The universe is vast and beautiful, and video games are a phenomenal medium for allowing players to explore imaginings of everything the solar system has to offer. Video games based on exploring the universe have been around since the 1980s, and the genre has only continued to expand since then, giving players plenty of options.
Some universe exploration games place a heavy focus on story, with solar system exploration still being a large part. Others are full-on space exploration simulators, where the only goal is to get immersed while traveling through the vast beauty of the universe. There are even multiplayer options for those who want to play alongside their friends.
10 The Mass Effect Series
Although the primary focus of the Mass Effect series is on deep, immersive storytelling, there’s a lot for players who want to explore the universe to enjoy as well. There are secrets hidden in every corner of the galaxy that players are incentivized to uncover.
The two Mass Effect games recommended for those primarily interested in exploring different planets are the first Mass Effect and Andromeda. The original Mass Effect has the most exploration but is more dated, while Andromeda has satisfying exploration alongside updated gameplay and graphics.
9 Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
Knights of the Old Republic isn’t the only Star Wars game that puts a heavy emphasis on exploration, but it’s heralded by fans as one of the best. There are almost a dozen different planets players traverse throughout their journeys, each unique in setting.
There’s Dantooine, a peaceful area that’s also home to a Jedi Enclave, as well as Korribon, which is the exact opposite featuring unfriendly locals and a lingering feeling of corruption. Knights of the Old Republic was released two decades ago and news of a potential remake began floating around in 2021.
8 Elite Dangerous
The third sequel to Elite, Elite Dangerous is a massively multiplayer game where players explore the entire Milky Way. Players’ journeys take them through not just planets, but moons, asteroid belts, and even black holes as well.
Elite Dangerous markets itself as a multiplayer experience, where players can scavenge and explore together, or even fight against one another. There’s also a full-fledged solo mode for those who prefer to play on their own and simply enjoy Elite Dangerous’ beautiful world. All players, both in solo and multiplayer modes, benefit from Elite Dangerous’ frequent, sizable updates.
7 Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds takes players through a unique version of the solar system, one that’s trapped in a mysterious time loop. As players explore various beautiful locales, they’ll also try to find answers as to what caused this loop and if it can be stopped.
The different planets of Outer Wilds are not only unique, but they also change with time. The surface of a planet can crumble beneath players’ feet, or an underground city can get swallowed up by sand. Players will have to traverse rough, dangerous environments to uncover all of Outer Wilds’ hidden secrets.
6 No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky launched in a rough spot but has since received a plethora of content updates that make it an incredibly satisfying universe-exploring game. Marketing itself as “a game about exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated universe,” No Man’s Sky offers a limitless number of planets to explore.
It’s up to players whether they dive into No Man Sky’s many other offerings, like taking out pirates for bounties, becoming a trader, or simply sticking to boundless exploration. No matter what players do, the procedurally generated world of No Man’s Sky offers everyone a wholly unique experience.
Rather than just being a game, SpaceEngine is a “1:1 scale science-based universe simulator” that uses procedural generation for any areas that haven’t actually been explored yet in reality. Players can either click or fly through the galaxy, exploring anything in sight without any loading screens.
Players can adjust the flow of time or even jump around to different dates, viewing the same part of the galaxy in completely different ways. Not only that, but SpaceEngine also supports its modding community, making it easy to create and share custom planets or full-on galaxies.
4 Empyrion – Galactic Survival
Empyrion – Galactic Survival is a 3D survival game where players explore and try to conquer the vast, often unforgiving universe. Players will fight against numerous threats while making their way through the galaxy, including both human and alien enemies.
Players can fly or warp to various planets and moons in Empyrion, becoming familiar with each planet’s unique flora while scavenging for anything to upgrade their ship or help them survive. Empyrion supports multiplayer play as well, letting players form alliances with or wage war against their friends.
3 Approaching Infinity
Unlike many 3D, realistic space explorers, Approaching Infinity offers a refreshingly unique, 2D roguelike spin on the universe exploration genre. There’s an infinite universe to explore but broken down into small, manageable pieces.
Not only does Approaching Infinity let players explore planets and the vastness of space, but shipwrecks, temples, and other potentially hazardous areas. Players will have to play smart, upgrading their arsenal along the way, if they want to survive. There’s even the option to turn on perma-death, which means runs can be over in as little as a few minutes with how unforgiving Approaching Infinity’s world can be.
Rodina is a single-developer passion project, created by a former Bethesda Softworks employee. His goal is to create a fully fleshed-out immersive space exploration simulator, believing that an AAA company can’t make the kind of experience he wants to bring to life.
What’s most impressive about Rodina is it launched in 2014, and is still being updated by the same solo developer, almost ten years later. As of 2023, there are four massive planets to explore, and fifty major asteroids that are randomized to make each feel unique.
1 The Long Journey Home
With planets and galaxies to explore while completing quests and fighting for survival in typical RPG roguelike fashion, The Long Journey Home takes players on a journey through the universe while trying to get back home. The world is unforgiving, and failure is inevitable, but players learn and become more resilient with each setback.
In The Long Journey Home, players make contact with various alien races, forming alliances with them or raiding their tombs to find untold treasures. Each decision players make permanently changes something in the vast galaxy, making The Long Journey Home feel like a breathing world with tangible consequences.