Early Access

Endless Legend review (Early Access)

Wes Fenlon at

Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future.

Hexagons have never looked this good. Endless Legend paints a watercolor fantasy across its 4X strategy grid, and the pieces that fill those hexagons—distinct warring factions, indigenous races, fire trees and magical orbs and mysterious ruins—build a rich and deeply complex game world. Complexity is typically expected from 4X strategy games, but playing them before they're complete is not. And Endless Legend is definitely not complete.

Cult of the Wind creator: "It was a surprise when all that hype amounted to nothing"

Tyler Wilde at

Yesterday, I wrote that I'm disappointed by Cult of the Wind—not because it's a bad game, but because I can't play it to find out if it's a good game. It runs fine, but I didn't see anyone in the single official server all day. I was surprised: Cult of the Wind generated a lot of excitement on Steam Greenlight, so where are all the players? In an e-mail correspondence, creator Alex Allen tells me he's also surprised, and expresses concern about the effects of Greenlight and Early Access.

Unturned review (Early Access)

Andy Kelly at

Unturned is a DayZ-style survival sim with a Minecraft-inspired art style. I don’t blame you if you’ve already tuned out. PC is awash with DayZ and Minecraft clones. But Unturned is notable in that it’s currently the fourth most-played game on Steam, beating Football Manager, Skyrim, and Garry’s Mod by many thousands of players—and it was developed by a sixteen year-old. It’s an amazing story—the kind only possible on PC—but is the game itself actually any good?

Clockwork Empires set for "Earliest Access" launch on July 18

Andy Chalk at

Gaslamp Games is taking Early Access to the next level with an "Earliest Access" release of Clockwork Empires. It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Buy the game now, get upgraded to the Steam Early Access version when it's ready and then get yet another upgrade to the full version on launch day.

Wasteland 2 Early Access sales helped double the game's Kickstarter budget

Andy Chalk at

Early Access releases on Steam can be a bit dicey, the state of pre-release games always being something of a crapshoot, but there are sometimes big upsides, too. Wasteland 2 is one example of a game that was particularly well-served by its Early Access release late last year: In the most recent Kickstarter update, project lead Chris Keenan wrote that "every penny" earned through pre-release sales was put back into the game, which has helped double its initial Kickstarter budget.

Sunless Sea review (Early Access)

Andy Kelly at

Welcome to the Unterzee, a vast underground body of water that was once the city of London. Plunged into eternal darkness, this colossal, shadowy sea is dotted with islands, filled with secrets, and swimming with unimaginable horrors—and as a ship captain, it’s your job to explore it.

Hack 'n' Slash review (Early Access)

Emanuel Maiberg at

Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future.

Hack ‘n’ Slash looks like a Zelda game, but it’s a deconstruction, not a tribute. Rather than asking you to figure out how to match your growing inventory of tools to new enemies, dungeons, and bosses, it pokes holes in game design itself, exposing the basic programming that makes the game world and enemies inside it function.

Planet Explorers review (Early Access)

Emanuel Maiberg at

Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future.

Planet Explorers made me appreciate the genius of Minecraft’s basic building block: the simple, 16x16 pixel cube from which flows an entire universe of creativity. Planet Explorers tries expand on the genre Minecraft created by adding more options, more granularity—more everything. Its potential initially inspired me to explore and create, but eventually taught me that Minecraft’s simplicity and comparatively limited scope are some of its biggest assets.

Lichdom: Battlemage review (Early Access)

Patrick Carlson at

Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future.

Lichdom: Battlemage starts with a death—my own. But it’s just the first of many. I can’t avoid death, just accept it. It’s the hammer and chisel I use to carve out my own vision of what a battlemage can be.

Kerbal Space Program official mod brings the World Cup to space

Phil Savage at

We're into the second stage of the World Cup now, meaning two more weeks of increasingly intense football. That's "we" in the global sense. I don't know how your country of origin performed, but England did not. If you're in a similar position, there are options available to help survive such national disappointment. You could pick a better team to live vicariously through. Or you could download Kerbal Space Program's official 'Kerbin Cup' mod. With it, you're able to take your footballs and hide away in the most desolate reaches of space—away from the harsh reality of underperforming athletes.

