There’s a high chance you are already into adventure RPGs like Skyrim or real-time strategy battle games like Warframe. But you haven’t really thought about trying out space exploration games, have you?
Thing is – space games are hard to get right simply because of the endless possibilities that can be added to them.
Developers are yet to come to terms with what’s best for an adventure-combat game based in outer space. But they are getting closer, and we may finally get a space game that will give this genre its due respect (and popularity.)
Check out the best space exploration games you can play today and how this genre might give way to the next big gaming hurrah sooner rather than later!
Best Space Exploration Games You Must Play in 2021
14. Star Control 2: The Ur Quan Masters
Release Date – 1992
Developer – Toys for Bob
Platforms Supported – Windows only!
There is something to old-school gaming franchises – depth of narrative, imminent importance of the characters, effort required to progress, among others. Star Control 2 is all of the above and then some.
Following up from StarCraft 1, where Ur-Quan enslaves humanity, you are destined to develop a fleet and save mankind from slavery. Build up your resources, explore the galaxy (which is huge!), create your battle fleet, and go to war.
Star Control 2 will keep you busy and thinking with impending danger almost always around. Gathering resources will take up most of your hours, but the adventure is more than worth it.
Strategy forms a key part of taking down a somewhat more powerful enemy fleet. And despite the graphics and somewhat complicated gameplay actions, this is one of the best space exploration games even today.
What’s better than spaceship dogfighting? Before you come up with something worthwhile, we’ll just put you in the middle of one in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw.
This is a space game like any other really but beefed up with enough adrenaline to rival the best FPS games out there. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is an action RPG that concentrates on the former, a prequel to 2015’s classic.
Outlaw puts you in the middle of a highly motivated semi-war scenario that will always push you towards becoming a pirate rather than a nonchalant trader.
Yet, there is something else that makes this game among the best space exploration games around. We won’t spoil it straight up; let’s just say pushing on the left trigger does the job pretty well!
This is one of the best space games around but with a different take on it, a non-violent space puzzle game, a highly intuitive one too. We loved the likes of Portal 2 and if you did too, Outer Wilds is right up your alley.
We loved the non-linear narrative, which is huge though, encompassing beautifully rendered planets, moons, satellites that you are destined to explore to find the secrets of a lost civilization.
You only have a 22-minute time loop to solve puzzles, or the supernova will explode, and you’ll start off from where you finished.
Outer Wilds is an excellently large game as well, clocking in at 2 hours for the central narrative and the loads of extras that we simply had to check out.
The only reason we couldn’t rank this game higher is the lack of action. And that is the beauty of it!
Platforms Supported – Windows 7 or higher, MacOS 10.12 or higher, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U
Kerbal Space Program will challenge you as a gamer, your patience as a human being, your sheer reason of existence – you get the drift.
The game is essentially built on a constant trial & error progression and an excellently fun physics engine.
Kerbal Space Program will ask you to build rockets, plan trajectory, manage funds and the lots. The fun lies in failures and expectations.
There’s a lot of science in the game though, the tutorial will explain orbital mechanics well enough to have a chat with someone from NASA, just about. But the game perfectly balances challenges and rewards. For the rest, the Kerbals will keep things fun.
For gamers, 2012 was mostly about the 3rd installments of Far Cry and Max Payne. But there was this free space exploration game making it quite a name in MMOs, and that’s when Star Conflict suddenly caught on.
Merge arcade dogfighting gameplay, sandbox gaming, and space, Star Conflict will be close to what anyone would’ve conjured.
You can make n number of customizations to your ship across 9 roles, including one where you can try to establish your own trading corporation. And there’s an alien race as well, obviously evil and from deep space.
Platforms Supported – Windows, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Google Stadia
Destiny 2 makes its way a lot higher on this list than perhaps it should be based on reviews from those who have played Destiny’s previous installments and expansions. Yet, it still does capture the straight-up FPS action that few other free space exploration games offer.
There’s nothing different in Beyond Light than on perhaps any other Destiny pack over the years, and fans were instead expecting a Destiny 3, which is shelved.
However, we do get a new destination in Europa, a new Raid, and a return of the Cosmodrome. But it’s more of the same really.
