Steam Announces The Best Of 2019 Early Access Grads With Twelve Overall Winners

Steam Announces The Best Of 2019 Early Access Grads With Twelve Overall Winners
Credit: Valve via Steam

It’s not an uncommon notion for PC gamers to ignore Early Access titles, as it’s exhausting to be burned again and again by the likes of StarForge and DayZ, that slowly iterate on broken foundations and refuse to communicate clearly as to what they’re working on.  Such titles litter the Steam platform, with games that may have had a decent theory behind them, but abysmal execution that never becomes complete, or rushed to release so the developers can forget the title ever existed.

Yet for every three Early Access titles that are destined to be no more than nice ideas, there’s a title that is destined for something greater: a fully-fledged release with consistent love being added once that release date has come and gone.  In Steam’s recent unveiling of titles of the Best-Selling of 2019, they also have a genre called Early Access Grads.  Games that not only managed to graduate past Early Access into a released game, but those that did so with style, panache, and sales.

They break these games up by medals awarded, with 12 Platinum winners, twelve Gold winners, and 26 silver awards that appears all-encompassing of titles that exited Steam’s Early Access program in 2019.  We’ll focus on the twelve Platinum winners, appearing as the cream of the crop in terms of titles that came out.  If you’ve been wondering what you should throw your money at this Steam Sale, this is a great list to get you started.

#1 – Green Hell

Entered Early Access: August 29, 2018

Released: September 5, 2019

The first listed Platinum award goes to Green Hell, which is yet another survival game.  Developed and published by Creepy Jar, this one dumps you unceremoniously into the lush Amazonian rainforest (before it was intentionally burned down to make room for industrial zones), and players use realistic survival techniques to live for another day as they try to get to the bottom of why you’re there because you apparently forgot (consistent plotline, isn’t it?).

Green Hell has all the hunting, farming, diseases, and building you could possibly want to experience from the comfort of your PC, and the realism doesn’t stop at survival techniques.  The map itself is a healthy part of the Amazon Rainforest (again, pre-fire) that allows you to explore farther than you’d ultimately wish to.  You can inspect your own body to discover parasites that are burrowing into your flesh, discover wounds that are affecting you, and attempt to treat yourself.

The title also explores the psychological effects of isolation, fear, and the struggle against nature, ultimately offering an entire psychological health system that affects your personal condition and ability.  With an actual story taking place in this open-world survival builder, it’s very much worth exploring, although not for the faint of heart.  Plus, you can explore what the Amazon Rainforest used to look like.  You know, before the ‘accident’.

#2 – Beat Saber

Entered Early Access: May 1, 2018

Released: May 29, 2019

Be still our beating hearts, it’s a sign of the times when VR-exclusive games start appearing in best-of lists.  Scarcity of consumers notwithstanding, Beat Saber comes in at an impressive #2 spot of the Platinum list of Early Access Graduates.  Brought by developer Beat Games (the rhythm-type, not interpersonal action) Beat Saber is a VR exclusive that has managed to top many lists in 2019 for its addictive and simplistic gameplay loop.

Players hold two sabers made of light (not lightsabers) and hit blocks that are color-coded, with an arrow denoting which way the block should be smashed.  There are also obstacles that players must avoid that come at them along with the beats.  It’s a relatively simplistic title, but the core gameplay loop is so satisfying and fun that it continues to crush their competition.  With the ability to mod in new custom songs and challenges, it’s a fantastic title.

It may be worth noting that in Steam’s platform, the developers of Beat Saber claim that the game will turn you into a dancing superhero.  Please, for the sake of humanity, do not go into the club and pretend to Beat Saber.  You’ll hurt yourself, those around you, and irrevocably wound your pride.

#3 – Oxygen Not Included

Entered Early Access: February 16, 2017

Released: July 30, 2019

We’ve discussed Oxygen Not Included in the past, developed and published by Klei Entertainment.  You’re crashed into a planet, and you must dig and set up amenities for your colonists.  Crashed into a planet, as in you are somehow miles deep inside some galactic rock every time you start a new game.

As the title implies, oxygen management is necessary for your survivors to live in the planet, and one of many resources you’ll need to keep track of as you attempt to give your stranded colonists the life that you wish you had in a first-world country.  You’ll take your colonists through branching research trees, continue to dig for precious resources and manage their bodily waste in a way that doesn’t slosh around the sleeping quarters.

The silly animations of your colonists shouldn’t deceive you into thinking it’s a simple game; the depth and strategy are found in Oxygen Not Included in spades, as you must stay a few steps ahead of your colony’s development.  Thermodynamics, power grids, pipes for water and waste (don’t mix them, please), tracking produced gasses and recycling all become commonplace in the struggle to give your colonists something just a little bit better than they already have.

