1. Conan Exiles
Probably the only game where you can adjust your character's junk size, Conan Exiles is a survival game that takes PVP and character customisation to a whole new level. The first thing you might notice about this game are the ridiculously high textures and attention to detail. It's one of the pretties games in the survival genre, if not the prettiest at the moment. Even in the Early Access version of the game you can explore the dessert terrain, the grasslands, as well as the frozen lands of the north, which is a vast area considering that the game is still being tested.
The main merit of the game is the ridiculously fun PVP. This is where the Early Access testing grounds basically come down to, as the player versus player is the main feature that Conan Exiles focuses on right now, and even at the incomplete state of the game, the versus aspect of the game is something that's been playable at full throttle since the release. Your objective is to build, defend and survive, as well as dominate the lands. To dominate the server you need to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women, like Conan himself said. Level up, gear up, build a citadel, team up with friends, or... hide, be stealthy, attack when not expected, collect your ill gotten gains and store them at a place your foes wouldn't even expect to contain anything of value. That's the current state of Conan Exiles versus mode. Is it fun? It sure is! Is it frustrating? That's the idea, if you don't use your smarts as well as brawn. This game has been designed to be the ultimate raiding and defending simulator, and you can get a huge taste of what's going to be available in the full version, as the Early Access mode grants you access to almost every major feature promised.
Another outstanding feature about Conan Exiles is the unique combat and movement system. I was shocked when I first tried the climbing mechanics in Conan Exiles, as I've expected it to be just another way to access another player's base. It turned out to be something that no other game I've played so far would offer. First off, it allows you to climb pretty much ANYTHING, at the expense of stamina. This means that if you focus on developing this stat, you can climb mountains, which would allow you access to locations suitable for remote bases, as well as accessibility throughout the whole map. You can take shortcuts, you can hide from others (since it's not really common for someone to patrol all the mountain tops), and you can also become the most hated raider on the map by hiding all your stuff in remote places.
Nudity is also a part that's drawn many players towards Conan Exiles, as it's one of the features that takes the engine's potential to the fullest. First off, you can customise your character's appearance, which means that you can go as far as to adjust the bust size or even the penis size, depending on which gender you choose. The only downside here is that the female character is always hairy. Meaning that if you choose to play with a girl character, she's going to sport a full beaver, and hairy armpits. Yuck.
Other than the PVP aspect, you get the access to the building mode which puts the full release of Fallout 4 to shame, even in the early access mode. Constantly updated building pieces and items are what makes the game enjoyable even in its incomplete form. The best example here would be the amount of building pieces available, where you not only get to choose different endurance of the structures based by level, but also things like different roofing or insulated pieces that allow better adjustment to the harsh weather. Oh yes, the weather takes a huge impact on how your character fares. Unless you get proper clothing (meaning: you craft or obtain it), don't even think about roaming around the frozen parts of the map. This aspect adds to the already immense game mechanics, and controls the map in ways that aren't noticeable at first, but once you spend a few days in the game, you'll notice that to progress, you need to play well, you need to play smart, and you need to play with caution. This is also a feature that has been developed with care and constant attention to detail, as your success is mostly based on skill and team play.
Speaking of team play, this is the game you want if you enjoy playing with your friends, and hate the fact that introducing someone new means that they need to catch up. This is almost non existent here, since the progress is mostly based on gear, structures and team work. In practice it comes down to a new player being welcomed by an experienced player, who accepts them to their clan, gives them shelter, gives them gear they have crafted, and protects them even during the moments of hunting, resource gathering and combat.
2. Project Zomboid
Although a bit pricy for such a small game, this is one of the flagship projects that followed through the process of getting there as an incomplete, but playable game. The main objective is to survive. The graphics are simple, a bit old school, yet clean and rather detailed. It's one of the games you might want to try out because of its uniqueness, since there's no other game that offers the building aspects closer to The Sims than your typical survivor game, while at the same time being an action game. The action part of Project Zomboid comes down to exploration combined with combat. Whether you risk engaging an opponent is up to you, and the reward may not turn out to be all that satisfying, yet this is the charm of the game. You want to build your base, to experience the classical zombie survival, yet you also need to gear up and fight through the opposing forces of the undead.
The main flaw of this game is the way it progressed since it entered Early Access. A lot of players were disappointed at the speed of things, since the updated weren't coming for a long time. The newest build was released on November 8th 2017, which means that the game hasn't been abandoned. Compared to other Early Access titles, Project Zomboid which was introduced on Steam in 2013, might come off as a bit slow paced. The game has been in an Early Access State for around four years now, which makes it one of the longest developed titles in the genre, although it doesn't mean that you shouldn't get it.