However, there’s little not to like about Destiny 2: Beyond Light, especially if you haven’t played it before.
In a way, Bungie is trying to balance between making Destiny friendly for new gamers and those who’re playing for long. For what it is though, definitely one of the best open-world space games around.
Endless Space 2 is one the most aesthetically breathtaking games we have ever played, bringing a fresh breath in an otherwise mundane genre of space exploration games too busy with dogfights and sandbox expansions.
Instead of fast-paced action, Endless Space 2 slows it down as a 4X turn-based space strategy game, perfectly blending space exploration with strategy mechanics.
As a strategy game, it’s quite close to the likes of Civilization VI and the Age of Empires series, expansive in variety, depth, and optimally paced.
As a space game, it has everything from unique factions, exploration, a smart UI, and breathtaking cutscenes and animations of uninhabited planets, and some dogfights.
Again, we wish we could push Endless Space 2 higher up, but for the lack of action, a predictably unfriendly AI and no PvP extensions, somewhat obvious for any space exploration game.
There’s a chance you have not played Homeworld or heard of it. But for gamers who love the space genre, especially the slow-paced tedious tasks of building, fleets, resources, and what not in space, this was and still is one of the best space exploration games yet.
Homeworld is a space strategy game that concentrates a ‘lot’ more on the minutest details, almost anything that can be imagined as spaceships.
Your task, and the game’s narrative, is about surviving in space with your whole cryo-frozen species inside a massive mothership capable of almost everything.
However, what makes it brilliant is that Homeworld does not try to make things easier or its UI smarter.
Instead, this RTS will force you to hit the pause button and micromanage a lot of stuff, multi-campaigning, and multitasking your way through properly difficult mission objectives.
Homeworld: Remastered is just what the fans wanted, with new-age graphics and additions, and most importantly, it includes all the content of Homeworld 2, and there’s a lot to play for.
True that this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for some, this is how space exploration games should be.
Platforms Supported – Windows, macOS, Classic macOS, PS4, Xbox One
Stellaris does what other strategy-based space exploration games rarely try. It makes a space game fun and simple again.
This is a 4X strategy game and extremely expansive right from the onset. It does proceed with the same conundrum of initial choices to build your faction, and there’s a lot to choose between, great news for completionists.
But it is crafted as a strategy game first based on a space-theme, which is just what makes Stellaris easy to approach for gamers who are yet to find that perfect strategy or space game.
Stellaris makes exploration easier without marring the enjoyment, sending a simple science vessel will do the trick, but you will need to respond to whatever is discovered.
Unfortunately, war is mostly automated and there’s little you can do once it’s started.
But what really helps Stellaris so far up this list is the pace and the outcomes. Single-player campaigns can stretch 80+ hours, and considering the customizations at hand, you are essentially building a unique civilization every time you play. Stellaris is simple
Platforms Supported – Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox
Everspace 2 harks back to the best space exploration games by keeping it an action-filled, combat-first, and beautiful as a big space game with enough to explore for hours.
There are many reasons why this makes it to the top 5 best space exploration games in 2021. Just jump in the cockpit and enjoy the ride – this is what Everspace 2 does so well, somewhat a bit better than the likes of Rebel Outlaw or even Star Wars: Squadron.
What we loved while playing Steam Early Access is its back-to-the-basics controls. There’s nothing called auto-aiming and, hoping that you have played at least a few space games by now, you need to enable inertial dampeners to come to a stop.
We also cherished the somewhat OTT weaponry – EMP bursts, thunderous missiles, etc. There is some semblance of trading and resource collection other than simply exploring a meticulously created awe-inspiring galaxy.
Everspace 2 is a work in progress, with a lot of updates coming in thick and fast. And we may just be looking at a space combat game that doubles up with the intricate economies, strategies, and polities of an RTS.
This is something Han Solo would be proud of. Eve Valkyrie has set the tables high for space dogfighters, although it does use something that none of the best space games have done yet, VR.
There’s something unnervingly pleasing about targeting enemy fighters by tilting your head just that bit and then firing a vast array of weaponry on them.
There’s nothing like EVE Valkyrie out there, and this game is surely paving the way towards a future of VR gaming.