#4 Ring of Elysium

Entered Early Access: September 19, 2018

Released: June 24, 2019

Note: Dates on the Steam page are incorrect, and do not match the patch notes.

It’s impossible to escape the battle-royale genre in the modern era.  Ring of Elysium, brought about by development studio Aurora Studio, is a battle-royale.  This entails everything that makes the battle-royale genre; pick up weapons, try to stay safe, drop into the arena with a bunch of other players.  Those parts are currently so ubiquitous within the genre they are hardly worth mentioning.  Ring of Elysium does a few things differently, however.

Instead of a shrinking safe zone that shields you from the storm, the safe zone remains the same size and travels around the map.  Players outside of the safe zone need to find oxygen (which isn’t included) to live outside of the zone.  Travel is a bit more free-flowing than other genres, with hang-gliders, grappling hooks, and mountain bikes able to be found around the map.

Worth noting that there is no anti-cheat, and the game is free to play.  Take away from that what you will.

#5 – My Time At Portia

Entered Early Access: June 28, 2017

Released: January 15, 2019

My Time At Portia came upon Steam suddenly, in a furious storm of Early Access and patch notes.  It seemingly came out of nowhere and began eating through any free time that players were willing to offer it.  It’s a cutesy farming gem that pits players in the situation of arriving in a town called Portia, inheriting their Fathers neglected stead, and beginning to build, craft, and farm their way to victory.

It’s almost a 3D Stardew Valley, but not to the point that it should be considered a Stardew Valley knock-off.  My Time At Portia is a charming foray into a sleepy town where you explore, fight, and build relationships with many charming citizens in an equally charming environment.  Holidays come and go, there’s a creepy cult that you get to interact with, and various dungeons for you to delve at the request of the townsfolk.

It can become grindy without warning and dumping hundreds of hours into this game without completing it is knowledge that one should be forearmed with.  If you’re looking to sit back and enjoy your evening, though, My Time At Portia will likely not disappoint you.  Just wave your free time goodbye as you’re installing.

#6 – Space Engineers

Entered Early Access: October 23, 2013

Released: February 28, 2019

Occasionally a title comes along that doesn’t sit well with the players until they dump twenty hours into the game, figuring out every possible mechanic that developers have poured into a game.  Space Engineers is one such title, a sandbox where you can construct almost anything imaginable, and go anywhere imaginable, if you can exhibit patience while figuring out the staggering amount of depth the title offers.

Developed by Keen Software House, the developers recommend watching a YouTube tutorial series that ranges about two hours in totality, and that’s just for the basics.  Know what you’re biting is the veritable name of the game in this title.  If you can work with the tutorials, and checking the wiki with resounding regularity, you’re in for an unprecedented treat.  It somehow makes the incessant tutorials and confusion worth it.

Space Engineers space engineers (ha) can create planet destroyers, spaceships for mining, battle, or both, orbiting space stations, and dang near anything else they want.  If you’ve had enough three-dimensional movement, you can drop onto a planet and build houses, vehicles, miners, perimeters; the sky is not even close to the limit in this title.

Find a couple of equally dedicated nerds that want to explore the vastness of space in an almost infinite galaxy and prepare to lose thousands of hours of your life.

#7 – They Are Billions

Entered Early Access: December 13, 2017

Released: June 18, 2019

Strategic survival game They Are Billions was crafted and published by Numantion Games, where players are charged with crafting a colony with functional resource management and enduring endless waves of undead attempting to infect their colonists.  If a zombie can get one of your citizens, you’re dealing with two zombies.

This domino-style of gameplay can end up very overwhelming, very quickly, if you’re not properly micromanaging your citizens and soldiers to survive the onslaught.  You’ll also have towers that you can set around your perimeter that you craft and research, and those towers can help mitigate the hordes of undead that you’re fighting off.

No matter how well you do, eventually, the hordes will win if you’re in the sandbox mode, so it’s a question of how long you could possibly last.  The campaign that had many excited for the title in Early Access eventually ended up falling a bit flat, but the sandbox gameplay is still worth exploring.

#8 – PC Building Simulator

Entered Early Access: March 27, 2018; Itch version playable as early as September 7, 2017

Released: January 29, 2019

Indie games are the veritable bastion of defense against main-stream publishers regurgitating the same successful game mechanics ad nauseum with more and more levels of polish.  PC Building Simulator is refreshingly unique, tasking players with (as you may have guessed) building a PC.  Brought about by developers Claudiu Kiss and The Irregular Corporation, PC Building Simulator has players starting their very own PC repair shop.

You’ll have licensed components on hand from a staggering number of hardware companies, actual hardware and software abilities for diagnosing issues, and a huge variety of parts for you to play with.  It’s as close to nirvana as some could achieve, being able to tinker with all this hardware without taking out a second mortgage.  Put all those expensive pieces together, and then get benchmarks for your rig.  You can even enter the BIOS and overclock all the pieces without too much concern about frying your parts.

