25 Best Space Exploration Games (on Consoles & PC)

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Humans are hardwired to dream of discovery and exploration. We wish to understand what surrounds us, from the bottom of the seas to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

That’s where video games come in.

Few of us will ever stand on the Moon or approach the surface of Mars. Still, developers worldwide are putting in the work to bring us the most exhilarating space-exploration experiences possible.

Whether you’re passionate about setting up a colony on Mars, designing the ship to get us there, or just cruising through the stars, you’ll find something in our ranking of the absolute coolest space exploration video games ever released.

 

25. Star Conflict (2012)

Star Conflict gameplay

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Steam

A favorite space fantasy of many is just piloting their spaceship around shooting down space pirates for cash like Boba Fett.

Developed by Star Gem Inc., Star Conflict focuses on small-scale dogfights in PvE or PvP, where skill determines who lives and who dies.

There’s a wide array of ships to acquire, ranging from agile corvettes to massive destroyers.

Regardless of what you pick, you can be sure you’ll be flying in style. Star Conflict features some of the most bad-ass spaceship designs I’ve ever seen hands-down.

 

24. Metroid Prime Series (since 2002)

Metroid Prime Series game

Platforms: All major platforms, too many to list!

Metroid Prime series doesn’t let you cruise around space at your leisure.

But few other games present such well-designed and intriguing planets to explore on foot.

It’s a vicious universe full of ancient races and dangerous lifeforms, and it’s up to Samus Aran to lend a hand whenever something gets out of control.

The game will take you to fuming magma worlds, humid jungle-like biomes, and many abandoned ancient ruins from precursor races like the mysterious Chozo. Not to mention it’s been running on dozens of consoles for years so there’s a lot of variety out there.

 

23. Mass Effect Trilogy (2007-2012)

Mass Effect Trilogy gameplay

Platforms: PC, Mobile, All Major Consoles

BioWare’s Mass Effect Trilogy offers a similar experience.

Commander Shepard visits all kinds of alien worlds while chasing Space Pirates, stopping inter-species wars, and looking for ways to stop the ancient Reapers from ending all life in the galaxy.

Where Metroid Prime presents an isolating exploration experience, half of Shepard’s exploration comes down to meeting and negotiating with local intelligent species.

It’s a story set in a living, breathing galactic community. And it sheds some life on what it could be like to live as a member of a spacefaring civilization.

 

22. Distant Worlds: Universe (2014)

Distant Worlds: Universe gameplay

Platforms: PC

In Code Force’s Distant Worlds: Universe, you’ll have to micromanage trading, colonizing, and waging war for a budding empire. All in a stupidly vast custom-made galaxy.

This colossal scale is what sets Distant Worlds apart from some mainstream titles.

One of its best features is how many elements you can modify whenever you create a new galaxy to play in.

Any small tweak to the variables, which go from the geological to the demographic, can give you an entirely different experience. So yes, lots of replay value here.

 

21. Eve Valkyrie (2016)

Eve Valkyrie game screenshot

Platforms: PC, PS4

The Eve franchise has been spawning spacefaring games for decades. And while CCP’s main project continues to be Eve Online, they’ve also made some other excellent titles – like Eve Valkyrie.

This space dogfighting simulator puts you directly inside the cockpit of your battleship thanks to VR technology.

Immersion is the top priority, which is why this cockpit is such a work of art.

But immersion means nothing without good gameplay. And this game has fun gameplay in spades.

After some introductory single-player missions to teach you the ropes, you’ll go right into frantic 8-player shootouts that perfectly capture the chaos of space battles.

 

20. Destiny 2 (2017)

Destiny 2 gameplay

Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One

Bungie’s space-fantasy IP isn’t so much about exploring the universe, as it is about defending your homeworld from other spacefaring races.

Still, you’ll experience plenty of alien-world charm while exploring the colossal spaceships of the Red Legion, the corrupted nests of the Hive, or the advanced simulations of the Vex.