3. Dead By Daylight
Although no longer in Early Access, this title shows how an Early Access game should be done. The mechanics are simple: one killer player goes up against four survivor players. The killer can harm the survivors, the survivors need to work together to juke the killer and escape. As far as the Early Access process goes, the game developers did a superb job on working with the community to adjust the game in a way that it would balance gameplay in a way that would allow both experienced and new players to enjoy it. There's a monthly refreshed ranking that sets the games right experience wise, with a few exceptions of players playing the system to their own gain, but that's the price you have to pay for a game that's nearly flawless.
In Dead By Daylight you can experience the unique feeling of being hunted down by a villain straight out of a horror movie. Literally. You can even go up against Mike Myers or Freddie Kruger. Ironically, more people decide to play as the survivor as it's not that easy to be the killer when you go against experienced survivor players. Both the killer and the survivors level up and obtain perks that help them throughout gameplay. There's a huge amount of different builds for the survivors, as well as certain killers.
The great thing about the game's development is the constant contact with the players and the mechanics being adjusted almost instantly. For example, when Freddie Krueger has been introduced, a lot of new players had no idea how to counter him, so the devs decided to nerf him, and the process took only around a week. The bloodpoint (levelling up system) has been updated, as well as killer rank progression has been changed once already and is planned to be further adjusted. When it comes for Early Access games that have the dev team constantly working on it, DbD might be the game that has the highest attention to detail and scrutiny when it comes for patching up the mechanics and adding new features.
While we're at the subject of adding new stuff in, Dead By Daylight keeps getting updated once every few months with a new DLC that offers new perks, a new killer and somethimes a new survivor. Not every DLC is a paid one as well, which is a huge plus. For example, some of the most feared killer characters, that are based purely on player skill, The Nurse and Anna The Huntress, were added as free DLCs.
4. PlayerUnknown's Battleground
For those who don't know, this is probably the hottest Early Access title on Steam right now. The main reason might be that it competes with games like CS:GO when it comes for competitive play, as well as it offers a lot more than your typical shooter online game, even in its incomplete state. There's been a lot of controversy about this title because of the People already playing the game for a while having a huge edge over the new players, although you need to remember that it's a game in development, so all of this stuff that makes it noobie unfirendly might instantly disappear after just one patch. For now it's best to just ignore the fact that new players might go through a struggle to enjoy it, since for some it might be a merit that it's not easy to play.
The thing we should focus on are the mechanics, which you can experience even without buying the game, since so many streamers and YouTubers are playing it at the moment that it's almost impossible not to have heard of PUBG. To me it looks like just another shooter game, and the key feature of the game must surely be the way it's played in multiplayer. While being able to play something with your friends is nothing new, PUBG bring in an arena for PVP that not only makes it possible to test our your skill, but also brings plenty of room for team play tactics.
An aspect that's hard to decide whether or not it's a positive feature is the lootboxes. For some it might be a great way to separate noobs from veterans, for others a pay to win mechanic. You be the judge.
5. ARK: Survival Evolved
[ Writer's Note: Special thanks go to Mannimal and Vagabondie for helping me with this part of the article. ]
When I asked my friend what's the Early Access game that he'd recommend the most is, he didn't need to think too much about it. It was ARK. His argumentation was that it was a dream come true for a kid that used to endlessly play with dino figurines, and that it was brutal and unforgiving. Come to think of it, a lot of game developers make their games easier so that casual players can play them with ease. That's not how it goes for ARK, and it's a merit, not a flaw. Imagine a game where you actually need to earn your place on the map, not just buy it with premium content, or have a walk in the park experience throughout the whole gameplay. This is where the big boys (and girls) play. If you don't like it, then too bad for you.
As with many other video games - if you feel it's not for you, stay away from the title and don't complain that it doesn't suit your expectations, since apparently there's well over 5 million people who enjoy ARK in its current state. Although the game has left Early Access some time ago, it has an exemplary role of how this system progresses as the players pour in. All the feature added were to appease the community and the end result is what the democracy wanted.
Needless to say, you're the judge here on whether the result is amazing or disappointing, which is also the basic rule about Early Access games. The consumer is who shapes them, so the moment when you buy a copy, you gain the right to complain or to suggest changes or new features. It's impossible to please everyone, but if you happen to be in the majority, your request will most likely be granted. Which is the unique and amazing aspect of Early Access games that makes them worth investing in.