8 Space Sim Games Like Elite Dangerous
Released in 2014, Elite Dangerous thrusts players into the cockpit of a spaceship on a course to, well, anywhere they want. Players are free to explore any of the game’s 400 billion star systems, completing all sorts of work, from bounty hunting jobs to cargo runs, in order to earn credits to spend on bigger and better ships.
The space sim has always been a niche genre. Even at its height in the ’90s, when critics couldn’t stop gushing over Wing Commander and X-Wing, the space sim was never a massively popular genre. The advent of digital distribution in the late 2000s ushered an indie boom and a second coming for niche genres, the space sim included. Those who grew up blasting starships in the vacuum of digital space now had money to spend on their underappreciated hobby.
In late 2012, when Star Citizen smashed its $500,000 Kickstarter goal in the span of a few hours, the industry took notice. Elite Dangerous began its own Kickstarter campaign shortly after, more than 25 years after the original Elite stimulated sci-fi fans imaginations with its crude 3D wireframe representation of the final frontier.
We’ve since seen a resurgence in space sims. Some aim for realism, while others emulate the thrill of whirling through the stars at breakneck speed. This list of space sim games like Elite Dangerous offers the best of both. Whether you’re chasing the high of an action-packed dogfight or want to trade your way to wealth, you’re bound to find something in here to love.
If you fancy realistic sims and are open to trying something outside of the space sim genre, you should check out some of our picks for the best simulation games. Or maybe you just want to see the stars, sim or no; here are some of the best space games on PS5.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky’s vague but stunning 2014 trailer was always going to be hard to live up to. It promised a galactic playground where the planets and everything on them were procedurally generated. The game we got on release, unfortunately, was a shallow and buggy mess.
In the years since launch, regular updates have added requested features like full multiplayer, fleshed out base building, and the ability to command your own armada. The visuals have been overhauled and the engine optimized. At long last, that interplanetary adventure envisioned in No Man’s Sky’s previews and trailers has finally arrived.
It’s huge, too—bigger than you can fathom. No Man’s Sky has more than 18 million billion worlds to find. If you’re the first to set foot on a planet, you get to log and name its alien wildlife, which gives No Man’s Sky a sort of pioneer spirit that even Elite Dangerous can’t match. You aren’t just exploring the galaxy; you’re discovering it, planet by planet.
Everspace 2 is the sequel to the 2017 rogue-lite space sim that takes the series in a whole new direction. The rogue-lite features and procedurally generated star systems of the original are gone, replaced with hand-crafted zones and a shift in focus toward looting and character progression.
And by character progression, we mean a full-blown RPG system, with skill points and equippable components. The raw materials scooped from damaged ships can be used to upgrade your weapons or treated as trading goods for sale on a fluctuating market. You even have an ultimate ability to whip out when you’re in a pinch.
You’ll still find the punchy combat and free exploration of the original. But this time, you’re darting through a persistent space, with a character you can develop, gear you can keep, and a story to set the stakes and keep you moving. It’s nothing like the first game, but the new features make Everspace 2 a captivating sim and one of the best space games around.
Star Citizen was always an ambitious project, but its scope has ballooned far beyond what anyone expected. At this point, we’re not even sure a full release will arrive in our lifetimes. But rampant feature creep aside, the playable alpha available to its backers already feels like a complete game, with a list of features that’s staggering.
The Star Citizen team has been hard at work, not just implementing new mechanics but also polishing existing ones. Flight is particularly satisfying, with a novel dual-joystick setup that gives you total control over your ship in all three dimensions. It’s a fascinating experience (and one that requires investing in a decent HOTAS setup), but you owe it to yourself to try it.
The out-of-ship experience in Star Citizen is just as impressive, with polished gunplay and a real sense of weight (or weightlessness, depending on where you are). Many missions are designed to take advantage of both of Star Citizen’s halves, mixing high-speed dogfights with a bit of ground action.