Planetary Annihilation 'Early Access' is now available in bricks and mortar retail

Shaun Prescott at

Early Access as we understand it is still in its infancy, and developers are still experimenting with the format. Rarely a week goes by when the whole establishment isn't questioned to some degree, whether it's the amount we should be expected to pay for unfinished games, why the whole process is so darned confusing, or whether studios are obliged to complete their games at all. The latest controversy surrounds Kickstarter-funded RTS Planetary Annihilation, which has popped up at UK retail outlets in its Early Access state. The debate started on Reddit, which prompted Uber director Jan Mavor to comment on the move.

Steam Early Access is confusing but worthwhile, says Mercenary Kings studio

Andy Chalk at

Steam Early Access can be confusing. Not because there's anything inherently wrong with the system—that's a debate for another time and place—but because everyone has different expectations, and the potential for disappointment is high. Yet Jean-Francois Major of Tribute Games, the developer of Mercenary Kings, says that despite the many difficulties involved with the process, it's a net positive in the long run.

Divinity: Original Sin trailer shows features, promises flexible mod toolkit

Phil Savage at

With hundreds of thousands of Early Access games sprouting every second, it stands to reason that, sooner or later, some of them will eventually bloom into full games. For faux-isometric RPG Divinity: Original Sin, that transformation will take place on June 30th. To prepare, its creators have released a new trailer, additional details on its flexible editor, and—in accordance with prevailing gaming trends—the existence of something called Cow Simulator 2014.

Wasteland 2 beta being sent out to all eligible backers

Phil Savage at

Beta backers for Wasteland 2 have been touring the early access opening half of the game since December. At this point, they're grizzled, bearded veterans, well versed in a dangerous and deadly landscape. In response, InXile are opening the doors to fresh meat: anyone who pledged for a digital copy of the game will soon have access to this early preview build.

The Stomping Land alpha review [updated with editor's note]

PC Gamer at

Line of Defense developer Derek Smart defends $99 Early Access fee

Andy Chalk at

Derek Smart's Line of Defense is doing the Early Access thing on Steam, not because he needs your money—he doesn't—but because it's a good way to do a "wider public test... using backend tools we don't need to or want to develop." But a lot of gamers view Early Access as simply a way to play a game before everyone else rather than an actual testing environment, so to ensure the developers get the meaningful feedback they need, developer 3000AD is charging a hefty premium for admission to the club.

The Forest gets its first major update; improving performance, fixing bugs and adding sharks

Phil Savage at

Huddled tightly in the ill-light of a dying fire, you reflect on the last few days. You've hunted, scavenged, survived, and, of course, run terrified from cannabalistic mutants. "Well," you think, "at least their weren't any sharks." That's when you see the patch list for The Forest's first alpha update. Atop a feature list that also contains a simple raft and decreased turtle health, sits a single word: "Sharks."

Evolve developer Turtle Rock Studios considers Early Access for future projects

Andy Chalk at

I'm old enough to remember a time when alpha and beta testing was something game makers did before they released their creations to the paying public, and so I find "Early Access" to be a particularly interesting phenomenon. It was initially promoted as a way for indie developers to maintain themselves through much-needed infusions of funds, but now the big boys are giving it a look and they seem to like what they see. DICE recently said that it's looking at Early Access for upcoming Battlefield games, and Evolve developer Turtle Rock Studios would like to do the same thing.

Valve updates Steam Early Access FAQ, warns that some games may never be finished

Andy Chalk at

Remember Earth: Year 2066? It was $20 on Early Access until Valve pulled the plug on it in early May because the game was such a train wreck. The War Z suffered a similar fate in 2012. Both games were high-profile examples of the risks of Early Access, and yet neither resulted in any immediate changes to the system. But Valve has recently, and rather quietly, updated its Early Access FAQ to note that things can, and will, go wrong.

Prison Architect gets more addictive for Alpha 21, next update to focus entirely on bugs

Phil Savage at

"What shall we add this time?" the members of Introversion Software asked themselves. At least, they did in this fictional dramatisation of the creation of Prison Architect's new update. "How about something nice for a change," said one developer, "like some attractive new flowers, or a really lovely baking minigame." Everyone pondered this bold new direction, and the possibility of a much-needed break from the misery of incarceration simulation. "Or," said another, "we could add heroin."

Can you guess which way they went?