Most importantly you’ll get a lot of loot, which you’ll need to overcome the narrative-guided PvE missions or survive in the fast-paced PvP.

 

19. FTL: Faster Than Light (2012)

FTL: Faster Than Light

Platforms: PC, macOS, Linux, iOS

While most space-exploration games focus on lush graphics and beautiful vistas, Subset Games’ FTL presents you with a basic GUI representing your ship and calls it a day.

Its unique gameplay is mostly text-based, having you captain your ship towards your destination. All the while doing your best to avoid space pirates and hopefully escaping with your life.

Unless you’re a total master of strategy, there’s a lot of death and failure in your future.

But each time you’ll come back stronger and more prepared for the journey ahead.

 

18. Observation (2019)

Observation space exploration game

Platforms: PC, PS4

Developed by No Code, Observation plays like a puzzle game and reads like a suspenseful horror story.

You’ll play as Sam, a space station AI charged with helping Dr. Emma Fisher survive a disaster after everyone else in her crew disappears.

That means going around solving puzzles to fix diverse systems and guiding Dr. Fisher through the facilities.

I know that doesn’t sound too exciting, but the thrilling narrative full of plot twists is sure to keep you hooked until the end. Not to mention the voice acting here is just fantastic.

 

17. Surviving Mars (2018)

Surviving Mars gameplay

Platforms: PC, MacOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One

Haemimont Games’ Surviving Mars gives you a more specific challenge than most open-ended city-builders do: You must survive the ruthless environment of the red planet.

To do this you’ll need to manage energy, oxygen, and many other scarce resources to keep your society going.

This hardcore survival city-builder is among the best I’ve ever played. And the biosphere colony aesthetic is just out of this world.

We’ve even collected some really cool mods for this game well worth checking out. You know, once you’ve played it enough that you want some customization.

 

16. Star Trek Online (2010)

Star Trek Online game screenshot

Platforms: PC, MacOS, PS4, Xbox One

Star Trek is one of the most popular sci-fi franchises to date. And since its inception, it has been all about exploring space and charting the stars.

Fittingly, the free-to-play Star Trek Online MMORPG is among the best options for anyone looking to cruise the sea of stars.

It’s set in a politically unstable universe where massive co-op battles against NPC super-ships are frequent, and everyone is fighting for their place in the galaxy.

Just create your captain, jump into your ship, and start the grind towards greatness.

 

15. The Outer Worlds (2019)

The Outer Worlds gameplay

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

The Outer Worlds, made by Obsidian Entertainment, was hyped by fans as Fallout: New Vegas IN SPACE… all the way up to its release.

While it failed to recreate the same thrilling storylines and detailed open-world experience of New Vegas, this action-RPG is really fun to play.

It remains an exciting, colorful voyage into a world run by ruthless spacefaring mega-corporations.

If putting together a crew of misfits and visiting colorful alien locales in an unforgiving universe sounds like fun, well then for sure try it out.

 

14. Civilization: Beyond Earth (2014)

Civilization: Beyond Earth

Platforms: PC, MacOS, Linux

If rather than an unfortunate pawn, you’d rather play as the factions doing the colonizing, consider Firaxis Games’ Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Although long-time fans of the franchise prefer the classic Civ V over this sci-fi experiment, I do think Beyond Earth does a great job of selling the fantasy of little-by-little carving a place for humanity on an unknown alien world.

Considering most sci-fi turn-based strategy games focus on conquering entire galaxies, Beyond Earth is a nice change of pace with unique challenges that’ll keep you hooked for hours at a time.

 

13. Homeworld Remastered Collection (2015)

Homeworld Remastered Collection screenshot

Platforms: PC

If you’re a sci-fi enthusiast, perhaps you’ve played the 1999 classic Homeworld.

It’s the game that follows the story of a nigh-extinct civilization fighting for their right to exist.

