A Little List for the New Space Game Fan?

A Spacey Question
I Love These…

So over on Quarter to Three, I was asked the following question:

What are the best 5 games (IN ORDER) for PC right now that somehow involve space? There are so many I’ve lost count of my “to play” and “not to play” list. If you feel spunky go for your top 10. Pleeeeease!!!!

After a lot of thought, I came up with a list that hopefully gives a wide range of space game experiences, which is after the cut.

The list is such:

Distant Worlds (and its expansions) – Truly one of the greatest 4X gaming experiences I’ve ever come across. Living universes with tons of stuff going on, intelligent automation so you can ease yourself into the game and handle as little or as much as you want, extensive online help, in-game editor and more. This is a 4X player’s dream.

Freespace 2 – Thirteen years old and still the best in the business. You won’t find a better combination of story, action, suspense and splendor in any other space combat sim, nor will you find a sim that can be tweaked to fit your needs with multiple difficulty settings and a HUD that’s still the best there is. Adding the enhancements from the Open Source Project makes it even better.

Space Rangers 2: Reboot – One of the finest space games of the last decade, if not ever. Random living galaxies, customizable characters and ships, varied gameplay styles (RTS, text adventures) and a vibrant, wonderful setting still make this one of the best space game experiences ever.

Master of Orion 1 and 2 – Nearly two decades old, both of them, and still considered the best turn-based 4X games in the business. With customizable races, random events, great diplomacy options and so on, these games, while pretty old, still set the standard for which many other 4X games are judged.

Wing Commander: Privateer – Almost 20 years old now, yet still one of the best space combat and trading games in the business. With its familiar setting, accessible options, random missions and engaging story, many games have tried to usurp Privateer from its throne and failed miserably, especially its own sequel.

Hardwar – Though not technically in space, it’s futuristic enough to be included in the genre, and is still one of the best games in the business. With an amazing variety of tasks to accomplish, a vibrant and alive world and excellent gameplay elements, this really is one of the unknown greats in space gaming.

Independence War – One of the few capital ship sims around, this game balances detail with accessibility, excellent graphics, and a detailed Newtonian physics model. The story is excellent, the graphics hold up, the combat is great, and it still has, what I feel, is the greatest intro movie to any game ever.

Star Trek: Klingon Academy – Sticking with cap ship sims, this is one of the most detailed capital ship sims you will ever find, the only other one coming close is the classic Rules of Engagement series. Every system is modeled, and a detailed crew command system makes managing your systems feel like you’re actually giving orders to your crew. An excellent simulation.

Star Control II/Starflight Series – I put these together due to their similar gameplay styles, but if you want sprawling space adventure in massive universes with hundreds of hours of gameplay, these will fit the bill.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion – A sprawling RTS with 4X sensibilities, Sins is an accessible, fun and bombastic experience that can be played in short or lengthy sessions. Tons of options, fantastic graphics and excellent multiplayer round out this one.

Star Trek: Starfleet Command Volume II: Empires at War – The Starfleet Command series are among the best of Trek gaming, and volume II is the best of them. Star Trek aside, this is also an EXCELLENT tactical starship combat simulation, with varied missions, multiple races and ships and loads of replay value, especially when you add the Orion Pirates expansion.

What do you guys think? Would this be a good list for someone looking to get into space gaming? :) I think so, but I’m biased. :)

Author: Brian Rubin

37 thoughts on “A Little List for the New Space Game Fan?

  1. I was going to take issue with your 4X choices, but then I considered your point about “getting into” space gaming. I adore Malfador’s space Empires (V) as a detailed and customizable 4X experience, but a game for inexperienced 4X space gamers it’s not.

    Must completely agree with your Freespace 2 comments, though. Can’t think of anything more recent that’s reasonably close. Hopefully someday SquadWars will give us the space fighter combat experience in a modern wrapper we’re all hankering for.

