Early Access is all the rage these days, with dozens of developers making pre-release builds of their upcoming games available on Steam — for a price. It’s a model not without its controversy, but has proven very successful, and gives players a rare peek at the development process. But because many of these games are in a pre-alpha state, it can be hard to judge which ones are worth investing in at the moment, especially when it seems the majority of Early Access games are open world survival games. Fear not, though. We’re here to walk you through ten of the best Early Access games you can get your hands on right now.

'Conan Exiles'
'Conan Exiles' is both ridiculous and completely awe-inspiring. 

Conan Exiles

Conan Exiles drew a lot of attention, mainly because you could wander around in the nude. While that is 100 percent true, Conan Exiles has a lot of other things going for it. It’s set in the brutal Conan the Barbarian universe. The world’s harsh desert setting gives way to monolithic statues, eerie caverns, and sinister shrines should you explore enough, though. Once you’ve built a base and can sustain yourself, there are plenty of human sacrifices to perform, treasures to find, and dark forces to battle. It’s a little rough around the edges in its current state, but Conan Exiles is showing a lot of early potential.

'Subnautica'
Swimming in a video game is actually fun for once. 

Subnautica

Subnautica is well on its way to full release, with plenty of content to keep you busy in its current build. After you crash land on an alien planet, you realize that this aquatic world is teeming with life beneath the water’s surface. You’ll need to survive, building up your technology until you can uncover the secrets of this mysterious world. The game is full of terrifying monsters and fun gizmos. Plus, the swimming mechanics are a dream — a real first for video games.

'Divinity: Original Sin 2'
Is 'Divinity' the future of the PC RPG? 

Divinity: Original Sin 2

The second entry in this popular RPG series is working to build on the original, which was already a rousing success. Choose from a number of different races and backstories for a unique experience every time you play. The full game isn’t out until later this year, but the early access version still offers over eight hours of gameplay, though you can easily stretch that out if you wish to explore the game’s many branch paths. Combat is turn-based, but with a fun variety of spell combos and many ways to interact with the world around you, battles are anything but tiresome.

'Northgard'
'Northgard' is a mix of 'Civilization,' a Bioware RPG, and vikings. What's not to like? 

Northgard

There’s a lot to love about Northgard already. Though it’s set in the barren far north, the game looks beautiful, and exploring is a real treat. You have to build up your own fledgling Viking civilization, assigning jobs and tasks to your settlers while setting out to conquer new lands and test your army’s strength. And while there are plenty of options for people who like to command and conquer, you can take other routes to triumph and prosperity by building up strong trade routes or even harnessing the world’s mythological elements.

'Astronera'
Some say 'Astroneer' is what 'No Man's Sky' should've been. 

Astroneer

Many early players are touting Astroneer as the game No Man’s Sky should have been. It’s a charming game about taming the final frontier. You set out into space in the hopes of striking it rich. You can build up bases and vehicles, or play together with friends to conquer your own stretch of the galaxy.

'RimWorld'
'RimWorld' has immense storytelling potential. 

RimWorld

RimWorld is a colony management sim that doesn’t spare any detail. Tossed onto an unknown planet with a sprinkling of inexperienced colonists, you need to raise them into seasoned survivors. Each colonist has a personality that affects the way they interact with their fellows. You’ll have to be their intermediary, making sure that everyone is happy and healthy. On top of all of that, you’ll have to make sure your settlement advances over time to face the encroaching threats from the outside world.

'We Happy Few'
If 'We Happy Few' gives you 'Bioshock' vibes, you're not alone. 

We Happy Few

We Happy Few is a retrofuturistic, dystopian adventure game in a similar vein to Bioshock. In a world of forced, drugged happiness, you’ll need to make your escape with stealth and some fine acting — if the locals figure out that you haven’t been taking your uppers, they’ll grow increasingly hostile. The game’s come a long way since it was first announced. Its world-building is chilling and well-realized.

'We Need to Go Deeper'
A pretty, Vern-inspired rogue-like set.

We Need to Go Deeper

How’s this for something new and fresh? We Need to Go Deeper is a hand-drawn rogue-like adventure in the spirit of the works of Jules Verne. You and your team (it’s a 2-4 player co-op game) strike out on a mission to explore The Living Infinite, a mysterious ocean trench that few have braved before. You’ll venture out of your submersible to explore caves full of treasure and giant crabs. Back on board, though, you and your friends needs to ensure that your submarine is in tip top shape such to avoid any nasty leaks. The developers describe We Need to Go Deeper as a game that promotes human interaction — it’s a game to “encourage friends to shout at each other.”

'Pit People'
A post-apocalyptic strategy game that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Pit People

The Behemoth, developers well-known for BattleBlock Theater and Castle Crashers, has a new, technicolor strategy game in the works. Pit People is set in a bizarre dystopian world faintly reminiscent of Adventure Time — it’s populated by cupcake people, odd giraffe-like creatures, vampires, and staff-swinging princesses. Pit People features lots of customization options and loot for days.

'Factorio'
This is one for the micro-managers. 

Factorio

If you like constructing immense, complex systems or just general tinkering, you’ll sink hours and hours into Factorio easily. Factorio plops an unexplored planet in front of you and leaves you to mine its resources before building up one factory after another, until you have a vast production network complete with conveyor belts and freight trains. You upgrade your technology as you go, giving you access to better equipment as you continue to grow and expand.

'Northgard'
Some of the most exciting PC projects are on Early Access. 

Photos via Funcom, Unknown Worlds, Larian Studios, Shiro Games, System Era, Ludeon Studios, Compulsion Games, Deli Interactive, The Behemoth, Wube Software, Kotaku

Jessica is a freelance writer based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can read other stuff she writes on VICE, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Geek & Sundry.

What's Next