Gearbox’s remaster brings you the emotional story of the Kushan in a visually-upgraded form, with some mild tweaks to gameplay mechanics that make this remastered version the best way to play Homeworld.

The 3D space combat is a bit hard to grasp at first. But the excellent narrative makes it worthwhile to learn the ropes. You’ll get sucked in soon afterwards.

 

12. Space Engineers (2019)

Space Engineers screenshot

Platforms: PC

While not everyone has the time and smarts to get a degree in Aerospace Engineering, just about anyone can have fun in Keen Software House’s Space Engineers.

The game features a sophisticated physics engine that serves as the basis for your space engineering projects.

You’ll also have to worry about finding resources on planets and asteroids if you choose to play in Survival Mode. These resources let you make bases and ships able to withstand the dangers of the void, helping you further explore locales such as the Earth, the Moon, Titan, and Europa.

 

11. SpaceEngine (2019)

SpaceEngine gameplay

Platforms: PC, MacOS, Linux

As its name suggests, SpaceEngine isn’t so much a game as it is a 3D astronomy program.

This bad boy endeavors to simulate the entire known universe with scientifically-accurate mass, volume, orbits, and other such data. It’s a big undertaking.

While this program, created by developer Vladimir Romanyuk, started its life as a purely educational product, users have access to game-like additions nowadays.

These include things like HD textures that make asteroids, stars, and planets look gorgeous.

Few games in this list come close to the level of detail and realism of SpaceEngine. And with the right settings, it offers some breathtaking vistas.

Check out the main site to learn more.

 

10. Universe Sandbox (2019)

Universe Sandbox game screenshot

Platforms: PC

Universe Sandbox is a physics-based space simulator aimed at making education fun by turning users into all-powerful galactic gods.

What makes this simulation unique is how easily you can tweak values such as gravity and mass.

You can also move anything you want, which becomes an exciting way to see how even the slightest changes can completely transform the Earth and our Milky Way.

Among its best features are the realistic simulated collisions, which will probably happen a lot considering how destructive we all get after being given so much power.

 

9. Outer Wilds (2019)

Outer Wilds space exploration game

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Not to be confused with The Outer Worlds, Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds presents a simple problem: The nearest star is 22 minutes from going supernova, and it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on.

Easy right?

You’re highly unlikely to find the answers you’re looking for in the first 22 minutes, but this roguelike action-adventure game expects you to keep trying.

Every time you play you’ll find something new. Slowly piecing together the puzzle as you explore the system, one time-loop at a time.

 

8. Everspace (2019)

Everspace gameplay screenshot

Platforms: PC, MacOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Also on the roguelike side of gaming lies Everspace, Rockfish Games’ ruthless space shooter.

Death will happen often here. But both your credits and your knowledge carry over from one run to the next, which is nice.

As you hone your piloting skills and improve your ship, you’ll start making real progress through the game’s fantastic story. And really, it’s fantastic.

If you’re looking for a straightforward game taking place in a beautifully-rendered outer space, you can’t go wrong with Everspace.

 

7. No Man’s Sky (2016)

No Man’s Sky game screenshot

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Hello Games’ procedurally-generated space adventure promised much and delivered little back when it was launched.

But don’t let that initial scandal keep you from giving it a go.

Over the course of 3+ years with real focus and hard work, we’ve seen developers tremendously improve the game. Basically breathing new life into its previously barren universe.

No Man’s Sky is all about chance encounters. Whether that means finding a cool planet with bizarre lifeforms or just bumping into space pirates when you exit hyperspeed, it’s all here.

Unlike most other space-exploration game, it’s fast-paced. Having you jump from rock to rock in search of fuel and materials to continue your journey towards the center of the universe.

Sound fun? Well give it a go!

And once you get bored maybe try out some mods to bring back the freshness.

