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Looking back over the shocking number of games I've played this year, I came to realize that quite a few of them are still technically not released. There are some in Early Access that anybody can buy into, and some were preview builds kindly provided by the developers. Having scoured my Steam library, I've picked the absolute best of the not-quite-released games I've been enjoying the most this year. It's an eclectic mix, to be sure, so they won't all be for every kind of gamer, but you'll almost certainly find at least one here to get excited for. The list will be separated between games that you can play now on Early Access, and those games I got a preview code for, that you'll just have to take my word about. They're listed alphabetically in each category, rather than any kind of best-to-worst order. Enjoy!
Playable Now on Early Access
While I haven't played all that much 20xx as yet, the few hours I have committed to it have been nothing but a blast. I had an eye on Mighty No. 9 for a long time, but eventually got bored with the waiting, and started looking for something else to sate my masochistic appetite for trying and failing over and over again. The Mega Man collection came out recently, and I started there, but it turns out the Mega Man games are a whole lot harder than I remember (or I've just gotten worse over the years) and I didn't last too long, since I'm one of those gamers that needs to have some sense of progression to get invested, and most of your upgrades in Mega Man require you to power through a level and take down a boss. Then I got an email about 20xx and, at a glance, it looked like just what I was seeking.
20xx is, at its core, a very Mega Man experience. If you spent as much of your youth jumping and shooting baddies as a little blue robot, you'll be instantly familiar with the gameplay of 20xx. It's got a modernized progression system, though, so it's a lot easier to get invested, even if you're not a masterful player. It's rogue-lite, so each run will be unique, and you'll be able to collect new weapons, purchase new upgrades, and unlock special missions and modes. The local co-op is just icing on the Mega Man-flavored cake.
Darkest Dungeon from Red Hook studios is a party-based dungeon crawler with procedural dungeons, an impressive number of playable classes, and a delightfully dark Lovecraftian aesthetic. You'll assemble a team to risk life and limb to explore dungeons and eliminate bosses, all the while leveling up skills, collecting new trinkets to aid them in their adventures, and, of course, suffering from the mental and physical ailments that you rarely see in other games, but make a whole lot of sense when you think about the realities of encountering a Cthulhu-esque creature in the dark, damp pits of a dungeon.
I wrote about my time with Darkest Dungeon earlier in the year, and months later, I'm pleased to see that a handful of content updates since I last played have added even more content to consume, despite the build I played at first sucking up 110 hours of my life in under two weeks. When i find a game I really enjoy with RPG-style character progress, I have a tendency to go a little overboard in trying to max out my crew and arm them to the teeth. A bit over 100 hours into the game, I had maxed out nearly the entire roster of characters, and finally decided to give it a break for a bit.
In the last couple of months, developer Red Hook Studios has added not only another zone to explore, complete with new enemies and bosses, but a new playable class to tinker with. Sure enough, I lost several more evenings enjoying the new content. Given the Early Access status of Darkest Dungeon, combined with the number of hours of gameplay I got out of it, it stands as one of the most impressive Early Access experiences I've come across.
I wasn't entirely sure what to make of Leap of Fate at first glance, but once I got into the game, I knew it was going to be an exciting ride. I loved the game Hand of Fate from earlier in the year, and it turns out that LoF has a lot in common, while also distinguishing itself very well in its different focus. You play a technomancer in this rogue-lite, though the focus is taken off exploring dungeons, and put squarely on the combat. The isometric perspective and action-oriented combat keeps things exciting, despite a relative lack of enemy variety. Your map is a pyramid of Tarot Cards, through which you'll pick your path in your effort to find and destroy the boss of the level. With frantic gunplay and tactical specials to keep you alive, you'll have to utilize both your reflexes and your tactical thinking to make it very far.
When I first played, only the main character was playable, but over the past few months they've implemented two more playable characters, which have impressively distinct play styles. Where your first character, Aeon, shoots a medium-range spread-shot gun by default, the next unlock is Big Moe, who utilizes an energy beam weapon that deals continuous damage, increasing in power the longer you fire it. As you approach overheating, which stops you from firing for a short time as it cools, your regular beam will amplify into a devastating blast. The most recent addition is Mukai, who is actually more melee focused, which sets her apart even further on the style differences.
As you attempt runs and push past your previous bests, you'll unlock new perks, talents, skills, and buffs for your characters, which are imperative to pushing further than before. The sense of progress is undeniable here, since after two or three failed attempts at the second boss, you'll likely have unlocked the perks you need to bump your character's power up enough for you to push past the problem boss. it's a tough game, to be sure, but the regular upgrades keep it from feeling like bashing your head against a wall. Mostly.
Rogue Continuum had a rough start for me through no fault of its own. We've been fighting with our PC controller setup, since we're using two wireless and two wired controllers, which apparently computers absolutely hate. After a number of false starts, though, we got all four controllers working properly, and it was absolutely worth the troubleshooting effort. It's an odd sort of setting, with your squad witnessing the annihilation of humanity, forcing them to do a short hop through time to try to stop the alien assault before its tragic conclusion.
There are only four characters to play which will inevitably cause some conflict as you're deciding who plays which character, but once you've rock-paper-scissored or knife-fought your way to a decision, you'll hop directly into a frantic fight against an alien power. Your classes are quite distinct, with a long-distance and high-powered sniper, a heavily armed and armored robo-mech, a snarky but combat-ready space marine, and, of course, the odd man out, a hoity-toity aristocrat with a penchant for chainsaws. Each time you try and fail (which is most times you try, to be fair) you'll get points to upgrade your characters, so you'll be just a bit more effective on your next attempt.
It's definitely the sort of game that you'll want to commit a couple hours to when you get started, since getting the first few upgrades for your crew will make hopping in for shorter sessions later a much more gratifying experience. I usually play local co-op stuff at my own place with friends, so I had the home-field benefit of calling dibs on the robo-mech most of the time. Other characters don't have a reliable way to regain health, but mister mecha has a recharging shield. It can't take much punishment at any given time, but being able to duck in and out of cover, take a few hits, and recover that damage is incredibly valuable. Your more precise gaming friends will do well with the sniper, whose powerful attacks can be difficult to aim, but devastating when they land.
It has the benefit of not taking itself too seriously - or seriously at all, for that matter - so you'll have as much fun learning about each character as you do dominating the invading extra terrestrials.