It’s a brilliant take of something that most PC gamers are at least somewhat familiar with, and PC Building Simulator allows you to learn the nitty-gritty details in an easy and safe environment.  Even if you’re not entirely familiar with PC building, this title can easily teach you everything from the most basic of concepts to the most esoteric theories of hardware.

#9 – Astroneer

Entered Early Access: December 16, 2016

Released: February 6, 2019

Astroneer was developed by System Era Softworks, has been in Early Access since around 2016.  The jump from Early Access to a full release was a relatively quiet and recent, and System Era Softworks have reinforced their claim that they’re planning on continuing to developer free updates and mechanics for the game going forward.

Where other games encourage players to use the various materials and resources to build houses, cities, and almost anything else they can fathom, Astroneer is a bit more directed than that, despite being an open-world survival builder.  Players land at a planet and attempt to awaken the planet and jump to the next one.  Once you’ve awakened the planet, there isn’t too much else left to do there.  You can build prefabricated objects by bringing the materials (and there is a wealth of things to build), but you likely won’t find yourself building massive castles in this title.

With a total of seven planets to explore, and voxel-based terrain editing allowing you to dig and build as you see fit, it’s a decent way to spend a week or so with up to three other friends.

#10 – Hunt: Showdown

Entered Early Access: February 22, 1028

Released: August 27, 2019

Competitive PvPvE first-person-shooter, Hunt: Showdown was developed by Crytek.  Its quasi-battle-royale style has players hunting bounties by collecting clues strewn across a map and hunting each other when a bounty was collected by a hunter.

Its western-style can bring about bitter-sweet emotions, however; it’s a genre ripe for more games and serviced surprisingly little.  So those that prefer more single-player oriented games that they can explore at their own pace may be turned off by the forced PvP aspect.  Survivors that perish (either at the hands of monsters or other players) are gone forever, along with the weapons they carried, making combat a pulse-pounding fight for survival.

Whether you live or die, you begin again from the main menu and receive a new bounty to attempt to track down, along with 19 other players to compete against.

Experience that has been gained by completing bounties (and successfully turning those bounties in while alive) goes into a shared XP pool that can be shared among all other survivors one owns, past and present.  Crytek continues to add content to the title, although one should be wary of them adding characters that are purchasable with money only.

#11 – Slay the Spire

Entered Early Access: January 23, 2019

Released: November 14, 2017

It’s almost strange how Slay the Spire is so far down in the list of accolades, as the title developed and published by Mega Crit Games has experienced almost unrivaled success on every platform they’ve released it on.  Slay the Spire reignited the card-game platform genre single-handedly, showing developers that card-games can be far more than purchasing decks to compete with other players.

The goal of Slay the Spire is relatively simple; picking one of three currently available heroes, you attempt to work through three maps to reach the spire, with the goal being to kill the heart of the spire itself.  Combat takes form of a deck of cards; you begin with relatively simple attacking and defending cards, and slowly build up your deck to include boisterous powers that you’ll l celebrate every time you draw them.

With artifacts that grant you differing powers and abilities (positive or negative), the ability to upgrade your favorite cards, and a whole bunch of unlocks that you’ll earn with every run, Slay the Spire has well-earned its spot in this list.  If you’re wondering where the card-games that are beginning to be announced are stemming from, Slay the Spire is the successful culprit.

#12 – BATTALION 1944

Entered Early Access: February 1, 2018

Released: May 23, 2019

BATTALION 1944 is a multiplayer FPS set in the second world war and developed by Bulkhead Interactive.  Published by Square Enix, it’s one of the few games on this list that isn’t an indie title, making its current state a bit of a puzzle.  There have been a couple of arguably bad development decisions that have continued to suffocate the love that fans have expressed towards this game that was striving to be a classic multiplayer FPS with 5v5 combat.

Unfortunately, if you haven’t already purchased and played the game, you’re pretty much out of luck; the balancing isn’t friendly to new players, and veterans have unlocked weaponry that will decimate you before you take a singular step outside of your spawn.  Thankfully that’s not too much a problem, as the player count sits comfortably around 200 for much of the time, so most of your matches will be played primarily against bots.

The bots themselves aren’t too good either, as they consistently forget they have a weapon other than a knife, and roam around in packs attempting to knife human players.  It’d be funnier if it wasn’t a $20 game with a massive publisher backing them up.

That rounds out the list of the Steam’s 12 best Early Access Graduates, as measured in Gross Revenue.  There are a surprising number of gems that may still be yet undiscovered by some; it’s worth peeking and seeing if you have an unrelenting need to add them to your library.