 

6. Stellaris (2016)

Stellaris space exploration game

Platforms: PC, MacOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One

If you’re into world-building and sci-fi stories full of bizarre alien races, you won’t find a better game than Paradox Interactive’s grand-strategy space epic.

Stellaris manages to find the middle ground between complex strategy gameplay and custom-made storytelling.

Every anomaly you research has the potential to turn into a multi-episodic story that changes your society forever.

Slowly they add up, weaving a multi-generational epic right before your eyes.

 

5. Endless Space 2 (2017)

Endless Space 2 game screenshot

Platforms: PC, MacOS

Developed by Amplitude Studios, Endless Space 2 offers a more focused grand-strategy experience.

Instead of creating a faction from zero, you’ll have to choose a pre-made one.

This may sound like it limits your freedom. But it also let developers craft more cohesive storylines and events, which you’ll slowly uncover as you explore the sea of stars.

It’s filled to the brim with sci-fi tropes like living crystals, space dragons, and ancient superweapons just waiting for you to find them.

If you’re a lore-junkie like me, you have to give this one a try.

 

4. Kerbal Space Program (2015)

Kerbal Space Program gameplay

Platforms: PC, MacOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One

Among the most well-known games on our list is Kerbal Space Program, a physics-based space exploration simulator with an educational focus.

Developed by Squad, this quirky game lets you design, build, and launch spaceships operated by little green men.

It’s full of slapstick humor and ridiculous situations. But it’s all just a ruse to keep you distracted from the fact that you’re learning physics in the process of playing.

It’ll take a while to grasp how to make a space-worthy vessel.

But stuff like calculating the right angle your ship needs to breach the atmosphere will slowly become second nature. Well, if you keep at it.

 

3. Star Citizen (2015)

Star Citizen gameplay

Platforms: PC

Star Citizen isn’t a complete game. Far from it!

And yet, Cloud Imperium Games’ work-in-progress has more content than most AAA titles.

This ambitious MMORPG seeks to give players a complete simulation of what living in a galactic empire would be like, together with some more fantastical elements to keep things interesting.

Whether you want to become a trader, a bounty hunter, or a military operative – it’s all in your hands after creating your character.

While the game doesn’t seem to be anywhere near completion, it already features several unique planets and moons to visit. All of these are littered with resources to obtain, NPCs to meet, and challenges to overcome.

 

2. Eve Online (2003)

Eve Online game screenshot

Platforms: PC, MacOS, Linux

The reason Eve Online remains relevant after all these years is how this MMORPG’s community ultimately determines the course of the game’s story.

Empires rise and fall due to player interactions, whether that be amassing a fleet to conquer their corner of the stars, spying on each other and selling the information to the highest bidder, or forming massive alliances to overthrow a player that’s become too powerful.

It may feel a bit daunting as a new player, trust me.

But CCP Games has been focusing on streamlining the new player experience as much as possible for the last couple of years. Give this a try if you never have before.

 

1. Elite Dangerous (2014)

Elite Dangerous gameplay

Platforms: PC, MacOS, PS4, Xbox One

On the surface, Elite Dangerous’ title and marketing may lead you to believe that it’s a game about intense dogfights and smuggling resources through vicious enemy territory.

It certainly is all that. But it’s also a game that places a heavy focus on exploration – which is why it takes place on a colossal 1-to-1 representation of our very own Milky Way.

You can get on your ship and travel to the Moon, fly around in Saturn’s rings, or even make a trip to each of the stars making up your zodiac sign’s constellation.

And on the way you’re sure to run into many breathtaking vistas that make the journey 100% worth it.

Whenever you’re tired of exploring you can always engage in the game’s many missions, develop your character, improve your ship, or fight for your faction.

There’s always something to do in Elite Dangerous.

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Nelson Chitty

Nelson Chitty is a Venezuelan expat living in Argentina. He’s a writer and translator passionate about history and foreign cultures. His ideal weekend is spent between leisurely games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.