lovechild of Dwarf Fortress and Prisoner Architect — into one genre. It’s a roguelike, real-time strategy, management simulator. The base game mechanic though is the exploration, which rivals AAA titles.
You crashland on a planet (in a party of three, five or alone, as per your chosen difficulty) and the first order of business is knowing your terrain. You send the pawns across the map, making a list of resources present and absent. They visit outposts, forging relationships with other clans, trading your way to a working ship to take you off the planet.
On paper, that’s the endgame. But Rimworld is all about the day-to-day operations. You mine, construct, hunt, research and try to get a sustainable colony going. The pawns can also stumble into a crossfire between cryo-sleeping soldiers and mech-demons.
Then there are the pawns themselves, with specific traits. Make sure a ‘nudist’ isn’t wearing a rogue cap, or an ‘ascetic’ isn’t sleeping in a fancy room. A person with ‘bloodlust’ sharing kitchen duties with a ‘masochist’ will always end badly. And even if everything is going along smoothly, and you feel secured against raiders thanks to mines, turrets, and military-grade ammunition that you have manufactured, a herd of mad sheep can end your colony or your pet dog can chew off a pawn’s hand.
Rimworld, with its numerous buttons and infodump, can be daunting. But the glut of mods will tweak the game to your liking. At their core, all open world games are elaborate sandboxes for organic, chaotic fun. And there isn’t one better than Rimworld.
Open world video games come in all shapes, sizes and subgenres – and when you set them in space, well… the possibilities are infinite.
There you have it. Four video game titles, and potentially hundreds of hours worth of gaming to do between them. Think of it as your own little Space Station mission.
Passionate writer and certified night owl. Currently drowning in coffee.