    1. Space Empires V?!?! C’mon man, that’s the worst of the series. ;) Seriously though, this list is also to hopefully give the new player a full range of spacey gaming options as well as be somewhat accessible. :)

  2. Not being privy to the original request or the context in which it was asked, I hesitate in saying I think that’s a terrible list. Not because the games are terrible – which they most certainly are not (well, Klingon Academy was a bit ropey) – but because the phrase “on PC right now” suggests to me a wish to know about PC games that are current and modern. I would suggest Eve Online and Mass Effect in there, since they both “somehow involve space.” Perhaps with Ur-Quan, Oolite and the ever-evolving FS2_Open as the other three (or Freelancer + Discovery).

    That said, as a list of games that “gives a wide range of space game experiences”, your list isn’t bad at all, but by omitting a dedicated online game you’re seriously limiting a whole raft of experiences. Frustration, despair and anger In the case of Eve Online ;)

    1. I honestly can’t recommend EVE Online because it’s so user-unfriendly, especially to new players. Mass Effect I’m honestly on the fence on that one. It seems more like an action adventure game that just happens to take place in space, rather than a space game wherein space is a primary component of the gameplay, you know? And how is KA ropey? I found it just incredible.

      1. Ah, but you didn’t say space had to be the primary component, only that it had to be somehow involved.

        I wouldn’t agree that Eve is user unfriendly, only that the players are. It’s a subtle difference. but an important one. Point taken though.

        1. This is how I see all space games, space has to be a primary component. :) I also don’t think EVE as a game is new-player-friendly either, thanks to its…obtuse UI.

          1. I would argue the same about most 4X games (and I’d argue Eve is as much a 4X as it is anything else). Aren’t opinions great!

            1. Oh yeah, there are fewer things I love more in this world than a vibrant discussion on space games. :)

  3. Great list, but I find it odd not to find titles as old and influential as Escape Velocity or the X series.

    And to the above poster, it’ll be unfitting to see games like Mass Effect on the list, seeing as it barely scratches the space elements as say Space Rangers or FreeSpace does. Also EVE online, really? Let’s leave it at that.

    1. As much as I love the EV games, I can’t say they’re the pinnacle of the genre, and I personally find the X series hard to recommend to new players.

      1. Yea i know, i never thought of it as the pinnacle, more like the awesome foundation really, I would without a doubt recommend it. I remember spending weeks and weeks on that one, from the easy start doing trade missions, to reading the plot and vast stories in the spacebarm, pillage independent ships, to declare war on the planets.
        And yea the X-series probably too damn hard, but very eye candy, just flying was spectacular. Not to mention when there was a big fight somewhere, u could just observe from the distance while everything unfolded.

        1. Have you tried Naev, then? Very much a game in the EV style. :) And yeah, as much as I enjoyed the EV games, I honestly think there are games that do similar things better, you know?

          1. Yea I tried Naev, it was very incomplete. I think they stopped updating it, seeing from the site last update was months ago now (april 15).

  4. Eve Online is continuing to work hard on the new player experience so you may want to look at it again Brian.

    1. Someday man, not in a rush. I’ve revisited it a few times, but I’m glad they’re working on the new player experience.

  5. I find it odd that you didn’t add games like EVE or the X series due to their complex nature but you DID add Distant Worlds? I’m a long time player of both X3 and EVE Online (among other spacey games) and after a few hours on each I was comfortable with the basics. Distant Worlds I just could not grasp.

    1. Welcome to the blog Danny! Now, to answer your question, I found Eve VERY user-unfriendly in both user population and game design, but I’m told that’s changing. Regardless, I didn’t feel right recommending it. The X series…they just bored me, nearly all of them.

      Distant Worlds, on the other hand…is just filled with delights and dangers that have kept me entertained for hours. I can’t gush about it enough.

      1. Thanks for the welcome but I just forgot to log in. :)

        Although I do partially agree with the X series. They are beautiful, open-world games but perhaps a bit too open. Certainly not for new space gamers (i’d reccomend something like Escape Velocity Nova instead.)

  6. How could you miss out Sword of the Stars? It’s got a tough learning curve and I find the 3D navigation tough to get used to but it’s got loads of depth and it’s graphically impressive. Version II might be even better (I can’t run it on my PC though).