Online multiplayer sessions form the basis of Valkyrie, and we were sucked into for hours, trying to get the controls together.
Perhaps the best part is that Valkyrie does not make this game unique with VR, just the fundamental controls. The rest is like any other space game in this list putting players in the cockpit of a spaceship.
But Valkyrie is highly demanding, both for players and machines. You will need close to a top-notch gaming rig to play Valkyrie.
Platforms Supported – PS4, PS5, Windows, macOS, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One.
Few games have captured the essence of space travel, of exploring the unknown, gawking at the unseen, and the never-ending endeavor for more.
No Man’s Sky is unlimited as space should be and few other games have managed the unbelievably beautiful procedural generation of space and its wonders.
It is truly a larger, eternal take on space gaming that is not supposed to finish off and leave you wanting for some other game. No Man’s Sky is a pure space exploration game true in its theme, objective, and progression.
So much so that sometimes, just sometimes, it can be a bit too grinding to really enjoy. We were always looking forward to that smooth transition from any planet towards the skies and then space.
However, the amount of resource gathering you need to do just to get back up to space again and continue your exploration is grinding, exhausting, and a mood killer.
With the Beyond update, things have become a lot better though. Lasering plants for resources are marginally faster, ships look better, technology upgrades are easier with the new skill tree, and more.
But still, we are hooked to it, only to find out what all the next planets may have in stock. That’s where No Man’s Sky simply outranks every other game around.
Beyond excellent graphics, it’s the art that will make you want to grind for hours, collecting resources, crafting metal plates for engine fuel, and finally get back out there again.
Platforms Supported – PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Classic macOS
If you’ve played Star Trek: Online, you’d be either lauding it right here, at no. 2 or you’d prefer almost any other space exploration MMO instead. But what if we ask you which one?
Thing is, Star Trek: Online and a handful of other space exploration games are the ones holding the ship and carrying what we believe is the essence of this genre. With STO though, you’re in for one hell of a steep learning curve.
This is perhaps the most overwhelming video game you have played in AFK mission trees, overall content, and gameplay.
So much so that many quit after a few hours in it, rarely getting a proper head start. The tutorials do help with the basic interface and mission sequences, but beyond that, you are in a dark space.
But that’s perhaps the beauty of it. Ask any STO fan and they look forward to the complexity of things, grand space battles, and Star Trek lore right at the heart of everything.
STO is faction-based with clearly more love from the developers for the Romulans. It’s not fast-paced either but should it be?
Space combat is excellently staged – skip the UI mid-battle and it’s like watching a new TV series with you in it.
There are bugs, a lot of them. And the storyline meanders too deep. But for what it’s worth, this is the best rendition of a sci-fi series into video games.
If you do end up beyond the first few auto-missions, you’re in it for the long haul for sure. This is one of the best space games in 2021, 10 years on.
Few games connect with the gamer with bonds so deep that it’s almost too hard to shake off, creating an alternative universe where every moment lived is worth dying, where the line between allies and betrayals is as real as it can be.
EVE Online represents the whole genre of space games and more than 15 years down the line, it’s still the best of the best space exploration games, period.
Chances are, you haven’t played EVE Online. As you start off, it will put you in the middle of the largest virtual gaming map, with a basic ship and a handful of in-game currency ISK, you will be overwhelmed by an intensively expansive UI.
Pay attention through the first few missions to get used to the basic controls. Upgrade your ship, stay away from pirates, and build up ISK.
Thereon, it’s a space journey you’ll find hard not to clock in every day.
We’ve seen major empires toppled, massive space battles involving more than a few hundred players, major corporations built from scratch, on this sandbox open-world space game.
If you get past the early stages, you’re hooked.
EVE Online represents the biggest advances in video gaming. Watch out for in-browser gaming with EVE Anywhere that CCP is working on right now.
Graphics are excellent, combat mechanics even better, and there’s enough content releases to keep you playing.
Racing games can only get better with simulated racing consoles. FPS is all about cheap thrills and some adrenaline-pumping fun. Strategy, RTS, roguelikes, and every other gaming genre are trying their best to develop something new.
With space, there’s just too much that can be done, it’s an open book. And these are the best space exploration games in 2021 to embark on the most prospective gaming niche of the future.