10 Best Space Exploration Sims, Ranked

Extremely primitive experiences like Space war! to pioneering arcade hits like Asteroids and space invaders, space has been an important part of video gaming since the very beginning. Perhaps this is due to man’s inherent fascination with infinity, or perhaps it has more to do with the fact that a predominantly black void was less taxing on nascent computing hardware.

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Whatever the reason, the digital frontier and the final frontier have long come together. It’s no different in the modern age, as larger-than-life space exploration sims have become a beloved and engrossing subgenre.


X3: Terran Conflict (2008)

The space exploration title released by Deep Silver in 2008 X3: Terran Conflict is considered by many to be the jewel in the crown X3 series. An almost unimaginable and surprisingly complex jacket, it allows for an almost unparalleled degree of freedom as players explore an expansive universe to pursue their goals of interstellar economic conquest.

From piloting a single freighter to making macro-level management decisions, few titles even in the genre allow for such an incredible degree of autonomy for players. Additionally, with occasional combat engagements ranging from small skirmishes to star wars-level battles, there’s more than enough gameplay variety to keep even seasoned players engaged.

Star Citizen (2013)

A screenshot from the Star Citizen early access space simulation game.

Launched as a very successful Kickstarter project in 2012, star citizen has been touted as one of the most immersive space sims of all time. Featuring multiple components including PvP and PvE space combat, PvP ground combat, and an open world spanning the solar system, it’s not as expansive as something like X3 Where Elite: Dangerousbut its focus on different game modes and continuous updates have kept fans hooked for nearly a decade.

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star citizen received feedback from fans and critics thanks to its extremely long development time. Still, while it’s unclear if a bona fide full release will ever see the light of day, the game has still been a staple of the space sim genre for quite some time.

Eternal Space (2017)

A screenshot from the roguelike video game Everspace.

A sci-fi roguelike game that shares elements FTL: faster than light and Return2017 Everspace sees an amnesiac pilot traveling through the cosmos, engaging in starship dogfights, and working to upgrade his ship to achieve his ultimate goal.

Like most roguelike titles, Everspace expects the player to die quite often. However, credits earned from previous runs persist, and over time players can amass a fortune and use it to build a contraption fearsome enough to accompany it with the most fearsome pilots in the galaxy.

Star Voyager (1987)

Although it pales in comparison to today’s impossibly vast space simulations, the 1987s star traveler on the NES was an ambitious and surprisingly successful attempt to make space exploration possible from the comfort of the gamer’s living room. star traveler sees the player piloting a massive spaceship and tasks it with finding a new home for their race after the star disappears from their native system.

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With relatively in-depth navigation controls to master, resource management aspects to consider, and first-person space combat sections to wade through, star traveler is a marvel given the woefully underpowered hardware it was developed for, and it’s a definite gem that retro gamers might want to keep an eye out for.

Kerbal Space Program (2015)

A screenshot from the 2015 video game Kerbal Space Program.

Less a space exploration sim and more an astrophysics simulator for budding NASA engineers, Kerbal Space Program tasks the player with building spaceships capable of carrying the title-holding creatures endlessly.

Much of the gameplay offered in Kerbal Space Program revolves around trial and error. Rockets will regularly fail and foolproof designs will surely fail on the launch pad. That said, perseverance is key and once the player develops a rocket capable of soaring through the skies, they can move on to ships capable of landing on other celestial bodies.

FTL: Faster Than Light (2012)

A seminal roguelike episode that debuted during the genre’s boom in the early 2010s, FTL: faster than light sees the player command a ship and its crew as they navigate through several sectors of space while being pursued by a band of villainous rebels. With complex and biting combat instances and roguelike sections that will force players to make very difficult decisions, FTL: faster than light is a quintessential example of what the genre can be at its best.

Although it is sometimes criticized for its incredible difficulty, FTL: faster than light retains an overwhelmingly positive review score on Steam a full decade after its initial release.

Spore (2008)

Released in 2008, Spore uses a mix of gameplay elements to create a unique experience that still lingers in the minds of gamers to this day. Beginning as a vulnerable amoeba-like creature forced through a Feeding frenzy– like a mini-game, players slowly develop and cultivate their own race of alien beings, crafting everything from their bodies to their cultures and societies as they slowly evolve into a space civilization.

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A divine game, an RTS and a space exploration simulation in one package, Spore may have disappointed when it debuted, but it maintains a steadfast community of fans who feel that no game has offered a similar experience.

EVE Online (2003)

First launched in 2003, EVE online is a multi-star MMORPG arguably most famous for its player-run gaming companies. With a strong focus on its role-playing elements, the title has allowed players to reinvent themselves as space pirates, mercenaries, traders, and CEOs in an organically crafted world for nearly two decades.

Although he became quite infamous for his steep learning curve, EVE online is a unique experience with a unique dedicated community. It’s certainly hard to get into, but some players prefer depth and complexity over accessibility.

No Man’s Sky (2016)

A space battle set in the 2016 video game No Man's Sky.

When it debuted, Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky was one of the most sadly disappointing video games of all time. Painfully shallow and repetitive, it was nowhere near the full experience the developer promised.

However, over the years, No Man’s Sky has, through constant updates and improvements, evolved into one of the largest and most involved space exploration simulations available. With millions and millions of explorable planets, multiplayer features, base building mechanics and much more, the game has, six years after its release, lived up to the lofty expectations that were set in 2016.

Elite: Dangerous (2014)

Elite Dangerous Odyssey

The next evolution of the classic space simulation series Elite which debuted in 1984, Elite: Dangerous has what might be the largest universe of any game. With millions upon millions of solar systems to explore, some players make mapping the uncharted the game’s main focus.

Primarily a space trading simulation that sees players transporting goods from one space station to another, Elite Dangerous allows players to approach things as they see fit. From mining rare materials on the surface of planets to hijacking other players’ cargo following intense aerial combat, there’s no one way to play the unfathomable vast Elite: Dangerous.

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