    1. Welcome to the blog, David!! As for your question, I’ve actually not played SotS. It came out during a time where I’d sworn off gaming for a while, and I’ve not had time to visit it, really. I know it’s good, but I doubt it’s better than those I mentioned. ;-)

  7. What, no love for Homeworld?

    This space RTS nails atmosphere to the door. (or bulkhead, depending on how you roll) Later games have tried to borrow from its 3D tactics such as Nexus: the Jupiter Incident, but for story, there hasn’t yet been a space game to inherit the mantle, IMO.

    1. Welcome to the blog Conrad Wong!! :) Now to answer your question, and I know I’ll get skewered for this but…when I think best space games, Homeworld isn’t on my list. Sure, it’s a great game, and I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’s the bees knees as others do.

      1. Okay, I’ll bite, what games have you played that do better at giving you “sensawunda”, as John Campbell would have put it, making you feel like space is big and full of really interesting stuff? Or that made you feel emotionally for your characters?

        Also, have you ever played Alien Legacy? Space colonization game but with a story that unfolds as you play, discovering what happened to the previous expedition sent to the system.

        1. Well, to stick with your two criteria, besides the Starflights, Star Control II, Elite II: Frontier, NOMAD, Millennia: Altered Destinies, Distant Worlds, Imperium Galactica II and likely more. I’m not saying Homeworld is a bad game, I just think it’s not the best the genre has to offer. :) Many will likely disagree with me, sure, but I’m sticking to my guns. :)

          And yeah, LOVED Alien Legacy back in the day, never finished it (I rarely finish games), but I loved flying over planets and such, kinda gave me the best of both worlds, I felt, back in the day. Such a great game.

          1. Played the Starflights and Star Controls, and Elite, and I did really enjoy them. Millenium, Distant Worlds, and Imperium Galactica are 4Xs, which I don’t generally like as much… There just seems like too much focus on /equal footing/ for factions… And when you do that, everything looks about the same size, “you”-sized.

            But Homeworld had /megaliths/. There’s that Junkyard mission where you pan the camera around and you see huge, huge chunks of metal that were once part of ships bigger than anything you could ever have built. Moon-sized ships. All of a sudden you feel small, and the universe feels big. So that’s what I’m asking for when I talk about sensawunda. Not that a game should feature megaliths, per se, but that the galaxy is immense, and the forces under your control are small, fighting against great odds.

            I’d love to see a worthy successor to the Star Control series too.

            Glad you did play Alien Legacy! ^_^ I’d definitely like to see more in that vein as well.

            1. Er….sorry to correct you, but Millennium is an action adventure wherein you’re responsible for SEEDING THREE RACES and then helping them evolve into powerful allies over millions of years so together you can vanquish a common foe:


              So when you asked about caring about characters, these guys were like my CHILDREN man. ;)

              And I’m thinking that Homeworld had a bigger emotional punch for you than it had for me. I enjoyed the game, but honestly kept thinking “This needs a Battlestar Galactica mod”. ;)

              1. Apparently there are Battlestar Galactical mods for HW2!

                (peers regretfully at the fact Millenium: Altered Destinies is a DOS game and he’s not got the patience these days to make that run)

  8. Homeworld’s best feat was the combat, and the music. The music was amazing.

    Space Rangers 2, in my opinion, is probably the best space game I have ever played. It reminds me of a great book; Space War Blues. Space War Blues really captured a realistic approach to space: man went into space and turned it into the same shithole they turned the earth into.

    Space Rangers 2 has a great atmosphere, the vibrant universe is very raw, and with the extremely deep difficulty choices you can create a unique experience and play through the same character for dozens of in game years and barely scratch the surface of what the game has to offer.

    The learning curve is the hardest of any game I’ve played though, and the game can be unrelentingly difficult to master. But the reward is amazing.

    Privateer was amazing too, but the universe was far too empty and cold.

    1. Welcome to the blog cecil. I agree with you on Homeworld, AMAZING music and very visceral combat, I just didn’t think it was the pinnacle or anything.

      And yeah, SR2 is great, that book sounds awesome too. Also, regarding Privateer, given the limitations of the tech at the time, it’s easy to gloss over that sort of thing, but then again, I’d rather play Privateer than any of the X games. ;)

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