Humans have an innate desire to seek out new places and experiences. We’re curious creatures, eager to learn as much as we can. That curiosity isn’t bound to our own planet; from the moment we launched one of our own into the cosmos, we’ve been infatuated with the fantasy of space.
Most of us will never step foot on another planet, but through video games we can create stories set in worlds pulled straight from our imaginations. Some games are sci-fi reveries about swimming through the stars. Others give us the power to glimpse into unknown worlds and shape them in our image.
Today, you no longer have to dream about settling on faraway planets or exploring the deep and dark unknown. Set a course for the stars with this list of 8 stunning games set in space.
Don’t want to explore the cosmos alone? A group adventure into the deep unknown might be just what you’re looking for.
This free-to-play massively multiplayer online game puts all players on a single, massive server with around 12,000 star systems, shared markets, and a complex, player-driven political system.
There are a few career paths in EVE Online. After a run-through of the basics, you’re left to decide your own destiny. Want to mine for materials? Grab a laser and find the nearest asteroid. Feel the urge to hunt pirates? Go for it. Just remember that learning the relevant career skills takes real-world time, so making a decision is not without consequence.
More than half a million online players inhabit the same mega server, making EVE Online an incubator for emergent narratives. There’s no shortage of tales about espionage, broken hearts, and betrayal—real stories about real people in a virtual sandbox—and that’s what makes EVE Online one of the best space games ever.
The Outer Worlds
The Outer Worlds is the first-person action RPG from the skilled storytellers at Obsidian Entertainment. After things go awry on a colonist ship bound for the edge of the galaxy, you awaken decades later in a colony on the brink of war.
Nearly every interaction matters in The Outer Worlds. Every remark, statement, and argument has a ripple effect on other missions down the line. Because of this, the campaign feels incredibly personalized, and no two players will experience the storyline exactly the same way.
While there are elements from previous Obsidian Entertainment games mixed in, The Outer Worlds feels most similar to Fallout: New Vegas. As such, if you’re looking for games set in space in which you can completely immerse yourself in the lore, this might be the one for you.
In Space Engineers, you and your friends explore the galaxy in spaceships that you build from the ground up. It’s one of the most interesting games set in space, for sure.
The mechanics are what set it apart from the other titles on this list, despite the fact that the gameplay itself may sound straightforward. Even though it’s been called ‘Minecraft in space’, Space Engineers offers a much wider range of features.
You can design and construct all types of ships, from small one-man spacecrafts to enormous rig-like structures with their very own tarmacs. Ship components can be easily positioned by using the game’s voxel-based grid system.
In addition to ship construction, you can build space stations, both on the world or off-world. Players have complete creative control over the things they create, which encourages imaginative thinking.
Besides the creative elements, Space Engineers also have a survival component. Your ability to survive the planet’s many perils will be put to the test, despite each planet being a veritable treasure trove of construction and crafting materials. Players can mine and refine materials found on planets and asteroids to create more advanced equipment for their astronauts and ships.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky is all about exploring the galaxy and allows you to visit a near infinite number of planets. There are so many, in fact, that the game’s developers claim it would take 585 billion years to visit every planet, assuming you spent only one second on each planet.
To achieve this unfathomable scope and scale, No Man’s Sky uses a unique algorithm to procedurally generate planets, wildlife, and ecosystems. When you land on a planet, there’s a good chance you were the first person to ever see it. This gives No Man’s Sky an unmatched sense of discovery, which makes you feel like a sort of spacefaring Magellan.
Since its release, No Man’s Sky has received tons of content updates with interesting new features. You can battle space pirates, complete missions for factions and alien races, and the list of features continues to grow.
And if you’d rather sit back and chill on a planet all your own, you can do that too. It’s one of the best games set in space for folk who like to create their own stories.
Kerbal Space Program
Kerbal Space Program (KSP) is your best bet if you want to educate yourself on the hard physics behind space travel. So, don’t let the goofy art style fool you; getting your rocket off the ground is serious business.
In KSP, it might look like everything you do is purposefully trying to bring about your downfall, but this is not actually the case. The level of difficulty in the game is largely determined by trial and error.
But once you know how to launch your crew beyond the Earth, then you will understand the exhilarating experience. However, the true test is to keep your crew safe while they land on the moon or other planets and return home.
Even though this is a single-player game, the community is dedicated and active. You can find a wide variety of modifications online that can change the level of challenge that the game presents to suit your preferences. It’s one of the most interesting games set in space, hands down.
Elite Dangerous is another MMO on this list that takes place in the Milky Way galaxy with a persistent universe. If you want to play online and on your own, it is up to you. But what you do in either mode can affect the persistent universe. It’s one of the most interesting multiplayer games on Steam if you’re a fan of space games.
You can be a scavenger, an explorer, a miner, a bounty hunter, a pirate, and so on. Unlike other role-playing games, your role in Elite Dangerous does not revolve around your statistics.
You start out with a low-level ship and can do different jobs for various factions to go up the ranks to be the best worker or leader in the galaxy. These jobs affect how the universe is built, which could lead to wars and affect the game’s economy.
During your exploration, you can also find new planets in different star systems. If you discover a new planet, the Galaxy Map will give you credit for finding it. With the Horizons and Odyssey add-ons, you can now land and walk around planets.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Most of the games on this list are expansive sandbox sims that let you explore and create.
FTL isn’t so much about those things; instead, it’s about leading and managing your crew on a great escape through the stars. The procedurally generated systems and events give FTL an endless replayability. It’s one of the best roguelike games on Steam out today.
In FTL: Faster Than Light, you take charge of the crew of a federal ship who have stolen valuable rebel data behind enemy lines. Now you have to guide your ship through several sectors of space, dodging rebel starships and bounty hunters along the way.
You do this by moving your crew members around the ship’s systems. Most systems require a person manning them; others don’t, but receive a boost when a crew member is present. Combat feels like spinning plates—keep systems working while targeting enemy shields, snuffing fires, and fighting off boarding crews.
Stellaris is a 4X game for sci-fi fans who want to get elbow deep in their space games.
It’s not a game for the faint of heart (think Europa Universalis, not Civilization), but if you can get through the rough first few hours, you’ll find a deeply rewarding strategy title that will keep you occupied for months.
In Stellaris, you pick a race and an ideology and are essentially left to fend for yourself in the biting coldness of space. There’s no real end goal to Stellaris, but with dozens of other kingdoms, federations, and organizations fighting for resources and control, you’ll find simply keeping your race alive to be a challenge.
Games like Stellaris are a lot of fun for 4X fans, and it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for the best space games with a strategic theme.