Star Wars Squadrons
It’s impossible to watch a Star Wars film and not be enamored by the zippy space battles and iconic starships. Drawing from the myth and magic of this storied space opera, Star Wars Squadrons offers a new perspective on a familiar conflict through the eyes of pilots on both sides.
Instead of Elite’s free-roam exploration, Star Wars Squadrons uses a fixed mission structure and clearly defined objectives to guide you through its combat-focused campaign. This makes for a tightly designed experience, with cinematic set pieces and meticulously directed stages—think Star Fox with a modern glow-up.
Flying starships in Squadrons should feel familiar to anyone who’s played an arcade-oriented flight sim, like Ace Combat. Flight may not be as nuanced or complex as Elite, but keeping the controls simple allows for the extravagant aerial twists, turns, and rolls from the movies, and dogfights are speedy and exhilarating as a result.
Although taking your ship on a trek through the stars is tons of fun in Elite Dangerous, many consider combat to be the game’s weakest feature. Published by Gaijin Entertainment, Star Conflict is a space MMO with a focus on combat, alone or in a squad.
Star Conflict is all about blowing ships up in space. As you might expect from the publishers behind War Thunder, the controls lean toward the casual, but combat feels pacey and thrilling. The matches are packed, with up to 32 players firing off lasers and letting loose missiles like an enduring display of fireworks.
As with any free-to-play video game, there are valid concerns of pay-to-win features. If you aren’t willing to shell out some money, prepare to spend a lot of time grinding to unlock the content you want. Star Conflict is best treated as a short distraction—a game to jump into when you need a boost of adrenaline.
Imagine if Elite Dangerous was released using the gaming technology of the early 2000’s—or just play Freelancer. The brainchild of Chris Roberts (of Star Citizen fame), this 2003 free-roam space game offered a surprisingly prescient glimpse into the future of space sims.
Freelancer is more than a compelling play space; it also provides ample opportunity for emergent storytelling. You can loot passers-by, help law enforcement take down outlaws, or become wealthy by trading goods. Completing jobs affects relations with the game’s factions, in turn influencing whether a faction will shoot on sight or open up its facilities to you.
Today, starry sandboxes like Freelancer are a dime a dozen, but back in 2003, few games could match its breadth. With an entire galaxy to traverse at your whims, you can lose hours just sailing the stars, blasting starfighters, or ferrying precious cargo from planet to planet.
Evochron Legacy is for sim game fans that thought, “Elite Dangerous is too casual.” It boasts a staggering list of features—open-ended gameplay, realistic dogfights, a freelance mission system—but it’s all built around an incredible Newtonian physics model that gives the game a sense of immersion that even Elite can’t compete with.
Even simple tasks like docking and landing in zero gravity space require dedicated learning. Once you go planetside, where gravity becomes a factor, it’s a whole different ballgame, especially when atmosphere and weather conditions get thrown into the mix.
Those accustomed to dogfighting in other space sims will have to learn the rudiments anew, as gravity, inertia, and atmosphere all influence the weight and mobility of your ship. This means your flying skills matter a whole lot more in Everchron than they do in Elite Dangerous, and the player who is the better pilot generally wins out in a duel.
Fans of space sims will find there’s very little not to like in Evochron Legacy, so long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort to get over its steep learning curve.
At first glance, there isn’t much to set X4: Foundations apart from other space sims. The early game in X4: Foundations is very much like Elite’s—you complete odd jobs to earn money to purchase bigger and better ships and equipment. The game really comes into its own once you’ve amassed enough money to build a fleet.
Once you’ve gathered sufficient capital, you can recruit ships to do the dirty work for you. Assigning tasks and automating your workflow is key to strengthening your finances, and so X4 eventually becomes less about your own exploits and more about managing your fleet of miners, fighters, and transport ships as you extend your influence across the galaxy.
Elite Dangerous may take place in a mind-bogglingly large network of star systems, but at its heart, it’s a game about a solo pilot traveling through space. By merging business management and real-time strategy with engaging spaceflight simulation, X4: Foundations lets you chase goals more meaningful than personal glory.